Israel Eats: A Cookbook and Cultural Essay

Great meals are an integral part of traveling and experiencing a new destination, and Israel is no exception. Published this year, Israel Eats by Steven Rothfeld and Nancy Silverton (Gibbs Smith, $35) documents the country’s diverse culinary landscape; and interspersed with the recipes for Israeli specialties are stunning scenes of the rugged countryside, barren desert and bustling cities, as well as intimate portraits of local people. A feast for the senses, the cookbook provides readers with recipes for such dishes as challah with olives, anchovies and oregano and favorites from local restaurants like Tzfon Abraxas, which makes a resplendent whole roasted cauliflower with za’atar and mint yogurt sauce. A culinary photographer who has traveled to over 40 countries and toured nearly all of Israel, Rothfeld offers anecdotes for each recipe in the book. Here, we excerpt two recipes from the cookbook and Rothfeld shares his culinary wisdom and favorite destinations around the world.

What makes Israel a dynamic travel destination? The confluence of tension, surprise, intensity and warmth in Israel creates an experience for visitors that is unique, unpredictable and rewarding. The powerful natural beauty, interesting villages, bountiful markets, ancient holy sights and expressive people are a feast for the senses.

What are your favorite places to eat in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem? In Tel Aviv, I enjoy Zakaim’s vegan soul food (, Tzfon Abraxas for its exuberant kitchen alchemy, Popina ( for refined, elegant cuisine, the conviviality and great Israeli wines at Brut (, Ha’achim’s fried artichokes and spinach-feta pitas (Ibn Gabirol St 12; 972 3-691-7171) and the silky hummus at Abu Hasan in Jaffa.

In Jerusalem, I like to graze in the Machane Yehuda market and take in the euphoric energy at Machneyuda. I love the classic biblical dishes at Eucalyptus (, lunch at Azura, a sunset dinner at Rama’s Kitchen ( in Nataf and an alfresco lunch just outside the city at Majda.

You travel all over the world for your work; what are some of your favorite places and were do you go to relax?

I am easy prey when I travel. I fall in love with almost every place I visit. I just returned from Bhutan and know that I will be reflecting on the beauty of the country, the primal spirituality of the Buddhist temples and the welcoming character of the Bhutanese for the rest of my life. Myanmar captured my imagination for its complete authenticity, practically untouched by Western tourism.

I find pleasure in the casual refinement of lunch on the beach in St.-Tropez, the rugged natural beauty of Corsica and wandering for hours from café to ruin to piazza in Rome. In the winter, my family and I often head to the Riviera Maya with a suitcase full of books (and an insatiable appetite for guacamole and Maradol papayas) for respite from our day-to-day lives.

What are some of your favorite culinary destinations and why? Paris is my mecca for Pierre Hermé’s chocolates and pastries, and I never miss a meal of potato pancakes at the Sunday organic market on Boulevard Raspail. I love Italy for anything edible: the pecorino cheeses, fresh porcini mushrooms, cannellini beans, fried artichokes, budini di risi, Amarone wines and cappuccinos. Burgundy is a favorite for Chassagne and Puligny Montrachet wines and the Marché Paysan ( in Coustellet.

What are some of your must-buy’s when traveling? In France, I’ll always stop by a local grocery for summer fruits and honey; in Israel I love grabbing a glass of freshly squeezed juice at a street corner stand; in Berkeley, California, I always scoop up a take-home Cheese Board Pizza ( and vegetables from Monterey Market (; and in Brittany, I can’t leave without feasting on some Prat-Ar-Coum oysters.

In all your travels, what would you consider your most transformative travel moment? I have been thinking a lot about this lately. Frequently and unexpectedly during my waking hours, I am bombarded by sensations of places I have visited in the past year, or even ten or 40 years ago. When I was 20 years old, I bought a one-way ticket from Paris to Athens with no reservations or plans (still one of my preferred ways to explore) and on my first day there, I met a fellow traveler who was selling his blood to finance his journey. He took me to a subterranean bar to sample the rustic local wine, retsina. It was past midnight, I had no place to stay, and yet I felt relaxed and completely in the moment. I still live in this state of mind. Three weeks later, I was asleep in a small village in Crete and was jolted awake by a vision of myself alone in a remote place where I didn’t know anyone and was completely off the map. For the first time in my life I felt that I was responsible for myself, anything was possible and I could be anywhere and do anything. To this day, I continue to draw on that inner strength wherever I am.

Roasted Beet Carpaccio

  • 10 small beets, rinsed well
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons sour cream or crème fraîche

Preheat the oven to its highest setting, usually 450 to 500°F (230 to 260°C). Place the beets on a baking sheet and bake for 2 hours; beets will look like charcoal pieces and can be easily pierced with a knife.

Cool beets completely. Discard the charred skin and thinly slice them. Divide the slices among four plates. Drizzle with olive oil, and then sprinkle with sea salt. Garnish each plate with 1 tablespoon sour cream and serve.

Nancy’s Falafel Pistachios

  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon dried ground basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried ground marjoram
  • 1 tablespoon dried ground rosemary
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 2 cups (300 g) whole peeled garlic cloves
  • 2 cups (475 ml) olive oil
  • 6 dried hot red chilies, such as chilies de arbol or pequin chilies
  • 4 cups (500 g) unsalted pistachios in the shell
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside the “falafel” spice.

Line a plate with paper towels. Using a mandolin with a safety attachment to protect your fingers, cut the garlic cloves into paper-thin slices. Pour the olive oil into a medium-size heavy skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add the garlic slices and cook until crisp and light golden brown; do not burn or the garlic and oil will be unusable. Remove from the heat. Using a slotted utensil, immediately transfer the garlic chips to the prepared plate to drain. Reserve the garlic cooking oil.

Add the chilies and 2 tablespoons of the reserved garlic cooking oil (save the remainder for another use) to a large heavy skillet. Set over medium-high heat. Add the pistachios and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the “falafel“ spice and the salt and stir until the pistachios are coated with spice and heated through, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer the pistachios and chilies to a serving bowl. Add the garlic chips and toss well. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Photographs and text from Israel Eats by Steven Rothfeld, reprinted by permission of Gibbs Smith

Published onJune 28, 2016

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