A standard shakshuka

Israels’ Ultimate Breakfast

Posted by | Food, Markets, oriental food, recipes, traditional food, Uncategorized | One Comment

If you could create the perfect breakfast- one that could also be served as a good lunch or dinner, what would it be?

I can hear you saying to yourselves ‘obviously hummus ‘ or ‘Yoni’s thinking about shawarma like he always does’ but no. I’m thinking of the true breakfast of champions- Shakshuka!

Shakshuka is a staple of many north African countries including Tunisian, Libya, Algeria and Morocco. It was introduced to Israel in the 1950’s when thousands of Tunisian and Maghrebi Jews immigrated. You may have seen it before- a frying pan filled with a red tomato sauce in which an egg or two have been cooked.

We Israelis have developed it past a simple food into a complete art form. Over time it has developed from a working class food to a well known and recognized national treasure.

The basics of Shakshuka are always the same although different traditions and different restaurants make Shakshuka in their own unique way. Some make the sauce based on red peppers, others add copious amounts of spinach. Some places give it a ‘balkan’ flavour by adding salty cheese and eggplant.

Regardless of the various changes it always makes a very filling and nourishing meal!

If you really want t understand what shakshuka is all about I recommend going to many small coffee shops and trying various types. I recommend Dr. Shakshuka in Jaffa, and I was very pleasantly surprised by the shakshuka served at the old train station in Jerusalem.

There are many restaurants which boast having the best one, and every Israeli will tell you that he can make the best one.
But to tell the truth, I make the best Shakshuka of all. For all of you at home who want to make your first Shakshuka here is my recipe:

Yoni’s Best Shakshuka

Ingredients:

2 large onions diced
1 red pepper diced
2 very ripe tomatoes diced
100 ml tomato paste
100 ml water
5 cloves garlic
4 cardamom pods
3 dashes of hot paprika
3 dashes of turmeric
3 dashes of cumin
salt
pepper
bunch of dried sweet basil
handful of diced parsley
tbsp. diced ginger root
copious amounts of olive oil
4 eggs

Directions:

Saute garlic, ginger, cardamom pods and onion in a wide frying pan. Once the onions are ‘clear’ add the cumin, turmeric and hot paprika. Mix it in until the spices are evenly spread and add the red pepper.
As the red pepper is sautéing add the basil and parsley.
When you smell the basil and parsley add the diced tomatoes and mix very well.
Add in the tomato paste and 100ml water and mix well.
Add salt and pepper.
Cook the mixture for two minutes at a low heat so that it doesn’t burn.
Add enough water to almost cover the vegetables, and bring the mixture to a simmer.
Dig 4 small indentations for the eggs. Pour each egg into each to its own indentation. Cover the pan and let cook for a couple of min until the whites cook but the eggs are still soft.

Serve with fresh pita and a nice fresh salad.

Enjoy!

Knafeh from the market

The search for the perfect Knafeh

Posted by | Food, Markets, oriental food, recipes, traditional food, Uncategorized | One Comment

Many years ago I heard a song about HaKnafeh Hametuka– the sweet Knafeh. This piqued my interest. If it was so good that songs were written about it then I had to have some!

After a while of asking at stores and coffee shops, I found out that it was a sweet pastry with cheese and that I was most likely to find it in the Arab shuk (market).

Sure enough it was there- a brilliant orange coloured pastry made of a bed what looked like shredded filo dough covered with goat cheese and then sandwiched with another layer of the brilliant orange pastry.
I noticed that when the merchants sold servings of the Knafeh they would pour a warm syrup over it.

Similar to the Sachlav which I wrote about earlier, Knafeh is a popular traditional dessert in all parts of the Arab world which were once part of the Ottoman empire; Jordan, Syria, Turkey as well as a host of other countries including Israel.

There are many variations. For instance the colour can vary- in Jerusalem it is usually coloured bright orange. The major differences have to do with the type of pastry or the type of cheese filling. In some places the filling is a mixture semolina and milk rather than goat cheese.

