Its a beautiful time for Israeli cuisine

Contrary to popular belief, Israelis can’t claim falafel and hummus.

In spite of their appearance on nearly every street corner in the Jewish state, both foods originated in Egypt.

This brief history lesson kicked off a culinary lesson by Israeli chef Yossi Bendayan at a cooking demonstration May 19 in Piedmont.

“Jews from all over the world came to Israel and brought with them their own cuisine,” he said. As a result, modern Israeli fare is a fusion of many cuisines, and continues to evolve as the country becomes even more diverse.

“It’s a beautiful time for the culinary arts in Israel,” Bendayan said.

He explained this during a cooking demonstration at a Piedmont home, an event organized by the Oakland chapter of Hadassah. During the

2-hour event, all 50 attendees got to taste Bendayan’s creations.

Bendayan is the head chef at the School of Culinary Arts at the Hadassah College Jerusalem. As a fundraiser for the university, he visited the Bay Area last week, delighting the palates of Jewish foodies in eight locations, including Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills and the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco.

On the menu: Crimini mushroom confit and goat cheese flavored with herbs and pistachios, served with a roasted red bell pepper coulis, black olives vinaigrette and a za’atar and an olive oil crouton; a red tuna kebab on a filet of grilled eggplant and black lentil salad in tehina sauce with spicy tomatoes, olive oil and garlic; and a stuffed katayef (pancake) with apples, pistachio, almonds and raisins accented with rose water and a date syrup sauce.

“Meet my two best friends for the night, olive oil and garlic,” he said. “If you’re good I won’t put them in the dessert.”

The kitchen was an olfactory carnival of lemon, garlic, chives and olives. Bendayan was jovial as he sliced and diced, reminding the audience that his recipes can be changed and adapted.

“Just go for it,” he said.

He gave everyone helpful tidbits, like how to choose the right eggplant (“A lightweight eggplant is a good eggplant” because it has fewer seeds, and seeds make the vegetable taste bitter) and how to add the correct amount of lemon juice to sesame paste (when the paste looks more white than beige, it’s got enough citrus).

Bendayan has worked as the head teaching chef at Hadassah College Jerusalem since 1998. He was born in Morocco and immigrated to Israel via France at the age of 18.

He studied culinary arts at Hadassah College Jerusalem and worked for many years in the hotel and restaurant industry, including as the head chef at Jerusalem’s well-known Valentino and Reinzi restaurants.

“I think very soon we’ll see Israeli restaurants all over the world. It shouldn’t be too hard,” Bendayan said, “since there are Israelis and Jews living all over the world.”

Red tuna kebab with roasted eggplant, lentil salad, tomatoes and techina

To plate: Place lentil salad on dish. Top with eggplant filet and tuna kebab. Drizzle both with tomato mixture and techina sauce. Serves 10.


1 pound ground red tuna

1 chopped onion

2 chopped garlic cloves

1/2 cup chopped parsley

2 Tbs. roasted pine nuts

4 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. ground cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until they become uniform in texture. Prepare 20 small kebabs by rolling mixture into cylinders; place on a plate and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Heat skillet or grilling pan until very hot, then fry or grill the kebabs on all sides for about five minutes.

Roasted eggplant filet

3 eggplants

5 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

5 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil


Grill or roast eggplants with the skin on until the inside is soft. Peel eggplants; cut into four pieces; remove seeds; drain for about 20 minutes.

Lentil salad

1 cup green French lentils

3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

1 chopped jalapeño pepper

Salt and pepper

Boil lentils in water until soft, then strain and cool to room temperature. Mix with other ingredients and keep at room temperature until time to serve.


1 large, vine-ripened tomato

2 Tbs. chopped parsely

1 tsp. chopped garlic

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Peel tomato and cut into very small cubes. Mix with other ingredients near serving time.


1 cup pure techina (sesame paste)

2 chopped garlic cloves

2 Tbs. chopped parseley

4 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

1/2 cold water


Mix all ingredients together until a smooth sauce forms.

Stuffed Mushrooms with roasted red pepper coulis and black olive vinaigrette

To plate: Place mushroom "sandwich" on dish with crouton. Drizzle with coulis and vinaigrette. Serves 10.


20 baby Portobello or Crimini mushroom heads

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme

salt and pepper

1 lb. feta cheese, crumbled

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

1/2 cup chopped fresh chives

1 Tbs. chopped fresh garlic

3 Tbs. chopped roasted, unsalted pistachios

Mix mushrooms with the olive oil, half the thyme, salt and pepper. Place them in an oven pan and roast for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees. Mix all other ingredients together and place 1 large Tbs. of cheese mixture between pairs of mushroom heads (like a sandwich). Roast again for 2 minutes at the same temperature.

Drizzle with roasted red pepper coulis and black olive vinaigrette. Serve with homemade crouton.

Red Pepper Coulis

3 roasted and peeled red bell peppers

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 Tbs. white vinegar (not wine vinegar)

1 clove of garlic

1 Tbs. chopped fresh basil

1/4 cup water

Place all ingredients in a blender and grind to a smooth texture.

Black Olive Vinaigrette

2 oz. Moroccan or kalamata pitted black olives

1 tsp. chopped fresh garlic

1 tsp. chopped fresh chives

1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together.


10 thin oblique slices of sweet French baguette

1 Tbs. za’atar

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil


Mix 4 Tbs. olive oil with the za’atar and 1/2 tsp. salt. Brush each baguette slice with the mixture. Bake at 350 degrees until croutons are dry and golden brown.

Spiced apple-stuffed katayef (pancake) with rose water syrup Katayef

2 cups standard white flour

2 cups warm water

1 tsp. yeast

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. white sugar

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until a uniform texture. Allow to rest for 40 minutes at room temperature. Pour a ladle of about 1/3 cup of the imxture into a cold non-stick frying pan and heat. Cook to a "pancake appearance," until bubbles appear on the surface. Cook one side only. Cool bottom side of pan under running water between each batch.

Apple stuffing

4 peeled, diced green apples

1/2 cup and 4 Tbs. white sugar

4 oz. unsalted butter

2 tsp. cinnamon

3 oz. chopped walnuts

3 oz. raisins

Heat pan until very hot, then melt butter and add apples and 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon. Stir fry apples to a gold brown caramelized color.

Mix cooked apples with walnuts, raisins, almonds, 1 tsp. of cinnamon and 4 Tbs. white sugar. Put 1 Tbs. of apple mixture in center of each katayef. Fold the pancake in half; seal edges by pressing with fingers. Deep fry each katayef in vegetable oil until golden (2-3 minutes).

Rose water syrup

1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup water

1 Tbs. rose water

1/2 lemon

Cook ingredients until sugar is dissolved. Dip katayef in syrup before serving.

All recipes created by chef Yossi Bendayan.

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.