Orly Ziv is not a flustered home cook. Dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt, her thick, straight, salt-and-pepper hair pulled back into its usual tight ponytail, she moves around her neat, jam-packed home kitchen, pulling out utensils and ingredients with the ease of someone who’s cooked these dishes many, many times.
On this particular Thursday morning, she’s assembling parsley salad with sumac, a traditional plum cake, hummus liberally mixed with parsley and a vegetarian makluba (roasted vegetables with rice), and that’s before we’ve even begun talking about Rosh Hashanah menus. But, said the 51-year-old Ziv, that kind of culinary multitasking isn’t unusual for her.
“I’m very calm,” she said. “I’m in my house, I’m not going anywhere, I’m just doing this.”
It’s that ease that Ziv brings to the table. A food entrepreneur of sorts, she started out as a dietitian and now conducts tours in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market with customers and then cooks with them back at her Ramat Hasharon home. She recently published “Cook In Israel,” a book of 100 of her favorite recipes that offers the same, straightforward, no-nonsense approach to local cooking on display in her own kitchen.
Ziv has been a cook from the age of 10, when she started collecting her mother’s recipes in a series of notebooks still stored in her kitchen. She became the baker in the family, and has honed her expertise in her years as a wife and mother, seeing what her husband and three kids liked to eat as well as following her own preferences as a long-time vegetarian.
Like other food guides, she forages for the market’s highest-quality produce, introducing customers to her favorite stalls, sellers and dishes. But what sets Ziv apart is her homey, familiar approach to culinary tourism, gathering customers around her oilcloth-covered kitchen table as they perch on bar stools, chopping and stirring along with her.
“This isn’t a show, I’m not a chef, I don’t have an ego,” she said. “It’s interesting for people to see how real Israelis live, to see that Israel is normal and warm. It’s different.”
She loves that anything is possible when new people enter her home, like the three Taiwanese women who ate Moroccan-prepared chraime fish with chopsticks, the man from Cleveland who now makes her challah and the chef from California who listened attentively to Ziv’s encyclopedic knowledge about eggplants. What they like, she thinks, is her sense of home and tradition, and her ability to make typical Israeli dishes simply but well.
“I don’t offer new techniques about cooking,” said Ziv, although she did demonstrate how to mince garlic with a liberal sprinkling of coarse salt, creating an easy garlic mash. “I’m not a fanatic about anything. I don’t believe in organic; we eat seasonally and we eat what’s fresh.”
The idea behind the book — which includes favorites from Ziv and her family, like eight different eggplant dishes, homemade pita (she promised it’s easy), challah, bourekas and her daughter’s favorite heart-shaped Shavuot semolina dessert — was to create a user-friendly, solid resource. Photographed by fellow foodie, culinary writer and photographer Katherine Martinelli, who met Ziv through one of her tours, the color pictures are a helpful aid when when you’re trying something out for the first time.
“In my recipes, you don’t have to dice tomatoes so that they’re two centimeters wide, or follow explicit, step-by-step instructions,” she said. “I make it easy, and I cook all kinds of things, just not Ashkenazi food,” added Ziv, whose parents were Greek. “It’s too pale.”
Consider what Ziv is making for Rosh Hashanah this year. Though her family won’t be eating at home, she is still preparing three of the dishes that she always makes for the new year. The first is the apple jam that her mother always made instead of apples and honey. Her own family has added apples and honey back to the Rosh Hashanah table, but she still continues her mother’s tradition, made with Granny Smith apples.
She’s already started on the leek patties her mother always made, an admittedly time-consuming recipe of sauteed patties that requires cleaning, grating and cooking mounds of leeks, but are well worth the effort, said Ziv.
“You can’t do it all on the last day, I learned that from my mother, she liked to prepare things before,” she said. “And you have to fry them, otherwise they don’t taste the same. But if I make them while my kids are home, they get eaten as they’re fried.”
Her third dish that’s always a must on Rosh Hashanah is honey cake, just because it’s traditional for the New Year.
“Even if I’m going out for dinner, I’ll bring honey cake,” she said, and a challah as well.
If she were eating at home, Ziv said she would probably sprinkle some pomegranate seeds on a salad, in addition to eating them straight, as well as make her special salmon or meatballs in a sweet and sour beet sauce, using date honey and lemon juice.
“What’s important is that each one of my kids has something he likes,” said Ziv. “I want to make sure everyone’s happy.”
On Rosh Hashanah, it is common to eat apples and honey to symbolize a sweet new year. This is my mother’s traditional apple jam for the holiday, which we eat every year.
- 2 kg (4.4 lb) Granny Smith apples
- 1 kg. (2.2 lb) sugar
- 20 grams vanilla sugar
- 1½ cups of water
- ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Peel and grate the apples.
- Put the grated apples, sugar, vanilla sugar, and water in a pot over medium heat. Cook for about 10 minutes, then add the lemon juice.
- Check consistency of the jam, by pouring a bit of the mixture on a cold plate. The jam should not be too fluid and not too strong. It is ready when it just stays still on the plate.
- Allow to cool before serving. Store in a tightly sealed glass jar in the fridge for up to a few weeks.
Leek Patties (Makes about 20 patties)
A common dish in Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria, this recipe for leek patties (keftes de prasa) is my mother’s. While it is often made with meat, this is a vegetarian version. We typically eat these fried patties at Rosh Hashanah, and the entire plate disappears in minutes!
- 1 kg (2.2 lbs) leeks, trimmed and cleaned
- 1 egg
- 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- Oil for frying
- Put cleaned leeks in a pot of water over medium-low heat, cover and cook until soft (they should be tender when poked with a spoon).
- Drain the leeks and allow to cool. Squeeze out as much as liquid as possible.
- Put the leeks in a food processor and blend until smooth.
- Mix in the egg, salt and breadcrumbs. The mixture should be quite soft but just firm enough to form into patties.
- Put about 1 centimeter of oil in a pen over medium heat.
- Form the leek mixture into small patties and carefully drop in the oil. Fry until evenly browned and crispy on both sides.
- Transfer to paper towel-lined plate. Serve immediately.
TIP: To clean leeks, cut in half lengthwise and rinse thoroughly, then soak in a solution of water and a little distilled vinegar. The vinegar will draw the dirt out of the leeks.