During the summer, Knafeh is hard to come by, it is traditionally made during the winter.

Where can you find it? It can be found in the ‘shuk’ -markets in Jerusalem, in the city of Abu Gosh, and at various markets in Tel Aviv and Jaffa. As of yet, the best that I found was sold by a Bedouin who runs a stand (which isn’t always open) in the mall at the Alonim intersection (highway 77 and 75).

Some other interesting facts:

The largest plate of Knafeh was made in 2009 in Nablus. Its dimensions were 75 by 2 meters, and it weighed 1,350 Kg.

In 2013 Google reported that Knafeh was the food that was searched for most by Muslims during the month of Ramadan.

 

Here is a recipe for those of you who want to try it at home.

 

Ingredients

200 g kadaif noodles
75-100 g melted butter/ margarine
130 g soft goat cheese
1 c water
1 c sugar
2 tsp rose water

Directions

First you need to make a rose water syrup. Boil the water, add in the sugar and make sure it
all dissolves. Remove the mixture from the heat let it cool a bit and add in the rose water. Set the syrup aside for later use.

Start by separating the kadaif noodles from each other and coating them with the melted butter/ margarine. each of the strands has to be lightly coated with the butter. Separate the noodles into two even sections (100g each).

Take one of the portions of the noodles and spread it out on a frying pan. It should make a layer no thicker than half a cm and not to thin either.

As the layer of noodles is cooking spread the cheese over it and then over the cheese layer the second batch of noodles. when the bottom layer of noodles caramelizes (turns golden) flip it over and let the other side caramelize.

Just before you turn off the heat pour half of the syrup over the Knafeh . Serve it Immediately while it’s still hot.

Naturally it is best served alongside Turkish coffee.

Enjoy

Holocaust survivors

Reflections on Holocaust Memorial Day

Posted by | History, Jewish History | No Comments

The Siren has sounded.

It is Yom Hashoah. The day that we remember our six million brothers and sisters who were murdered for being Jewish. Across the country thousands of ceremonies are being held. most of them start with the siren that sounds across the country.

I’ve always found the sounding siren to be a strange dichotomy between a screaming loud sound that is inescapable and a complete and utter inner silence.

When the siren sounds everything comes to a stop. conversations, calls, work, traffic- everything. Time comes to a stop as we stand and remember.

As I stand in the loud silence and think of the huge dark inescapable hole left in our people as a result of the holocaust, a myriad of thoughts run through my mind.

• The stones at stones at the death camp of Treblinka. specifically the stone which is a memorial for the city of Bialystok in Poland. My great grandparents left the city before the Holocaust but almost all of their families where murdered.

• The concentration camps, extermination camps and killing sites that I saw on my trip to Poland in 2009

• The stories that I’ve read and heard

• The survivors that I knew who are no longer with us and those that I didn’t know.

• The same siren that a year ago sent me running for cover, is now telling me to stand still and remember

• The lessons that the world was supposed to learn and didn’t. Never again should apply to all nations and people. Why isn’t the world stopping the slaughters going on in Syria, Iraq, Rwanda and all of the other places where it is happening today.

• what does it mean for us. Does the fact that we are still here give us an additional task in life?

The siren stops.

Do I go back to reading the paper?

We remember. But what does that mean? Is it knowledge or a lesson?

Holocaust memorial day Israel 2015

Yoni Lightstone

Sachlav at the market

Sachlav: The winter comfort food of Israel

Posted by | Food, Markets, oriental food, recipes, traditional food, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Everyone has a comfort food for cold winter days. I acquired mine soon after moving to Israel.

On one of my first winter trips to the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem I noticed large metallic urns from which merchants were serving a thick aromatic drink..

After pouring a cup of a mysterious steaming thick white liquid the merchant sprinkled some cinnamon. crushed walnuts and dried coconut over it and sent me on my way.

