Friday, October 17, 2014

Jachnun: An Unofficial Dossier

Jachnun is a legendary Yemenite pastry, made out of a special type of dough that gets stretched out and stretched out, and rolled up and rolled up, and then stretched out again and again. It originated in compliance with shabbat halacha, when cooking is prohibited and Jews needed to come up with foods that could sit on the fire over night.

Jachnun is up there with marak timani (Yemenite chicken soup) in terms of being identified with Yemenites in Israel. Yet, the story is more complex, as I learned during a conversation with my husband's family this Sukkot. The following brief and unofficial history was pieced together over the dinner table which included my husband's aunt and uncle, who made aliyah when they were 11 and 10 respectively, and remember what life was like "in the old country."

One issue that comes up when talking about "Yemenite" cuisine is much the same when you discuss "Israeli" cuisine: a wide range of diverse foods being lumped together from many distinct heritages and cultures. Jews in Yemen lived in both urban and rural areas, and the country is quite hilly, making for many isolated communities. This helps explain all of the variations of jachnun out there. My husband's mother adds some whole wheat flour. And I, of course, eat it like an ashkenazi person would, with honey and sour cream piled on top, rather than the traditional schug, a hard boiled egg, and grated tomato. (In my white-person American defense, I call this "fusion." In my further defense, please keep in mind that jachnun with my husband's family is generally served at 10 am Saturday morning, when people get back from the break-of-dawn Yemenite shuel services).

 Not surprisingly, since food varied between regions, and while things like hawaijj and marak temani seem to have been widely dispersed, jachnun was only made in certain communities. So where was it specifically made? This part of its history is a bit vague to me, as I only know that my aunt- and uncle-in-law did not grow up in the area that made jachun. They--like many Yemenites--learned how to make it in Israel upon immigration, when the government placed the new Yemenite olim together in camps regardless on their point of orgin. People from their community learned how to make jachnun  from other Yemenites. In other words, despite being considered so "Yemenite," jachnun only reached the broader Yemenite community in the last 60 years or so, and only in Israel.

What is so interesting to me is that as much as jachnun is considered so decidedly Yemenite, it has taken on a life of its own here in Israel. As much as most days I could take it or leave it, it seems to have built up quite a fan base in recent years. It is readily available in supermarkets nationwide in the frozen isle, and jachnun eateries have begun to pop up in Jerusalem. Walking around, when I lived in Nachlaot, I would see a sign for homecooked jachnun for sale on Fridays. It has even been written up in Haaretz.

One reason for it being so readily available is the fact that it is apparently not so fun (time-consuming, space-consuming) to make. Even my husband's mother often buys jachnun from a woman in her community (this is saying a lot, as the older generation of my husband's family notoriously makes everything from scratch, from homemade pickles, schug, hawaijj, pita, and even challah on occasion). When I told her I wanted her to teach me how to make it, she said to just buy it instead, that it was a headache to make. I will persist in my pleas, but in the meantime, it seems more likely that she will teach me how to make jachnun's more elegant and less-popular cousin, kubbaneh. So, say tuned.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Yemenite Soup

Six months into married life with a Yemenite Israeli, I have enjoyed kitniyot on passover and a henna engagement party. None of these feats, however, truly initiated me as a real Yemenite, at least in my husband's eyes, till his mother taught me how to make what is known in Israel simply as "marak timani," Yemenite soup.

Yemenite soup needs no introduction in Israel, but for the rest of us, it is basically the Yemenite version of chicken soup. My grandma's recipe features salt and pepper; Assaf's grandma's features hawaij. Other differences from your standard ashkenazi fare: the heavy use of cilantro and the fact that entire chicken pieces get served alongside the soup; I have seen a Persian chicken soup do this too, so maybe it is a middle eastern thing (As an ashkenazi side note, my family usually uses the cooked chicken in chicken salad; my grandpa used to take the chicken fat that rose to the top and smear it on bread). With the chicken, the soup becomes a healthy, delicious entire meal, perfect for shabbat dinner, or friday lunch even in the summer. We like it anytime.

