I went to Eritrea for lunch the other day with my friends Liz and Eitan. At least that's the initial story I've been telling people. Israel is home to hundreds of thousands of "foreigners" from China, Nepal, Thailand, the Philippines, and a variety of different African countries. Their presence and social issues relating to them are one of the more controversial and divisive issues in Israeli society at the moment.

Putting these issues aside, at least in this blog post, these groups have brought their culinary traditions to the country. The area around the old and new bus stations in Tel Aviv is home to many of these groups, and small ethnic restaurants are starting to pop up in the area. I went to eat at one of these places called Yergelum. I had read about Yergelum in Haaretz a few months back, and this article would play a crucial role in my meal as I would later find out.

Yergelum serves traditional Eritrean food, which is very similar to Ethiopian food. Injera, the Teff based bread, is a staple and it is used to scoop up the various dishes served to us. Upon entering Yergelum I received stares from dozen or so Eritreans who are clearly not used to see Israelis walk in to the restaurant.

Ordering was one of the highlights of the experience at Yergelum. The menu doesn't have a word of Hebrew or English, and the staff have poor Hebrew and English themselves. This meant pointing to the pictures of the dishes in the original Haaretz article to order. So while the menu had at least 20 dishes listed, I was only able to order from the five dishes whose picture were take for the article.We ended ordering Shiro, Goat mutton, another vegetable dish, and two other ones I'm still not sure what their names are. Shiro is a mash of garbanzo beans, onions and the Berbere spice mix. I really liked the Shiro, although Liz and Eitan were not the biggest fans. The goat mutton was easily the best dish served. It has a lot of spicy berbere, and has a very rich and deep flavor. I could have eaten a whole injera filled with the mutton. The other vegetable dish was fine, but uninteresting. We also ordered a kind of dough in the shape of a volcano and some boiled dough with yogurt. They were both fine, but also a bit uninteresting.

The Shiro and mutton, the dishes with the Berbere really had a great depth of flavor and I would be happy to eat those anytime. I highly recommend visiting Yergelum for the experience and learning about a part of Israeli society that is often ignored or shunned. If you happen to know someone who speaks Amharic you might be able to order anything of the menu too. Who knows what great dishes I missed out on!

This past October I particpated in an olive harvest of my friend Yarden's olive trees. You can read about the harvest here, which ended up producing 50 liters of oil. One thing that intrigued me at the olive press was the huge mound of waste that was created as result of the process. Outside the factory was a massive mount of olive pulp. It looked like dark wood pulp shavings from a distance, but smelled like a great olive tapenade. I asked a few people what became of the olive pulp, but nobody had a definitive answer for me.

I forgot about the olive waste until I recently read an article in Haaretz about an Israel company that is turning the olive pulp waste into a heating source. The olive pellets created, according to owner, do not release harmful gases when burned, and can also be used as a fertilizer. Today, most of the pulp is brought to a landfill or is not moved at all becoming a pollutant.

I don't have a fireplace, but for those of you who do, consider by olive pulp pellets instead of wood this winter.

Israel Food Tours - Matzah Ball
January 1st this year, in Tel Aviv at least, was a cold and rainy day. The perfect day to make a soup out of leftovers around the house. As it was too rainy and cold for even the five minute walk to the store I started rummaging through the fridge and pantry to see what I had lying around. In the fridge I found a veal shank bone from some osso bucco I had made the other day. I had saved the bone to make some stock. I had a few veggies in the fridge too. However, it was only after looking in the pantry that the meal came together. From last Pesach I had a package of matzah ball meal.
I immediately started working on the stock. I diced the carrots, onions and celery and started sweating them in a big pot on the stove. I generously seasoned with salt and pepper. After about seven minutes I added the veal bone and thyme sprigs to the pot and sauteed for another minute. At this point I added a few cups of water and let the stock simmer for an hour and a half.

In the meantime I made the matzah balls by beating two eggs and adding the packet of matzah ball meal and a generous amount of spicy paprika. I mixed it together well and let it cool in the fridge while the stock simmered and developed. After the stock had been going for the hour and a half I strained the stock and eliminated the veggies and veal bone. I returned the broth back to the pot and brought it to a strong boil.
I gently rolled out matzah balls and put them in the boiling stock. I like my matzah balls large and fluffy, so rolling them ever so lightly and as little as possible is critical. If you roll your matzah balls until they're compact you will have heavy and less tasty matzah balls. I let the matzah balls cook for about seven to eight minutes and the soup was ready.

The soup was really tasty, perfect for a cold, rainy day and a great start to 2011.

Recipe: Leftover Matzah Ball Soup

1 Veal Shank Bone
2 carrots
2 onions
3 sticks celery
2 eggs
1 package matzah ball meal
Salt and Pepper

Instructions: See description above
Happy New Year to everyone! I hope 2011 is a great year and start to the decade for everyone. I'm expecting 2011 to be a fun, interesting, and successful year for Israel Food Tours.

To get the year started off I have a short blog post about egg production in Israel. Most people, including myself, take it for granted that there will be eggs in the grocery store and I don't put in much thought about the process that goes in to their production. That's not the case for the Poultry Farmer's Association which institutes yearly quotas on the number of eggs that can be produced. Egg production, apparently, is not a profitable industry, so strict quotes are imposed. Interestingly, 2011 will the be the first year that Arab egg producers will receive part of the quota. Their portion will amount to be around 6 million eggs per year, determined by a complex system that gives quota priorities to communities in outlying areas. Check out the whole article here.