A taste of Israel cooking from two Israeli women
Two Israeli women active in the culinary world were here recently. They can be said to personify eye candy celebrities because both are in television, hosting and judging.
Brunette Ruthie Rousso is a certified chef who has worked in New York. She writes restaurant reviews, recipes and culinary features for a newspaper and magazine. But in Israel, she was a judge in her country’s version of “Iron Chef.”
Blonde Michal Ansky, on the other hand, has been on television for a long time, hosting several shows and serving as judge in “MasterChef Israel.” She is probably more well-known for starting several Israel markets where farmers can sell their products.
Both were on their way to Vietnam but took a detour to the Philippines to give a sampling of their recipes at a dinner. The venue was Restaurant 9501 at ABS-CBN and guests were invited by Israel Ambassador and madam Eli Bar On.
Days before the dinner, I e-mailed my questions to Rousso and Ansky. It was a surprise to know that Rousso’s mother also writes about food for a competing paper. So for a while, Rousso felt compelled to write about other topics. But the pull to combine food and writing was difficult to disregard.
“Sometimes destiny is stronger than what you expect,” she wrote. “I love writing and must write—it’s in my soul. I love to cook and deal with food and explore it further. By a stroke of luck, I found a way to combine these two joys.”
Apart from her television work, Ansky creates markets to sell Israel food products. She bemoans the fact that the good agricultural products which Israel is known for are mostly sold abroad. She is said to have initiated with two others the first indoor market at the Tel Aviv port called “Shuk Hanamal.” Another is the 7Farmer’s Market that connects farmers with consumers. By eliminating the middlemen, products are cheaper and the variety is wider.
When dinner guests filed in, they included Rousso and Ansky which meant that the cooking was done by the chefs of Restaurant 9501 albeit based on their recipes.
Salads made up most of the appetizers. One had greens and pomegranate, the fruit flown in, I suppose, from Israel. Grilled eggplant was served with tahini, chili and tomatoes. Tomatoes made up the dudu salad. And there was spicy carrot as well. The only non-salad was the bourekitas, crisp triangles of filo pastry filled with eggplant and feta cheese.
One of the main courses was Shawarma salad. A recipe of Ansky, it is composed of spring chicken marinated in spices like turmeric, paprika and cumin in olive oil seasoned simply with salt and pepper. After several hours, the chicken is fried, sliced thinly, spread throughout a rice mixture that has lemon juice, onion, parsley and green chili. She says it is street food in Israel and is what she would choose if asked to give one dish that would typify Israeli cooking. But, she adds, the salad also reflects the healthy food trend that is prevalent in her country today.
Rousso agrees about healthy food being the trend but adds that some Asian restaurants have opened recently in Israel among them Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indonesian and Indian. She cites how the Israeli diners are “hooked on [the] taste, spice and color.”
Eggs and peppers
For the dish that represents Israeli cooking she chose shakshouka. And this is her description: “The dish is served sizzling and made up of tomatoes, bell peppers and hot peppers topped with eggs. One eats this by breaking into the eggs with bread—using [the bread] as a utensil as you mix the egg yolk and the sauce.”
Crispy calamari or squid covered in batter then fried was another main course. There was lamb kebab with grilled tomatoes and pita and mujadarra or black lentils with bulgur, a kind of cereal.
Finally, desserts. Yogurt ice cream was mixed with spices and honey. The other was salep or custard made with orchid flour used also in the ice cream of Turkey, topped with pistachio, roasted nut, coconut and rose water.
The e-mailed interview also included comments about their TV cooking competitions.
Ansky said “MasterChef Israel” is a popular show whose winners have done well. One opened a popular restaurant while another developed a passion for cooking instead of going back to his former life of substance abuse. For Ansky, it was also wonderful to see religious groups coming together in the show.
“One of our episodes featured an orthodox Arab woman and a Christian-German immigrant competing to stay on the show,” she said.
It was Rousso who was definite about what she thought a TV cooking competition should be. “I admit that the program (“Iron Chef”) put a lot of emphasis on presentation and less on taste, which really bothered me,” she wrote. “It’s just not my style. I was approached by one of the show’s editors, who told me to be more enthusiastic—but I really do not care.” The journalist in her surfaced with that answer.
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