I was surprised how simple the soup was to make, though these are often famous last words. Assaf's mom said that every family's soup was a little bit different; her mom's was very basic, and she got the idea to add potatoes from Assaf's paternal grandmother.

For the future (i.e. this Friday), I think I will add extra potatoes, which I love, and cut the carrot into bigger chunks the way my grandma does sometimes. I will keep the green onions in, which are particularly delicious in Israel, and a homage of sorts to the leeks that are part of my grandma's soup.

So, without further adieu, how you, too, can make this surprisingly simple, thoroughly tasty soup. Pictures to come.

(As a note, learning to cook from Assaf's mom was a lot like learning from my Italian host mother; a lot of effortless "oh, I just put this in here"s. Proportions were flexible, as were all of the ingredients besides hawaij and chicken, and possibly cilantro. It all happened so fast!)


1 Onion, peeled and cut length- and width wise almost till the end (it should still be whole), if you fancy

Carrots, peeled and sliced about half an inch thin, we used just one

Potatoes, pealed, small ones kept whole, larger ones cut in half lengthwise, as many as you want (we used 3)

2-3 cloves of garlic, cut fine

1 Tomato, grated (you can use a cheese grater)

Very liberal handful of cilantro (no formal measurements were given), chopped fine, with or without the stems

1 1/2 Tbs. Hawaij Marak (i.e. for soup--there is also for coffee/tea and apparently for baking), or to taste. We bought ours from the shuk, but Assaf's aunt makes it at home. Assaf's mother said her mother sometimes would just add the various spices separately into the soup.

Chicken pieces with the bone, as many as you want, skin and fat removed (we used two breasts and two drumsticks)

Celery (we did not use this)
Instant soup powder (we did not use this; can be used instead of salt)
1 Green Onion (whole) with the root and any old ends removed
Parsley chopped fine without stems.

Tip from Assaf's mom: the celery and parsley, and possibly the cilantro, can be blitzed together and pureed, and then added to the soup.

1. Boil water and add it to your pot till it comes to about half way high. Regarding choosing your pot, for four pieces of chicken we used a smallish pot, not the pot I generally use when making my grandmother's chicken soup

2. Add onion, carrots, potatoes, herbs, the tomato, garlic, 1 1/2 tablespoons hawaij (or to taste), a teaspoon of salt (taste the soup later on to check if it needs more), and green onion and cook on medium. I think at this point you should cover it. You can add the ingredients as they are ready, and the order itself seems flexible, but I would suggest added the potatoes first so they have time to cook.

Add the onion first, if you like. Notice how it is divided into quarters but not cut all the way through
Add those carrots

Add the potatoes

Add the herbs and green onion if using, as well as the hawaij

3. In the meanwhile, place the cleaned, skinless chicken in a dish in the sink and pour boiling water on it. I forget why, but this is important.

Burn, baby, burn

4. When the potato is soft, add the chicken. You do not want to cook the chicken till the potato is soft and yields to a toothpick, as apparently the potato will absorb the chicken's flavor. Place the chicken on the bottom of the pot, covered with soup. You can add more boiled water if you want more broth.

It should look something like this
5. Cover partially and cook till chicken is very tender, about 30-60 minutes. I didn't stir, and I don't think you are supposed to.

Serving Suggestions:
Yemenite pita (Saluf) or regular oversized pita, hilbeh sauce, schug on the side, as desired.

Place broth and whatever veggies (not everyone loves the onion, but I do) you want in a soup bowl, and add a piece of chicken. Yemenite soup is eaten with the entire piece (a whole drumstick, for example), but since the chicken is so tender from all of the cooking time, it comes easily off the bone with the spoon.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Chappy Chanukka!

Dear reader,

Much has been going on here: started my MA at Bezalel, moving out of nachlaot after about a year and a half, taking Zumba classes at a haredi gym. These are all stories I wish to share, and shortly.

