Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lemon Tree Very Pretty

Winter is the season for the citrus crops in Israel, and this year the trees are burgeoning with beautiful colorful fruit.  We've had a very cold and wet winter so far with more of the same to come. Last week, on a half-sunny-day reprieve from the cold and rain, i took a walk through my neighborhood and discovered what was there all along but too invisible behind the torrents of rain - lemons, and tangerines waiting to be picked, dotting every garden and behind every fence, including my own front yard garden.

The words of the old Peter, Paul and Mary song "Lemon Tree, Very Pretty" say that the fruit of the lemon is impossible to eat.  Impossible to eat, unless of course, you live in the Middle East, where Moroccan pickled or preserved lemons are a common condiment at the dinner table, enhancing chicken, fish meals as well as salads.


Preserved Lemons or Moroccan Pickled Lemons are easy to make. There are several approaches - pickling them in lemon juice and salt, pickling them in oil and salt, or heating/cooking the lemons and then pickling.  Most recipes take about a month to cure, require a sterilized jar, but others need only a few days. I will provide recipe for two different methods.

My friend Talia makes a short version with the oil, not requiring the sterilized jar, producing a tart, firm condiment as opposed to the sweeter soft lemon of the longer method.  In the original recipe, fresh garlic cloves, sliced, and whole red chili peppers were used. Do to the potential for botulism when garlic and peppers are held in oil, I have omitted the garlic and substituted dry flaked chilis  for the whole chilis. One may also use other spices such as cinnamon, cloves, coriander or bay leaf.   Here is a variation on her recipe.

Pickled Lemon or Limon Kavush ala Talia
1 kilo ripe lemons
10 T. coarse salt
5 T. neutral oil (olive oil may be too strong. try grapeseed, almond or safflower oil or half olive & half other oil)
1 canning jar with tight lid. Does not need to be sterilized.
Spices: choose from cinnamon, cloves, coriander, bay leaf, dried chili pepper or flakes, black pepper.

Wash lemons well, slice into medium slices.
Layer slices of lemon into jar, pressing down to compact them
Every 2 layers sprinkle 1 T salt over the lemons
Every 3 layers spread or sprinkle spices over the lemons
When the jar is filled and lemons compressed, add the 5 T. of oil completely covering the lemons.
Close lid and let stand overnight in a dark place. The following day turn the jar upside down shaking it to redistribute the juices and oil. Let stand another 24 hours.  Refrigerate.
May be used for up to 2 weeks.

Nice Perk: When lemons are ready to use separate out 1/2 of the jar's contents and blend in a food processor to create a paste or spread. It can be kept separately and used in cooking or returned to the jar and the entire contents served as a relish or also in cooking. (tangine, fish, chicken)

Recipe w/ Lemon & Salt

This recipe from uses only lemons, salt and spices.  It is also very easy but takes a month to cure producing a soft preserved lemon. It can be used for up to a year (as opposed to 2 weeks).      Enjoy.

Making Preserved Lemons

  1. Select 5 small thin skinned lemons and wash them well.
  2. (Optional) Soak the lemons in room temperature water for three days, changing the water every day to soften the rinds.
  3. With a thin, very sharp knife, cut each lemon into quarters from the stem end to within 1/2 inch of the pointy end into quarters. Spread the quarters a little and sprinkle with salt, then reform the lemons.
  4. For 5 lemons packed into a pint jar (16 ounces) you'll need 1/4 cup of salt. Pack the lemons tightly squeezing them down well layering with the salt and any spices you wish to use.
  5. (Optional) Spicing: the photo samples were packed with some saflower for color and about 1/3 teaspoon of Nigella seeds. A Moroccan version might include something like 1 cinnamon stick, 3 cloves, 6 coriander seeds, 4 black peppercorns and a bay leaf.
  6. Squeeze and add enough extra fresh lemon juice to completely cover the lemons. They must not project above the surface.
  7. Keep the jar in a warm place for 30 days, shaking it every day to distribute the salt and spices.
  8. There is no need to refrigerate after opening and the pickling liquid can be reused to make more within one year. The lemons will keep for one year. If you find a lacy white substance clinging to the lemons it is not a problem and will rinse off when you use them.
B'tayavon !!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Israeli Orange Soups

When the weather turns cold in Jerusalem, soups take their place at the table - perfect for fending off that winter chill. The most popular of all soups here in Israel is what is called "orange soup". No, not soup made of oranges - it is color not content that earns it the name.  Orange soup can be made with any and all of the orange vegetables abundant here in Israel, although sweet potato is hands down the favorite.  Restaurants and home kitchens heat it up with this colorful and versatile winter staple. (Note: these "orange" veggies are not unique to Israel, they are basic winter vegetables found anywhere in the world.)

