Friday, June 28, 2013

Shakshouka, the wildcard dish.

Today I prepared another very Israeli dish: shakshouka. 

(Disclaimer: Again, when I mean Israeli I mean as in 'frequently consumed by Israelis'. Shakshouka is believed to be from Tunisia, according to its wikipedia entry.)

Shakshouka is a dished that is based on tomatoes, eggs, peppers, onions and spices. It is very simple to make, and also extremely delicious. 

Now, why is shakshouka so awesome? Well, there's multiple reasons. As I mentioned earlier, it is super easy to make. Secondly, as the title of the post suggests, the dish is a wildcard. You can insert it into any meal of the day and it works well. It's eaten here as breakfast, lunch and even (light) dinner. Thirdly, it is vegetarian, pareve (i.e. not dairy or meaty) and gluten-free. That is to say, it can be eaten with anything (and even during Passover) and it will probably please most of your diners (unless your diners are vegans or allergic to eggs). 

The recipe can be found here. So, the one I made doesn't look as awesome and I didn't have a lot of fancy spices. Actually, whenever I see something like that on a recipe I just think of it as 'optional'. Or replace the expression 'olive oil' by 'whatever oil I have bought'.

But nonetheless here are some picture of the process and the result. 
This is what the veggie mix looks like. It's in the process of cooking. 

That thing on the side is breaded eggplant. That was last weeks find.

This is the finished dish. We just served ourselves straight from the pan. I think that is how you do it.
This was a bit of what the finished dish looked like. There was plenty more of each, and I had seconds of everything.
Thus far I have to admit that I am very impressed about the quality of my cooking. This is becoming a very rewarding and pleasant experience. I will try my best to take these lessons with me back to Boston. 

Until the next post.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Surprise

My passion for baking has taken me to make banana bread, a recipe that I am very familiar and comfortable with since I do it regularly in Boston. I will not share the recipe with you this time, since its a secret recipe that I am not allowed to talk about. I can only tell you it uses bananas. That's why it's banana bread.

In contrast to Boston, here I lack a lot of nice things that would make baking much easier. Nonetheless, here is the banana bread:

This is what the bread looked like after one hour of baking in our modest toaster oven. 
I haven't tried it yet because it is a surprise for a friend's birthday party. I'll edit this post later in order to update on the taste, but last night it smelled pretty great.

EDIT: It was pretty delicious. If I had told you the recipe, I would give some useful input here on how to make it better. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Eggplant Ultimatum

All good things come in threes. So now I present you the last part of my eggplant trilogy: the parmesan breaded eggplant.

This was a rather complicated recipe because I was not aware of how to do breaded things. The recipes that I found online all seemed super different from what I expected. They all mentioned this weird things called bread crumbs. I had no idea what bread crumbs are, where they were sold, how to get them and why I would need them.

But on my biweekly (as in twice a week) supermarket run I ran across a bag labelled "golden bread crumbs" (or something along these lines).

As soon as I got back, I stared cooking this recipe. It is fairly easy to follow. The parmesan looks really cool. Also, it will get messy so don't even try keeping your hands clean. This is what the eggplant looked like after the entire process:
This is what the eggplant looks like 
 You should fry until it looks golden, like the recipe suggests. I added an extra slice of cheese on top and fried it with the eggplant too. It looks awesome.

That's a lot of eggplant!
I added some marinara sauce and (the mandatory) parsley. It was a great meal. As usual, hummus and salad on the side. The salad was actually too much and I had to pack some of it for tomorrow. But this was a great meal, very fulfilling and entertaining to prepare.

I could not finish all that. But it was delicious. The marinara sauce makes a huge difference.
So that is the end of my eggplant period. Looking back, all three recipes were good, easy and cheap. I would say this last one was the best. I will probably be remaking some of these recipes until I ran out of eggplant. If there are any important updates to any of them, I'll edit the original posts.

I haven't made many meat recipes yet, mainly because I haven't bought any meat. DON'T THINK THAT I AM BECOMING VEGETARIAN. I will eat meat (or chicken, actually) sometime tomorrow, hopefully for dinner. 

Until the next post!

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Return of the Eggplant

A couple of days ago, I made my first eggplant post. Here comes part two of a series of eggplant dishes. This time I made something that can be considered an entree, eggplant pomodoro pasta. The original recipe can be found here (the website is even called 'eating well'. How fitting, right?).