In the meantime, its one of my favorite holidays and this means donuts, chanukka gelt & public menora lightings (even at the highly secular Bezalel there was one on the grass, one on the center hall and one before my last class). Time to get as much fried dough in as possible. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Pomegranate Grove near Gedera, Just Off the Highway
A while ago, one of my most beloved former coworkers told me I food-shopped more than anyone else she knows. There is a lot of truth in that--I love food shopping, I love grocery stores (in Israel, it has taken me a while to start liking them, but slowly-slowly...), I love the shuk (the central market). I even have a wish-list of foods and spices I want to try (rose tea and fresh turmeric top the list), though I suppose that is another post in itself, and one I most certainly plan on posting sometime soon.

I am home in New York for the holidays, and one thing I have already really begun to miss about my home in Israel (literally five minutes from the amazing Jerusalem shuk) is fresh fruit, and especially fresh juice. Fall in Israel means fall harvest time, and for me that means one thing: freshly squeezed and delicious pomegranate juice.

Juice Stand on Ben-Yehuda Street
At one of the many juice stands scattered around Israel, you can get juice or shakes (with a base of water, orange juice, milk and sometimes yogurt) made from an enormous variety of fruits or even vegetables. One popular option is orange juice with carrot, a great way to start the morning. I also like banana, date and either sweetened pecans or walnuts with a milk base. The fresh carrot juice and fresh apple juice are also stellar. Strawberry-banana is another no-fail option. At Grand Cafe on Derech Beit Lechem, you can get a very delicious and sharp juice with ginger.

Juice also seems to be prized for its health benefits, and as an American, after POM's extensive advertising for pomegranate juice's many good deeds, I cannot plead ignorant. In any event, grapefruit juice is apparently a great fast aid, lemonade helps with dealing with the heat, apple juice helps when hiking... and etrog-gat juice from the juice man in the Jerusalem shuk is a lifesaver. I drink this pre-fast, in the heat, when tired, when I have a headache. It is green, and it is good. And, apparently, gat is a stimulant generally consumed by older Yemenite men. I guess they really are on to something...

Enjoying Some Classic Etrog-Gat Juice in the Jerusalem Shuk

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tales for the CVS Love Lorn

Most recently, I have been missing some of the comforts of my American home--Indian food on every street corner, Uniqlo and most of all CVS.

Perhaps these are odd things to miss, and certainly not the normal things olim yearn for. But while I have been learning to make indian food at home (and enjoying the shuk's bountiful spice stores which only help in this endeavor) and my mother is bringing over some Uniqlo purchases over for me on her next visit, CVS is something I really miss.

You have to understand, it is more than just amazing products that simple don't exist on this side of the Nile, like aveeno lotion and facial sunscreen over SPF15 at a reasonable price. It is the whole shopping experience: going into a store at all hours of the night, having thousands of amazing options to choose from, buying a cheesy magazine and being able to pick up some groceries while you are at it. American consumerism, simply but perfectly done.

As I wrote earlier, finding a shampoo that works with Israeli weather/ water was in itself a year long battle. But now that I am over that hurdle (and have spent too much money testing and trying), I am starting to enjoy toiletry shopping once again.

One common complaint of olim is that the pharmacies here are super expensive. While that may be true, one thing that Israeli stores do best is offer a bargain. One tip: always keep an eye out for a good deal.

So, in this next entry, I will share my adventures and hope to combine three things I love best: a good sale, magazine-type product recommendation (I hope!) and toiletries.


Best Discount Store:
Not sure what it's called, but is just after the Maccabi building on Agrippas if you are walking downtown (pictured left). They have red crates of different products on sale.
Purchase here 2 colgate toothpastes for 20NIS. The toothpaste tubes seem legit, so I will leave it at that. Interestingly, half the store has hair accessories, tights and socks.

Another tip: Visit your kupat holim's pharmacy for discounts on prescriptions, sunscreen, painkillers and more. And always keep an eye out, especially around the shuk: there are a lot of good deals to be had.

