Cooking competition shows are the new stars of reality TV in Israel, with the veteran MasterChef and the newer MKR – both adapted from foreign formats, both appearing on Channel 12 and both starring local celebrity chef Haim Cohen – leading the pack.
It is often eye-opening to see how much outstanding culinary talent is constantly being discovered among everyday Israelis. On the other hand, it is often frustrating to watch the judges savor and praise the mouthwatering dishes, while knowing that we at home will never get a chance to taste them.
Once in a while, however, we ordinary mortals do get that opportunity, Some of the competition winners parlay their victories into realizing lifelong dreams and are able to open restaurants. Others are exploiting the limitations of the current situation to launch delivery-only pop-ups featuring their specialties, without the need to invest in a physical space.
One former contestant – not even a first-place winner – who has made the most of her television exposure is Rachel Ben-Alul, MasterChef runner-up in season five. Rachel has opened two sandwich joints – one in Jerusalem and one in Tel Aviv – starring her distinctive multi-ingredient sandwiches, which burst out of their seams. Intriguingly, the complexity of her gourmet sandwiches has been no barrier to the kashrut of her establishments.
The name of both of her eateries is Rachel Bashdera – Rachel[’s] on the Boulevard – after Jerusalem’s Ben Maimon Boulevard, site of her first restaurant. Recently, the second branch has opened in Sarona Market, which is now home to a growing number of kosher establishments.
The Rachel Bashdera menu (in Hebrew only) comprises three sections: Sandwiches (NIS 44-56), Salads (NIS 44-61) and Desserts (NIS 7-38). As of the time of this writing, however, only sandwiches were available – and only takeaway, no delivery.
Sarona Market is a fitting second location for Rachel Bashdera, since that is also the name of one her most popular sandwiches. The ones I tasted, however, were no less chock-full of premium ingredients.
Like all the sandwiches, the Bocado Street is built on a baguette-style roll (gluten-free option available); moreover, although vegan options are also offered, like most of Rachel’s sandwiches, it contains smears of truffle butter and hot chili sauce, and is topped with grated Parmesan cheese.
The additional ingredients in this delicious vegetarian extravaganza are two kinds each of cheese – Roquefort and Gouda – and citrus – red grapefruit and orange – complemented with cabbage, tomato, radish, red onion, marinated (in garlic and honey) beet carpaccio, Spanish almond, mint, quince marmalade, pistachio pesto and lemon zest.
No less succulent is the “Roast Beef Red Tuna,” with hints of sabih: thin slices of fresh, flavorful tuna with avocado, onion rings, hard-boiled egg, tomato, radish, cornichons, eggplant in sage, pickled lemon cream and Caesar dressing.
Rachel BashderaKosherSarona Market, 3 Aluf Magen Street, Tel AvivTel. N/A
Family dining from the venerable Samir
Samir is an atmospheric Arabic restaurant in downtown Ramle, famous locally for its terrific hummus. The original family recipe, developed by patriarch Fawzi in pre-state Jaffa, is being kept alive by Fawzi’s grandson, Samir’s son Jalil, who is working hard in these challenging times to make sure the restaurant survives into the next generation as well.
It helps that the creamy hummus is backed up by a superb supporting cast of dishes from traditional Arab cuisine – all of which are available via delivery to a greatly expanded area, to most cities in central Israel (with a minimum order of NIS 100, and a delivery fee of NIS 20-50).
I left the contents of my order in Jalil’s capable hands, and he did not disappoint. What I received were two large, covered cardboard trays filled to the brim with an assortment of meze and main courses from three of the five menu categories. Packed separately were plenty of soft pitot.
Among the most notable of the dishes were two variations of Samir’s signature hummus (NIS 20), one topped with whole chickpeas and the other liberally flecked with morsels of flank steak. Both the hummus and the zahrah – gently fried florets of cumin-seasoned cauliflower drenched in pale tehina (NIS 25) – were made with another house specialty, the homemade sesame paste.
In the same tray were two cardboard containers of slightly elliptical-shaped spheres of falafel the size of golf balls (NIS 20). The crunchy exteriors housed a tasty green filling redolent with parsley, cilantro and garlic, among other spices.
Yet another dish common to Israeli and pan-Arab cuisine is the hearty Ramle mejadra (NIS 20), with a higher than usual proportion of round, whole-grain rice to lentils, laced with broad slices of fried onion.
In addition, there were two excellent chicken dishes: chunks of sautéed white meat in two quite different red sauces, one based on tomato and onion, the other a savory concoction of pureed red peppers seasoned with lemon and garlic (NIS 60).
Last but not least, there were two examples of dishes that just might be the best versions of each I have ever tasted. The warm candidate was arais – triangles of toasted pita stuffed with perfectly seasoned ground veal and drizzled with Samir’s exceptional tehina. The salad, meanwhile, was an exceptionally refreshing rendition of tabbouleh (NIS 20), flecked with a generous portion of chopped parsley and topped with ruby-red pomegranate seeds.
All in all, Samir will hook you up with great meals for winter – Middle Eastern comfort food at its finest – at prices that are more reasonable than you find in the big cities.
SamirNot kosher. 7 Kehilat Detroit, Ramle. Tel. (08) 922-0195. Online delivery menu (Hebrew only): https://www.samir1948.co.il/online-ordering
The writer was a guest of the restaurants.