Independence Day approaches, a holiday that is celebrated with two cultural phenomena unique to Israelis: Hiking the hills, valleys, sand dunes and springs as a way of paying homage to the land, followed by the traditional barbecue, or mangal, with feasting in every yard, balcony and park, and on every beach.

Before making aliyah, I tried to recreate the Independence Day barbecue experience in my Montreal backyard, but it just didn’t work, primarily because of the still-chilly spring weather.

Weather is no longer an obstacle to a successful barbecue in my desert home, but I have still struggled with other technical issues, such as assuaging the hikers’ hunger while waiting for the burgers on the grill.

Luckily, I’ve found some good solutions, including preparing some easy tapas starters, along with a refreshing pitcher of cocktails for the crowd to enjoy while waiting for their grilled meats. This year, I’ll be pairing a homemade olive bread topped with fresh-roasted garlic, sweet tomatoes and a slice of a local version of beef “prosciutto,” alongside an icy cold, arak-spiked blood orange limonana.

Quench their thirst with arak-spiked, blood orange limonana, and make sure there's some left to accompany the kebabs (photo credit: Andrea Brownstein/Photoli Photography)

Quench their thirst with arak-spiked, blood orange ‘limonana,’ and make sure there’s some left over to accompany the kebabs. (photo credit: Andrea Brownstein/Photoli Photography)

The best part of these hors d’oeuvres is that they’re easily changed to suit different tastes. If you don’t like the thinly sliced beef, try a dry, cured salami. If the anise flavor of arak isn’t up your alley, switch it with vodka or leave the lemonade alcohol-free for the kids to enjoy. What’s more important is that the dishes come together with ease, and utilize produce that’s in season right now.

Arak-spiked Blood Orange Limonana

  • ¾ cup freshly squeezed lemons
  • Juice of one blood orange (or about ¼ cup bottled, such as the Prigat bottled version)
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • 4 cups water (one boiled for sugar water, the other three cold)
  • 4 sprigs fresh mint
  • ¼ cup arak
  • Sliced blood orange
  • Sliced lemon
  1. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of water and the sugar to a boil. Simmer and stir until sugar has completely dissolved. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a large pitcher, mix remaining ingredients (including three cups cold water) and add the sugar syrup.
  3. While still slightly warm, add the mint sprigs.
  4. Refrigerate until cold. Add arak and fruit slices. Serve over ice.

Black Olive Fougasse Topped with Thinly Sliced Beef, Fresh-roasted Garlic and Tomato Salad (serves 4-6)

For the olive fougasse:

    • 2⅔ cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon yeast
    • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
    • 2 large eggs
    • ¼ cup water
    • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • ½ cup chopped black olives
    • 1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water, for glazing
    • Cornmeal
  1. Mix together flour, yeast, and salt in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a bread hook. Add eggs, water and olive oil and mix until dough starts coming together.
  2. Add olives and knead until dough is smooth. Cover and let rise until doubled, about an hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F. Sprinkle cornmeal on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.
  4. Divide dough in half. Roll out each piece into a rectangle, slicing into the dough three times on each long side with a knife or scissors. Cover and let rise for 20-30 minutes.
  5. Brush with egg wash and bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

For the toppings:

  • ½ cup multicolored cherry tomatoes, sliced in quarters
  • 1 handful washed and dried arugula
  • 1 head roasted garlic
  • Sliced beef “prosciutto” (the Yechiam brand makes a great one)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  1. Mix tomatoes and garlic cloves and set aside.
  2. Scatter beef slices and arugula onto the bread, and top with tomato salad.
  3. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.

Cook’s Note: How to roast a head of garlic

Using a sharp, serrated knife, cut the top off the garlic and wash down the sides. Place in an oven-safe ramekin and pour in enough olive oil to immerse the bulb. Bake covered at 180°C/350°F for about 45 minutes until softened. Let cool and remove cloves from papery shell.