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Israeli Foods: Introduction

Despite its Biblical association with milk and honey, Israel lacks a long- standing culinary heritage. Only a few years ago, Israelis even doubted the existence of their own authentic cuisine.

Today, most people agree that there is a distinctive Israeli cuisine, though like many aspects of the society, it is uniquely multifaceted. It reflects the various communities in the country and their diverse geographical and cultural origins. The Israeli kitchen is home to the multitude of foods and recipes which have accompanied the Jewish people's return to the "Land of Milk and Honey."

Historically, the Jewish holidays are accompanied by customary dishes linked to the traditions and stories of each festival. The recipes for special dishes, such as blintzes (eaten on Shavuot) and latkes (eaten on Hanukah), have been passed down from generation to generation, and are now part of Israeli cuisine.

In the years since Israel achieved independence, new culinary traditions have crystallized. There is the practice of picnicking in the countryside, where the usual menu consists of shishlik, kebob (an Eastern version of American hamburger), or steak. First courses in these outdoor meals are invariably tehina and hummus, foods stemming from our Arab neighbors which have been incorporated into the Israeli bill-of-fare.

A second custom is the large Israeli breakfast. It is composed of salads, a variety of cheeses, olives, distinctive Israeli bread, juice and coffee. The loaded-down tables which characterize Israeli hospitality have their basis in Jewish antiquity. The Bible relates the story of the three angels who visited the tent of the patriarch Abraham and his wife Sarah and were treated to a lavish meal.

The order and content of meals in Israel differs from that of the United States. The principal meal of the day is generally served in Israel at noontime, when the children return home from school. Very few families follow the American pattern and have their large meal in the evening. The evening meal is usually a light one consisting generally of dairy products, salads and eggs.

There are a number of Jewish dietary laws stemming from the Bible which are integral to Israel's culinary heritage.

According to these laws (Kashrut), only certain types of meat and fish may be eaten. Pork and rabbit, for example, are excluded, as are shellfish.

In addition, dairy dishes must be cooked and eaten separately from meat dishes. Foods such as fish, eggs, fruits and vegetables ("pareve" foods) may be eaten with either meat or milk. Two sets of dishes, for milk and meat meals, are used, stored and cleaned separately.

No cooking is permitted on the Sabbath, the day of rest, except for food prepared in advance that can simmer for a long time under a low flame. The traditional cholent, a robust stew, and kugel, a vegetable and noodle pudding, are two such examples.

In the following, we have compiled a sampling of dishes served in the homes of Israel's varied ethnic population. You will find that there is no single Israeli cuisine in the sense that there is a French or Italian cuisine. Native Israeli cooking depends on the land of origin of the cook.

Nonetheless, Israel has developed an authentic food culture which offers a wealth of colorful, rich, and delicious choices.

- The recipes were all tested and tasted in order to bring you the special flavor of Israel.

- We have been careful to choose only "strictly kosher" recipes - meat and milk products have not been mixed.

- The quantities given in the recipes are all intended for four to six persons, unless otherwise indicated.

Sources: Embassy of Israel