Whenever my family and I visit Israel, there are a few dishes that we refuse to miss. For those times when we can’t be in Israel, I have come up with some variations that give us a taste of Israel at home. These recipes, which are featured in the Yom Ha’atzmaut section of my book, Get Cooking! A Jewish American Family Cookbook, serve up edible snapshots of our time spent flavorfully with family and friends in Israel.
The Watermelon and Feta Salad with Mint is based on a dish my husband and I shared at a beachfront café in Tel Aviv. Our kids were totally freaked out by the sound of it: watermelon with cheese?! Ewwww! My husband ordered it anyway, and I’m glad he did. The dish offered a perfect balance of salty creaminess and juicy sweetness. On that hot summer day at the beach, it was both refreshing and taim (delicious).
When I got home from the trip, I played with the flavors by adding chopped na’ana (mint) and tangy lime juice. The maxed-out flavor of this dish stands in contrast to the minimal amount of preparation it requires. My once-horrified kids now clamor to help cut the watermelon into shapes, slice the feta cheese and then find the most creative way to plate the elements. We’re partial to the tall tower approach.
As a committed sweet-tooth, my visits to the Machane Yehuda shuk (market) in Jerusalem usually result in boxes of sticky baklava along with bags of almond-, orange- and chocolate-flavored tea biscuits and sacks of sesame-honey candies.
The Milk and Honey Bars are a play on an American-style cookie bar, infused instead with flavors and textures that characterize those Middle Eastern sweets: honey, sesame, orange, almonds and dark chocolate. Making these is a fun and easy activity to do with kids. It’s the kind of recipe that you can return to again and again, like a favorite snapshot that reminds you of a sweet time spent together in the kitchen.