Cooking: The Land of Olives and Oranges
If you have ever visited a farming kibbutz in Israel, you have seen a living testament to the drive and perseverance of a country that combines its physical and mental prowess to create a viable agricultural industry. Through the combined efforts of the farmers, government researchers, and private industry, Israel has transformed large areas of arid and semi-arid land into fields of flourishing farmland yielding enough crops to satisfy most of the nation’s food needs.
Two Israeli-developed technologies have helped the agricultural boom: the invention of drip irrigation and UV-protected netting. Drip irrigation distributes droplets of recycled water and/or water piped from the Galilee directly to the root systems of plants to maximize their growth while minimizing the use of Israel’s most limited resource—water. UV-protected netting shields crops grown during the hot desert summers and allows massive greenhouse production during the cold winter season.
An impressive example of this marriage between agriculture and technology can be seen at the Reform Movement’s Kibbutz Yahel in the Negev desert. What an awesome sight to behold: a formerly barren landscape now sustaining massive groves of pomelo trees (the cantaloupe-sized cousins of grapefruit), date palms, as well as dates, melons, onions, peppers, and other crops. The seeds of international relations and peaceful coexistence also flourish in those fields, because kibbutz members leave baskets of pomelos at the edge of the groves situated on the border with Jordan for the Jordanian soldiers to eat while on patrol.
Although Israel’s produce and floral exports have dropped sharply in the last few years because of international politics, its agricultural growth has been nothing short of miraculous. As the year unfolds, I would like to introduce you to some of Israel’s bounty in these pages.
Eat in good health!
Citrus fruits have flourished in the Middle East since before Roman times. In the mid-19th century an unknown variety of sweet orange was found on a tree that bore tart oranges near the city of Jaffa. This almost seedless variety, known as Shamouti or Jaffaorange, was successfully propagated and became internationally popular. By the 1960s more than 30% of Israel’s exports were agricultural—the vast majority being sweet Jaffa oranges. Today Israel grows a variety of citrus crops, including pomelos, kumquats, clementines, and Jaffa oranges, the latter harvested in late fall and early winter.
1⁄2 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup water
2 teaspoons wildflower honey
2–3 drops orange blossom water, optional
2 navel or Valencia oranges
1 grapefruit or pomelo
2 Shamouti or Jaffa oranges
2 small clementines or tangerines
Raspberries or blackberries for garnish
- Cut the kumquats horizontally into very thin slices. Combine the sugar, water, and kumquats in a 1-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as the sugar is completely dissolved, remove from the heat and allow the solution to cool.
- Add honey and orange blossom water to the cooled syrup and stir to combine. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Cut off the tops and bottoms of the oranges, grapefruit/pomelo, and clementines/tangerines. Following the curve of the fruits from top to bottom, slice away all of the peel and white membrane. Remove the fruit sections from the membrane.
- Place the fruit in a 2-quart bowl. Add the sliced kumquats without the syrup. Set the syrup aside.
- No more than 15 minutes before serving, pour 2 or 3 tablespoons of the reserved syrup over the fruit and gently stir the mixture.
- Serve in small cups or plates garnished with the berries and drizzled with additional syrup if desired. Serves 4–6
- Dissolving sugar in an equal amount of boiling water creates a simple syrup that can be flavored and then used as a flavoring agent or a binding sweetener for sorbets. It will keep in the refrigerator for weeks.
Olives and their oil—harvested after the fall holidays—were daily staples in the ancient Hebrews’ diet. Many references to the olive tree and its fruit appear in the Torah and Talmud, reinforcing the importance of the crop.
Cauliflower is both a winter crop in Israel and in the United States. No one will ever suspect that the creaminess in this sauce comes from neither butter nor cream, but cauliflower!
1 medium head cauliflower, cut into small florets, or a 1-pound bag of frozen cauliflower
1 1⁄2 cup water
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use
1 large onion, cut into 1⁄2-inch dice
2 Tablespoons pine nuts
2 Tablespoons dark raisins
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound rigatoni
1⁄2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese or to taste
- Combine the cauliflower, water, and 1⁄4 teaspoon of salt in a 3-quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender.
- Drain and reserve the cooking liquid. Mash the cauliflower with a fork until it is relatively smooth. Set aside.
- Heat a frying pan for 20 seconds. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and heat for another 10 seconds. Sauté the onion for about 5 minutes, until it is soft and very slightly golden.
- Add the pine nuts, raisins, remaining salt, and pepper. Stir for about 2 minutes, or until the pine nuts begin to turn golden.
- Add the mashed cauliflower and 1⁄4 cup of the reserved cooking liquid. Simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture is thick. If it seems too dry, add more of the reserved liquid to prevent sticking. Set aside until ready to serve.
- Add the pasta to boiling salted water that contains the remaining 1 Tablespoon of olive oil. Cook until it is al dente. Drain and place in a large serving bowl.
- Pour 1⁄3 of the sauce over the pasta and toss. Place the remaining sauce over the pasta, garnish with parmesan cheese, and serve. Serves 4–6 people.
- The amount of time it takes to cook cauliflower varies depending on the size of the florets and whether you are using fresh or frozen cauliflower. Therefore, when making a cauliflower-based sauce, cook the vegetable until it is very tender. Your finished sauce will be much smoother and creamier.
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Tina D. Wasserman, a member of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, is the author of the new URJ Press book, Entree to Judaism. She also teaches at her own cooking school, writes a kosher cooking newsletter on the Internet, and serves as a culinary scholar-in-residence throughout the U.S.