Independence Day is a celebration of being Israeli. What better way to enjoy the
holiday than feasting on Israeli food? But what is Israeli food? Although Jews
came to Israel from around the world and brought their specialties to the
Israeli table, there seems to be a consensus about the most popular dishes for
the holiday. These are the Middle Eastern favorites like felafel, Israeli salad,
humous, eggplant salad with tehina, and kebabs served with pocket
pita. For eating outdoors, the obvious choice is grilled meats and
vegetables. Whether you prefer to thread beef and chicken cubes on skewers to
make kebabs or grill chicken pieces on the bone, the grilled meat comes out even
tastier when you first marinate it for a few hours or overnight.
marinades often include cumin, a spice native to the Eastern Mediterranean that
is mentioned in the Bible. Cumin seems to have been created to enhance the
flavor of meat but it also makes vegetables like eggplant and mushrooms taste
delicious. I like to use cumin with garlic, olive oil and a bit of lemon
juice as a marinade for chicken, or olive oil mixed with a little hawaij marak
(soup spice) – a blend of cumin, turmeric and black pepper. Such oil-based
marinades help prevent chicken or meat from becoming too dry when they are
grilled and are especially important for lean chicken breasts.
I like to
use grilled vegetables in my appetizer salads like eggplant salad or sweet
peppers with olive oil and garlic. Adding the freshly grilled vegetables gives
familiar salads a delicious, smoky flavor. You can prepare the dressing and any
other salad components in advance and then add the grilled vegetables when they
are ready. Of course, this is easier to do if you’re celebrating Independence
Day on your patio or in your backyard than in the park.
A good way to
enjoy the taste of freshly grilled eggplant is in a light and easy salad with
diced tomatoes and cucumbers. Rina Valero, author of Delights of Jerusalem,
calls it traditional eggplant salad.
After cooling the grilled eggplant
enough to peel and mash it, she flavors it with olive oil, garlic, chopped
parsley, salt and pepper and mixes in the diced vegetables.
vegetables are a tasty addition to other salads too. Mixing diced, freshly
grilled peppers, zucchini, onions or eggplant into a rice salad, as in a yellow
rice and red pepper salad, makes it especially flavorful. You can also serve
grilled vegetables on a bed of fresh, crisp greens dressed with a little olive
oil and lemon juice.
For Independence Day, perhaps the best guideline to
follow is to keep the food simple.
A plate of grilled meat and grilled
vegetables, a fresh salad or two, good pita, and perhaps some cool watermelon
and other fruits for dessert, and everyone, including the host, can relax and
enjoy the holiday.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes and
Feast from the Mideast.
Grilled chicken breasts with cumin and garlic
chicken you can grill sweet peppers, large mushrooms and small tomatoes to serve
• 6 chicken breast halves (with skin and bone) (about
1.4 kg. or 3 pounds)
• 1⁄4 cup olive oil
• garlic cloves minced
• 1 Tbsp.
strained fresh lemon juice
• 1 tsp. ground black pepper
• 1 tsp. ground cumin
1⁄2 tsp. salt
Put chicken on plate. Combine remaining ingredients in small bowl
and pour evenly over both sides of chicken. Rub spice mixture into chicken. Let
stand at room temperature while heating coals or refrigerate up to 2
Set chicken on an oiled rack about 13 to 15 cm. (5 to 6 inches)
above glowing coals. Grill, covered, about 10 minutes per side, or until
thickest part of meat near bone is no longer pink when cut. Serve
Makes 6 servings
Grilled eggplant and pepper salad with
garlic and olive oil
This colorful dish is one of my favorite salads and is a
pleasant change from the usual eggplant with tehina or eggplant with mayonnaise. It’s at its best when made with freshly grilled vegetables.
• 2 long,
fairly slender eggplants (about 900 gr. or 2 pounds total)
• 700 to 900 gr.
(11⁄2 to 2 pounds) sweet red peppers
• 2 hot peppers (optional)
• 2 medium garlic cloves
• Salt and freshly ground
pepper to taste
• 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
• 1 Tbsp. vinegar (optional)
Prick eggplants a few times with fork.
