This is from an article that I wrote a few years ago. I've removed personal information about the people I interviewed. Originally published in the local Jewish newspaper. Today is Israeli Independence day: 60 years.
Each spring, Israel celebrates two holidays in succession: Memorial Day (Yom Ha Zicaron), and Independence Day (Yom HaAtzmaut). Independence Day commemorates the day in May of 1948 when Israel became a State. Memorial Day recognizes and mourns those who have fallen in securing Israeli independence. Like all Jewish holidays, both start at sundown.
When Memorial Day ends, early in the evening, the mourning atmosphere will change instantly to celebration. And Israelis agree: a barbecue is the activity of choice for just about everyone in the country.
“When we were young kids,” explains Arik then head of an organization of local Israelis. “We got together the evening when the holiday began and had a big bonfire somewhere in our neighborhood.” Arik grew up in a semi-rural area near Petah Tikvah, where nearby fields allowed kids to do this.
“We would get potatoes and onions, wrap them in aluminum foil, let them cook in the fire, and then pull them out with a big stick and eat them.” he continued. “When we got a little older, we’d go into Tel Aviv and party all night, with fireworks and dancing. The next day we would spend at a barbecue with the family.”
Most Israelis plan outdoor celebrations with friends and family on Independence Day. “We ask each other, where will you be taking your mangal,” says Chava, who lives part time in Tel Aviv and Ann Arbor. “A mangal is a portable charcoal-fired barbecue pit. Every park, picnic area, and beach will be full of people around their fires. We never need a rain plan: it’s always sunny in Israel in May.”
Arik confirms a kind of joke about the prevalence of barbecues on Memorial Day: yes, he’s seen people cooking in the median strips of city streets, as well as in city parks, backyards (if they are lucky enough to have them), and other public spaces.
Though most Israelis like to spend the holiday eating outside, preferably cooking some foods on a grill, the origin of Israeli barbecued foods is a diverse as the population. Israeli food writer Daniel Rogov points out that the “the Israeli picnic is as likely to feature traditional dishes from Iraq, Tunisia or White Russia as it is dishes from Ethiopia, Greece or any of the other eighty nations from which Jews have immigrated.” Rogov’s article mentions a variety of grilled lamb and chicken dishes, as well as a side salad of marinated beans. A small selection of his recipes appears later in this article.
Various people explain the emergence of the barbecue custom in various ways. Chava can’t remember when barbecuing became so prevalent, but her memories go back almost to the founding of Israel, so she knows it had to have emerged in her lifetime. One Israeli friend explained to me that most Jewish holidays forbid both driving and making fires. Even less-observant Jews may be reluctant to flaunt these norms. Since Israelis love to barbecue, this is a rare holiday where they are truly free to do so.
Another practical explanation for this uniform activity is that spring is the best time for a barbecue: at Chanukah, when driving and fires are also allowed, it’s too cold. Whatever the reason, Chava says, “there’s smoke everywhere – and not from shooting!”
ISRAEL INDEPENDENCE DAY MENUS
Arik described his outdoor family meals made up of pita bread, chopped salad, hummus, tehina, and other salads, along with the meat cooked over the fire. Kabobs made of turkey, chicken wings, broiled veal, and lamb are some of the possible meat dishes, though other types of meat and even fish may be on the menu.
Chava describes a full-course Independence Day menu with appetizers, pan-grilled chicken, side dishes, and dessert. She and her friend Mira Segal, also an Israeli who lives in Ann Arbor, got together and planned this menu, for which Chava prepared the following recipes. Besides serving these typical Israeli foods, Chava says that you should set the table in blue and white colors. If possible, she says, “You should also bake a challah in the shape of a Magen David. Chag Sameach!”
Chava’s Israeli Recipes
3 medium onions
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 hard-boiled eggs
3/4 cup walnuts
Half tsp. Salt
Cut and fry onions in the butter lightly. Grate the eggs and nuts in food processor with salt and pepper. Mix all the ingredients together, put in a bowl and decorate with cut parsley. Serve with pita bread.
