Israeli Brunch Feast: From Shakshuka to Israeli Classic Rock with Lots of Tahini in Between

Eats:  Israeli Brunch Feast: Shakshuka, Challah, Israeli Chopped Salad, Tahini Sauce, Tahini Cookies, Turkish Coffee and Mint Tea
Stories:  Simple, standard meals made special, simply by sharing them with friends for whom they are not standard, nor simple.
TunesIsraeli Classic Rock, a free Spotify playlist

 

As our midday feast came to a close, L remarked,

“I’ve made shakshuka so many times that it feels very standard, but when making it for you guys today, and explaining the recipe and background, it really feels very special.”

I loved hearing it said that way because it captures some of the undercurrents of this project. The foods of our homes are at once profound and so simply a part of our fabric that they can blend into the background. And yet certain things in life can remind us how unique they are and how much they mean to us. Certainly, we experience this when there is a void (like when life takes us away for our homeland, or that special person who had cooked the foods of your childhood is no more), but I think if we take the time to share with others the foods that make our family unique, we can simultaneously be reminded of why they move us so deeply. This is especially true when the friends we are sharing it with are unfamiliar with that food, because the diners will come with open eyes and hearts, and will ask questions about the food and traditions that perhaps you hadn’t considered. The resulting conversation can thus enhance the memory and depth of importance to your family. And when children are involved, both on the part of the hosts and guests, their curiosity will likely take things even deeper.

L is a friend and neighbor I have known for about 5 years, and had become closer with when our sons were in the same PreK class.  A notoriously good cook, when we would recount our weekends, I drooled over the dishes she would have made for dinner parties (Israeli, or any other cuisine of the world).  I also loved hearing about their visits back to Israel.

When I first asked L about doing an Israeli meal together for this project she was immediately sure she wanted to participate. However, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to make.  She diligently polled friends to confirm whether there was something specific she “should” make.  She even compared her search for the “right dish” to Michael Solomonov‘s quest in the “In Search of Israeli Cuisine” documentary (which, admittedly, is part of what made me even more hungry at the prospect of Israeli brunch, chez elle.

In the end, she chose shakshuka as the centerpiece of the meal because it is so common on Israeli tables, as well as hers, specifically.  Of course, it was paired with some of her wonderful Challah bread (prepared 2 ways), and served alongside salad w/ tahini sauce.  As full as we were after all that, we made space for delicious tahini cookies, hot mint tea and turkish coffee.  What a feast!  They paired it with Israeli classic rock because that was what they would likely have had on when welcoming guests for brunch.

All of it was such a treat for all of our senses.  I just might have to make shakshuka again tonight.

What do you throw together for meals late on a Tuesday night?  What do you find yourself craving from your own childhood?  What if that simple dish became the meal you next shared with friends, instead of something from the pages of some celebrity chef’s book?  If you’re feeling inspired, you can submit your Culture Capsule here.

 

Tunes

We enjoyed some Israeli classic rock while we prepared and ate our delicious Israeli brunch at the home of our friends Y & L (and kiddos J & S).  Arik Einstein was a favorite that morning; the “Israeli Frank Sinatra” they joked.  It was the perfect soundtrack: upbeat but also chill.  Click below to have a listen while you continue reading and/or cooking.

Eats

Overall Plan:

  1. Put on the playlist.
  2. Start on the challah!  If you can, make the dough the night before and let it proof in the fridge to save time in the morning.
  3. By the time you get to the stage of sectioning it off (but not yet shaping), that’s when you can start the shakshuka.
  4. While the tomatoes for the shakshuka are cooking down, between infrequent stirs, you probably have time to make the salad, tahini sauce and cookies quickly (especially if you have help!).
  5. Set the table if you haven’t already.
  6. Then just minutes before ready to serve you can put eggs in to finish the shakshuka, and bring the shakshuka in the pan over to the table for a lovely presentation, as well as for the eggs to complete their final, gentle setting.
  7. Gather your friends/family and feast! YUM.

Challah

L has adapted her challah recipe from the Breaking Breads cookbook.  It was absolutely delicious and was quickly devoured by all.  It was a less egg-y than the Joan Nathan version we tried last Rosh Hashanah.

She likes to experiment with different flours.  Of the 7 total cups of flour required, up to 1/3 is whole wheat, or sometimes spelt or Teff flour.  She also likes to make the dough the night before she wants it, allowing it to proof some in the fridge to save time in the morning. There are so many fun ways to braid it and plenty of how-to videos or photos a quick google away.