It was then that my love affair with the ever elusive sachlav started.

I have spent hours and hours over years trying to find the best cup of sachlav. Most places will serve you milk, thickened with cornstarch and flavoured with rose water and a few spices.

The traditional drink dates back to Roman times and was most popular and spread throughout the Ottoman empire.
Sachlav or sachleb in Arabic translates to orchid. The sweet white drink is traditionally made from ground orchid bulbs.

During the time that it was most popular orchids almost became extinct in the lands under Ottoman control. The rising prices of the orchid bulbs resulted in the cornstarch version that is so common today.

When it is cold and I find myself in the streets of Jerusalem I always feel an uncontrollable pull to ‘Nisans’ spice shop at the Mahane Yehuda Market where I always find a smile and a cup of real sachlav made from orchid bulbs.

Here is a recipe that you can use to make it at home:

Ingredients: 

4 cups of milk (not skim)
2 tbsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. rose water
sugar to taste
ground cinnamon to taste
chopped walnuts/ pistachios to taste
ground coconut to taste

Directions:

Heat the milk in a small saucepan. Once the milk is warm add the cornstarch and mix with a fork until an even texture is achieved.
Let the milk simmer at a low heat until it thickens. Stir constantly to avoid burning the milk.
Mix in the rose water and remove from heat. Add sugar to taste.
Pour into a cup and sprinkle the cinnamon, coconut and nuts on top.
Enjoy!

Maccabees- Miracle or Strategic Brilliance

Posted by | History, Holidays, Jewish History, Uncategorized | One Comment

It’s Hannuka! As we sit spinning our driedels and eating latkes, let’s think about the miracle of this holiday, one of the two which were instituted by the Rabbis. In school, you probably learned that the Hannukah miracle was the oil lasting for eight days rather than one. But oddly enough, there is no mention of that miracle in the special prayers for the holiday.

In the prayers we say: ‘Thank you for delivering many into the hands of few’, which refers to God delivering the large Greek army into the hands of the Maccabees. But were the Hasmonian successes in battle a miracle, or the result of strategic brilliance?

The Seleucid Greek army of Antiochus IV was the largest, strongest and best trained military in the world. It isn’t possible that a couple hundred rag-tag farmers and priests managed to bring the largest force in the known world to its knees, or is it?

The power of the Seleucid army was in the phalanx, a strong formation of soldiers which was virtually unstoppable. Its only drawbacks were that it could only be utilized on level ground and it could only move forward. In that period all battles were fought at predetermined times and predetermined locations.
This was the brilliance of Judah the commander of the Maccabee forces: he was a master of guerilla warfare before it was even invented!

He understood that his forces were no match for the phalanx on an even playing field. Judah used his intimate knowledge of the mountainous land and the agility of light forces. In most of the battles he set up ambushes that caught the traveling Greek military strung out and unprepared.

As the multi-year conflict progressed, the Jewish forces preformed more intricate manoeuvres which succeeded in defeating the Seleucid army, which was already expecting ambushes. Out of the eight large battles between the sides, the Maccabees defeated the Greeks six times and won their religious and political independence, which is what we celebrate today.

Happy Hannuka!

Climbing down one of the rock faces in Nahal Dargot

The Hike of Hikes- Nahal Dragot

Posted by | Gems of Israel, Hikes, Nature | One Comment

Even though Israel is such a small country, it has a wide variety of landscapes, regions and hikes. Between the deserts, forests, tropics and other areas, there is one hike which sets itself apart from the rest.

Among the many beautiful and challenging hikes in Israel, Nahal Dragot, or Nahal Daraje in Arabic, is widely recognized as the most extreme hike of all.

Nahal Dragot is a stream which has carved a canyon through the majestic cliffs of the Judean Desert. It is called “Dragot”: (steps, or levels in Hebrew) because of ‘steps’ that it has carved while making its way through the mountains. It covers a relatively short distance of only about 6 km, but the hike can take as a long as 7-8 hours to complete. The stream takes you down almost 380 vertical meters from the Judean Mountains to the Dead Sea!