Orange vegetables have a high sugar content and produce a naturally sweeter soup to begin with, but I took my current favorites and made both a sweet and savory recipe. Orange soups can be made with just one vegetable (e.g.,sweet potato) or a more complex combination of a variety of vegetables. Right now I am loving a carrot, sweet potato and roasted red pepper combo. (Other possibilities can include pumpkin or squash, red hot chili peppers, even tomatoes).

For those who keep kosher, the soup can be either dairy or parve with simple substitutions. In both of the following recipes, I did not have a soup stock on hand, so I used a product called Herbamare, ( but not for Pesach). Herbamare is an organic seasoning salt made up of only sea salt and vegetables and can be found at most health food stores both here in Israel and elsewhere. It is a great substitute for soup stock, just remember not to add salt as you cook !

One of the secrets of Israeli cooking that I have discovered is the use of the fresh or dried purple garlic. (see earlier blog). After tasting and experimenting I will never go back to using the white imported-from-China variety with all the chemicals and bleaching. The purple fresh garlic has so much more flavor and stays sweet when sauteed, unlike the white ones which often become bitter.  If you purchase the fresh bulbs when they are IN SEASON in the spring, buy oodles extra and hang to dry. Otherwise, most health food stores (like Zmora where I shop) will have organic or dried local purple garlic bulbs all year).

These recipes that follow are simple and basic. Experiment with varied vegetables and various spices to produce unique and satisfying flavors. Organic vegetables of course lend the best flavor. Here's to winter time Israeli Orange Soup !  B'tayavon !

Sweet Orange Soup                              
The secret to this one is the sherry 
6 carrots, washed, scraped and chopped
1 med size sweet potato, peeled chopped
1 red bell pepper, char-roasted, peeled, seeds removed *
4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 med size onion, chopped
1 T or more butter (sub. olive oil or coconut oil for parve)
2-3 tsp Herbomare original seasoned salt + 3 cups water
OR 3 cups soup stock **
1/3 cup dry sherry (good quality sherry best)
1/2 cup milk (optional)

  • Saute the carrots, sweet potato, garlic and onions in the butter 5-10 min. or until starting to soften, stirring often. 
  • Add roasted pepper. 
  • Sprinkle the Herbamare generously over the vegetables, add pepper to taste. **
  • Add sherry and cook for 5 min. more, til fragrant
  • Add water, cover and simmer until vegetables are tender.
  • If a creamy soup is desired a 1/2 cup milk may be added here and heated to soup temperature..
  • Transfer to blender 2 cups at a time, blend til smooth
Serve immediately or return to pan and stove top til ready to serve. This sweet soup is delicate and smooth and a nice accompaniment to salmon or fish. 

* To char-roast sweet pepper, place pepper directly on stove top gas flame, turning often. When skin is blackened, place pepper in brown paper bag for 10-15 min. making it easy to slip off the skin and remove seeds.

** If using a soup stock instead of Herbamare,  and the stock is bland and not fully seasoned,  add any combination of marjoram, basil, thyme and rosemary before the sherry,  adding 3 cups stock in place of the water.  If using the Herbamare, or a fully seasoned stock, no extra spices are needed for the sweet version of this orange soup.

Savory Orange Soup  

To make this soup into its savory counterpart, use the same basic recipe but change the following:

1. Omit the sherry, or replace with dry white wine. 
2. Whether using Herbamare or soup stock add middle eastern spices of cumin, extra thyme, paprikas such as hot or smoked paprika. The wonderful spice of tumeric can be added but will definitely give it yet another flavor.  I chose to omit tumeric and instead used generous amount of smoked paprika which gave it not only a subtle complex flavor but also a deeper red color.  
3. The hotter peppers can be used here in addition to the red bell pepper.

Because this soup is robust and spicy I like to add a dollop or two of yoghurt or sour cream to contrast with the spiciness.  Serve this soup with meats or cheeses (for kashrut, omit the yoghurt, and use olive or coconut oil instead of butter)

This is a good basic soup that can wear many hats. The variations are endless; be creative and enjoy!   

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sabras, Tzabar צבר - Cactus, Fruit and People

It is only fitting that my first post on In Season Israel - celebrating the seasons of the produce and species of the Land of Israel,  their yearly arrivals and their places of honor in our holiday traditions - be that of the  enigmatic Sabra. This legendary cactus-cum-Israeli has quite a story to tell of it's own, and Israelis love to tell stories of the Sabra..

Let's start with a few pictures.

