The summer after I graduated college, I spent a month pruning grape vines on an organic vineyard in Tuscany. Tough life, I know.
Each morning we volunteers would wake up before dawn, blearily gulp down an espresso and some yogurt, and head out into the fields to get in several hours of work before the late-morning sun grew unbearable.
By 10 a.m., our hunger pangs were fierce. And so, off to the shade of a nearby olive tree we went for second breakfast — a mix of the previous night’s bread drizzled with fruity oil, hunks of fresh cheese and fabulously sloppy tomatoes sprinkled with coarse salt. Sometimes a few peaches or cherries made their way into the basket, too. As far as breakfasts go it was simple, elemental and perfect.
Some 2,400 miles away and several decades before my Tuscan summer, in the early years of Israel’s statehood, kibbutz dwellers shared similar breakfasts. They too were up before sunrise to work their fields. And, as Janna Gur writes in “The Book of New Israeli Food,” their morning meals, eaten in communal dining rooms, included a basic spread of “vegetables (cut up to make a salad), freshly squeezed orange juice, eggs, milk and dairy products laid out rather unceremoniously on a bare table.”
Those kibbutz breakfasts, which focused on freshness and celebrating the land’s bounty, became immortalized in the dining rooms of Israel’s luxury hotels. There, they transformed into something much more extravagant, with elegant cheese platters, bowls of thick yogurt and preserves, and multiple chopped salads sharing table space with sweet pastries, bourekas and a bevy of warm buffet dishes. Still, even in this new, more lavish setting, the soul of the original kibbutz breakfast remained.
A visit to Israel, where one now encounters kibbutz-style breakfasts in hotels, cafes and even people’s homes, is enough to inspire someone to give up the cereal and oatmeal rotation completely. The secret is, they are a riotously flavorful way to start the day, while requiring very little actual cooking.
Instead, all it takes is a bit of curating. You need a few soft cheeses, pickled fish, a chopped Middle Eastern salad with herbs, briny olives and a thick, strained yogurt drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with za’atar, a loaf of crusty bread and a pot of honey or marmalade. You can prep what little needs prepping the night before. Then in the morning, lay everything out on the table while your coffee or espresso brews.
If you have company joining you, or you are an early morning over-achiever, add a pashtida to the mix. The dish is a close cousin to the quiche (though often made without a crust) and commonly served on Shavuot in Israel, but is perfect any-day morning fare. A jumble of eggs, dairy and vegetables, it pulls the best flavors of the kibbutz breakfast into a hearty main dish. And, as I discovered while developing a summer-friendly corn and eggplant version, the vegetables can be sautéed the night before, leaving minimal mixing and baking the following morning.
And absolutely no fieldwork required.
Leah Koenig is a contributing editor at the Forward and author of “Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen,” Chronicle Books (2015).