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The Grilling Tradition of Israel’s Independence Day

The Grilling Tradition of Israel’s Independence Day

 Photo by Dave Katz

Photo by Dave Katz

Shared by Asaf Doktor
Recipe Roots: Tel Aviv

Walk outside in Israel on Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day, and you will be greeted by the entrancing scent of mangal, or barbecue. Chicken legs and kebabs sizzle away over charcoal grills and watermelons are cracked open in parks and backyards as friends and families gather to celebrate. That’s how it was for Asaf Doktor when he was growing up by the sea in Caesarea, a town nestled between Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Outside of the holiday, his family didn’t cook much, but, he says “I loved eating and watching food TV shows — and, not having prepared food at home — I started cooking. It’s the basic story of an ‘80s kid in Israel.” Today Asaf is the chef and co-owner with his brother Yotam of the acclaimed restaurants Ha’achim (Hebrew for “The Brothers”) and Dok in Tel Aviv and his Yom Ha’atzmaut traditions have changed.

For several years, he and Yotam threw a massive party in the streets of Tel Aviv outside of Ha’achim. “We invited 2,000 people and they all came,” he says. There was barbecue and a large truck that doubled as a stage for musicians. “This is how I celebrate...It’s a very memorable party in Tel Aviv,” he says.

Unfortunately, permitting for the event became too tricky. These days, Asaf celebrates the holiday at the restaurants, which open and bustling. “Night time [on Yom Ha’atzmaut] is one of the most hectic nights of the year….Everyone is outside watching fireworks.”

When we asked Asaf for a menu to celebrate the holiday with, he shared a mix of what he serves in the restaurants and what he would serve if he hosted a party for friends. At the heart of the menu are chicken kebabs laced with lamb fat. “You must have a kebab and chicken skewers,” to celebrate the holiday, he says. To balance the rich and smoky flavors, he pairs the meat with a raw zucchini salad tossed with dried apricots and fresh oregano, and a play on tabbouleh where bulgar is swapped out for pistachios, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

While the menu is modern, like his restaurant Dok, there’s a dose of tradition mixed in: his grandmother’s eggplant salad. It’s a riff on a recipe for chopped liver that may have arrived with her family when they emigrated from Poland in the late 1930s, when his grandmother was three-years-old. “In the 1950s, it was...a very poor time in Israel. People didn’t have money to buy meat and expensive ingredients,” Asaf explains. So liver was replaced by eggplant. It was a staple in Asaf’s life growing up. We “always had it in our fridge,” he said. The recipe was passed on to his father who started to make it and ultimately to Asaf. “When I opened [Haachim] it was one of the first items on the menu,” he says.

While the recipe is no longer served at the restaurant, it seems to suit this Yom Ha’aztmaut menu, bringing a dish from the past to the table for the country’s 70th birthday celebration.

 Photo by Dave Katz

Photo by Dave Katz

Granny Tziporah's Eggplant Salad (Veggie "Chopped Liver")

Serves: 10-12
Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes

Ingredients
3 (6 cups) medium eggplants, peeled and sliced into ¾” rounds
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 (12 cups) white onions, chopped
½ cup canola oil, divided
3 hard boiled eggs, peeled
Salt
Fresh ground pepper

Preparation
1. Preheat the oven to 325° and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. 
2. Brush the eggplant slices with the olive oil and arrange on the prepared baking sheets. Evenly sprinkle with a ½ teaspoon of salt and bake until slightly softened, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. 
3. Meanwhile, divide the oil in half and heat in two 10-12” skillets over medium heat. Add half of the onions to each skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until the onion is deeply browned and caramelized - this will take at least an hour.
4. Transfer the eggplant to the bowl of a food processor and pulse just until eggplant becomes uniform. Add the eggs and pulse until egg is coarsely chopped and the mixture is similar in texture to chopped liver. 
5. Combine the eggplant mixture, caramelized onions (with their oil), 1 ½ teaspoons of salt, and ¾ teaspoon of pepper in a large bowl and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning. 
6. Can be prepared up to a day in advance.
 

"Pitzuchim" Tabbouleh

Serves: 6-8
Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
2 bunches of parsley, leaves separated and finely chopped
½ bunch of mint, leaves separated and finely chopped
1 bunch of scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons sunflower seeds, toasted
3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds, toasted
3 tablespoons of pistachios, toasted
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
Fine salt

Preparation
1. Place the sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and pistachios in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. 
2. In a mixing bowl, combine the parsley, mint, and scallions. Add the lemon juice and olive oil and mix well. Season with ¼ teaspoon of salt. Taste and adjust seasoning. Salad should be slightly sour. 
3. Create a mound with the dressed herbs on a serving plate, then sprinkle with 3-5 tablespoons of the ground seed and nut mixture (or more to taste).
4. Serve immediately.
 

Raw Zucchini Salad

Serves: 6-8
Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
4 small zucchini, ¼” dice
15 small dried apricots, diced into small cubes
5 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced
5 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves picked
⅓ cup full-fat plain sheep yogurt
⅓ cup fresh lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

Preparation
1. Place the zucchini, apricots, scallions, and oregano in a medium mixing bowl.
2. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, ½ teaspoon of salt, ¼ teaspoon of pepper and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning.
3. Spread the yogurt in a thin layer over a serving plate creating a bed for the salad. Spoon the zucchini mixture over the yogurt, stacking to form a mound.
4. Serve immediately. 
 

Skewers of Chicken and Lamb Fat

Serves: 8-10
Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients
2 ¼ pounds of boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1” cubes
¾ pound lamb fat, diced into ¾” cubes
10 large metal skewers
2 ½ teaspoons high quality sweet paprika, divided
Kosher salt
Canola oil
1 bunch parsley, for serving

Preparation
1. Light the charcoal or fire up the grill.
2. Assemble the 10 skewers: on each skewer alternate two chicken cubes followed by one lamb fat cube three times for a total of 9 pieces per skewer.
3. Brush the skewers with canola oil and season each with ¼ teaspoon of paprika and kosher salt. 
4. When the grill is ready, place the skewers on the grill and roast until they are browned and the fat is golden and very aromatic, about 10-12 minutes. 
5. Serve immediately on top of a bed of fresh parsley sprigs.

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