Title: The Book of New Israeli Food
Author: Janna Gur
303 pages; Hard cover PhotographyColor
Publisher: Schocken Books, NY, NY 2008
Reviewed by, Chef John V. Fall 2008

The review---

If you have eaten hummus, tabbouleh or pita bread, then you have eaten Israeli food. Well maybe not as it really is in Israel. The Book of New Israeli Food, A Culinary Journey by Janna Gur is the real thing, not just a cook book but a guide to Israeli life with wonderful real life pictures by Eilon Paz. Authentic recipes and real life pictures of food, the country and people. Recipes and culture are a cross border mix of foods from centuries of travel, conquest and religion. You can see influences from Spain to North Africa and from Turkey to the Orient.

I have experience in Middle Eastern food and can tell you that these are good recipes! Some are easy to make and some a little challenging for an amateur. Remember the title--it has "New" in the description, so if you remember a recipe that is in the book it might not fit into your preconceived notion. One of these is a new take on Shawarma from Omer ben Gal, at the Lilt Restaurant in Tel Aviv. It is essentially an open faced steak sandwich with roasted eggplant, hyssop and matboucha salad on olive oil grilled flat bread and a picture to show its beauty! I made this recipe and it was delicious. Figs Stuffed with Bulgur and Cranberry Salad is as pretty as it is light and delicious. Imagine fresh figs stuffed with a bulgur, cranberry, carrot, cilantro and toasted sesame salad and drizzled with pomegranate reduction. Very nice dish and presentation. There are many new recipe and a few stand-bys like chopped liver and chicken soup too. I had to try one dessert but which one? Well maybe not exactly a dessert but a sweet treat found in many a bakeshop world wideBabka. In this book it is called a Chocolate and Halva Coffee Cake. The recipe has you make an easy sweet yeast dough in which you roll the halva and chocolate chips. Bake it and baste with sugar syrup! I love it!

Since this book is also a cultural journey many a recipe is intertwined with the many holidays and the foods that are traditionally served to celebrate them. So if you want to prepare a menu for Rosh Hashanah, Passover or Shavuot, it will be easy to do so because each section has its own suggestions and recipes for these holiday meals.

Anyone who likes food should buy this book, there are many great and new recipes that are appealing and easy to make and healthy too! If you are Jewish, you will appreciate the "keeping with tradition" in many a chapter if not, you will certainly learn more about the culture and its people and the common bond that everyone in the world hasfood!

Recipes tested---
Laffa "Lilit"
Omer ben Gal, Lilit Restaurant, Tel Aviv

This up-market version of schawarma is a flatbread sandwich with stir-fried steak strips, flame-roasted eggplants and two tasty salads.

ingredients (serves 4)
The Eggplants:
2 eggplants
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of 1-2 lemons
Coarse salt and crushed black pepper

The Matboucha Salad:
4 ripe tomatoes
1 hot green pepper
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup olive oil

The Hyssop Salad:
1/2 cup fresh hyssop (or oregano) leaves
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sumac
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

The Steak Sandwich:
Olive oil for brushing
1 laffa (Iraqi flatbread, p. 86) quartered, or 2 pita breads, each halved into two disks
1 kg (2 Ib 4 oz) beef sirloin, tenderloin or entrecote, cut into thin slices

To Serve:
1 cup thick tahini dip (p. 38)

1. Prepare the eggplants: Flame roast the eggplants (see instructions on p. 31). Cool slightly, scoop out the flesh, chop and mix with olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Set aside.
2. Prepare the matboucha salad: Preheat oven to maximum temperature.
3. Brush the tomatoes and the pepper with olive oil, season with salt and sugar and bake for 15 minutes. Take out the pepper and continue baking the tomatoes for another 5 minutes until they become dark brown.
4. In a deep bowl, mash the grilled tomatoeswith a fork, season with olive oil and salt. 5. Seed and chop the pepper and add to the tomatoes. Keep warm.
6. Prepare the hyssop salad: Mix all the ingredients and set aside.
7. Assemble the sandwich: Brush the laffa quarters or pita halves with olive oil and toast under the oven broiler or on a barbecue grill for a few minutes. Transfer to a serving plate. Spread the tahini dip on the toasted bread and spoon on some of the matboucha and chopped eggplant.
8. Heat a large skillet over a high heat. Brush the meat with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and stir-fry for a couple of minutes.
9. Place the meat on top of the matboucha salad and eggplant, heap on some of the hyssop salad, sprinkle olive oil and serve with tahini dip on the side.

Figs Stuffed with Bulgur and Cranberry Salad

Figs, fresh or dried, with their sweet luscious flesh and firm skin, are perfect for stuffing. Here is a light healthy dish to start off a summer meal.

ingredients (serves 10)
10 fresh figs
Pomegranate concentrate, for serving

The Salad:
100 g (3 1/2 oz) bulgur wheat
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped coarsely
1 cup carrots, grated coarsely
2-3 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, roasted
3 tablespoons pecans, chopped
2 tablespoons pomegranate concentrate

1. Soak the bulgur wheat in water for 4-5 hours, until It'swells up and softens. Or, add half a cup of water to the wheat and cook in a microwave oven for 3-4 minutes until the bulgur softens and absorbs the water. Allow to cool.
2. Mix the bulgur with the other salad ingredients

. The preparation up to this point may be done in advance and the salad kept in the refrigerator.
3. Halve the figs and scoop out some of the flesh, which you can add to the salad. Place two fig halves on each plate, heap on the salad, sprinkle with pomegranate concentrate and serve.

Chocolate and Halva Coffeecake

Also known as babka or krantz, this old-world cake is a popular Shabbat offering in many households. The following version combines traditional chocolate filling and Middle Eastern halva, with an irresistible result. Strand halva is t most convenient to use for the filling but you can use regular halva (crumble) as well. Another special ingredient is halva spread. Outside Israel it can found in Middle Eastern groceries and kosher stores. If unavailable, pre your own.

ingredients (for 2 loaf pans)
The Dough:
560 g (1 Ib. 4 oz, 4 cups) bread flour 220 ml
(8 oz, 1 cup less 1 tablespoon) water
50 g (2 oz) fresh yeast
100 g (31/2 oz, 1/2 cup) sugar
Pinch of salt
1 egg
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100 g (31/2 oz) butter, softened

The Chocolate-Halva Filling:
200 g (7 oz, 1 cup) halva spread 250 g (9 oz) strand or regular halva, crumbled
200 g (7 oz, 1 cup) chocolate chips Syrup (optional):
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

1. Prepare the dough: Place all ingredients except the butter in a mixer fitted a kneading hook and knead for 7 minutes. Add butter and continue kneading f minutes. The dough should be shiny and very soft. Transfer to a greased bowl, c and allow to rise to twice the original size.
2. Prepare the cakes: Divide the dough in half and roll one piece on a well-floured surface to a 20x30 cm (9x12 inch) rectangle.
3. Spread the dough rectangle with a thin layer of halva spread. Sprinkle the strand with crumbled halva and chocolate chips and roll into a log. Slice the log length and braid the two pieces. Place in a loaf pan lined with baking paper and tuck in edges of the cake so it fits snuggly into the pan. Repeat the process with the sec piece of dough in the second pan. Allow to rise to twice the original size.
4. Preheat the oven to 180
C (350 F).
5. Bake the cakes for 35-40 minutes until deep golden-brown.
6. While the cakes are in the oven prepare the syrup: Bring the water and sugar a boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
7. Brush the hot cakes with the syrup. They will keep fresh wrapped in foil for 3-4 days and can also be frozen