The hike requires climbing down dried waterfalls, swimming across pools of water, sliding through chutes and climbing ladders. If you decide to embark on this journey, you should take a rope which is at least 10 metres long, as at some points the use of a rope is required.

Nahal Dragot is best to do a couple of days after rain – the pools in this desert canyon will be full of fresh water which allows a much better swimming experience. Entrance to the hike is dangerous on days with a possibility of rain anywhere in the Jerusalem-Bethlehem-Hebron area as there is a danger of flash floods!
Inside the canyon there is no cell phone coverage and no fresh drinking water. You should head out with at least 3 liters of water per person.

Driving on highway 90 from Jerusalem towards Ein Gedi, here is a brown sign pointing to ‘Metzukai Dragot’ ‘מצוקי דרגות’ on the right. Following that road up the cliff you will pass a desert hostel. Approx. 2 Km after the hostel is the beginning of the hike. It is marked by the green trail.

Due to the cliffs, the hike is one way only and isn’t circular. It is best to go with two cars and leave one at the end point. If you have access to only one car you can hitchhike.

In order to be allowed to do the hike you have to sign up ahead of time through the parks authority. this is done to control the number of hikers in the canyon. In addition the parks authority requires that each group bring at least 20 meters of climbing rope!

Enjoy!

Gems Of Israel- Land of Pursuits Monument

Posted by | Gems of Israel, Memorials, Sites | No Comments

The ‘Land of Pursuits Monument’ (אנדרטת ארץ המרדפים ), also known as the Jordan Valley Monument, is a magnificent memorial which is hidden in the Jordan valley off of highway 90, beside the village of Petzael.

In the years following the 1967 Six Day War, frequent terrorist attacks were perpetrated against Israeli towns and villages by terrorists entering from Jordan. The IDF regularly intercepted terrorists in the Jordan Valley (the valley along the Jordan river which is the border between Israel and Jordan ), and it became an area in which many firefights and hot pursuits occurred.

As a result of the infiltrations, the IDF created a new brigade stationed in the Jordan Valley, whose task was specifically to combat the terrorists from Jordan.

The IDF developed new combat strategies to accommodate the difficult terrain of the Jordan Valley.
In the years following 1970, Jordan took steps to stop infiltrations into Israel.

The monument was created in 1972 by the Israeli sculptor Yigal Tumarkin. It is built out of cement and steel. Tumarkin took various types of guns, heated them and shaped them into the form of an anit-aircraft cannon which rises to the height of 21 meters.

The names of nearly 400 soldiers who fell in the Jordan Valley are engraved on the memorial.

The memorial makes a great stop when traveling between Jerusalem and Beit Shean on highway 90.

Our unified Nation

Posted by | current events, Uncategorized | One Comment

There is an old joke which states the following: A man (let’s say Jim) is out sailing in the ocean when his ship starts to sink. He quickly jumps into the life raft and floats around for days. Suddenly he happens upon a tiny island and sees a few huts. Quickly he rows towards the island hoping that there will be fresh water and food in the village.
As he gets to the beach a skinny old man comes running yelling
‘You found me! I’m saved!’
Jim is taken aback and says to the man.’ I thought you were saving me- you’re from this village…’
The man looks back and says’ I’ve been stranded here alone for years.
‘Then what’s that village?’ Jim asked.
The old man replied ‘ I’m Jewish. The first thing that I did when I got here was build two synagogues’
‘Two synagogues?! Why two?’
The man replied ‘One that I go to, and one that I’ll never step foot in!

Israel in a colourful and complicated country. It has a very divided population. There are deep divisions in Israeli society as a result of politics, religion and numerous other reasons.

