Look, I’m not trying to brag, but in Israel, food tastes better. This is not a statement on where anyone should live, or some sort of euphemism for our improved quality of life now that we’re here, it’s just the truth. Even Israelis who left the country years ago to make their homes elsewhere will still wax nostalgic about the food in Israel. Breads, spreads, produce, coffee, cheese, even snackfood, this is a land full of people who love to eat and take their ingredients very seriously. The most unassuming, hole-in-the-wall bureka shops and felafel stands serve up flavors and textures that surpass your average American sandwich place or cafe by miles. In fact the only place in Boston that comes close to giving you what I consider an authentic and varied middle eastern food experience is Ana Sortum’s Oleana (and now her bakery-cafe, Sofra in Watertown). The difference is that Sortum gets away with charging absurdly high prices for items I can get for pennies in the shuk (outdoor market). She is a smart woman who knows the value and effect of the flavors of this region and exploits them well.
There are a number of reasons why fruits and vegetables pack so much flavor here in Israel, but I think the most obvious one is the proximity of the farms to the markets. Israel is a tiny country, about the size of Massachusetts, if that, and all produce available at the outdoor markets is grown within Israel and the territories. Since the country is 290 miles in length and 85 in width, most produce does not travel more than 100 miles from ground to table, and much of it travels far less. Plus, many people here still shop daily for the freshest food.
When I decided to make a winter salad using some of the root vegetables I’d been seeing at the shuk, I was trying be sure we were getting our greens. What I did not consider was that fresh kohlrabi would taste so good I would nearly eat it all while chopping, before it made it into the bowl. Root vegetables that sit on the refrigerated shelves at Whole Foods have little on the tangy, earthy, crisp flavors of this winter mix. But if it’s the best you’ve got, I still recommend giving this salad a try — at least you’ll be getting your veggies.
Root Vegetable Salad
1 kohlrabi, cut into thin slivers
1 carrot, cut into thin slivers
1 celery root, cut into thin slivers
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
2 handfuls green beans, cut vertically into halves or quarters
handful chopped almonds
for the dressing
1 Tablespoon zataar
1 tsp finely chopped hot chili
1 Tbs honey
1 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs olive oil
salt and lemon juice to taste
Mix the veggies in a large bowl and toss them with the dressing (you may want to make a double batch depending on the size of the vegetables). Refrigerate until ready to serve.