falafel
(iStock)

The recipes are influenced by the superb ingredients of the region.

May and June are marked by modern Jewish holidays. Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. Next, there’s Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, followed by Yom HaAztmaut, Israel’s Independence Day and, of course Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day. As with other modern holidays, this is a time for rejoicing in Israel. The weather is fine, and it is the height of the growing season. Not surprisingly, during celebrations in the country, there are parades, pilgrimages and the ever present festive meals, often eaten out of doors.
In our part of the world, Michigan has thawed, and we’re thrilled to be outside. Especially now.

The recipes below are influenced by the superb ingredients of the region. Some are adaptations of my favorite street foods and others just sort of feel Israeli. They’re all perfect for getting into the “spirit” of the universal festivities. Lots of vegetables, citrus and olive oil rule the menu. Among these are my favorite ingredients and flavors: cauliflower, eggplant, chickpeas, tomatoes, olives, parsley, lemon, sesame seeds, olive oil, honey and feta cheese.

Easy Baked Falafel with Tahini Sauce

These are made with canned (already cooked) garbanzo beans (chickpeas). You may also fry these in vegetable oil or air-fry, if desired.

Ingredients

Falafel:

  • 1 can (about 15-ounces) chickpeas, rinsed, drained very well
  • 1 Tbsp. tahini paste
  • ½ cup parsley (with stems)
  • 2-3 peeled, medium garlic cloves
  • ¼ cup chopped onions
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin, or to taste
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. Grated lemon zest
  • ½ tsp. ground pepper
  • ¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper
  • ½ cup sesame seeds

Sauce:

  • ½ cup tahini paste
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh lemon or lime juice
  • Salt to taste

Garnish:

Fresh pita pockets, plain Greek yogurt, fresh cilantro leaves, chopped tomatoes, chopped scallions (white and green parts), lemon or lime wedges.

Directions

Combine all falafel ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse or process until smooth. Grab a handful of the mixture and see if it holds together. If it’s too mushy (won’t form into a ball or patty), add a bit of flour. If the mixture is too dry, add a bit of lemon juice or water. Allow to sit for 10 minutes or more.

Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and whisk well. Set aside.

Roll tablespoons of the mixture into 1-2 tablespoon-sized balls and flatten into ¾-inch thick patties.

Line a baking sheet with several lengths of paper towel or top with a drying rack. Fill a large saucepan with 1 inch of vegetable oil over medium-high heat until very hot. Cook the falafel patties on both sides, in batches, for 2–3 minutes or until golden. Drain well.

Alternately, Preheat the oven to 350°. Brush a rimmed baking sheet with oil and arrange the falafel on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn and cook on the other side until golden.

Serve the falafel drizzled with tahini sauce and garnished with pita pockets and additional toppings. Makes 4-6 servings.

Roasted Cauliflower Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 head cauliflower (about 1½- 2 pounds) cut into bite-sized florets
  • 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. Fresh ground pepper

Dressing:

  • 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt

Garnish:

  • ⅔ cup golden raisins
  • ¼ cup pine nuts or slivered almonds, lightly toasted
  • ½ cup fresh chopped parsley

Directions

Preheat oven to 425°. Lightly brush a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. Set aside.

Toss the cauliflower with the olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Spread on the baking sheet. Roast for 15-minute or until the cauliflower has golden tips. Remove from oven and cool. Transfer to a large bowl, add raisins, pine nuts and parsley.

Whisk together the dressing and pour over the cauliflower. Toss well. Makes 6 servings.

Cauliflower steaks
iStock
Eggplant and Bulgur Pilaf

Ingredients

  • 1 cup medium or coarse bulgur
  • Boiling water
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped red or Bermuda onion
  • 1 cup chopped red or yellow bell pepper
  • 1 cup ¼-inch diced carrots
  • 2 tsp. chopped garlic
  • 1 medium (about a pound) eggplant, peeled or unpeeled
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved (any color)
  • 1 cup chopped scallions, white and green parts
  • 1 cup fresh chopped parsley, any color
  • ½ cup fresh chopped mint leaves
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. red-pepper sauce, such as tabasco (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

Place bulgur in a medium bowl and cover with boiling water (about 1-inch over the bulgur). Soak for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°. Combine oil, onion, bell pepper, carrots and garlic and roast for 15 minutes.

Remove vegetables from oven and cool.

Drain the bulgur (if needed) and transfer to a large bowl. Add the eggplant mixture and remaining ingredients and toss well. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Makes 6 or more servings.

Olive, Caper and Fresh Basil Spread

Use this as a dip for raw vegetables, as a spread for pita wedges or tortilla chips or for whatever needs a delicious grab of flavor (such as over your favorite grilled chicken or fish).

Ingredients

  • 1 cup good quality black or green olives (or a combination of the two) pitted
  • 2 Tbsp. drained capers
  • 2 garlic cloves (or more to taste)
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • Small handful (about ¼ cup) fresh basil leaves
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzle

Directions

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a serving dish. Use a spoon or butterknife to create a shallow circle in the dip. Drizzle a bit of olive oil in the circle. Makes 6-8 servings.

Israeli Chopped Salad with Feta

Ingredients

  • 2 cups small diced plum tomatoes
  • 1 cup diced, seeded, peeled cucumber
  • 1 bell pepper, any color, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 cup ½-inch cubed feta cheese (any variety)
  • ½ cup chopped scallions, white and green parts
  • 1-2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, to taste
  • Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. sumac
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss well. Adjust lemon juice and seasoning to taste. Makes 4-6 servings.