An Evening of Authentic Israeli Cuisine

Sonny and I were treated to the most amazing evening of Israeli hospitality. Chef Ronen Skinezes of Manta Ray restaurant in Tel Aviv, members of the Israeli Consulate General of Israel to the Southeast, and The Cook’s Warehouse hosted a meal of Authentic Israeli cuisine which completely reversed our preconceived idea of Middle Eastern food. Chef Skinezes is visiting Atlanta to present a signature Israeli dish on opening night of  The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival at the Fox Theatre.

“Most people think Israeli meals consist only of traditional kosher dishes such as knishes, Gefilte fish, and matzah,” stated Joe Diaz, Director of the Southern Region of the Israel Ministry of Tourism. “It is actually hard to find a kosher restaurant in Tel Aviv,” continued Einat Shaul of the Israeli Consulate General of Israel to the Southeast. A pre-dinner peak into the kitchen at all the fresh vegetables and fish were a good indication that we were indeed in for a treat. Chef Skinzes started the evening demonstrating how to make Eggplant Mousse, a simple and aromatic dish of grilled eggplant, lemon juice, oil and garlic pureed to perfection and served with whole wheat naan, which is a type of flatbread popular in the Middle East. The chef, who looked incredibly relaxed and confident even after a week of travel and cooking demonstrations, answered questions and gave cooking and shopping tips as he stirred the components in his pan. “When choosing an eggplant it should feel light, not heavy,” he recommended.

The mousse appetizer was followed by a fresh spinach salad with bulgur wheat, chopped mango, sautéed shrimp tossed with a lemon-mint dressing. Again a simple and elegant combination of textures and flavors. Two Isreali white wine pairings were sampled during the meal which were very impressive as well. Chef Skinezes prepared a main course of pan-fried grouper served on a bed of artichokes, chick peas and tomatoes. He reminded diners to always salt the fish before cooking as the grouper browned in his pan. The end result was a succulent dish of perfectly cooked fish complimented by a light Mediterranean medley of vegetables.

Fresh strawberries and whipped cream were presented for dessert. We were all intrigued by an orange-ish “crunch” that was sprinkled over the berries which added a unique and mysterious consistency and flavor. Chef gave a mischievous smile as he held up a bag of nacho cheese Doritos saying teasingly, “It is our Israeli secret ingredient.” As the 20+ diners left for the evening, there was a sincere feeling of contentment and jovial utterings of תודה (pronounced toh-DAH) thanking the Chef and his staff and our hosts for a marvelous evening, our perceptions of Israeli cuisine completely transformed!