Citrus Season in Israel

by Sarah on January 17, 2011

red grapefruit

I don’t have a TV in the living room. It’s sitting in the basement and rarely used. Neither do we have Wii or any other type of hi-tech games. The computer is situated in the middle of the house because I want to know what my kids are up to. I don’t mind the balagan (mess) as Israelis say or the noise when their friends visit (ok I do mind that a little).

praying mantis

When my kids are bored they play pirate or surfing hammock (crazy wild), build bows and arrows from sticks and go on adventures to the nearby orchard. They never go alone but with their friends and our big yellow retriever, Rambo. Is it safe?  Not entirely, no. I can’t keep them in the house or they’ll become neurotic and I will too.  In the orchard they have freedom and responsibility. They light campfires, bake potatoes and boil water for tea. Before they go I remind them of the rules; always stay together, put out the fire, keep away from creeps even if they look normal, no exploring deserted houses… “We know, we know already”, they tell me impatiently but I always worry, especially when they arrive after dark, reeking of campfire smoke. I am relieved and disregard the muddy pants and soot covered faces. They excitedly tell me of jumping on a trampoline made of vines, picking prickly pears, finding a huge praying mantis and for me, because they know they arrived too late, they bring back bags laden with oranges, grapefruits, tangerines and the biggest citrons I have ever seen. I accept their offer and let them off with a warning.

All week long I have been finding imaginative ways to use the produce. I made red grapefruit sorbet inspired by the Gourmet Worrier. I squeezed lemon juice into tomato and cucumber salad and added it to date syrup to make a simple chicken marinade. I baked chicken with whole lemons using a classic recipe by Marcella Hazan and sliced them thinly into a Greek style chicken casserole.  The rest I made into freshly squeezed orange or citrus juice.

chicken with lemons and sun dried tomatoes

Greek style chicken with sun dried tomatoes and black olives

I don’t remember eating anything like this in Greece, but there is something very Mediterranean in the combination of olives and sun dried tomatoes. This recipe is based on one by Gil Hovav, Ayelet Latovitch and Dallia Penn-Lerner from their book Sun, Sea and Food (Modan).  Gil Hovav is a journalist and food celebrity in Israel. He has written several cookbooks as well as a newspaper column and regularly appears on cooking shows. He also happens to be the great-grandchild of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the founder of modern Hebrew.

4 chicken breasts, cut into 1-2 cm thick strips (about 1 kg)

1 large onion, cut in half and sliced

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 yellow or red bell peppers, sliced into strips

1 cup dried tomatoes preserved in oil, drained and roughly chopped

1/2 cup black olives, pitted and roughly chopped

1 lemon sliced very thinly, remove the seeds (I leave the peel on if I know its organic)

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons honey

Salt and pepper

Bunch of parsley finely chopped, garnish

Mix half of the olive oil with the spices and honey and combine with chicken until well coated.  Let marinate in sauce for about an hour in the refrigerator covered with plastic wrap on in an airtight box. In a cast iron pan, pan fry the chicken pieces and set aside. There is no need to add extra oil, the chicken is simply seared at this point and will continue to cook in the sauce.

Clean out the cast iron pan if it has burnt pieces in it. Add the rest of the oil and stir fry the onions and peppers until they begin to soften, add the garlic and continue to stir. Add the dried tomatoes, olives and stir until combined. Return the chicken and add the lemon slices and cook until the chicken is cooked through and no longer pink. Adjust spices, adding more cinnamon, honey salt or pepper to taste. Top with lots of parsley and serve with white rice.

Updates:

I have started writing for the Jerusalem Post, also as Food Bridge. Rethinking molecular gastronomy is my first contribution to its online edition. In addition, I wrote a short guest post on the Expat Harem about how saying “hello” can be a complicated affair, especially when done between cultures.

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