The Jewish Palate: The miracle of Israel

While Israel celebrates its Independence Day, Chef Dennis Wasko takes a look at figs which have figured very prominently its history.

yom haatzmaut 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
yom haatzmaut 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
This week faithful supporters of the State of Israel will be observing Yom Ha'atzmaut.  The founding of the State of Israel on the 5th of Iyar, 5708 (1948) marked a turning point in the history of the scattered Jewish communities of the world. For the first time since the destruction and exile of 70 C.E. the Jewish People would take possession of their most beloved and prized treasure, the Land of Israel.  The results, despite all of the opposition, have been truly remarkable.
Israel has become a bastion of democracy in the Middle East. It has welcomed immigrants from all corners of the Earth, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Israel is a place of refuge for the unwanted. Muslim refugees from Darfur were given sanctuary in Israel when no Muslim country would accept them. Israel has given selflessly of its technology and abundance. The Land has been tended with the greatest of care and has rewarded its inhabitants with a bounty of incredible produce. The strong determination of the early Zionist pioneers made the desert bloom, and the strong moral character of the Jewish People has insured that those who are in need receive the help that they are due. Israeli teams were amongst the first on the ground after the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan.
I have been writing the Jewish Palate series in order to introduce the world to the multitude of Jewish communities who now call Israel home. Each one of them is a precious facet of the same jewel. Without Israel, many of these Jews would not be alive today, and most of them would be living as second class Dhimmis in Muslim lands.
When I think of Israeli produce, I can’t help but think of figs.  Figs have figured very prominently in the history and legends of Israel and the Jewish People.  Figs are one of the sacred seven species upon which Jews are required to intone a blessing before consuming.  The fig is also quite a handsome tree and is quite easy to grow.  I have a small fig tree growing on my balcony, and every time I look at it I am reminded of Eretz Yisrael.
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Grilled figs with goat cheese and lavender honey
Serves 4
12 fresh figs (whatever is in season)
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Cracked pepper
1/4 cup fresh goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup good quality honey
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon lavender flowers
Place the honey in a small pot and gently heat until just bubbly. Add lavender flowers, stir, and allow to infuse for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the fresh figs in half lengthwise. Brush each fig with extra virgin olive oil, and season with sea salt and pepper. Place fig halves on a hot grill, cut side up. Top each with some of the crumbled goat cheese.
Close grill and allow to cook for 3 - 5 minutes, or until cheese is hot and melting. Remove from grill, arrange on a platter or atop your favorite salad. Drizzle with the lavender infused honey.
Serve while warm.
These figs can also be used to garnish your favorite green salad.