Meet Paul Nirens, . He has lived in the rural Galilee region for almost 30 years. In that time Paul has cultivated relationships with many people living in the area. These relationships allow him to offer true grass-roots cultural experiences, based around food, working in co-operation with those that live in the area. Paul believes that in order to eat properly in the Galilee, to encounter the authentic, real-life atmosphere of Israel's green North, it has to be done with and by locals.
Paul comments, "There are some people who are just born into food. I am one such person. Amongst my earliest memories are those of my father, owner/chef in the family restaurant in Melbourne, spending his one day off a week in the kitchen, trying out new and wonderful experiments on his family. We were a foodie family in the pre-foodie 70's.....
Upon moving to Israel, after a short stint working in kibbutz agriculture, I followed in my father's footsteps. I trained at one of Israel's leading culinary schools, managed commercial kitchens, worked as a chef in a vegetarian restaurant, and then opened my own business, wholesaling locally crafted gourmet foods. Showing others what the Galilee has to offer seems like a natural progression. "
The Galilee itself is a region in northern Israel, traditionally divided into Upper Galilee, Lower Galilee and Western Galilee. Galilee is home to a large Arab population, comprising a Muslim majority and two smaller populations, of Druze and Arab Christians, of comparable sizes. Both Israeli Druze and Christians have their majorities in the Galilee.
But more than anything, I really wanted to discover and learn about the Druze community, the people, their heritage, how they cook, their influences and beliefs. And boy did I learn!! Druze faith is monotheistic and their faith incorporates elements of Ismailism, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. Druze follow theopany, which is the belief a mystical and secret religion, and in reincarnation or the transmigration of the soul. I learnt that Druze live throughout the Middle East, residing primarily in Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. Druze are known for their loyalty to the countries they reside in, freely accepting the beliefs of their local community.
Spending the day with Paul was so enjoyable, with his rich knowledge of the Galilee region, and sharing his stories and showcasing the diverse produce of the region. Paul introduced me to one of his hosts, Pnina, whom we had the pleasure of cooking in her Druze home.
Galileat offers a variety of activities, ranging from full day excursions to quick meals. Paul's workshops specialize in authentic Druze and Arab cooking in the Galilee.
Half-Day Cooking Workshop
We have Druze, Moslem and Christian hosts, all of whom exemplify the middle-eastern custom of hachnasat orchim; warmly welcoming guests into their homes. The Arab cooking workshop starts (after tea and coffee, of course) with approximately 3 hours of hands-on preparation of traditional dishes. The menu changes seasonally. Once we have finished preparing the delicacies, we all sit and enjoy our authentic middle-eastern feast.
Full Day Cultural Immersion
In addition to the cooking workshop, we venture into the fields (in season) with our host, learning what wild plants are edible and\or medicinal and what aren't. We will pick the plants that are legal to pick in order to use them later in the workshop. The protected plants will, of course, be left where they are. If the local market is open, we will pay a visit. Everything according to the rhythm of the seasons and of daily life. In the months of October-November we have olive picking activities, including visits to active olive presses. After eating we will take a tour of the village; hearing of its population and history, visiting local shops, and landmarks.
A Culinary Day Tour
We will take you to places in the Galilee that only a local would know.We can show you an organic winery that pipes classical music through the barrel room 24 hours a day. Five km away, we can visit a flourmill that has been grinding, roasting and chopping local produce the same way for over a hundred years. A Galileat Culinary day tour includes wineries, both big and small, goat and sheep cheese dairies, specialty chocolates, a micro-brewery and more. It's recommended to add a home cooked authentic meal and home hospitality in a local village. In the Galilee, the traditional and the modern exist side by side. Galileat want's you to see that for yourselves.
Are you travelling to Israel and looking for something off the beaten track? Looking for a different type of activity that the whole family will love? Perhps you've heard of Makluba, Hubeza or Sinya but have never realised that it's authentic Galilean food. Would you like a special experience that will make your trip to Israel an unforgettable one? Galileat will show you Israel through the eyes, and palate, of a local. Our Arab cooking workshops allow the participant a hands-on, true to life cultural immersion. It is a unique experience, unlike anything else you'll do in Israel. For more information on Paul and all his incredible experiences at GalilEat, visit www.galileat.com and don't forget mention us here at Mia Cucina!
Here are the recipes from our day with Pnina, in her kitchen.
