I have much to learn about Middle Eastern foods, so when I can hear an authority speak on the subject I am very excited. I recently heard Faye Levy with her husband–writing and photography partner, Yakir, wax poetic on the subject at Melissa’s Produce, where she is a frequent attendee.
Faye may be petite, but her culinary knowledge and achievements are gigantic. She was professionally trained at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, and is an accomplished culinary columnist, author and teacher. She has lived on three continents and has written 23 cookbooks in English, French and Hebrew. Faye won a James Beard Cookbook Award for Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook; three of her other books won IACP cookbook awards, and she has been the main cooking columnist of The Jerusalem Post since 1990.
Faye shared some of her favorite Middle Eastern recipes at a recent Melissa’s Produce luncheon. Her presentation was fascinating as she discussed these cuisines’ vegetable cooking techniques, popular flavorings and dietary rules.
My takeaway? Fresh fruits and vegetables play an enormous role in the Middle Eastern culinary culture. Read further to see some examples.
Ojai Pixie Tangerines, Muscato Grapes and Israeli Dragon Fruit – so gorgeous, so juicy, and the perfect appetizer.
Green Tahini Sauce with Crudites – spiked with parsley and garlic, this is an eye opener.
Persian Eggplant Salad was rich with tahini and studded with tomato, then served with pita bread.
Fresh Asparagus & Carrots was a perfect accompaniment to Yemenite Chicken Casserole with Potatoes which reminded me of the best potato salad I’ve ever eaten, because of the onions and spice blend.
Creamy Rosewater Puddings with Pistachios & Strawberries were lighter than air, and oh so exotic.
Fresh is key to this super easy Israeli salad.
The hardest part is dicing the vegetables which can be a snap if you use an onion chopper.
This Israeli-California salad is from “1,000 Jewish Recipes.” The addition of jicama (not available in the Middle East) is what makes it Californian.
Israeli Salad California Style
- 4 Persian or mini cucumbers cut in small dice
- 8 plum tomatoes or 4 medium tomatoes cut in small dice
- 1/2 cup chopped red white or sweet onion, or 1/3 cup chopped green onion
- 1 small red orange or yellow bell pepper, cut in small dice
- 1 cup finely diced peeled jicama
- 4 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
- 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or more to taste
- 1 to 2 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice or more to taste
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
Mix together diced cucumbers, tomato, onion, peppers, jicama, and parsley.
Add oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.
Serve cold or at room temperature.
From velvety spreads to vibrant salads to rosewater-spiked treats, Middle Eastern cuisine is as colorful as it is delicious.
…and then, she paused for thought.