That day, she cut the recipe in half and we split the dough into 2 loaves.  We split the dough into 1/3 & 2/3 but the photo doesn’t show that!  That one with the nigella seeds was the 1/3.   I have to say it was so good that I would always make the whole thing and save some for later or gift it to friends or neighbors.  It can be frozen whole or sliced. Or just make french toast if you are lucky to have any leftovers the next day.

Dough:

  • 1 2/3 c room temperature water
  • 3 tbsp +2 tsp fresh yeast  OR  1 tbsp + 1 3/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 5 c (+ extra for shaping) all-purpose flour
  • 2 c whole wheat flour*
  • 2 extra large eggs
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 tbsp fine salt
  • 5 tbsp sunflower oil

Egg Wash / Topping:

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tbsp water
  • pinch fine salt
  • optional: nigella, poppy or sesame seeds, or even a combo thereof

How to make the dough the night before:

  1. Fit your mixer with the bread hook and add the water to the bowl of the mixer.  Add the yeast and dissolve it, whisking if it’s active dry yeast, and mixing with fingers if fresh.
  2. Add flour, eggs, sugar, salt and oil, and mix on low until combined (about 2 minutes).  Scrape down the bottoms or the hook as needed.
  3. Adjust water or flour as needed.  Flour types and even your local climate will induce slight variations here.  If there are bits of flour, add a tiny bit of water.  If it feels too sticky, add a small amount of flour.  The Breads cookbook would tell you that now is the better time to adjust the consistency rather than after kneading.
  4. Increase the speed to medium and knead until a smooth, firm dough forms. This takes about 4 minutes.
  5. Lightly dust a clean work surface with some flour.  Put the dough in the center and then tear stretch it out in one smooth motion. Fold it back on itself halfway.  Give it a quarter turn and repeat for about a minute.  Then make it into a smooth ball.
  6. Put the dough in a bowl lightly dusted with flour, sprinkle a bit more flour on top, cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rise.  If you leave it at room temperature, let it rise to double the size for about an hour.  Or, you can put it in the fridge now and take it out in the morning.

In the morning:

  1. Heat oven to 350°F, and prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Processing it as little as possible, divide the dough. It’s usually easier to judge if you pull the dough into a rectangular shape first and then use a sharp knife divide it.  If making 2 loaves, first cut it in half, then divide based on how many strands you would like in that loaf. Once divided, let it rest or come to room temperature if you’ve had it in the fridge.
  3. The Breads recipe has a specific way to get the pieces into cylinders, and we followed it. Once piece at a time, use your palm to flatten it into a rectangle, fold the top part over and use your palm to press the edge into the flat part of the dough. Fold and press 3 more times and you will have a cylinder several inches long.
  4. Returning to the first piece, use both hands to roll each into a long rope and aim for 14 inches with tapered ends (if going for 2 5-braids).
  5. Loosely braid according to your preference, leaving a bit of space between the strands to allow them to expand before and during cooking otherwise they will tear up when dough rises.
  6. Once braided, place onto the parchment paper with space for it to expand and allow to rest/rise, another 20-30 minutes.  It will also rise while baking so it should not rise too much for this pre-baking step.
  7. Whisk the ingredients for the egg wash together, and brush onto your loaves, ensuring it covered fully, but in a light covering and not pooling.  If adding seeds, do it now so that they stick.
  8. Bake for 30 minutes.  Bread should rise and be well-browned, per the photo.
  9. Allow to rest 5 minutes before slicing. Enjoy!

Shakshuka

The recipe below feeds 4 adults.  We made 2 full batches in 2 separate pans and allowed for jalapenos in one.

  • 3 cups worth of roughly chopped fresh tomatoes (or a mix including some canned diced tomatoes)
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 3 jalapenos or serrano chilies (optional, and per spice preference)
  • 1/2 head worth of garlic, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt, more to taste
  • 4-8 eggs
  • optional: 1/4 cup feta cheese for a bit of garnish flavor kick at the end

