Cook: Israeli market is beehive of activity, feast for the senses

Nowhere is the Israeli passion for life more pronounced than in kitchens, markets and restaurants. Despite Israel’s precarious circumstances, daily life goes on, never skipping a beat.

Cafés are always full, new restaurants open daily, and street food can be found on almost every corner. Gorgeous, world-class shuks are an integral part of Israeli life. In fact, one could call these outdoor markets giant salad bars. On Thursdays and Friday mornings, they are teeming with people getting ready for Shabbat meals.

The food sold comes directly from the fields, bypassing wholesalers, which provides the consumer with the best and freshest produce, herbs and spices. Add to this the seductive aromas, vibrant colors and personalities of the vendors, and the whole experience becomes a feast for the senses.

I am always envious of the shoppers loading their baskets with breads, produce and a dozen types of olives and hummus. As a tourist, I can’t partake in that pleasure, but I do bring back the dried herbs and spices that make Israeli cuisine unique. Lemony sumac and the pungent blend of spices called zatar are my favorites.

I also make a beeline for the Falafel King, the Hummus King, the fresh warm pita bakery and Halvah King for snacking as I walk through this wonderland of food.


Parsley Salad

Serves 4-6

2 large bunches parsley, stems removed

2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced

2 tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped

1 Tbs. sumac

2 cloves garlic, minced

juice of 1 lemon

3–4 Tbs. olive oil

salt and pepper

sumac for sprinkling

Chop parsley, combine with remaining ingredients and sprinkle lightly with sumac.


Fatoush (Middle Eastern Bread Salad)

Serves 6-8

3 (6-inch) pitas, lightly toasted, torn into bite-size pieces

1⁄2 cup fresh lemon juice

1 English (hothouse) cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced

4 scallions, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced

4 ripe medium-size tomatoes, diced

1 cup cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas)

1⁄4 cup chopped fresh parsley

6 fresh mint leaves, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin seed

1⁄2 cup olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 Tbs. zatar

In a large bowl, moisten pita with 3 Tbs. lemon juice. Add cucumber, scallions, pepper, tomatoes, beans, parsley and mint. Toss again. In a small bowl whisk together remaining lemon juice, garlic, cumin and olive oil. Toss with salad and add salt and pepper. Sprinkle with zatar.


Salmon with Sumac

Serves 4

4 salmon fillets, about 6 oz. each

2 tsp. sumac

2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

olive oil

lemon wedges

Sprinkle sumac over the fleshy sides of the salmon (not the skin part). Pour balsamic vinegar on top. Marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes to 2 hours. Just before cooking, drizzle or spray a light coating of olive oil on the fish to keep it from sticking. Pan fry, broil or grill until done. Serve with lemon wedges.


Grilled Chicken with Zatar

Serves 4

2 heads of garlic, top third cut off

6 Tbs. olive oil, divided

3- to 4-lb. chicken, cut in half lengthwise, backbone removed

4 Tbs. zatar

11⁄2 tsp. lemon zest and 3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

1 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary

1 small serrano chile, seeded and minced (optional)

2 tsp. dried marjoram

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put garlic on a large sheet of foil. Drizzle with 1 Tbs. oil and wrap tightly with foil. Roast until tender and golden brown, 45–50 minutes. Let cool.

Place chicken in a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Sprinkle 21⁄2 Tbs. zatar over chicken. Squeeze roasted garlic cloves out of skins and into a small bowl; mash into a paste with the back of a fork. Add 4 Tbs. oil, lemon zest and juice, rosemary, chiles and marjoram; whisk to blend. Pour over chicken; turn to coat. Cover and chill overnight.

Season chicken with salt and pepper; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Meanwhile, build a medium fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to medium-high. Brush grill rack with remaining 1 Tbs. oil. Grill chicken, turning occasionally, about 35 minutes until skin is crisp and browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the thigh without touching bone reads

160 degrees. Transfer chicken to a cutting board, sprinkle with remaining 11⁄2 Tbs. zatar, and let rest 10 minutes.

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Faith Kramer. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].