Yom Ha’atzmaut: A Gastronomic Celebration
Jews in America, and the world over, celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut (this year on Wednesday, April 29, 2009), which marks Israel’s birth as an independent, free nation. This year Israel will be 61 years old!
With the creation of the State of Israel we finally have a place we can call home, a bulwark that stands strong despite perpetual enemies. Its formation was a triumph against centuries of tyranny and persecution of Jews everywhere.
In my community there are several Jewish organizations and synagogues and all have special Yom Ha'atzmaut festivities on the calendar: speakers, classes, special prayers for those who have died protecting Israel, Israeli dance performances, choral singing, even cooking lessons.
Some of us will celebrate, gastronomically speaking that is, at home, with meals featuring Israeli food. Although Israeli food is always welcome, it is even better as the weather gets warmer because so much of it relies of fresh, seasonal produce.
I do wish that I had the means to make shwarma, the most delicious street food in the world. I have fond memories of my first taste of it on my first trip to Jerusalem many years ago. But shwarma, which requires hunks of meat and a spit larger than most kitchens, is out of the question. So is my other most favorite traditional Yom Ha'atzmaut dish: falafel. The women who run the kitchen at our local JCC make such good falafel (tucked inside a pita pocket and garnished with roasted eggplant and tahini) that I get my fill of the stuff there and won’t even try to compete.
At our house we’ll have a dairy dinner, a common theme in our family, all of us cheese eaters and lovers of fish and wonderful salads. We appreciate Israeli food’s focus on fresh fruits and vegetables and good fish.
I’ll serve hummus, of course. Although there are countless brands of kosher hummus available, my family loves the spicy-lemony version I make. It’s very easy and I usually prepare it a day or so ahead. Although I serve it with the usual pita bread, I usually brush the pita with a small amount of olive oil and bake it for a few minutes because we like it crispy-toasty.
There will be an Israeli Salad too, but, as with most of my cooking, I have made some variations to the basic dish, which combines cucumbers and tomatoes in a lemony vinaigrette dressing. My family’s favorite recipe, which is included in my book, Hip Kosher, also contains cooked bulgur wheat and feta cheese; it’s kind of like a cross between Tabbouleh and Israeli Salad. Bulgur Wheat Salad with Feta Cheese and Dill Dressing is another dish I sometimes make ahead, not just because it saves time, but also because after a day the flavors meld and the ingredients taste even better.
To round out dinner I’ll serve cold baked salmon and egg salad, along with steamed asparagus (I’ll dress the spears with vinaigrette just before we eat).
Naturally we’ll have dessert. Something sweet and really fresh is in order. Sufganyiot! It is usually made with yeast dough, but my easy recipe, which is made with lemon-infused cream puff pastry, is both uncomplicated and quick. There is never any left, so I know they are well loved.
I realize that Sufganyiot is a Hanukkah specialty but why wait? These little doughnuts are crispy and tender all at the same time, garnished with spicy sugar that’s crunches on your teeth and sends waves of satisfaction to your brain. They are meant for special occasions of all kinds. Like Yom Ha'atzmaut, a special day to celebrate in every way.
Ronnie Fein has been a freelance food and lifestyle writer since 1980. She currently writes regular features for the food and community sections of daily newspapers and has written articles for Newsday, Cook’s Illustrated, Consumer’s Digest, Connecticut magazine, and many other publications. She operates the Ronnie Fein School of Creative Cooking in Stamford, Connecticut and is the author of three cookbooks, the most recent is
Hip Kosher (DaCapo, 2008).
1 pound (approximately) can chickpeas
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup olive oil
4-6 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt, or salt to taste
pita bread, cut into wedges
Drain the beans but reserve the liquid from the can. Place the beans, 2 tablespoons of the reserved liquid, the lemon juice, tahini, olive oil, garlic, paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin and salt in a food processor or blender. Process until the ingredients are smooth and pureed. (Stop the machine once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.) Taste for seasoning and add salt to taste. Serve with pita wedges.
Makes 1-1/2 cups
Bulgur Wheat Salad with Feta Cheese and Dill Dressing
from Hip Kosher
1 cup fine-grain bulgur wheat
1 cup cut-up cherry tomatoes
1 cup thawed frozen peas
1 medium cucumber, peeled, deseeded, and chopped
3/4 cup crumbled feta or blue cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh dill
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3–4 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Place the bulgur wheat in a bowl and pour in 1-1/2 cups of boiling water. Stir and let stand for about 15 minutes, or until the wheat is tender. If any liquid remains, strain the wheat to discard the excess. Place the wheat in a bowl. Add the tomatoes, peas, cucumber, cheese, and dill and toss ingredients. Mix the olive oil and lemon juice together and pour over the salad. Toss to coat ingredients with the dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon peel
4 large eggs
vegetable oil for frying
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Place the water, salt and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has melted, turn the heat off. Add the flour all at once. Stir to incorporate the flour completely (it helps to use a sturdy wooden spoon). Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the lemon peel. Let rest for 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating it in completely to make a soft, sticky dough. Heat 1-inch of vegetable oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot enough to make a tiny piece of dough sizzle quickly (about 350 degrees) dip a teaspoon into the oil to coat the surface of the spoon. Scoop heaping portions of dough with the spoon and drop the dough into the hot oil. Fry 6-8 balls of dough at a time, cooking them and turning them in the hot oil to brown all sides. Fry until golden brown. Remove with a strainer to paper towels to drain. Just before serving, mix the sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle over the Sufganyiot.