Israeli food gets its due with tantalizing coffee table book

I just received a copy of “The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey” by Janna Gur (Schocken Books, $35), and I have not been able to put it down. This 300-page coffee table book is loaded with gorgeous photographs of pastoral landscapes and vibrant open-air markets, touching portraits of family and stunning food shots.

The book also includes an extensive history of Israeli food, discussing the Sephardic communities that arrived in Jerusalem as early as the 17th century and preserved their dishes that originated in Spain, enhanced them with influences from the Ottoman kitchen and created Jerusalem cuisine. The fascinating history continues with the Chalutzim and carries on through its current evolution to one of the most dynamic and innovative cuisines of the world.

“In less than 30 years,” Russian-born author Gur writes, “Israeli society has graduated … to a true gastronomic haven.” This book does full, delectable justice to the significance of Israeli food today — Mediterranean at its heart, richly spiced and imbued with cross-cultural flavors.

The kosher recipe collection runs the gamut from salads, street foods and holiday dishes to discussions of coffee, olive oil and wine. Some recipes are simple standards like Israeli salad, and others are more complex, such as figs stuffed with bulgur and cranberry salad. This book has something for the historian, art lover and cook in all of us.

Our Favorite Israeli Salad

Serves 2-4

1 juicy lemon, halved

4 firm ripe tomatoes, diced

4 unpeeled cucumbers, diced

1 red onion, finely diced

1 sweet red pepper, seeded and diced

1 clove garlic, crushed

1⁄2 fresh hot green pepper, seeded and chopped (optional)

dash cinnamon

1 tsp. sumac (optional)

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

2-3 Tbs. parsley and/or coriander (cilantro) and/or mint leaves, chopped

Squeeze the juice of half the lemon. Remove the pips from the remaining half and peel the skin (including the white pulp). Chop finely.

Place the chopped lemon and the lemon juice in a bowl, add the remaining ingredients and toss. Adjust the seasoning as needed. Serve immediately.

Figs Stuffed with Bulgur and Cranberry Salad

Serves 10

10 fresh figs

pomegranate concentrate, for serving

For the salad:

31⁄2 oz. bulgur wheat

1⁄2 cup dried cranberries, chopped coarsely

1 cup carrots, grated coarsely

2-3 Tbs. fresh coriander (cilantro)

1 Tbs. sesame seeds, roasted

3 Tbs. pecans, roasted

2 Tbs. pomegranate concentrate

Soak the bulgur wheat in water for 4 to 5 hours, until it swells up and softens. Or, add half a cup of water to the wheat and cook in a microwave oven for 3 to 4 minutes until the bulgur softens and absorbs the water. Allow to cool.

Mix the bulgur with the other salad ingredients. The preparation up to this point can be done in advance and the salad kept in the refrigerator.

Halve the figs and scoop out some of the flesh, which you can add to the salad. Place two fig halves on each plate, heap on the salad, sprinkle with pomegranate concentrate and serve.

Rebecca Ets-Hokin is a certified culinary professional. Visit her Web site at She can be reached at [email protected].