Israel Part IV
As we leave Tel Aviv it’s good to welcome the greenery of vineyards and cactus. I see the architecture change dramatically but the stone is familiar - an almost Cotswolds-esque cream. I subconsciously hum the hymn “Jerusalem” and it gives me a patriotic homesick pang. At school, Bethlehem and Galilee seemed from a far-off world; here they are on signposts. When we arrive, I am distracted by the new flat roofs, the tinted glass on the sacred ground, the sprawling mass, the mega bucks and the completely fascinating Hasidic Jews sweating in the heat as they busily go about their daily duties.
We check in to our majestic hotel “The Manila” and immediately dump our bags to get to the market. I am pleased to be covered up in a long black silk dress, it’s aerated thankfully and I notice there are no shoulders or arms exposed…. at all, anywhere… apart from my mates. This is my second visit to Jerusalem and I remember from 6 years ago an amazing little bread bakery, which specializes in Khachapuri flatbreads. From Georgian origin, I have recently been reading about these flatbreads in the amazing book “Tasting Georgia” by Carla Capalbo. I excitedly stumble upon the bakery again and we immediately order one. The idea is you stir the still soft egg into the cheese and spinach and then tear off the bread from the outside and dip in. Fantastic.
Dinner is at MONA a beautiful restaurant in an art gallery / school, where we enjoy some astounding dishes. The olive oil, tomato and garlic are here again… beautiful tomato pulp, in a pool of olive oil, with a confit of garlic. This combination, one of the ultimate Mediterranean symphonies has appeared in a few guises. It’s reminding me of ‘Pan Con Tomate’ and I can feel a version coming on at the restaurant. The Israeli seasons, I gauge, must be a couple of months ahead of ours… their tomatoes are excellent; the loquats are ripe and ready. We have an amazing green salad with flavours so vivid it’s hard to explain, I wish we had a scratch and sniff to appreciate the full sweetness of the pea shoots, the saltiness of the cheese, the astringent red onion that balances effortlessly. A ravioli of corn is incredible too.
The next morning I get a cab to the Domaine du Castel winery, where I meet the lovely Ilana. The vineyard has a framed letter from Sotheby’s in London, they were the first to recognize this incredible family and their ability as wine makers. At 10am we get stuck in to a true, biblical breakfast of champions (a wine tasting with some incredible cheese from a kibbutz).
When they say Sydney is the stage and Melbourne is the audience, I want to find a comparison between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.. the intriguing landscapes of Jerusalem; a beautiful city that has, regardless of your beliefs, an incredible energy. The bright, blinding, divine light of the old city is undoubtedly very special. Which is why, for me it’s hard for the food to be centre stage here. Don’t get me wrong we ate very well, but the atmosphere, the history and the current politics overshadowed it. It was missing the competitive edge and execution to that of Tel Aviv… well that’s my fussy chef spin on it anyway. Until next time Israel…
My Khachapuri flat bread recipe based on a “Adjarian Khachapuri” - the most iconic flatbread of all. A meal in itself…
“Adjaran” Khachapuri Flat Bread Recipe
Makes two flatbreads.
Not an Israeli flatbread, but a Georgian one. However this recipe will always remind me of the melting pot that is Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This recipe uses European cheeses, in replacement of what would probably be hameiri, or other sheep milk cheeses. The dough is inspired by a beautifully soft naan bread which I love… feel free to use a normal bread dough, but this way the bread is easier to tear.
For the dough: -
17g sachet or yeast (or 15g fresh yeast)
2 tsp caster sugar
300g strong white bread flour
½ tsp baking powder
125ml warm water
For the filling:-
1 clove garlic
150g spinach leaves
1 x 225g tub ricotta
80g parmesan cheese, grated
70g cheddar, grated
Pinch dried chilli flakes
Ground black pepper
2 x 30g pieces of butter
1. Make the dough. If using the dried yeast, put all of the ingredients into a bowl and mix. Turn out on to a floured surface and knead until smooth (about 5 minutes) adding more warm water if necessary. (If using fresh yeast, soften the yeast in the warm water, blend until smooth and wait for 10 mins for the yeast to foam, then add to the mix and knead as above) Place in an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place.
2. Meanwhile, start the filling. Heat a little oil and sweat the garlic briefly; add the spinach and wilt until the spinach is cooked down and there is no moisture left. Drain on a tray with a j-cloth.
3. Mix the cheeses together in a bowl, add the spinach and season with black pepper and chilli flakes.
4. When almost doubled in size, knock the dough back. Divide into two pieces and roll on a floured surface into two rounds. Preheat an oven to 170°C
5. Divide the cheese into two and press down into the centre of each dough. Curl the sides of the dough up on both sides, and secure at each end. Press the cheese mix down in anticipation of the egg later. Transfer to a floured tray a bake for 25 minutes.
6. Remove from the oven and crack egg into the centre, add the butter and bake for another five minutes until the egg has just set, but the yolk is still runny.
7. Stir the egg into the cheese mix until well blended and tear off the bread from the outside to dip in. Serve immediately.