One of the countries that is sitting on my list of ‘Places to travel’, with the driving force being the food of the region, is Israel. Israeli cuisine brings together flavours from the Mediterranean cuisine, the middle-eastern cuisine and the Levantine cuisine. While I’ve had my fair share at restaurants abroad, there’s nothing like having a chef from the region put together a festival in one’s own backyard. The Nook, at Aloft Cessna Business Park is playing host to Chef Shachar Aschengrau, a culinary expert from the port city of Haifa, who is leveraging local produce to put together a feast that showcases contemporary Israeli flavours.
|Chef Aschengrau (L) with Chef Sandeep (R)|
Along with fellow food enthusiasts, I was invited on the opening day of the festival to sample the food and interact with the Chef. While dinner was being set up, we were served appetizers that included Vegetable Shashlik, Chickpea dumplings, Mushroom Kibbeh and Fish in Beer. The stand out dish was the Cinnamon Sheekh, succulent meat on sticks of cinnamon that offered a lovely spicy flavour, leaving the lovely taste of cinnamon to take over one’s mouth.
At the dinner table, we were served a variety of breads including the popular pita bread, the challah, the shabbat, and my favourite of the lot, the Jerusalem bagel; these were accompanied by an Israeli salad and a variety of dips each with a distinct flavour that covered everything from citrus, to mint, to spice. One of the stand-out dips was the Amba, a tangy mixture of mangoes, mustard, and spices. This popular middle-eastern condiment derives its name from the Sanskrit term for mango.
While most of us were occupied with polishing off the bread and dips, we were served a rather large and gnarly looking cauliflower that I was certain had been mutated and would come alive at any point. This Baked Cauliflower was a simple dish of, as the name indicates, a baked cauliflower with spices on top. Despite its appearance, the dish actually tasted nice with the flavour of the vegetable with the mild spices on top working well together. This was followed by a rather tasty combination of grilled aubergines with Tabbouleh.
When one thinks of food from Israel, traditional dishes that immediately come to mind would be the falafel and hummus. Looking to showcase how hummus is consumed very differently back home, as compared to how most folks have the dish, Chef Aschengrau had a small master class where he demonstrated how hummus is had back home. With a variety of toppings including whole boiled chickpeas, boiled egg, chilli, pine nuts, onions, lemon-spiked tahini and more, hummus has evolved to suit the more contemporary palate that seeks out more flavour and textures. Soon enough, everyone in the room was looking make their own versions of the dish.
The main course featured traditional dishes like Tahini , Baba ghanoush, Fattoush and more. Accompanying the Shwarma and the Falafel were Meatballs in Tomato Sauce, Stuff Chicken, Baked Fish and the Israeli Rice Pilaf. Dessert included a platter of various tiny desserts and candies that made one feel like a kid in a candy store. A favourite of mine among the dessert was the relatively simple yet satisfying dish of figs and fresh cream. I should have stopped at two, but no one seemed too concerned, so I had about four. The team at Aloft put together a bit of a show with putting together various little sweet knick-knacks like cake, macaroons, chocolate and candy and sprinkling it with dry ice. I hadn’t any space left to try that out.
Chef Aschengrau has a relatively extensive arsenal of dishes that one can try out during the festival that runs till the 28th of the month. Dishes from this menu will be available for both lunch and dinner along with the regular buffet at Nook. This is a festival I do recommend to the vegetarians especially for the tasty spread of dips, hummus, salads and bread from Israel.