When hummus becomes a culture and freekeh is sold at Whole Foods, you know that the “New Israeli Food” has reached far and wide.
Freekeh, a chewy, nutty grain, has roots as far back as the Old Testament and is often cooked in the Middle East. It’s not a coincidence that the 7 “species” mentioned in the Hebrew Bible are so much a part of the new Israeli cuisine.
Chefs love their depth of flavor, accessibility and ancient references. Many have taken a deeper and more experimental look at wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.
I was lucky enough to catch a cooking class in NYC last week taught by Chef Shlomo Schwartz, a sabra (Israeli native) who was trained at the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts (CKCA) in Brooklyn.
Shlomo now teaches at CKCA, owns his own kosher catering company called YOUR SOUL KITCHEN, and guides groups of enthusiastic 20 something’s through the tasty, ever changing, and extraordinarily creative culinary landscape in Israel.
The class I landed on with 10 other lucky cooks of all levels, was indeed called “The Melting Pot: flavors, people and stories that create the New Israeli Food”. We met at the Ramaz School, a convenient summer only outpost of the Brooklyn campus.
We gathered around stainless steel workstations with slushy watermelon cocktails in hand, (Red Flag on Tel Aviv Beach- blended watermelon, arak and muddled mint leaves) to listen to Shlomo’s intro and to receive our assignments.
After dividing up into groups of 2-4 we went to work chopping, sautéing, whisking and nibbling. Schwartz easily managed the group’s many questions and floated from station to station, demonstrating knife skills, best way to fry eggplant, how to elicit perfect creaminess from hummus all while sharing his passion for ingredients rooted in his native land.
Schwartz’s names for these dishes give clues to the origins and twists in each composition. Let me know if you need some help deciphering them. Here’s what we whipped up.
Amouse- Bouche- The Queen and King of the Desert- A New-Old Love Story: Cherry tomato and garlic confit with crispy za’atar pita bites and goat cheese.
Red Flag on Tel Aviv beach: Slushy watermelon, arak and mint cocktail (dangerous when you’re thirsty)
Sabich Salad- A Twist on Israeli Street Food: Iraqi-Jewish-Salad with fried eggplant, hard cooked eggs, green tehina, fresh parsley and garlic and sumac seasoned croutons
Fatush Salad: Shuk to Table: Forget Israeli, Arab, Mediterranean Salad. This is the real deal: chopped fresh market veggies and haloumi cheese with pita croutons
Freekeh Tabouli- Between Tel Aviv and Jaffa: Freekeh with fennel, celery , mango, red onion, fresh herbs, lemony tehina and more…. (see recipe below)
Jerusalem Machne Yehuda Chamshuka: traditional tomato and pepper stew with poached eggs, cheese and herbs over a bed of creamy hummus
Beets to Go: Carved beets with lemon-herbed couscous and roasted pistachios over yogurt sauce
and the grand finale…
Upgraded Knafeh: cheese pastry soaked in sweet syrup with vanilla ice cream, tehina cream, silan and nuts.
You can find Chef Shlomo Schwartz at Your Soul Kitchen or teaching at the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts. Check this kosher cooking school for a wide range of classes for professionals seeking certification or for enthusiastic home cooks by clicking here.
Freekeh is an ancient grain made from young wheat that is harvested while still green and put through a roasting and rubbing process during production.
It has a smoky, nutty flavor and a firm, chewy texture. Today, as part of the dynamic and exciting trends in the Israeli kitchen, freekeh is a popular addition to many dishes in restaurants and homes around Israel.
This salad is dairy but may be made pareve (non-dairy) and vegan by eliminating the yogurt.
- 1 1/2 Cups Freekeh
- 3 Cups Boiling Water
- 1 Fennel, Stems and Core Removed
- 2 Celery stalks, Top and Leaves Removed
- 1 Small Red Onion, Small Diced
- 2 Mangos
- ¼ Cup Confectioners Sugar
- ½ Cup Chopped Scallions
- ½ Cup Chopped Flat Leaf Parsley, Stems Removed
- 1 Cups Tahini
- 2 Cloves of Garlic
- Juice of 2 Lemons
- Juice of 2 Limes
- Salt and Pepper to Taste
- 2 Tablespoons Pomegranate Molasses
- 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 4 tablespoons Yogurt
- Sunflower Seeds to Garnish
- Rinse the freekeh twice and drain well.
- Place the freekeh and the water in a medium size pot over a medium- high flame. Once it comes to a boil reduce the heat to low and cook for 10-12 minutes (We want the freekeh to be cooked al dente). Drain the extra water and let cool.
- While the freekeh is cooling start making the lemon- tahini by placing the garlic cloves in the food processor and pulsing a few times until the garlic is chopped.
- Add the tahini paste, and start adding water while the food processor is running until it gets the desired consistency.
- Add the juice of 2 lemons and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- On a mandolin or with a sharp knife, shave thin slices of the fennel and place in a clean bowl. With a vegetable peeler, peel the celery (discard the first layer of strips) and continue “shaving” thin strips of the celery. Add to the fennel.
- Dice one mango into small cubes and add to the rest of the vegetables.
- Clean the second mango and place in the food processor. Add the confectioners sugar and blend until the puree is fully smooth.
- In a mixing bowl combine the cooled cooked freekeh, the fennel, celery, scallions and parsley. Add the lime juice, pomegranate molasses and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- To assemble the dish, spread 2 tablespoons of the tahini on the serving plate. Place the taboli over the tahini and create a firm pyramid shape. Drizzle the rest of tahini sauce, mango coulis and yogurt over the dish and garnish with sunflower seeds.