Store Open Latest:
Superpharm, downtown Jerusalem.
While apparently Superpharm is a canadian company, they are a chain with stores throughout Israel. The one near me is open most nights till 11 PM, which is not too shabby. While often overpriced, they are where I found my beloved shampoo. They have had good deals in the past: one of my friends said she found clinique makeup remover here cheaper than it is in the USA.

Favorite Pharmacy
The Mashpir, downtown Jerusalem.
I am not sure why I love this pharmacy so much. It could be their excellent selection, their great deals, their high end selection of makeup and (apparently overpriced) perfume, their renovated interior.
But I do love the Mashpir pharmacy. I love that they are the only legit drugstore I have seen with Premier products, offered at 1 + 1 (an Israeli classic, buy one get one free) or 30% off just one. I love that they have a whole section of just "natural" stuff. I like that they have actual good deals at the checkout counter.


I have fine, straight and dafka blond hair... not too typical in the Mediterranean or among the Jewish people. I have tried and failed to find an Israeli shampoo that works for me. When all efforts failed, I brought over two luxury American shampoos including Frederic Fekkai voluminous shampoo, which I love in the USA. However, these were also a FAIL because they were made to work with American water, not Israel's hard ward.

I stumbled on this shampoo (purchased at 1+1, pictured left) a few months ago and am happy as a claim with it.

My coworker, Raizee, who loves all things beauty (she does everyone in the office's makeup and hair and gives us all styling tips) raves about the shampoo above ("7"), saying it is great for dry hair.

I got this huge jar at Ramat Rachel's Spa. I put a little at a time into a smaller jar so the big  jar doesn't get so much bacteria. This stuff is amazing. I apply it liberally, and though it is a tad pricey (NIS255 or about $70), I have had the same jar for over a year and couldn't be happier.

Hawaii is definitely not the most luxurious of brands, but makes my favorite of all drug store brand body wash. It comes in awesome flavors, including a very middle-eastern pomegranate smoothy. Best of all, if you look hard enough, you can find a big bottle for 10NIS (roughly $2.50) so its a good deal so you can collect them all!

I have to admit that I was among the downtrodden. I needed an exfoliator, but could not find one in the pharmacy. I looked and I looked and nothing! And then, on my daily walk during my break, I found this exfoliator at one of the dead sea products shops on King George, in a bin outside for 10NIS (pictured to the right). I swapped it for a cleaner bottle inside, and have been very happy with it. Gets the job done, smells good, non-greasy. Best of all, I searched online and it was actually cheaper here than in the USA!
That said, my friend told me you can get it in Walmart, so part of its allure has been reduced... but it is made with dead sea salt. For a close up of the exfoliator, see picture above with shampoo.

My mom loves this blow dryer (pictured to the right) and I actually own two for when she comes to visit. She loves it so much she wanted to bring it back to America. We got one at an appliance store on Emek Reffaim and the other at another appliance store on Derech Beit Lechem.

I guess it is really the little things, but I love these tissues 
(pictured to the left). The most popular tissues I have seen in Israel are called "tsivoni" or something like that meaning colorful or with colors... They alternate between pink and white tissues and I just can't do it anymore!!! Things were looking up when I found just white tissues, but these are king: I love the packaging and the tissues are soft. Of all places, I found them at a disposable table setting store on Agrippas.

Two great, random purchases to consider making. I got an excellent "Life" brand tweezer at Superpharm earlier this year. (Please note, I really like CVS brand things but I am not usually a fan of Life brand). Also--10-12NIS nailpolishes in every color. I am currently debating whether to next purchase a pea green, lime green or butter yellow polish next.

My stylin' coworker, Abi/Abigail, suggested this lotion (Lactofil). I still miss aveeno, but am consider purchasing it as part of my effort to reduce needing products from America/ support Israel.

I have used Premier's facewash before and loved it, and am excited to try their exfoliator. Premier also seems to be much cheaper in Israel (though still expensive comparatively to other Israeli facewashes). But a little bit of luxury is always well deserved.

