When someone brings up the subject of Israeli cuisine, does your mind immediately lock onto hummus and falafel and stop right there? Ah, but there is so much more, and among those who help to make that abundantly clear are a group of ethnic cooks from Israel’s Beit Shemesh-Mateh Yehuda area.
The six women–Ety Edlund, Rachel Hadar, Naomi Levi, Malka Nahmani, Leah Siboni and Rachel Sopher—visited Washington D.C. earlier this year to showcase their culinary creations at various events in the U.S. capitol. Their trip was made possible through the Jewish Federation’s Partnership 2000 and the Women’s Empowerment Program, an Israeli nongovernmental organization which offers low-income women seed money to develop small businesses.
Supported by the South African Women’s Zionist organization, the program sponsors open houses that showcase cooking projects and organizes overseas trips for the women to introduce their food to Jewish communities throughout the world.
The ethnic dishes served up by the Israeli women are influenced by many cultures including Russian, Moroccan, Persian, Afghan, and Yemeni cuisines.
Among the ethnic Israeli dishes you might find prepared by these ladies—
- Salouf – a type of large flat Yemenite bread, which can be dipped in zhug and hilba, a sauce made out of fenugreek with cilantro, tomato, and garlic
- Shakshuka – a cooked tomato dish from North Africa that usually features garlic (but no onions) and is often served with eggs or poached salmon
- An Israeli-made treat made with Cherry jam and chocolate
- Kubbeh – dumplings made out of semolina and bulgur and filled with meat
- Iranian chicken soup with gondi—plump dumplings made from chickpea flour
- Russian blinchiki stuffed with beef
- Malabi – a pudding or custard drizzled with pomegranate syrup and pistachios
As reported in a story by Aaron Leibel for Washington Jewish Week, hundreds of women have been lifted from poverty with help from women’s empowerment and economic development programs in Beit Shemesh during the past 10 years. Talks and workshops by experts help them to acquire the skills they need succeed in marketing, sales, budgeting, and making good business decisions.
Judging by the visit the six women made to Washington, they are happy with the training they have received. Not only did they present their native dishes with pride, they also danced and sang for their audiences at many of the events.
This unique program has been led very successfully during the past 6 years by Smadar Kaplinsky, the former chef and owner of “Kela David” restaurant in Judea hills. He’s also brought the program to other parts of Israel, and in cooperation with other communities in the world. (For more details on the program, you can contact Smadar at 972-50-9370468, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
At The Food Channel, we’ve been intrigued by the quality and diversity of Israeli cuisine, and have begun to stock some made-in-Israel specialty food products in the World Market section of The Food Channel Store. You may want to check them out.