Eat your way through the kitchens and forests of the Western Galilee

An array of Hanukkah- and Christmas-themed walks, talks and meals during the Winter Festival, December 17-19

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Lunch with Galileat in the Arab village of Dir Hanna, during the Western Galilee Winter Festival, December 17-19, 2020 Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Lunch with Galileat in the Arab village of Dir Hanna, during the Western Galilee Winter Festival, December 17-19, 2020 Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

This Hanukkah, the festival of lights that celebrates all things fried, is an opportunity to taste sufganiyot made by Shula (Giladi) from Shtula, round puffs of fried dough that are cracked open, filled with whipped cream and topped with a dollop of homemade quince jam.

“What, you’ve never had it like this?” said Shula Giladi, amazed it could be someone’s first time having a sufganiya filled with whipped cream and quince jam.

It was my first, but hopefully not my last taste of her featherlight doughnuts, made from one kilogram of double-sifted flour and two tablespoons of Stock 84 brandy, which helps soak up the oil used in the frying process.

Luckily, anyone can try Shula’s doughnuts, preceded by this Kurdish balabusta’s mouthwatering kube soup — meat-filled semolina dumplings steeped in a beetroot broth — at her Moshav Shtula home as part of the Western Galilee Winter Festival, still on schedule to take place December 17-19, around the towns and villages of Israel’s northwestern coast.

Giladi is a member of tourism organization Western Galilee Now, regularly visited by tour groups and families who come to her kosher home (certified by the local Maale Yosef rabbinate) for kube soup and meatball-sized kebabs, stuffed into homemade rolls and then dipped in the aromatic goodness of the kube broth.

(The doughnuts, by the way, are pareve, and can be eaten without cream for those who keep kosher.)

Shula (Giladi) from Shtula, a Kurdish balabusta who tells her family stories and will feed visitors her homemade kube soup and sufganiyot during the Western Galilee Winter Festival, December 17-19, 2020 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Any visit to Shula from Shtula includes rapt listening to this natural storyteller, who recounts her family’s emigration from Kurdistan to Israel, and the ensuing dramas that preceded and followed their lives in the two countries. It’s a visit to be savored.

(Thursday, December 17, 12-4 p.m., NIS 100 per person, call 072-397-0929 for reservations.)

The stop with Shula is just one of the visits that can be made in the Western Galilee over Chanukah and before Christmas.

Carmit Arbel, a naturalist, teacher and actor is giving tours of Fassouta, a tiny Melkite Christian village where she stops in at the church, gazes at the village Christmas tree and offers Christmas cookies along with stories, meetings and tales along the way. (Tours are being held December 10, 17 and 18, during the afternoon and evening hours. Call 072-397-1215 for reservations.)

If mushrooms are more your speed, Arbel also offers tours in foraging and edible plants in the different forests of the region, on December 16 and 18, 10-2 pm, NIS 100 per adult, NIS 70 per child. Call 072-397-1215 for reservations.

Roudena Atwi from Dir Hanna, an Arab town in the Western Galilee where she will serve a traditional Christmas dinner during the Winter Festival (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

For a deeper culinary look at Christmas, visitors can opt for a morning spent with Paul Nirens of Galileat, the Galilean culinary experience that pairs visitors with Christian, Muslim and Druze family cooks who open their homes and kitchens.

A Galileat experience usually includes cooking with the host family, and during this season, a family from the village of Dir Hana will host guests at their home.

Dir Hanna is a mixed Muslim and Christian village, explained Roudena Atwi, the matriarch and expert home chef who hosted lunch, where everyone has gotten along for generations, each celebrating their holidays and religions according to their own family traditions.

Atwi’s house is decorated with several Christmas trees, and her lunchtime table was laden with roasted chicken (their usual Christmas Day dish), greens topped with fried onions, stuffed grape leaves (the tightest rolls to be found), siniya (spiced chopped meat drizzled with tahini), mejadara (rice and lentils), tabboule salad and a traditional December dessert of bourbara, a sweet porridge topped with chopped nuts, candy, raisins and served with a side of anise cookies.

(December 18 or 19, 10-2 pm, NIS 240 per person, contact Galileat for reservations.)

If you’re leery about sharing a meal inside, Galileat is also offering Druze Food to Go, a full picnic to be eaten in the open air — as is restaurant La Pampa in Mizpe Hila, with hampers full of smoked meats and Kishor wines.

Mushroom expert Maya Ginsburg explains all about mushrooms and foraging, in the forests of the Western Galilee (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

The festival includes strolls in the alternative community of Klil, with tour guide Yotam Dahan, as well as workshops to make everything from beeswax candles and house slippers to Christmas ornaments.

Mushroom expert Maya Ginsburg is offering tours to find the revered fungus in Lotem, where she offers her encyclopedic knowledge about mushrooms and demonstrates how to find and identify more than 30 varieties.

That said, Ginsburg teaches foragers to appreciate the search and pick just one or two mushrooms, leaving plenty of fungi for other foragers and most importantly, for the biodiversity of the forest in which they grow.

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