First, a quick overview of pomodoro sauce in general. If you know a the first thing about Italian, you probably know that pomodoro means tomato. This will be a key ingredient in preparing the sauce. Pomodoro sauce usually refers to a light, quick sauce that uses tomato (well, duh), olives, basil and some other stuff.

It did not take long to prepare this recipe. It was a bit of a struggle to cook the pasta on my stove because it can barely heat water. However, I managed to prepare the sauce and keep track of the pasta in parallel. I did not take pictures of the cooking process this time because I was mostly taking care of things like chopping this or measuring that or heating this, etc. However, this is a picture of the final product.

I put the parsley in the end, at the top. Only pros do that kinda thing. It's some super advanced cooking. 

I definitely made too much (I still managed to eat it all though). You should cook about 1 cup of pasta per person, and try to stick to the proportions of the original recipe.

Next on my list of eggplant ideas is breaded eggplant, which I love. However, I think I'll be posting less regularly from now on (certainly not during the weekends). I can't buy random ingredients all the time, so I need to sort of figure what I can do with what I have. And I don't have all that much.

Until the next post!

EDIT: This was lunch, not dinner. I was alone in my place for lunch so cooked for one. Other than that one brunch time, I haven't cooked with other people, really.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


I finally made cookies today for the first time in about a month (basically, since I left Boston for Israel). It makes me so happy to make cookies. They came out great, yes. 

So my sister has been reading my blog and I decided to come to her apartment today for a live demonstration. She happens to live in a city near Rehovot. Also, she has an actual oven where I can bake things (as opposed to the miserable toaster oven back in Rehovot). She got all the (correct) ingredients and helped me bake the cookies. 

The recipe that I've been using all this time (for those of you who've had my cookies before) is here. The difference in quality comes mainly from the quality of the sugar, the butter and the chocolate chips. My sister decided to get dark chocolate, which I love. 

Some things to watch out with the recipe: make sure that you chop the butter into small pieces so that its easy to mix with the sugars. Also, and this surprised my sister a bit, you have to take the cookies out of the oven before they get brown. Like, at most leave them for a minute or two more than what the recipe says. Then let them cool down for at least two minutes or so. Then enjoy deliciousness. 

Some pictures, for the non-believers: 

Plenty cookies were made. 

Some got a bit stuck. You should spray some oil or something to prevent this.

So, I know what you are all thinking there behind your screens. What happened with the whole eating well and healthy? To be honest, I think that cooking is about enjoying and sharing, and eating well is about being happy with what you eat. I am not going to eat all of these by myself (my friends in Rehovot would kill me if the saw the post and didn't get cookies).

Ultimately, I think that cooking is very filling: both in spirit and in stomach!

So, here's to cookies.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Eggplant Begins

This is the first (of hopefully many) eggplant recipes in this blog. I haven't really been feeling super hungry at nights, so most of the dishes that I've cooked (including this one) are either side dishes or appetizers. Nonetheless, they are delicious and, with the right serving size, very satisfying. 

As I may have mentioned multiple times by now eggplants (hatzilim, in hebrew) are awesome in this country. From the places around the world that I've been to, I feel like Mediterranean cuisine is the one that integrates eggplants the most. In Israel it is probably something that people (at least I do) eat it on a regular basis. 

This following recipe is super simple. The original version can be found here. However, I made some changes since this is a one-person supper. First, I did only half of it. So, anything you see you should divide by half. I also just used a pan instead of a grill, due to the lack of stuff in my kitchen. Also, I suck at measuring things (who knows what 1/4 of an inch is anyways), so I may have sliced the eggplant too thick. Finally, I added some parsley to the eggplant. It was a great decision and it enhanced the taste of the dish. 

The servings are small so you should make 3-4 if you're having it as a main dish. You sort of can't tell, but now I got my actual camera to work again, so ha! No more bad pictures.

I chopped up some lettuce and used some extra tomatoes for a quick salad. As always, pita and hummus on the side. 
Gradually I'm trying to elevate the complexity (such a computer science term, ugh) of the recipes that I do. It's like training wheels for bicycles. I need to get some confidence before I go about doing tiramisu. 

Until the next post! 

P.S.: I might even re-do this dish sometime later this week. It's really good and I love eggplant. Maybe I should use more/thicker cheese. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Pita Pizza

So, this week should be rather 'normal', and by normal I mean that I will spend more time in Rehovot than outside Rehovot. Also, it's a Sunday and I had to go to work today.