STUFFED VINE LEAVES AND ZUCCHINIS
2 cups rice, rinsed
1 spoon chicken soup powder
1 spoon cinnamon
1 spoon baharat
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
(1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes)
(300 gr/10 oz. minced beef or chicken)
1/2 cup olive oil
30 vine leave and 8 small zucchinis
Carefully hollow out zucchinis with a sharp knife or special rounded blade.
Grate 2 tomatoes into rice. Mix in all remaining ingredients except remaining tomatoes into rice and mix well.
Slice the 3rd tomato and line the bottom of a pot with the tomato slices.
1/2 fill zucchinis with rice and shake gently. Place in pot.
Hold 1 vine leaf flat on the palm of your hand. Add 1 teaspoon of rice mixture. Fold in the sides and roll up the vine leaf. Repeat with the remaining vine leaves.
. Pack rolled vine leaves and stuffed zucchinis into the pot. Slice the 4th tomato and place over the filled vegetables. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of salt over tomato.
Place an inverted plate over the vegetables so as to prevent them floating to the top and becoming unraveled. Fill pot with boiling water to the bottom rim of the plate. Cover pot. Return to boil and reduce heat. Occasionally check if there is enough water.. Cook for 30-40 minutes.
STUFFED ZUCCHINI IN YOGHURT
To the same mixture as the above recipe, add 1 skinless boned chicken breast, cut into very small cubes. Stuff the zucchinis with the rice mixture and cook separately in water until they just begin to soften, about 20 minutes. Remove 3/4 of the water in the pot and replace with good quality, locally produced goat yoghurt.
Continue cooking a further 10 minutes. Allow to cool 10 minutes before serving. (best served warm, but not hot)
SINYE (meat kebabs cooked in tehina)
Kebabs – I kg/2 lbs minced meat – beef or chicken or a mix of it. The meat should not be minced too fine. The coarser the better.
25 gr./1 oz. lamb fat, minced.
1/2 an onion, minced or grated into the meat.
1 heaped teaspoon minced garlic.
1/2 bunch fresh parsley, chopped fine, or 1 spoon dried parsley.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Tehina – 2 cups of tehina (whole-grain tehina is best)
Juice of 2 lemons
1 cup of cold water (important that it is cold)
(Garlic to taste)
1/2 teaspoon of salt.
**it is essential to make the tehina from scratch. Store bought, ready-to-eat tehina will separate in cooking and will not give the desired result.
1 onion, sliced
Mix all the kebab ingrediants together well. Let rest for 1/2 an hour at least.
Meanwhile, prepare the tehina. Add all the ingredients together, stirring with a whisk. The mixture might be lumpy at first. Not to worry. Keep stirring. If it is too thick, add a little more cold water. The consistency should be quite thin. It will thicken with cooking.
Correct taste. It should be quite lemony.
Set tehina aside.
Roll kebabs into 5 cm/2" balls. Sauté, in batches, in olive oil until browned on both sides but not cooked through. Set browned kebabs aside. Add the sliced onion to the hot oil used fro frying the kebabs. Fry the onion quickly for 2-3 minutes until it just starts to change color.
Lay kebabs on to a clean frying pan (or oven tray) cover with fried onion. Pour tehina over the kebabs and jostle the pan a little so the tehina seeps between the kebabs and spreads evenly. Place the frying pan over medium heat or oven tray in oven, pre-heated to 180˚C.
Cook for 5 minutes, until the tehina thickens and changes colour from white to light brown.
**it is possible to add sliced tomatoes or cherry tomatoes when pouring the tehina over the kebabs. Cherry tomatoes give added flavor and colour.
PNINA'S CHERRY TOMATO TABOULEH
1/2 kg cherry tomatoes
6 stalks spring onions
1/2 bunch fresh parsley
1/4 bunch fresh mint
3 tablespoons fine burghul
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
(1/4 teaspoon hot paprika)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup top quality olive oil
Slice cherry tomatoes in half. Finely chop spring onions and mix with tomatoes. Chop parsley and mint as finely as possible. Add to tomatoes. Dice lemon into small pieces, with rind and add to tomatoes.
Soak burghul for at least 15 minutes in lightly salted water. When burghul is soft, add to salad. Mix well.
Sprinkle paprika into salad mixture. Add lemon juice and olive oil. Correct flavours with salt and black pepper. Mix well.