THESE are sabras, or Tzabar צבר in Hebrew:

photos: left to right,,

AND THESE are ALSO sabras - some friends of mine

So what's the deal? Cacti are called sabras, the flower and the fruit are sabras, and people are sabras!!..Actually, only Israelis are sabras..and only those born in Israel...we olim don't qualify. You see the sabra fruit is tough and very very prickly on the outside, but inside, the fruit is sweet and ..well, kind of mushy.   That IS the description of both the fruit and the native Israelis. When you handle the fruit you must wear gloves...the prickles are tiny but very sharp, and they hurt a lot, even seeming to leap off the sabra to jump into and under your a porcupine releasing its quills when you get too close.   And I might add, with all the love in my heart that I can muster, so describes the Israeli sabra...sometimes, ya' gotta handle them with kid gloves - touchy and defensive, this human Sabra will release a bunch of barbs if this.. and if that...even if you get too close without mutual understanding..and the prickles most certainly can get under your skin..and hurt..a lot. But, once finally opened up, trust and acceptance suddenly happens, and everyone knows that the fruit inside that outer toughness, is soft and sweet..and yes, kinda mushy. 
In actuality, sabras the cactus were only introduced to Israel a few hundred years ago, (Spaniards brought them from Mexico and Central America during and after the Spanish and Mexican Inquisitions)  Tzabar צבר was the original hebrew for aloe (not true today) and when this new plant came into the Mediterranean Lands it also was called tzabar or sabr as the leaves of both plants were succulent and grew rapidly and prolifically, even in hard, dry and difficult places. There are many symbolic and metaphoric comparisons for this plant and it's relationship to both Israelis and Arabs in the Land.  There is an allusion in the arabic word sabr meaning "patience" or "resilience"...and well, the discussion could go on and on.

Sabra cacti are found all through out the Land of Israel and in the Arab villages and along the paths and roads.  As I talked to people about this wonderful plant, stories began tumbling out about how important the sabra fruit was in the summers of yesteryear.  One woman told me that when she was young, growing up in Beit HaKerem, Arab villagers and youth came into the Beit HaKerem village with many fruits, peddling them down the streets.  What she remembered the most were the sabras.  The children would excitedly gather around, and the Arab sellers would sit on the curbs expertly peeling all that prickly fruit for the children who wanted to purchase them. She said there would be a pile of the sweet juicy insides waiting to be eaten. It was a summer treat and adventure not unlike the ice cream truck that would one day replace them. 

2 photos by S.Melamed

My friend Talia told me that when she grew up near Haifa, she remembered going out to the sabra plants when the fruit was ripe, carrying poles and tin cans, and somehow she said, but she couldn't quite describe it, they used these homemade pickers to pluck the testy fruit from the paddles of the cactus.  One could not just pick the fruit with hands.  To my great surprise and delight, as I searched for general sabra information, I discovered a fellow blogger also enchanted by this elusive fruit,  and who has written a wonderful account, not only of the fruit and it's story, but her blog...were pictures (shown and linked above) of the poles and the tin cans and the maneuvers one needed to get to the fruit and make them your own !!  Sarah Melamed took her children on a Prickly Pear (Sabra) Expedition, and relayed their adventure in her blog Food Bridge She shared amazing photos and a delicious recipe.  Please click here to read and learn more.

So now that you know a little history...and a couple of stories, I want to teach you how to open a sabra to eat.  While the fruit lends itself to some lovely recipes, most people just eat the sabra, chilled, like a watermelon, for a refreshing summer treat.

Basically, after donning heavy gloves (please note - my amazing friend did NOT wear gloves - but.. please..I warn you NOT try this bare handed. !! ), cut each end off the fruit, leaving the inside fruit exposed. Next slice a slit in the outer skin from end to end, just to the beginning of the fruit.  With your gloved hand, gently pry apart the skin from the point of the slit, pulling it all the way to the surface of the board or table.  Lift out the fruit, with the help of a large spoon, slice and eat !!  Note: the inner fruit has large seeds or stones which most Israelis simply eat.  I think it takes a leap of faith to just swallow them - I am still spitting out at least half of them.  But ...l'iat l'iat (little by little) I will learn the Israeli talent for swallowing the bitter with the sweet.


Monday, July 18, 2011


There are a lot of food blogs out there, and a lot of Israeli food blogs! Nu, (so) what makes this one different and what is In Season Israel all about.

First of all, I love good food...not only good food, but GREAT food....and i might add, pretty food. I am really fussy about what I eat...I like organic or local produce that actually tastes fresh and range and grass fed meats. I like to make simple foods, but sometimes i am obsessed with complex recipes and exotic ingredients. I like the food to LOOK good...colorful, attractive and enticing !!

