My first date with my husband was at Hummus Place, a small Israeli owned restaurant in New York City’s Greenwich Village. At that point, I thought I knew what hummus was: a healthy chickpea spread we’d buy in college to dip baby carrots in or spread on bread for sandwiches. What else was there to know? Well, according to my Israeli date, a lot. Lucky for me, I had him, a dedicated hummus “connoisseur,” to show me the error of my foolish American thinking.
Well, it is indeed winter here in the Holy Land. The warming lights of Hannukah have passed us by, and the days are still feeling short. Temperatures in the Tel Aviv area usually fall between 10C and 22C (50F-72F), while folks in the Jerusalem area suffer a bit more with temperatures getting as low as 0C (32F). Perhaps this seems laughable to folks in colder regions of North America, but keep in mind that our homes are not equipped for the cold, with most everyone depending on space heaters or dual heating/cooling air conditioner units. Luckily, Israelis are a warm and open people and are perfectly comfortable snuggling up with one another during these cold months. We all get by.
When folks think of Israel’s reigning culinary monarch, they think of the falafel. While this might indeed be true, behind every good falafel ball is an equally delicious and every bit as loved food that is far easier, and far more nutritious: tahini. Oh the tried and true tub of tahini, lurking in an Israeli pantry near you, so often overlooked, but nevertheless, so deeply loved.
I suppose I am one of those weird people who enjoy grocery shopping. I like wandering through them, relishing the produce, ogling the olives. I find it relaxing to plan meals as I stroll the store. So before my husband I moved to Israel from Brownstone Brooklyn nearly two years ago, one of the big questions on my mind was where I would shop. Would I be able to find my staples like miso, rice paper, and quinoa? And what about organic? Despite the fact that we weren’t the classic new immigrants — confused, languageless, with almost no one to turn to — Israel was still half a world away from the familiarity of our beloved Park Slope Food Coop where we did most of our shopping, and Trader Joes, where we did most of the rest.
With the end of the High Holidays, autumn is in full swing here in Israel. Everyone feels it — from produce lovers, like myself, bidding goodbye to the delectable sweetness of the summer’s watermelons and mangoes, to the country’s farmers harvesting this season’s new delights and preparing for the coming rains.
Fifteen years ago it would have seemed absurd. Between 10 and 20 English speaking young adults, mostly from the United States, living in geodesic domes on an organic farm in Israel, growing heirloom variety vegetables for a posh, up-and-coming restaurant in Tel Aviv’s trendy Yaffo district. But as the father of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl once declared, “if you will it, it is no dream” and indeed, green agriculture, haute cuisine and diaspora Jewish education have all caught on in the holy land and are even finding exciting points of intersection.