Every once in a while I find myself wondering what happened to the unity of our people and how we became so divided.
Unfortunately every couple of years there is a war. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had to change plans as a result of a war with Gaza or Lebanon. Of course these wars cause arguments as to whether or not they are justified and the politicians are divided between right and left wing.

Strangely at these times that you think would bring even more division the people are more united.
The other day I went to a hospital to visit a few of the soldiers who had been wounded. I was amazed by what I saw. There was a plethora of people who had come to visit soldiers and bring them gifts. There were right wing, left wing religious and non religious people.

All of them came with smiles and gifts in order to support our soldier. people brought bags with snacks, clothing, homemade cookies and even tablets to give out to our soldiers. A small thank you for protecting us and our country.
one of the moments that stood out the most was as I was waiting for a bus to get back home an old ultra-orthodox couple came over to me- The Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel are known for not serving in the military and not supporting soldiers – They were carrying gift packages and asked me ‘ where are the soldiers?’ I replied ‘Who are you looking for? Anyone in particular?’ The answer which warmed my heart was ‘The soldiers- it doesn’t matter who!’
I pointed out to them which building to go to.

As I got on the bus I smiled with the knowledge that the entire nation is a unified and a single family even if we don’t always show it.

We are all Mourning together

Posted by | current events | One Comment

It is 9:30 in the morning on July first 2014. As a Canadian I should be happy and celebrating.
My emotions on this day couldn’t be farther away. For more than 12 hours now I’ve barely been able to hold back tears.

On Friday June 13, while leading a Birthright tour, one of the madrichim with me told me about the kidnapping of 3 Jewish students in Gush Etzion. Right away, it threw me back to harder times that Israel has known. I really hoped that this story would end like Gilad Shalit’s and not the countless other kidnappings that we know too well.

Over the past two weeks the entire country hoped and prayed for the safety of Gil-Ad, Naftali and Eyal.
Last night, while having dinner with friends, we saw the news. Words can’t explain the deep feeling of loss and sorrow that I’ve felt since then.

I don’t know when I became such an emotional person. Maybe it’s because of past experiences that always stay with me, memories that surface when I feel this sort of loss. Maybe it’s because I’m a father. This morning when I walked my son to his playgroup, I couldn’t stop thinking of how hard it must be to lose the biggest treasure that a person can have.

Maybe it’s because I’m human.

Today is a sad day for the country of Israel and for the Jewish people. A reminder that nothing in life can be taken for granted.

A reminder that Israel and the Jewish people everywhere are united at times of need.

We are all mourning together

The most Beautiful of all Flowers

Posted by | Nature | One Comment

It is said that when the Queen of Sheba came to visit king Solomon she made a number of tests in order to verify rumors of his intelligence.

For one of the many tests, she put him into a room full of fake flowers and his task was to find the one real flowers. The room had hundreds of flowers made of pottery, wax, material, and glass.

Each of the flowers was dipped in a different perfume so that Solomon wouldn’t be able to sniff an easy answer.
King Solomon walked into the room and after looking around carefully he picked up the one cyclamen and exclaimed: ‘No human could make such a beautiful and delicate flower. This is the true one!’.

On hearing the exclamation- the humble Cyclamen blushed and bowed her head in shame. To this very day she is still bowed and blushing.

The Cyclamen or Rakefet רקפתas it is called in Hebrew, is a relatively common wild flower in Israel.
The flower grows in the rocky mountainous regions. It flowers between December and April making it one of the longest lasting flowers.

In addition to being common in nature the beautiful flower is also grown quite often in gardens.
The bulbs have been known to reach into their 20’s. As the bulb grows they can support more flowers. Older bulbs can sprout over one hundred flowers in a single season.

Of the 23 types of cyclamen only two grow in Israel. The flowers range in colour from white to vibrant pink.
The Cyclamen Persicum grows over the entire mountains range whereas the Cyclamen Coum grows only in the Meiron mountain and parts of the Golan heights making it a relativerly rare flower.

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