Moroccan hair oil is apparently Israeli and a big deal. I guess I can add this to my wishlist of what I will do when I have thick, curly hair (#1: get a big afro and wear a lot of cool hair scarves and button downs).

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Curried Shabbat

Last Friday night, 15 people somehow managed to squeeze into my very tiny, New York-sized apartment in Nachlaot, Jerusalem for Shabbat dinner. The meal was cooked by a professional cook, Orit Bon Appetit. The food, delicious. The goal? To bring together Israelis and Olim. The how? An Israeli host and an oleh/olah host each invite 5 guests or so to come together for an amazing meal. The sponsors? None other than the young-at-heart-and-in-years, Jerusalem Village.

I had actually found out about this amazing program from another blog post, and like that writer, I too jumped on the opportunity. What could be better? Food and dinner parties and new friends and old. But mainly, free food. Really, too good to be true!

The logistics: work on a menu with Orit. When asked what is my favorite food my family makes, I mentioned that I loved indian food and veggies (true story: my mom makes delicious alu gobi and chicken curry). With those few words, somehow Orit managed to use all of my favorite foods: ginger, scallions, cabbage (something I have only come to appreciate in Israel), sesame oil, cilantro and mint.

First, the menu was decided on and created:

  Spring Rolls* (see below for a how-to)
filed with vegetables, rice noodles
and Asian dip

Asian Cabbage Salad
with carrots, mushrooms and toasted sesame seeds 

Broad Beans
 with Tomatoes and Coriander with Lemon

Green Salad (see below center)
with Lettuce, Tarragon, Pumpkin Seeds, Green Apple and Sprouts in a Lemon-Date Vinagrete

Main Dish 
Chicken with Green
An Indian-Style Stew

Side Dishes 
Azuki Beans and Coffee (see below right)
Potatoes and Peas with Coconut Milk Curry (see below left)

 White rice


 Then, we cooked said menu with Orit....
My Roommate and Co-Olah Host, Malka, and I Hard at Work
Assaf, the Israeli Host, Prepping Some Potatoes

Then, all we had to do was serve the aforementioned food at a Shabbat meal with Israelis and Olim.

Done, done and done. We had a blast. Really fun. A lot of wine and great food. And, on a deeper level, I hope that we brought together Israelis and Olim, and that we helped spread the word of this amazing program. But, most of all, I enjoyed eating the leftovers!


* How to make Spring Rolls with vegetables, rice noodles and Asian dip

Step One: Prep your vegetables/ fillings. We used cabbage, carrots, zucchini, cucumbers and radishes all cut very finely, as well as cut up sections of mint (I LOVE mint in spring rolls), scallions and avocados. Then, if you are feeling adventurous or healthy, just add cooked rice noodles/ tofu (ours had a light dressing of sesame oil and/or soy sauce I think)

Step Two: Assemble the fillings and lay out on a table. Put hot water in a large pot and use the back of a large cutting board as a work surface

Step 3: Dip circular rice paper into the pot of hot water to soften (see picture above) and let sit for a few moments. The rice paper design should still be in tact

Step 4: Put a softened piece of rice paper on the work surface. Fill with fillings. Pull over the left side of the paper, then the right side, then roll up from the top to bottom.

Step 5: Brush with a combination of extra virgin olive oil and sesame oil to keep the rolls from sticking together.

Step 6: Serve with asian chilli sauce (surprisingly popular in Israel). I added some soy sauce (Orit's suggestion to stretch the sauce) and really liked it--oddly enough, the soy sauce gave the sauce both a fruity flavor and helped cut the sweetness.

Batay Avon!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Botega Botata, or The Comforts of Home

My Favorite 24/6 Macholet on Bezalel Street

I am a real believer in the corner store, and quite possibly one of their best customers internationally.Corner stores are a good litmus test of a place's character and culture. Don't believe me? What type of people go in there? What type of goods to they carry? Where are they located and when are they open? When do people shop? Yup, you can learn a lot from them.

In New York City, we don't really have "corner stores." We call them "bodegas." In fact, I didn't even realize this was a New York thing till I met Americans from other parts of the country... in Israel.

