I’ve just been lucky enough to spend an amazing week in Israel and Palestine.
The sun shone, the sea was warm(ish), and for the most part the food was excellent.
We don’t tend to eat out much (age of austerity, etc), so it was a real treat to eat in restaurants every night. We both love Middle Eastern food, so I was delighted to set myself a Hummus challenge, and strove to eat some every single day. I succeeded, easily – in no small part due to the fact it’s served at breakfast. Glory be. The best Hummus meal was in a snack bar called Lina’s, in the Old City of Jerusalem. Hummus, topped with chickpeas, served with falafal. Chickpeas, three ways. Yes, please, and no, I’m not sharing!
I was delighted to discover that there’s also an amazing blend of food and drink available at the many Christian ‘hostels’ that welcome pilgrims to Jerusalem. The view above is from the glorious cheese and wine bar that runs across the whole roof of the Notre Dame Pontifical Institute, just outside the New Gate to Jerusalem. The view is stunning, and the wine list is excellent. I left my friends on the roof to pop downstairs to the chapel for Sunday Mass one evening – a most convenient location for a wine bar! Sadly, I didn’t get to sample the cheese selection, but it looked (and smelled) very enticing indeed.
One of the loveliest meals we had was with a friend of my husband’s, in a restaurant called Barbra, high up on a hill in Beit Jala (one of the towns that makes up Bethlehem). We had the ‘mixed grill’ – starting with a massive range of traditional dips and salads. Hummus, baba ghanoush, a garlicky thing, a kind of spicy salsa, greek salad… all mopped up with a mountain of pita bread. Once the grill arrived, we were already struggling. 9 enourmous skewers were presented on a beautiful platter. With more bread. Big chunks of spicy chicken and lamb competed with juicy beef shish kebabs studded with big lumps of garlic. Garnished with a mound of charred, blackened tomatoes, onions and spicy chilli peppers. So good. I was full after the starters, but that didn’t stop me.
The view from the restaurant’s balcony was also stunning – though it was desperately sad to hear how much of the nearby hillside (all well inside the Palestinian West Bank) is to be carved up and put on the Israeli side of the separation wall.
This picture shows the hills and the valley which will all be separated from Bethlehem (and the land’s legal owners) by the proposed route of the wall. You can also see one of the many illegal settlements on the hill on the left. Bethlehem is surrounded by these outposts.
We finished our trip with a few lovely days by the sea in Tel Aviv / Jaffa. This is where I discovered a new favourite – Shakshuka. It’s a traditional North African / Middle Eastern dish made of spicy tomato stew, with eggs poached on top, served with lashings of bread to mop up the sauce. Think Huevos Rancheros, or eggs in purgatory, but middle eastern style. First night home, I made my version of it.
Onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon tomato puree
1 tin of tomatoes
Handful of sliced mushrooms
Half an aubergine, sliced and griddled
Paprika or chilli flakes
1. Slowly soften the onion and garlic in olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook until all the liquid has evaporated. Chop and add the griddled aubergine slices and the cumin seeds, and cook another 5 minutes to let the flavours blend.
2. Add the tomato puree and the paprika, stir and cook another few minutes. Add the tin of tomatoes, crushing them with the spoon. Bubble gently for 20 minutes or so, until thick and dark.
3. Mix in the cubed feta. Then turn the heat up a little. Make two little wells in the surface of the sauce, and crack the eggs into them. Sprinkle a little salt on top. Cook gently (5 minutes or so) until the whites are set, and the yolks are still runny. Serve with pita bread. Dip.