I just prepared this very quick pita pizza. Pre-heat the oven at about 175-200 C. Grab a pita and put tomato sauce on one side. Try to get as much surface covered as possible. Next, place your favorite slice of cheese on top. Add some olives, mushrooms, parsley (which are all awesome in Israel) and place in oven (or toaster-oven if there's no oven). Take it out when the cheese has melted. 

While the pizza was getting cooked, I also prepared some israeli salad (also known as salad here). This time I threw in some parsley and onions, too. As always, this was a good side. 

I don't know why the picture looks so funny, but the food was good.
As much as I'd like to get away from fast, college-like cooking I don't have the time or resources to actually do something super awesome. However, Israeli food is pretty good and healthy in general.

Until the next post!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Brunch: or how Scrambled eggs are just failed Omelettes

Fridays are like Saturdays in Israel. This is the case because for Judaism, the main religion in Israel, the time to rest is from sunset on Fridays to sunset on Saturdays. This has a lot of implications for general life.

1. Work goes from Sunday to Thursday, usually. People rarely go to their offices/labs a Friday morning.
2. Most stores will be closed during the Sabbath: supermarkets, grocery stores, restaurants, cafes and so on. This is in accordance to Jewish law and observance of the Sabbath.
3. The same applies for public transportation: after 3-4 pm, there are no buses, trains or cabs (maybe some cabs) until Saturday night. So, if you don't have a car, you're stuck wherever you are a Friday afternoon.

This last reason is why I am going to Tel Aviv now to meet some friends and crash in their apartment.

But this will be explained on a later post. This morning I met with Perla and Meena, two other MIT students at Weizmann, and we went shopping for food supplies. We were on a quest to get the ingredients to make pancakes. I know, it's so American and cliched, but people rarely do pancakes from scratch these days. We saw pancake mix at the store, but I insisted on making them from scratch.

So we got sugar, flour, baking powder, chocolate chips (!!), and some other stuff. The recipe for the pancakes is right here. We got back to the tiny kitchen in my suite and split in two teams: Meena and Perla would make the pancake mix and I was going to make scrambled eggs (originally supposed to be an omellete, but our stove is so bad). Here's some pictures of the food. The scrambled eggs have olives, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and salt. First you chop them up, heat up a pan and add oil, and fry all the veggies. Then you add some eggs and stir the pan until the eggs look cooked.

We were also trying to make fun things with the chocolate chips on the pancakes.

That's Meena and her mini happy face pancake. 

I guess this picture isn't really good, but if you squint a little bit, it should say MIT. Tilt your head 90 degrees to the left and try to read it.

We also had cereal, yogurt, coffee, milk and fruit making it overall a very satisfying Friday brunch. We were all very full after the meal. It took us about an hour to make all these things, mainly because the stove in our kitchen is really bad. 

So I'm out for the weekend. Until the next post!

EDIT: By the way, Meena has an actual cooking blog (unlike mine-ish). She has some very legit recipes and pictures here. You should totally check it out! 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Math Retreat - Part 2 (plus a quick tuna sandwich)

We spent the night at the Acre Beach Hotel. Guess what: it's actually next to the beach. This was the view from the entrance to the hotel:
So we got up, had breakfast and had checked out of the hotel by 8 am. We drove to the Montfort castle, which was once a Crusader Castle but is now in ruins. We then split in two groups: people that wanted to hike to the castle, and people that wanted to go to some other places and walk around the beach. It is enough to say that I ended up in the group of people with the elder professors.

We ended up going to a couple of different memorial places and natural parks around the area, whose names I forget or never heard. The guide we had spoke the entire time in Hebrew, and it was only fair because I was probably the only one who didn't understand Hebrew. So instead, I'll show some pics.

Afterwards we met the larger group at a Kosher Mehadrin (super kosher) Steakhouse. The food was good, but their hummus was very bland. We split again in two groups: one would go to Rosh Hanikra, the other would go to Tornado boats (whatever that was). 

I ended up going to Rosh Hanikra, these beautiful caves way way up in the north. They are literally in the border with Lebanon. You don't believe me? 

That is not me on the picture. 
And some pictures from above, outside and inside of the caves.
A view from right outside the caves. 

A view from the top. We went down using a cable car. 

A picture from inside the cave. 

So that was essentially the Math Department's retreat. I also had the chance to talk to some people, but didn't really make any friends. It's a bit hard with the language barrier. It was a lot of fun. I had to pay a grand total of zero shekels to got and visited places that I never went to (with the exception of the last, which I *thought* I never went to).