Then there's Israel. I love the special quality of life that exists here in Israel...frustrating but unique, maddening but rewarding, colorful, rich in traditions and meaningful. I am a fairly recent (6 years) olah chadasha (new immigrant) and 13 years of travel here......(it takes a lifetime to learn the Israeli ropes :) ). After all these years, I am still in love. And all of the things I mentioned about food in the previous paragraph... is how it works here. While not necessarily organic,,,though organic is easily found today.....the fruits and vegetables are local ..After all Israel is only a few miles wide...EVERYTHING is local...and fresh! both simple and exotic, beautiful, and tasting soo sweet!! Not just the produce - even the dairy is special and amazing.

But more than that, the crops, as they come into season, are celebrated. Fruit trees are plentiful in neighborhood yards...everyone is excited when the rimonim (pomegranates) are ripening, when the shemesh (loquat) is ready, when the figs are coming forth. (and..mmm, the streets are wonderfully fragrant as the figs ripen) Neighbors expect and welcome other neighbors to help themselves and enjoy the sweetness of the harvest...and if you don't help yourself, you will be gifted with a bag of what ever is in season.

In other words it is a part of the fabric of Israeli life...what's In Season in Israel is a big deal, woven into the traditions and the traditions of the holidays.

So... nu... I want to share this with you the readers. In a sense, this blog is perhaps more about the tree and it's harvest than the recipe. I am still learn with me. Experience the excitement of the ripening fruits, the fragrances, the beautiful shuks and markets all over Israel where hidden treasures lie...both in the products and their vendors. What stories and traditions are there.

What's In Season in Israel and What's Israeli in Israeli Eating?  Let's find out !!


Friday, July 1, 2011

The Shesek - Post From the Hills of Jerusalem

(Excerpt from a post on From the Hills of Jerusalem blog. To see the original post click here.)

I've always said my Jerusalem neighborhood is colorful - full of rich mizrachi tradition and wonderful neighbors.  This afternoon as i came home, one of my neighbors called me over and presented me with a sakit (bag) of shesek (loquat) from his tree.  As i thanked him i realized the tree in my own yard was brimming with ripe and unpicked fruit. It got me thinking about the fruit of this Land.

The Shesek tree bears it's fruit in late spring and the little oval orange shesekim are sweet and juicy and a favorite amongst Israelis. (both people and birds !! ).  Shesek trees are all over Israel, in yards and home gardens and have deep green large broad leaves that protect the clusters of fruit. When you pick the shesek you have to clip the stem above, otherwise the inner fruit is already exposed ready to peel the skin (if you wish) or eat !! Inside are 3 shiny large seeds..(which..of no importance - float ! when dropped in water)

Here are a few shesek recipes from Liz Steinberg from her Tel Aviv based food blog Cafe Liz . Note: Even though some shesek can be slightly tart (depending on the variety), they can usually be substituted for apricot or peach in recipes.

Liz's recipes include among others:
Loquat Peach Waffles
Creamy fruit dessert with loquat and strawberries
Savory roasted loquat and plum

Apparently I am not alone in thinking the sheshek such a pretty fruit. Here is a rather fun Flicker Photo link I discovered, celebrating the shesek !  Enjoy !

Mmmm - Israeli Fresh Garlic : Post From the Hills of Jerusalem

(This post originally appeared in From the Hills of Jerusalem. To see the original post click here.)

Some things are almost too pretty to use, else can i make my shakshuka?

Spring in Israel means many things of course, but one of them is the delightful, delectable, gorgeous (and did i say fragrant?) purple w/green and white stalks fresh! garlic. 

I almost missed them this year...not that i wasn't aware they were on the scene and in the markets, it's just...well, i had a lot on my mind and many things to do, and simply mused over the idea that maybe i would skip them this year.

Thank God i woke up in the nick of time to rush to the shuk (yes even though they are available in the supers, one does NOT buy fresh garlic anywhere else but the shuk. For pete's sake. No way.) It was the end of the season, but LOOK! how beautiful they still are.  I even went back the next day and bought some for a "present" for a friend who was traveling outside the country and knew she would be sad to think she missed them.

I only hang a few to dry but one can buy fresh bulbs without the stalks for a while the chemically dried white variety imported from China...

The taste of the fresh garlic is similar and used in all recipes that call for garlic, is delicate, slightly sweet and more mild.  It also stays sweet and doesn't become bitter when sauteing it.  I like to use cloves of fresh garlic when pan frying or poaching salmon.  Very nice.

To honor the fresh garlic i've included a couple of recipes. One, fresh garlic confit, from a wonderful blog called Israeli Kitchen, and a video for a simple chicken/fresh garlic dish from Ynet Foods (Phyllis Glazer.)  My friend Micha Finkelstein sent me this video and while I haven't made it yet, he said it was wonderful and i trust his culinary opinion!   Enjoy!

The Confit:

The Video:(Video is in Hebrew but there is an English writeup if you click on this hyperlink -it will remove you from the blog to the webpage)
Chicken/Fresh Garlic