Grill eggplants above medium-hot
coals about 40 minutes, turning often, until skin blackens and flesh is
Grill sweet and hot peppers, turning them often, until their
skins blister all over; sweet peppers will take about 15 minutes and hot peppers
about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cover tightly; or put in a plastic bag
and close bag. Let stand 10 minutes.
Peel peppers using paring knife and
remove seeds. Dice peppers.
Leave eggplants until cool enough to handle.
Remove eggplant skin and cut off caps. Halve eggplants and drain off any liquid
Chop eggplant and peppers very fine.
Transfer to a bowl
and add garlic, salt and pepper. Mix very well. Add oil and vinegar if you like.
Taste and adjust seasoning.
Serve at room temperature.
Yellow rice salad with grilled red peppers
The grilled peppers, along
with olives and hot pepper relish, give this colorful salad of spiced rice pilaf
plenty of flavor. The salad makes a tasty accompaniment for kebabs or it can be
served with feta cheese or hard-boiled eggs.
• 3 to 4 Tbsp. olive oil
large onion, halved lengthwise
• 2 small zucchini or pale-green-skinned summer
squash (225 grams or 1⁄2 pound) sliced thinly
• Salt and freshly ground pepper
• 1 1⁄4 cups long-grain white rice
• 1 tsp. ground cumin
• 1⁄4 tsp.
• 21⁄2 cups hot water
• 2 to 3 Tbsp. chopped parsley
• 1 to 2 Tbsp.
• Rice vinegar or lemon juice
• 2 to 3 tsp. s’hug (hot pepper
garlic relish) or hot sauce, or to taste
• 1⁄2 cup green olives, pitted and
• 2 sweet red peppers
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large saute pan. Add
onion and cook over medium-low heat for 7 minutes or until soft but not brown.
Remove from pan.
Add 1 tablespoon oil and heat it. Add zucchini, sprinkle
with salt and pepper and saute over medium heat for 3 minutes or until
crisp-tender. Remove from heat.
Return one third of the onions to pan and
heat them. Add rice and saute over medium-low heat, stirring for 3 minutes or
until grains turn white. Add cumin, turmeric, 3⁄4 teaspoon salt and scant 1⁄2
teaspoon pepper. Pour hot water over rice and stir once. Bring to a boil. Reduce
heat to very low, cover tightly and simmer for 14 minutes. Scatter remaining
sauteed onions over the top. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until rice is
With a fork, fluff rice lightly and transfer to a bowl. Lightly
fold zucchini and parsley. Let cool completely. Fold in vinegar, hot pepper
relish, olives and 1 tablespoon oil if you like. Taste and adjust
Grill peppers on heated grill, turning them occasionally,
until their skins are blistered and charred, about 10 to 15 minutes; do not let
them burn. Transfer peppers to a bowl and cover bowl; or put them in a plastic
bag and close bag. Let stand for 10 minutes. Peel peppers using paring
Halve peppers; be careful because they may have hot juice inside.
Discard seeds and ribs, and pat dry. Do not rinse.
Dice peppers and stir
them gently into rice. Serve at room temperature.
Makes 6 servings
Traditional eggplant salad
This recipe is from Delights of
Jerusalem. Author Rina Valero calls for grilling the eggplant over a gas
flame in the kitchen but it’s even better when grilled outdoors on the barbecue.
She recommends peeling the tomato but I skip this step.
• 1 large
• 1 cucumber
• 1 peeled tomato
• 1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
• 1 garlic clove
• Salt and freshly ground pepper
Prick eggplant a few times with a fork. Grill eggplant above
medium-hot coals about 40 minutes, turning often, until skin blackens and flesh
is tender. Let eggplant cool enough to handle. Peel eggplant, drain well and
mash or chop fine.
Transfer eggplant to a bowl. Add oil, garlic, salt and
pepper. Finely dice the cucumber and tomato and stir into the
Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve cool or at room
Makes 3 or 4 servings