6 large tomatoes, 4 small cucumbers, 3 green peppers, 1 red pepper, 2 green onions, 6 radishes, 1 hard boiled egg (optional) 1 mango (optional), olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper.
Cut all vegetables into very small pieces and put in salad bowl. Grate egg over salad and season with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper.
Schnitzel from breast of chicken
2 lbs. of boneless breast of chicken, cut thin (and pounded)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup flour
1 cup breadcrumbs
Canola oil for frying
Roll each piece of chicken in the flour, then roll it in the eggs which were beaten before together with the salt and pepper. Lastly roll them in the breadcrumbs.
Preheat oil in frying pan and fry each piece on each side until browned. Soak extra oil up with paper towel.
It’s best served immediately, possibly with some lemon juice sprinkled on top and with some pickles (or pickled vegetables) on the side.
Mashed potatoes with fried onions
6 potatoes, 2 eggs, 4 tablespoons. Osem chicken powder, 2 tablespoons Olive oil or butter, some salt and pepper.
Mediterranean style eggplants and zucchini
1 medium eggplant
4 medium yellow zucchini
4 medium onions
4 garlic cloves
2 green peppers
6 tbsp. canola oil
2 tbsp. thinly cut parsley
2 medium tomatoes
2 small cans of tomato sauce
Cut eggplant into cubes, salt and put aside for half an hour. In the meantime peel zucchinis and cut into slices. Cut onions and garlic into small pieces, clean peppers and cut into slices.
Fry onion and garlic lightly, then add eggplant which you have first wiped with paper towel, zucchinis and peppers. After a few minutes add parsley, cut up tomatoes, tomato sauce, salt and pepper and enough water to cover.
Cover pan and cook for about 15 minutes.
2 lbs. apples
1 lbs. pears
10 dried figs
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup sweet wine
Cut, mix, and serve.
Walnuts and Almonds Cake
1 cup sugar
1 lbs ground almonds
1/2 lb ground walnuts
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon brandy
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon breadcrumbs
Beat whole eggs with sugar until thick. Add finely ground almonds & nuts, vanilla, brandy, lemon and then breadcrumbs. Bake in round buttered and lightly sprinkled with flour spring form for about half an hour in medium heat. When cooled you may decorate with a spread of slightly warmed jam (apricot or raspberry) and whipped cream over it.
Barbecue Recipes from Daniel Rogov’s Website
This Website includes a large number of recipes for small or large barbecues --even a recipe for an entire lamb that would serve as many as 40 people. Here is a sample of his recipes.
A Moroccan version
1 lb. (450 gr.) each ground beef and veal, mixed together
6 spring onions, chopped finely
5 cloves garlic, chopped finely
2 hot red peppers, chopped finely
1 tsp. each salt and pepper
1/2 tsp. each turmeric, dill seed and flour
Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and knead well by hand. Form into 3" (8 cm.) sausages and impale these on long wooden skewers. Grill over open charcoals or under a hot broiler, turning occasionally so that cooking is uniform. Cook just until the meat is done. Serve hot.
Spiced Grilled Chicken
An Algerian Recipe
2 small chickens, quartered
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup lemon juice
6 Tbsp. olive oil
8 - 10 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
Season the chicken parts with salt and pepper. Place the lemon juice, olive oil garlic and parsley in a bowl and in this mixture roll the chicken quarters, coating well. Let marinate 2 hours, turning 3 – 4 times.
Drain the chicken and reserve the marinade. Transfer the chicken parts, skin side down, to a rack and place over hot charcoals about 6" (15 cm.) from the heat and grill for 10 minutes, basting occasionally with the marinade. Turn the pieces and grill 10 minutes longer, basting once or twice. Turn the pieces once again and brush well with the marinade until the side facing the heat is nicely browned. Turn one last time, brush again and let the second side brown. Serve hot.