When I lived in Williamsburg, there were three main population groups (hipsters to the North, Latin Americans in the middle and then my Satmar Haredi brethren below South 8th street). Each area had its own characteristics with regards to the local bodega and each bodega took into consideration the local population. I can't quite remember them in the northern area of Williamsburg, mainly because I lived and worked farther down South, though I do remember the newly constructed, glossy 24 hour pharmacy with beer on tap and some fresh produce (ah, liberals in America...) and organic juices. Magazines galore to match the glossy exterior. In the central section of Williamsburg, the stores had mucho Latin American products--tons of goya spice mixtures and juices for example, and stuff with Spanish all over it. And lastly, in the Satmar section, corner stores were more like mini-supermarkets, with Israeli products dotting the shelves. No magazines here that I can remember. Some Yiddish.

In Italy, I cannot remember seeing any corner stores, probably because everything was so specialized. In Spain, I remember corner stores being called "chinos," probably in reference to the Chinese people who so often seem to own them. (Note to the wise: when discussing immigrant populations in Europe, it is quite possible that "Chinese" refers to anyone who looks remotely Asian.)

And now, on to my time in Israel.... Macholet, or corner store, is one of those words everyone uses in Jerusalem, even people who don't speak Hebrew. Interestingly enough, it was a word that I didn't learn till after I started living in the "real world" (i.e. working, albiet in an American company).

Probably the Cheapest Macholet I Have Seen in Jerusalem,
Located on Shatz Street (Soda is 1 NIS Cheaper!)
In Jerusalem, there are two main types of macholets: SOS 24/6 (referring to 24 hours a day, 6 days a week and not Shabbat), and then local corner stores. SOS stores may be considered sketchy by some. My coworkers will not visit the one I most often frequent, shinning brightly on Bezalel street. But for me, as a former New Yorker, what greater luxury could there be than picking up ice cream at 11:30 PM after a long day's work? Than strolling down the isles and grabbing a carton of milk on the way home and pretending I work normal hours, rather than American ones (3-11 pm)? When I go in late, there are all sorts of clientele. Sure, there are the strange ones who tell you to rub arak on your belly when you have a stomach ache. But there are also other 20-somethings, and even some married folk going in. When I was frantically doing Passach cleaning, I ran into a SOS macholet that was even closer to me (the beauty of living downtown). I was not the only one in frantic cleaning mode! And the clerk seemed to take pity on me and help me find stuff in the store, even giving me old newspapers to cover the counter tops with. Oh, the little things...

Then, there are the local macholets like the one we all visit at work, that is actually shutting down in the next few weeks because the landlords want to renovate the building. We are all a little sad at the office to see them go. They had been open some 20+ years.
Fresh Produce All Lined Up at a Neighborhood Macholet in Katamon

All corner stores in Jerusalem seem to have their fair share of fresh produce, ranging from so-so to really excellent quality. Sometimes, there is fresh-squeezed juice, especially of the orange variety. A great selection of yogurts and dairy products. A great selection of candy and gum and cigarettes. Newspapers (English language ones too, depending on the 'hood) and often magazines. Salatim (dips like hummus and babaganush). Baked goods like cookies and bread that look semi-locally made. Sometimes they even have specialty items, like American Reeses or Bailey's. And of course, the random (they are Israeli, afterall) like Hanukkah oil in the middle of the Spring. Quite often, they even have a space to sit in outside, under the sun... or, as is the case in the cheapest macholet I have found in the center, the owner's friends will sit on crates and talk to him, while he smokes a cigarette and rings up customers. Humble corner store or not, Israelis love to sit and chat.

See, there really is a lot to say about the corner store.

Salatim (Middle Eastern Dips Like Hummus and Schug) Galore Inside 24/6 Macholet
Land of Milk... at the 24/6 Macholet (See? Really NOT That Sketchy, Folks)
Assorted Jewish Things: Chanukah Oil (Green Bottle on Left); Memorial Candles; and Toothpicks, an Israeli Staple