From Israel, with love

From Israel, with love

Just like Indians, Israelis also enjoy indulging their sweet tooth with fresh-off-the-oven breads, decadent chocolate treats and sinful pies, writes Rashmi Vasudeva

Israeli desserts

Necessity is the mother of invention and there really is nothing more necessary than a dessert, is there? The Israelis certainly believed so. In the early years of their new country, resources were scarce and so were ingredients. Ideas, though, were many. Recipes were concocted from a potpourri of cultures, influences and ingredients from all the different countries that the people of Israel came from originally. Precisely why popping a piece of rugelach in your mouth may take you anywhere from Hungary to Denmark or might remind you of Israel’s immediate neighbour like Lebanon or even Turkey.

Multicultural tastes

“Like everything else in Israel, its kitchen, too, is multicultural and has many tales to tell. The food has always been about ingenuity and invention while staying true to the spirit of the original recipes,” says Israeli baker chef Keren Agam who was recently in Bengaluru for a series of Israeli bread and dessert baking workshops as part of the celebrations of 27 years of diplomatic ties between India and Israel.

“My focus is not on baking as such but more on how innovative one can be with traditional recipes,” says Keren who recalled the joy of eating a just-out-of-the-oven beigale at the ancient gates of Jerusalem or re-inventing the kadorei shokolad, a childhood favourite of hers (and most Israeli children). Loosely translated as chocolate balls, these are versatile desserts where the type of chocolate can vary as can the toppings.

Surprisingly, many Israeli desserts seem like a variation of certain traditional Indian desserts that are made with flour and fillings such as modaks and holige.
“Israel is full of influences from all over the world... who knows how connections and practices have travelled,” muses Keren. Also, Israeli desserts, just like Indian sweets, are specific to celebrations or seasons.

For instance, there is the wonderfully evocative Passover chocolate cake or the apple pies and cakes made for Rosh Hashanah. Because Israelites often follow strict dietary regulations during certain times of the year, making desserts that stick to these rules become even more of a challenge. “There are days when we are not supposed to eat anything cooked out of flour; that’s when the creative juices flow more,” laughs Keren.

The Israeli chef along with Chef Manu Kumar also showcased the great variety in the Middle-Eastern nation’s breads and pastries. Apart from the Jerusalem beigale, there was the crunchy yet soft focaccia with a stuffing of feta cheese, the chocolate burst-in-the-mouth rugelach and the more sober challah bread. And the baklava, of course.

“Food forges an instant connection between people and cultures — there is really no better way to forge bonds,” says Ariel Seidman, the Israeli Deputy Consul General.

Indeed. And all the better if that food happens to be sweet!