A splash of olive oil. A twist of lemon. Israeli cooking is light and fresh. It’s healthy and delicious. Best of all, it reminds me of home. We took a Jerusalem Cooking Tour and learned a few great recipes that are easy to make and excellent.
While staying at Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem, we hopped on a cooking tour that included a visit to the market in Mahane Yehuda, a few minutes outside the old city. Mahane Yehuda is an explosion of sights and smells. Snacks and spices from all over the Middle East fill the senses – everything from fresh olives to dried fruits to sweet halvah.
Need a break from all the commotion? There are pubs and cafes everywhere – have a seat and grab a drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic). Try the sachlav – a thick, hot, and sweet drink that includes rosewater and coconut.
Our guide and chef, Or (which means “light” in Hebrew), took us through the market, picking out the freshest fruits and vegetables. Eggplants, strawberries, mint, and more – all for our feast. We had no idea what we would be cooking, but it was already shaping up to be a delicious meal.
We got back to the hostel with bags full of food. Each group of 2 or 3 people had a specific task. Some people diced vegetables. Others mixed tehina. Cassie and I were put in charge of the Israeli lemonade. I say “Israeli lemonade” because it’s different than American lemonade. It’s a bit sweeter and has fresh mint, which gives it an entirely different taste. We squeezed what felt like 6,000 lemons to make enough lemonade for 12 people and enough leftover lemon juice for the salad dressings.
Israeli lemonade recipe:
1/4 cup sugar (or 1/3 if you like it sweeter)
handful of fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup water
4 cups ice cubes
Squeeze the lemons and pour the juice into a blender. Boil the 1/2 cup of water and add the sugar. When the sugar is dissolved, add the mixture to the blender. Toss the fresh mint leaves into the blender, along with the ice cubes. Turn on the blender and wait a couple minutes. Pour into glasses and enjoy! It’s amazingly refreshing in summer.
We prepared a feast fit for a king. Roasted eggplants, Israeli salad (recipe below), tehina with spices, labane (a thicker, tangier sour cream), and much more. It was amazing. It took about an hour or so to put all the food together after the Jerusalem cooking tour, but that kitchen was bursting with flavor.
Israeli salad recipe:
1 large cucumber
2 red peppers
3 cloves garlic
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Dice all the vegetables and press the garlic. Mix everything up in a big bowl. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, and spices. Mix again. Enjoy! You can adjust the spices based on personal preference. If you want to add more flavors to the recipe, you can include any of the following: fresh mint, diced radishes, diced jalapenos (be gentle), Italian seasoning, oregano, and pretty much anything that sounds interesting. Have fun with it!
Most people think Israeli cooking is hummus and falafel, but it’s so much more than that. Those are certainly staples of the Israeli diet, and I can’t live without them. But there is so much more to explore in the culinary landscape of the Holy Land. While you’re in Israel, you should definitely hop on a Jerusalem Cooking Tour, and don’t forget to explore all your other options in one of the most amazing cities in the world!
Want to cook an Israeli feast with us? Click here.