It's been an interesting food week.
Following our truffle adventures - we had truffle omeltets and truffle toasts (first you clean them, peel them and slice thinly) and we enjoyed the notion of eating the truffles but they weren't the all encompassing experience that we had hoped for.
Last Tuesday, I had a meeting - yes me, a meeting - with Jess and Hadass (Honey partner in Tel Aviv) at the port in Tel Aviv, or in hebrew, the 'Namal.' Very cool area. Wooden boardwalk, laid out in curves, with inset sand circle, waves splashing over the side, cafes with pillowed chaises and chairs to while a way some time, nursing a drink. A cross between South St Seaport, but better, and Hudson River Park. Hadass claims that it's ok during the week but that on weekends, when the Israeli equivalent to the 'Bridge and Tunnel' crowd shows up, the 'khu'bat'im' (from Holon and Bat Yam) that it's no fun.
Jess was writing about the company, Comme Il Faut, owned by a woman, run by women, with a feminist drive and direction to the company. The have a space down at the Namal, called 'Bayit Ba'namal,' and it comprises stores, spa (no guys allowed) and cafe with an array of nice looking dishes, that thank goodness don't have the usual look of Israeli menus, at least not what's here in J'lem.
We sat, at a lovely wooden table, umbrella gently shading us from the Tel Aviv haze, and I ate the loveliest salad - it wasn't enouph for the price and the enjoyment factor but that's a separate matter. It was buckwheat (not my mother's buckwheat, otherwise known as kasha and not even served with bowties or browned onions) but a paler and larger, grained variety. It was perfectly cooked and served with wilted greens of some sort (that I have yet to find in this country - meaning interesting greens to cook with other than 'alei selek' which translates to beet greens, but which look alot like swiss chard but don't taste like chard) and a lovely array of wild mushrooms, simply seared and served on top of the grains, with a dollop of sour cream on the side. I pooh poohed the sour cream but it was a nice counterpoint to the salad, although not completely necessary. We finished the meal with an iced cappucino/caffe hafuch, really nicely done and creamy and almost like iced coffee as I know it.
I decided to recreate this meal with some additions for Friday night. We had visitors coming; Jeremy Slawin, 17 year old son of good frinds in Houston, Tx. Jeremy was coming on "March of the Living," and spending Shabbat with us. We also had a family of 6 coming as well - David and Robyn (both in Israel for many years) and their 4 kids (the 2 oldest are 17 year old twins and Natan is marginally friendly with them). Miryam W visiting with us, came with me to the shuk on Wednesday and we got some of the critical ingredients and I did a look-see of what I could get in order to make a reasonable do of the dish. After breakfast at my favorite cafe - she had brioche and I had a sandwich - we both had some excellent coffee - we took a walk around checking out the mushroom situation. I found buckwheat and here's what I learned (this, after I came home and read up on buckwheat). I learned that there's buckwheat and there's kasha. Kasha, is that brown stuff, essentially very toasted and slightly processed in terms of size of grain, buckwheat. Buckwheat, is lighter in color and larger in grain and the color of pearled barley. It cooks up fluffier and while retaining some of the earthiness of it's brother, kasha, has a lighter taste. I bought the light stuff on a hunch that it might be more of what I wanted. I hit real pay dirt with the mushrooms. We walked around and then stopped at a guy in the covered shuk, who was selling truffles and other interesting fungi. He had portobellos (we bought some of those), fresh oyster mushrooms (large and gorgeous, we bought those too) and fresh porcini mushrooms. I'd never eaten fresh porcini and they were a revelation - beautifully tinged with coral pink and quite lovely in size and shape. Quite different from their dried cousins. It was VERY expensive for one little package, but you only live once. The proprietor and I had a long chat about how to cook the 'shrooms, what order to cook them and what to add to them. He suggested lemon grass. I said how, I'd never seen any in Israel. He motioned me over to his fridge where he pulled out some lemon grass. I almost kissed him. Then, he suggested fresh garlic to chop on top. I hear you thinking to yourself, "well, garlic, that's nothing special." But, here in Israel, it's fresh garlic season. Meaning, fresh garlic, hard and juicy and garlicky and not dried and old. Fresh garlic everywhere and hanging and drying in the shuk on braided greens, perfuming the air with it's pungent aroma. I bought some. I already had some at home but didn't want to disappoint him. I also inquired after baby spinach and he again motioned to his fridge. I bought a nice pkge of greens. It wasn't baby spinach as I know it but it was better than the spinach that I tried to make wilted spinach salad with last week. I finished up my shopping trip with some other goodies - some excellent olives, fresh almonds (sort of like fiddlehead greens with a fuzzy exterior), a nice piece of cheese and came home pumped about my recipe.
Thursday we all cooked a bit. Assembled the buckwheat, made roasted sweet potatoes to satisfy those who might be scared off by buckwheat, cooked a white bean and tomato gratin that's really easy and tasty too and Natan made what turned out to be an excellent rice pudding cake. Essentially, arborio rice (what you use to make risotto), cooked with milk and combined with some sweetener, eggs, dried fruit and toasted nuts and baked into a lovely and light cake of a sorts. Ira and I and Natan (Gabe was playing baseball), sat down and ate some beans at about 10 and enjoyed the good smells coming out of the kitchen.
Friday, another trip to the shuk. Alan Salzberg called, "would we go out for breakfast?" He agreed to a shuk bkfast - Ira and Alan had a laffa feta (rolled toasted laffa sandwich with feta, olives, onions and tomatoes, Miryam had a brioche and I had a yoghurt with granola and fruit. Needless to say, we all had coffee. After bkfst, Alan gave us an hour. Picked up fresh salmon - this to satisfy all carnivores and besides, I thought that the salmon would complement the buckwheat, some herbs and teas - found a great herb guy who has his own real, powdered sahlab (orchid root). Next time. Bought greens, breads and some cookies and fruit. Stopped by the cheese guy and got goat sour cream (quite nice) and fresh farmer cheese (Ira says too sweet but I like it) and garlic butter (well, it looked so lovely and Gabe has been lapping it up) and a nice bottle of wine - look for red wines by Yatir Winery, quite good. We had drunk a bottle of Yatir on Wed night, when Miryam treated us to a fabbo dinner at "Tzachko" which is a great restaurant in the Iraqi section of the shuk and just happens to be owned by the same guy who runs the cafe that I love and who just happens to be the head of the shuk. You may not have known that the shuk has a director - 'yoshev rosh' but it does.
Went home and did final prep work. Poached the salmon in a light court bouillion (sp?), did a careful mushroom saute and in a sep pan, greens saute. Then, went to the pool and had a good swim and came home and went to shul at Shira Hadasha for some long-winded singing.
Great dinner. Good company. Great food.
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