Well, I found my spice man this week. His name is Uri. Like most Israeli men over 45, he is quite a personality. Flirtatiously condescending, ready to school me in philosophy, language, cooking and anything and everything in between. Today we drank tea in his shop, made with his special blend of Hawaj (a mix of spices that can be added to coffee or tea, usually including cardamom and pepper). During my 30 minute visit with him he managed to do a quick astrological assessment, tell me what neighborhood I should live in, give me a blessing to copy down and keep with me at all times, show me the apartments behind the shop that he renovated himself, make fun of my Bostonian demeanor, and give me some of his “best rice” to take home as a present. It was quite a half hour, and it was only my second visit. (Believe it or not, when I walked in he said, “We’re having tea today, go boil some water!”)
This country is full of characters.
There will be much more on Uri to come, I am sure. Meanwhile, here are some fried olives stuffed with goat cheese that I made last night. The goat cheese mixture included chili flakes and mustard seeds from Uri’s shop, and they were delicious.
Fried Stuffed Olives, adapted slightly from Food52
24 large green olives, pitted
1/2 cup goat cheese
1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped fine
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup all purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
1 cup breadcrumbs (fresh or panko)
1/3 cup parmigiano reggiano, or similar
1 cup vegetable oil
parmigiano reggiano, for sprinkling (I always substitute pecorino — it’s made with sheep’s milk)
zest and juice from one lemon, for sprinkling
In a small bowl, mix the goat cheese, mustard seed, rosemary, chile flakes, and garlic. Stuff the olives with the cheese mixture. You can use a small piping bag, but I just used my fingers (I was chatting online with Maria Mouzakis at the time and had to stop because the computer was getting covered in goat cheese!). Put the stuffed olives on a plate and refrigerate for 20 minutes, to let the cheese firm up.
While the olives are chilling, heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan to 375 degrees.
Set up three plates for your breading station. Put the flour on one plate, the beaten egg on the next, and mix the bread crumbs and cheese on the last plate.
When the olives have chilled, roll half of them in the flour, then in the egg, then in the bread crumbs and carefully drop them into the heated oil. Fry until golden brown, about one minute per side. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain, and repeat with the remaining olives.
Pile on a plate and finish with a shower of freshly grated cheese and lemon zest and a spritz of lemon.