Spices! Grains! Flavors! (Photo/Faith Kramer)
Spices! Grains! Flavors! (Photo/Faith Kramer)

Finding inspiration among the grains and spices of Israeli markets

When I travel, I like to play with my food. A day spent tasting local specialties, sniffing exotic spices and touring food markets makes me eager to experiment with flavors and ingredients.

Trips to two Israeli sidewalk markets were the impetus for two sautéed grain side dishes that I developed in my vacation-rental kitchens.

The Levinsky Spice Market Pilaf was inspired by the spices I bought at the famous Tel Aviv market. The recipe calls for sumac, which is a sour, ground, dried berry.

Machane Yehuda Freekah uses ingredients sourced from Jerusalem’s famed market. Freekah is widely used in Arab, Middle Eastern and North African cooking. It is wheat that that is picked green, dried, then roasted, which burns off the straw and chaff and gives it a slightly smoky flavor.

Sumac and freekah can be found at specialty stores, Middle Eastern markets and online.


Levinsky Spice Market Pilaf

Serves 6-8

  • 2 Tbs. plus 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 Tbs. finely chopped garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. sumac
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. crumbled dried mint
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1½ cups long-grain rice
  • About 3-4 cups warm vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup chopped or sliced almonds
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh mint, divided
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh dill, divided

Heat 2 Tbs. oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté onion until light brown, add garlic and sauté until golden. Stir in red pepper, sumac, cumin, cinnamon, mint, salt and pepper. Sauté 1 minute. Add remaining oil, stirring in rice until coated.

Add 1 cup broth, bring to simmer. Keep at simmer, stirring occasionally, until absorbed. Repeat with second cup and then a third. When the third cup is almost completely absorbed, bite into a grain. It should be tender but not mushy, with a little resistance at the center. If not ready, add ½ cup broth and simmer until almost absorbed. Repeat again if necessary.

Add chickpeas, raisins, almonds, and half of the mint and dill to the pilaf. Stir. Cook until chickpeas are warmed through. Serve sprinkled with remaining mint and dill.


Machane Yehuda Freekah

Serves 4-5

  • Market Salad (see below)
  • 2 Tbs. plus 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 Tbs. finely chopped garlic
  • ½ tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • 1 cup whole freekah (not cracked)
  • About 3-4 cups of warm vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

Market Salad: Mix 1 cup chopped tomatoes with 1 cup chopped cucumbers, 2 Tbs. chopped fresh mint, 2 Tbs. chopped fresh dill, 2 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley, ¼ tsp. salt and 2 tsp. grated lemon zest. Set aside.

Heat 2 Tbs. oil in large skillet. Sauté onions until light brown, add garlic and sauté until golden. Mix in red pepper, salt, black pepper and cumin. Sauté 1 minute. Add remaining oil. Add freekah. Stir until coated.

Add 1 cup broth, bring to simmer. Keep at simmer, stirring occasionally until absorbed. Repeat with second cup and then a third. When the third cup is almost completely absorbed, bite into a grain. It should be tender but not mushy, with a little resistance at the center. If needed, add ½ cup broth and simmer until almost absorbed. Repeat again if necessary. Stir in lemon juice. Serve topped with Market Salad.

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Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. She blogs about her food at clickblogappetit.com. Contact Faith at clickblogappetit@gmail.com.