The salad should be prepared at least 30 minutes before serving.
Serve at room temperature.
ZALABYA (fried spice bread)
250 gr/1/2 lb. whole flour
250 gr/1/2 lb. white flour
1 flat teaspoon dried instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon katzach (nigella seeds)
1/2 teaspoon yansoon (aniseed)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 cup whole (brown) sesame seeds
1/2 cup fresh za'atar (hyssop) leaves – if unavailable, fresh oregano or marjoram can be substituted, or dried za'atar mix (less preferable)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup of water
Add together all the dry ingredients. Mix well. Add 1/2 cup of olive oil. Gradually add the water, kneading well. Knead for ten minutes. The dough will be quite moist. Divide into 20 balls. Cover and place in warm place. Allow to rise 1 hour.
Heat a pan with a 50/50 combination of regular oil and olive oil. The olive oil needn't be top quality extra virgin. Oil hands to prevent the dough from sticking. Flatten out a ball of dough with hands to approximately 2.5 cm/1 inch thickness. Use a finger to puncture 5-6 holes through the flattened dough.
Fry in deep, hot oil. . The oil must be quite hot. The bread comes out surprisingly un-oily. Drain on paper towels.
Serve with either labaneh and za'atar (savory) or honey (sweet).
FREEKEH (SMOKED GREEN WHEAT)
1 medium onion, finely chopped.
3 tbsp olive oil,
200g / 7oz. freekeh
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice or baharat
*100 g thin vermicelli or soup noodles, deep fried until golden brown.
*2 tbsp almond slivers, toasted or deep fried .
(* is optional)
salt and black pepper
Place the onions, olive oil in a large heavy-based pot and sauté on medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 -15 minutes. or until the onion is soft and brown.
Meanwhile, soak the freekeh in cold water for 5 minutes. Drain in a sieve and rinse well under cold running water. Drain well.
Add the freekeh and spices to the onions, followed by the water (and cubed chicken if adding) and some salt and pepper. You can add I teaspoon chicken stock powder if desired. Stir well. Cover and bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a bare minimum and leave to simmer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes of cooking add the fried noodles. Remove lid and continue cooking a further 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and leave it covered for 5 minutes. Finally, remove the lid and leave to cool down a little, about another 5 minutes. Add the browned almonds before serving.
MAJADARA (LENTILS AND BULGUR WHEAT)
2 cups brown lentils
2 chopped onions
oil for frying
1 cup burguhr wheat
1 spoon cumin
2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baharat.
Fry the onions in oil until very brown, almost black, about 1/2 an hour. It is past the point of caramelization and is almost burnt. This is very important, as it gives a very rich flavor. Add the lentils and 4 cups of hot water. Bring to the boil and reduce heat to low. Do not add salt until the lentils have started to soften, about 20 minutes. Add salt, cumin and baharat together to the lentils just as they start to soften.
In a separate bowl, pour two cups of lightly salted boiling water over burghur. Cover and let rest. When the lentils are soft, after proximately 1/2 an hour, add the soaked burghur. Very gently mix everything together and continue to cook over low heat 5 minutes. Wait 5 minutes till serving.
KATA'IF (STUFFED FRIED PANCAKES)
4 cups flour
4 cups water
one sachet of baking powder
2 tbsp sugar
Mix flour, sugar and baking powder. Add the water and blend until dough. cover .
Heat an oiled skillet. Place a heaped tablespoon of the mixture on to the skillet. Spread around so the pancake is round. Cook until bubbles start to form on top and it's a little dry on the bottom. When ready, place it on a platter. Repeat until the dough is finished.
4 cups sugar.
3 cups water.
One tablespoon lemon juice
Tbsp rose water
Put the sugar and water in saucepan and place over a high flame until the water is boiling. Add lemon juice and rose water and continue boiling 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool well.
1 - NUTS
1/2 pound of chopped mixed nuts
1 cup sugar
3 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
toast nuts in the oven about 10 minutes on high heat. Chop them. Add sugar and spices.
2 - GABNA - cheese
Any fresh, ricotta style cheese will do.
Constructing the kata'if
Fill half a pancake with one of the stuffings. Fold the pancake over, forming a semi circle. Close well, pinching seams together so they won't open when fried.
Fry the kata'if in deep oil until golden. When the kata'if is ready, remove from oil and dip immediately in rosewater syrup. Serve at once.