My cold date…
With reassuringly high security to board the plane to Tel Aviv I was relieved and delighted to finally arrive in the pleasantly warm evening air of Israel.
My first adventure out was a food tour of Jerusalem. Taking the road from Tel Aviv we travelled down the same paths that Nebuchadnezzar, the Emperor Constantine and the Crusaders took to give me my first view of this incredible, deeply complex city. Practically everything ( due to a law) is built from the tawny colored but sometimes verging on dusky pink Jerusalem stone. We went straight to the markets to buy dates, tahini and nuts for one of the upcoming evening parties.
The gate of Damascus
I am so glad we had a guide. The markets are more than just a place to shop, they are a huge part of this country’s soul and social scene and it is here that simple purchases, for instance 1 kilo of almonds, can roll out into long drawn out discussions, tastings and banter. It wasn’t about haggling but more about selecting the best, which be warned isn’t always what‘s on show. For me, not speaking Hebrew, it was difficult to understand or guess what was being said between the guide, the hostess and stall holder, but it was truly animated and entertaining.
Mostly everything was impressively fresh, from the fish stalls where I saw the St Peter fish that appeared in the story of Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 to the huge stacks of pomegranates and the walls of herbs.
At one shop they were selling freshly ground tahini, a sesame seed paste that is used a lot in Middle Eastern cookery, such as in hummus and babaganoush ( a grilled aubergine dip) . With the mill running in the background you could taste the warm paste literally “hot of the press”. At one restaurant we visited that day ( we ate at 5 different ones which even by my standards is impressive) they were serving warm grilled breads with thick tahini sauce as a dip. An interesting alternative to hummus that certainly engages the taste buds.
( To make this whisk 2 tbsp tahini paste and 1 tbsp lemon juice – it will be thick, slacken off with about 1 tbs water to make a dipping sauce. Season with salt and pepper you can also add 1 tsp finely chopped parsley.)
We visited a Georgian fast food outlet where they make juicy cheesey breads sometimes with fillings of onions or with different pastry like filo. My favorite was an oval dough, with an egg baked in the cow cheese and butter filling, the idea being that you tear off bits of bread and dip it into the yolk – lip smackingly exciting.
Top left – Haclapuri, bottom left – Magarloli , Right – Acharuli
Surprisingly a lot of restaurants and food stalls are keen to show their European cultural side as I found out when visiting the cheese stall. I of course love good cheese but was desperate not to be plied with roquefort, manchego and somerset cheddar. I practically had to beg him to let me try some Israeli goats cheese, he said
“It no good”
I gave him my best smile and he eventually complied…
Sadly he was right, although I think it would have been fine for cooking with or stuffed in that bread.
Kubbeh – stuffed semolina cakes with meat
Typical table setting and Napkin in Israel
This post card recipe is a dessert I made for one evening that is perfect to celebrate the land of milk and honey…
Honey, date and cardamom ice cream with pistachio praline.
A date tree in Jerusalem
Makes 1 litre
500 ml cream
500 ml milk
8 egg yolks
400g pitted chopped dates
10 – 15 cardamom pods cut in half
1 vanilla pod split length ways and seeds scraped out
Swish a saucepan out with water ( I find this somehow helps to stop the milk from scalding the pan)
Pour in the milk and cream and add the cut cardamom and vanilla
Gently heat for ten minutes but do not boil.
Turn off the heat and allow to infuse for at least 20 minutes
Strain the mix through a sieve into another pan.
Add the chopped dates and gently heat again for 5 minutes – do not let it boil.
Take off the heat and whizz up the mix so the dates are pureed.
Crack the egg yolks into another large bowl
Return the pureed date and milk mix onto the heat and bring to the boil
Quickly pour this onto the egg yolks and immediately whisk.
Let it cool then pour it into a suitable container to cover and freeze.
I didn’t churn mine and the texture was great, it takes about 8 hours to freeze.
200g caster sugar
1 tbs cold water
140g chopped pistachios
In a heavy based saucepan add the sugar and water
slowly heat until the sugar melts
Keep a good eye on it and watch for it to start to turn dark golden.
Add the nuts, stir then pour out onto a greased tray.
Leave to cool and harden
When you want to serve scoop the ice cream into chilled glasses with a shard of praline, a drizzle of really good honey and some curls of dark chocolate – you need the bitterness as depending on the dates the ice cream can seem quite sweet.
This week’s transport; the snazzy (but pricey) Heathrow express, El Al airlines and a terrifyingly speedy Israeli taxi.
Jerusalem at night