with jalapenos for the spice lovers

without jalapenos

  1. Wash and dice the vegetables.
  2. Add olive oil and garlic to a large cast iron pan and then turn on the heat.  When the garlic begins to bubble, add chilies and cook for 2 minutes, then add the red peppers.  Cook them for several minutes until they begin to melt into the oil.
  3. Add tomatoes, peppers and salt, stirring to combine.  Increase heat to medium high and cook for about 10 minutes.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and cook slowly for the next 60 minutes or so. To get it to the consistency of a thick soup, you may need to remove the lid to allow more liquid to evaporate.
  5. When it has reached the desired consistency and the vegetables are starting to combine but you can still see the individual pieces – the tomato part is done.  Taste and adjust salt, if needed.
  6. If you are ready to eat move on to the next step.  If not, cover and turn off the heat until ready.
  7. Minutes before mealtime remove the cover and return the heat to medium.  Have your eggs, a small bowl, and a spatula ready so that you can put all the eggs in at roughly the same time so that they cook together!  Note: the small bowl allows you to see and remove any shells, if needed.
  8. One at a time, make a small well in the stewed tomato and peppers just big enough for an egg. Crack an egg into a small bowl and from that bowl, gently pour it into the well you have made.  Do the same for the remaining eggs, as fast and as carefully as you can, mindful to space the eggs out as evenly as possible.
  9. Just a moment before you think the white is done setting, turn off the heat and bring the shakshuka to the table.  The eggs will continue to cook for a moment.
  10. Salt the eggs or top with feta for an alternative salty flavor boost.
  11. Spoon out tomatoes and eggs carefully for each person, hopefully keeping runny yolks in tact because when it mixes with the vegetables and challah, gan eden!
  12. You may enjoy your shakshuka as is or perhaps with challah.   Tou might prefer to add some complexity and or heat by adding some tahini sauce and/or shuug.

 

Israeli Salad

Basic Israeli salad is cucumber, tomato and red onion, dressed with a simple vinaigrette of olive oil and lemon.  Y likes to kick it up a notch adding more color and flavor per below.  Gorgeous and delicious.  We used about 1/2 – 3/4 cup of each vegetable and the feta but there are no rules.

  • cucumbers
  • tomatoes
  • red onion
  • purple cabbage
  • feta cheese
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard (optional)
  • salt to taste (will also depend on use of feta)
  • black pepper, to taste

  1. Wash and dice the vegetables, placing them in a medium bowl once done.  Add/crumble feta, if desired.
  2. Make a simple vinaigrette with the mustard, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust per preference.
  3. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad and toss, if desired.  Serve with tahini sauce (see below).
  4. It’s that simple. Enjoy.

 

Tahini Sauce/Dressing

  • 2/3 cup tahini
  • water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped & loosely packed
  1. Wash and chop parsley, and squeeze lemons for juice.
  2. Put tahini paste in a bowl, add a tablespoon of water and stir.  Unusually, it will start to get thicker and that’s a good thing.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and combine.  Add more water to get to desired consistency.
  4. Enjoy with the salad, stirred into your shakshuka or any way you please.

Tahini Cookies

Makes about 30 cookies.  L notes that this recipe seems to be affected by the weather/humidity and you may need to add a bit of flour or tahini if you are not getting a smooth dough that is moist and soft.

  • 7 tbsp cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (140 grams) raw tahini
  • 1 cup and another 2 tablespoons (160 grams) flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup (30 g) slices of bleached almonds, for decoration
  1. Heat the oven to 320°F (160 °C) and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a mixing bowl, whip the butter with the sugar for 2-3 minutes until slightly puffed. Add the vanilla and tahini and mix only until it becomes combined.
  3. Sift the flour with the baking powder and fold into the mixture with a spatula until you get a smooth dough, moist and soft, slightly oily and barely clinging to the hands, if only a few crumbs (if the dough is dry and crumbs add 1-2 teaspoons water. If the dough is too wet, add 2 teaspoons of flour).
  4. Processing balls as little as possible make balls about 1-inch in diameter.
  5. Place the balls an inch apart on cookie sheets and gently push an almond slice down on each one, which flattens it a bit.
  6. Bake for about 14 minutes until the cookies are ever-so-lightly golden.

Turkish Coffee & Mint Tea

Mint tea is as easy as it sounds! Just pour boiling water and a bunch of washed mint.  You don’t need sugar but some people like to add a bit.  I won’t add any specific recipe for Turkish coffee, either.  It’s also simple, just use finely ground coffee (to the amount of your taste), and boil on the stove, with optional sugar.  Pour it directly into cups and as it cools, any coffee grounds will be at the bottom (…which is another whole story, for another time).

… and now it might be time for a nap after all that delicious food!  That’s how we felt after this Israeli brunch feast!  We look forward to hearing about your experience of this Israeli Brunch Feast Cultures Capsule.