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Expert Interview Series: Beth Ebin of Bethmichelle.com About Israeli/Middle Eastern Cuisine

Beth Michelle, where she shares recipes along with stories and travel experiences. We caught up with her recently to learn more about the exotic world of Israeli and Middle Eastern cuisine. You call yourself "an amateur cook and devout...

Middle Eastern CuisineBeth Michelle, where she shares recipes along with stories and travel experiences. We caught up with her recently to learn more about the exotic world of Israeli and Middle Eastern cuisine.

You call yourself "an amateur cook and devout foodie." What inspired you to start a blog?

I've always loved cooking, and when I moved from the US to Israel I found myself exploring my new home through the country's food. I wandered around every shuk (open air market) I could find and sought out local ingredients. While I loved cooking new dishes, cooking favorites from back home was always comforting whenever I felt homesick. I wasn't working at the time, and starting a food blog was a way for me to share my new (and old) experiences through food.

Talk about your recent relocation from the U.S. to Israel. What are some of the things you love about life in your new country? What has surprised you?

When I moved from the U.S. to Israel, I was surprised at how easy the transition was. I spoke no Hebrew, knew no one, and was halfway around the world from any family. I met a woman who became my best friend and explored the country through our shared love of food, I easily picked up enough Hebrew to get me through the shuks and made friends with people who would soon become my family.

What I loved the most about living in Israel was the opportunity to travel. Israel is such a small country and I was able to explore it all. It is also so close to many other countries that are just a car ride away and Europe was just a short plane ride. The amazing food across the country isn't a bad perk either! It's hard to find a bad falafel or shawarma sandwich!

On your site, you refer to "learning from epic failures in the kitchen as well as great successes." Could you share a story about a "kitchen epic failure" and tell us what you learned from it?

My best friend and I took a day to try and make French macarons. We sort of laughed at hearing they were difficult and took time to make. We spent hours trying to make these macarons that kept coming out of the oven either flat or burned, and I believe one batch might have exploded somehow! It was then that we gave up and just finished our bottle of wine instead. I have since been successful in making macarons and learned that you really do need to follow a recipe and pay attention to what you are doing - instead of chatting with your best friend while having a glass of wine!

During your recent travels throughout the Middle East, what are some of the places (and types of cuisine) that you have loved the most?

When my husband and I traveled in Turkey, we took a food tour in Istanbul where we were introduced to some incredible dishes. One of my favorites was balik-ekmek, a fresh fish sandwich served off of the rocking boats; and lahmacun, which is a Turkish pizza of thin dough topped with spiced meat and onions. While in Egypt, we ate a small restaurant overlooking the Gulf of Aqaba and had the most amazing Kushari, which is considered to be Egypt's national dish.

But to be honest, some of my favorite foods were there in Israel. Nazareth has some of the most outstanding food, and I took many a day trip there just to get some Knafe (a pastry made of shredded phyllo and cheese, soaked in a sugary rose water syrup) and musakhan (Palestinian sumac chicken with sautéed onions over lavash). Driving around the country, I've found small stands on the side of back roads where Druze women are making fresh Druze wraps (and I would never turn one down as they are my favorite snack!).

A glance at your blog reveals some foods that may seem unusual to Americans. Could you talk about some of your favorite "exotic" dishes?

One of my favorite Israeli foods is a simple street food called sabich. Sabich is an Iraqi-Jewish eggplant sandwich which is easy to make, satisfying, and delicious!

Ingredients:

1 eggplant, chopped into small slices

1/2 cup sunflower oil

2 fresh pitas

1/2 cup tahini

1/4 cup hummus

2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and cut into 4 slices

1 cucumber, chopped

1 tomato, chopped

1/2 chili pepper, chopped

1/2 red onion, chopped

1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 tablespoon olive oil

Amba (optional)

Greek yogurt (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  • Heat sunflower oil in a large frying pan.
  • Carefully fry eggplant in batches until nice and dark on both sides, about 7 minutes. When done, eggplant should be very tender.
  • Remove from heat and drain eggplant on paper towel.
  • In a bowl, combine the cucumber, tomato, chili pepper, red onion, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil.
  • To serve, stuff each pita with some tahini and hummus, followed by the fried eggplant and hard boiled egg, and top with the chopped salad. Drizzle with amba and greek yogurt and a bit of freshly ground pepper if desired.

Alternatively, you can serve the sandwich "open-faced." Lay pita out and spread with some of the tahini and hummus. Arrange eggplant slices on top followed by hard boiled egg and chopped salad. Drizzle with amba and greek yogurt. Finish with freshly ground pepper.

When preparing Jewish or Middle Eastern foods, what's important to have in the kitchen (in terms of tools, items, or cooking implements)?

Spices! Middle Eastern food is so flavorful and full of spices. I have found the most commonly-used spices that I am never without to be zaatar, sumac, and cumin. A mortar and pestle is great to have on hand to grind your own spices. Other kitchen items to have include skewers for meat and kebabs, Rakwah Qahwah (a small coffee pot that's used to make coffee), tagine, and if you want the best couscous you will want to have a couscousiere.

What kitchen gadget or machine is on your wish list?

I have been super into my little handheld Inspiralizer lately. I love making zucchini noodles! KitchenAid just came out with a spiralizer attachment for their stand mixer, and I can't wait to get my hands on one!

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