Finally, I got back to my dorm pretty exhausted at around 7:30 and decided that it was time to try something new. On my first shopping trip, I bought a small jar with pesto sauce. Eager to try it, I found an online recipe for pesto tuna sandwich. It was from the Martha Stewart website, so you can imagine how fancy it was. I managed with what I had and did my own take on it. I didn't think that tuna and pesto would go well together, but it was an ok meal. Maybe if I had a different kind of bread it would have been a bit better.

The sandwich is basically as simple as its name. You should mix in three tablespoons of pesto sauce with a bit less than a can of tuna. Then slice some cucumbers, onions or some other veggies you want to throw in there and put it all together. Toasting the bread made it a bit crunchier, too. I would recommend a bread that's thinner than the one in the picture. 

Tomorrow is Friday, which is like a Saturday in the rest of the world. I don't have any plans, but I expect to be in Tel Aviv with some friends at some point tomorrow. There will be some cooking in the morning, so stay tuned for that. 

Until next time. 

Math Retreat - Part 1

I finished my last entry with a cliffhanger. Why would I even try to get up at 6:30 when I had just come back from Jerusalem at midnight? Well, it just so happens that the Math and Computer Science Department (because that is one department here) at the Weizmann organized a retreat for the 12th and 13th of June.

So there I was, bag in hand, at the meeting point at 7:20. To my surprise, a lot of people were there on time. Everyone also got a nice t-shirt, a hat and a backpack with the logo of the Weizmann. We left somewhere around 7:45 and as soon as the bus moved, I fell asleep. According to my dad, I fall asleep in cars all the time, so this was rather expected: I needed to catch up on some lost sleep.

After a refreshing nap and a quick breakfast stop, we went to Mekorot, the Israel water supply system. We didn't really do much there, except walk around a small memorial they had there and hear the story of water in Israel.

Shortly after we drove to Peki'in, a Druze town/village in the north of the country. The Druze are a religion of their own that originated from Islam. They are spread across the world and their religion is a secret only known by members of their community. There is a small cave by the entrance of the city that is rumored to be the place where Rabbi Shimeon Bar Yochai (Rashi, for Torah scholars like me) hid for 13 years with his son. It did not look like a comfortable cave. We also visited the synagogue in that city, which is secretly pictured in the 100 Shekel bill (~25 dollars).

A view of the town of Peki'in

We then went back to the bus and headed for lunch at Kibbutz Cabri, a kibbutz not far from Peki'in. After lunch, we made our way to Acre, a very old port city located far up north. The city was once controlled by two groups: the Hospitallers and the Templar Knights. The first of these groups had as a mission helping the sick and wounded that arrived to the port of Acre. The Templar Knights were a Christian Military Order that was committed to protect Christian pilgrims.

Part of the Old City in Acre. These are some of the Hospitallers' buildings. 

The architecture of the buildings was very interesting. It was clear that throughout time they figured out better ways of making buildings, and this was reflected on the way they did their ceilings. The underground tunnels were pretty interesting as well and tell a story I can't tell in this blog. At night we had a short tour of the Old City at night. From the coast we could see the lights of Haifa and what appeared to be the Bahai Gardens.

Yes. The entire Math Department spent the night playing these weird drums and drinking beer. It was awesome.
Stay tuned for what happens in Day 2.

EDIT: I forgot to add this. This was like the weirdest "I feel insulted and complimented at the same time" conversation I had in a while:

(Visiting) PhD Student: So, are you a doctoral student at Weizmann?
Me: No, I'm an undergraduate at MIT.
(Visiting) PhD Student: Oh, wow. You're the first undergrad I met during my stay.
Me: Yes, I must be the only one on this excursion.
(Visiting) PhD Student: Wait, what year are you?
Me: I just finished my sophomore year.
(Visiting) PhD Student: Oh, you are very young.
Me: What?
(Visiting) PhD: I said you must be very young.
Me: Thanks (!?).

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Go Israel!

So last night I didn't really have time to try anything new. I got back to my dorm close to midnight. What could I possibly have done at Rehovot that kept me out until so late? Nothing. That's why I went to Jerusalem, to watch a soccer game of the U-21 UEFA Cup between Israel and England (because anything involving Spain, Germany or Netherlands was sold out).

Getting from Rehovot to Jerusalem by train took a long time for multiple reasons. The first being that the route required me to go north to Lod and then south to Jerusalem. The second being that part of the path from Lod to Jerusalem just takes a really long time. The last one, and this really surprised me, was that the train at the Lod Station was packed. I honestly don't know how that many people were fit on the same place. It was as packed as the Green Line at Kenmore on rush hour. Most of the people were wearing soccer jerseys, and I realized that a lot of them were going to the same soccer game. This really surprised me because Israel was (essentially) eliminated from the competition and this was a U-21 game. However, people still seemed very excited about the game. 

I met my friend David (who was coming from Tel Aviv) in Beer Sheva and we eventually got to the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem (which is insanely close to the train station). The Teddy Stadium was  built recently but was renovated two years ago for this tournament. Moreover, it is expected to increase it's capacity from 34,000 to 50,000 within the next few years. 

After finding our gate, going through security and finding our seats, we enjoyed a great soccer game. This is a picture of the view from our seats. 

The stadium was not entirely packed, but attendance was pretty high for a Monday evening: 22000 people. 

The game itself was very attractive and entertaining. I thought Israel played much better than England, though both teams had great opportunities to score. This was eventually reflected on the score when at the 80th minute, Israel scored the only goal of the match and England left the tournament without earning any points (Israel still didn't qualify: Norway and Italy tied). 

But the game was not the only interesting thing going on in the stadium. The crowd was pretty awesome too. I kid you not, there were like ten consecutive waves that went through the stadium at some point in the second half. People were chanting and cheering for Israel all the time, and were very supportive of the players during the entire game. 

The game was eventually over and it was pretty dark outside. We made our way back to the (less packed than earlier) train, and after a 50 minute wait at Lod, I got back to Rehovot. During that wait, I spent a lot of time thinking what I would do for dinner. I think that thinking about what to eat, and preparing dinner definitely reduce my anxiety to eat food and make the act of eating much more enjoyable. 

I was starving when I got back to my dorm, but I was also exhausted and had to get up at 6:30 the next day (details on the next post). So I just decided to have the same dinner as the night before. I know. This is pretty boring. This is what it looked like: 

This is the exact same picture from the first night. I prepared less salad, and used a smaller cup for the tea.
So maybe I didn't discover Israel through it's cuisine yesterday (although I had some amazing eggplant for lunch at the WIS), but I certainly learned a lot about Israelis from going to the game last night and had a great time myself. 

Until next time! 

EDIT: The tickets were insanely cheap. I bought them with a student discount for 20 NIS (~5-6 dollars). They never asked me for an ID or anything, so it was a freebie. Transportation was more expensive that the game itself! 

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Simple Israeli Dinner

After a quick shopping trip, I got some basic supplies: milk, eggs, bread, cereal and so on. I hadn't really gotten much, but I got enough to get a taste of Israel. I prepared some israeli salad, which is extremely simple, healthy and delicious. I am not sure if people in Israel refer to it as israeli salad, but it is the name most people use in the US.

There are slight variations of the ingredients, but the basic idea is as follows. Just cut some tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and scallions into small slices. Put them all together, mix them around and refrigerate. This is a dish that is best served cold, at least in the summer. I felt very refreshed as I was eating it. 

While I was washing and slicing the vegetables, I warmed up a piece of pita bread to eat with some hummus (that I did not make - I plan to make my own hummus eventually, but I would need more time). So there it is, the cold salad and the warm bread: a delicious combination for a hot summer night.


If you found this website, you either know me or made a horrible google search and found this as a result. I will assume that you know me for the most part of this blog. 

So, as you know, I'm spending this summer in Rehovot, Israel, doing a Research Program at the Weizmann Institute of Science (SCIENCE!). Today was my first day at the Institute. I met my adviser there, and walked a lot (really) through this immense campus. Here is a picture of the main gate. 
But I digress. What is the point of this blog then? In one word: food. I think that food is very representative of a culture, and I think that the best way for me to delve into Israeli culture is to experience it from the kitchen. I'll be making some (simple) classic Israeli recipes as well as some of my personal favorite recipes. I'll try to post once or twice a week, at least, and I'll add pictures too. 

Don't be fooled by the title of this blog! I am not a dietician. I just thought that the title should rhyme, and a friend recommended it. Titles that rhyme make it seem like the author knows what he's doing. 

Also, I have really no experience cooking, and the place I'm staying does not have a fully equipped kitchen. So don't expect anything too fancy. This is not Top Chef (if anything, it's more like Survivor: Ariel's cooking). Remember: I'll be the one eating these dishes. 

In any case, I'll probably post something tonight. Until then!