Eating for cheap in the North of Israel

Yaron HummusWhen I was a lass I distinctly remember my dad telling us of the good old days at the shukhakarmel [we are only talking 10 – 15 years ago] where you could get whatever was in season for a “shekel kilo!”. I pictured us living here, drowning in tomatoes 4 months a year, living off fruit and fruit shakes, never buying another packet of frozen anything except possibly the odd bag of peas, gorging ourselves on berries and grapes.

Boy was I wrong. Husband wisely informs me that “the price of food has gone up worldwide” but as I don’t live anywhere else he could be talking out of his bottom for all I know. Anyway, my dreams of cheapy fruit and veg have been sadly shattered, with only the occasional cheap influx of fresh stuff, and very rarely does this occur in the organic market. I wrote a while back about the tragic tales of tomatos which were so extortionate at one point [as a result of the hot summer] that some restaurants actually took to replacing them with carrots in the famous Israeli Salad [shock horror]. Israelis have to eat Israeli salad all year round, and there lies the problem. Half the year the salad tastes of nothing at all and costs a bomb.

Americans too, are equally inflexible. You can spot them in Dahan instantly, before they even open their mouths to enquire “Kama Zote?” (can they not hear that’s wrong??? There should be no e on the end of that sentence.) They are the ones buying potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, apples, oranges and possibly an aubergine/eggplant if they are the adventurous type. That’s it.

Sadly, this method of shopping ends up being very costly and it’s no wonder so many olim struggle. Best advice? Buy loads of what’s in season and avoid everything else unless you are desperate.

Nutrition is very important to israelis. But not in the way that we would know. When I took Yaron for his tipat chalav checkup around 7 months the nurse had a list of Very Important Questions to ask me. You know like “have we removed all the chemicals in our house from floor level” [er, we dont do chemicals, generally] “does he get tummy time?” [er, he’s been crawling for months!] that sort of thing. What was her essential nutrition questions? “Does he eat tehina?”. Brilliant. The greatest concern of the healthy ministry is that my son consumes tehina. As a matter of fact he does, with gusto, in all forms. You get extra points if you kid eats tehina maleh [wholegrain]. Yummy stuff I recommend – makes really great chummus.  [see pic – Yaron in Teva eden restaurant]

We are used to eating seasonally as we bought riverford boxes back in the Old Country but for those who are finding the adjustment a little taxing, here a re a few ideas for making use of whats around, whats in season, and whats dirt cheap. Enjoy and feel free to add ideas. If they look like something I might consider eating they will get published 🙂

Lentils

If they haven’t already, these should become your new best friend. They are the cheapest and most nutritious product I have yet found. Red ones are the cheapest, you can make a classic Jewish soup out of them or a decent but soupy dhal. Brown ones are marginally more expensive, but even organic brown lentils wont cost anywhere near the price of kosher meat [havent a clue about non-kosher prices]. My preference is to eat lentils during the week so we can afford organic meat for shabbat [yes am still working on Husband re: that one]. Brown lentils – you can make dhal with rice, or cook them and use the leftovers to make kzizot/fritters/patties [whatever you call them, basically a little fried thing] or you can learn to make proper magadera served with yoghurt and greek salad, in which case I suggest you ask the nearest sefardi person for full and detailed instructions on exactly how to make it and dont let them miss any of the stages out. [sefardi women tend to do that if you don’t watch them carefully].

Rice

Should be your other best friend out here. Apart from being something that just feels right in a hot country, you can buy giant bags of it in the supermarkets for 30 shekel. They sell persian rice [works for msot things] and even Jasmine rice at this low cost. Basmati is generally pricier as is brown and pudding rice. We use it in megedara, indian rice and peas, we use the jasmine rice to make lots of thai dishes and my kids love egg fried rice [thats what you do with the leftovers as it should be fridge cold when you make it].  All grains are dirt cheap in dahan, sold in huge great sacks round the back of the fruit and veg warehouse. Give it all a good rinse and it should be fine. I have never yet found any foreign matter in there. I have noticed americans generally opt for buying things in labelled plastic packaging but you are essentially being what israelis call friar [a mug, to us brits]. Besides, Dahan has a huge number of customers = turnover and I am sure someone would notice if a rat crawled into one of the sacks. They probably wouldn’t do anything about it though.

Tofu

Sadly not so cheap in israel but still cheaper than meat especially if you don’t mind the 12 shekel brand. Its fine for frying but if you want to make a specialist thai or japanese dish I would get a different brand. I have road tested them all and the family gobbled them all up with equal gusto. Great stuff and works with rice [see above]. Buyer beware – they import lots of asian brands of noodles here but if you want to save money get the israeli brands. Not as fabulous but ok and you can get a pack for under 6 shekel in shivuk. They have a great selection of asian sauces and whatever you might need = watch out for supersol own brands which are loaded with e numbers and priced accordingly. [Well, you can eat them but don’t be surprised if you end up looking like the bloke in the ready brek advert.]

Chicken

Chicken can be worryingly cheap here. I mean if I can buy a huge chicken for less than a fiver what kind of life did it lead??? Even if you don’t care about the happyness of chickens, surely the quality might concern you?? Anyway the non-antibiotic ones seems to be cleaner and tastier. I have been frankly INSULTED by the presence of feathers on my chickens. If you are less squeamish than me then go ahead and buy them. You can get wings for next to nothing and they are awesome in a barbq sauce.Supersol just had all their chicken products on half price so i gave in and stocked up. Dahan regularly have offers where you can buy 5 kilo of breasts for 100 shekel. Buy it, freeze it in bags and you have enough to make 20 curries. God knows what they put in them mind.

Markets

Rumour has it is there is a market here in karmiel in the industrial zone. We have yet to investigate. Watch this space.

Fish

Ridiculously expensive out here. There is a kosher fish place called Dagei Kibbutzim or something like that in the industrial zone. Its apparantly good. We will be shopping there in future as Dahan fish is now closed, or some such story. [shame my kids loved that place] The cheapest and freshest fish available here is Amnon. Its quite versatile, sort of reminds me of bream. I roast it in olive oil, lemon, garlic and random herbs, 12 mins in the oven. Nicer whole but works filleted too if you are squeamish. The leftovers get mixed with mashed potato, herbs and dijon and turned into fishcakes. Yum. Make sure your family bring you some HP sauce. [If they don’t then just don’t let them in]. You can use amnon for most things, but they say not to grill it.

 They farm some things out here, depends how you feel about fishfarming. [In short; its’ more environmental for dying breeds, but it can also spread disease.] You can buy frozen nile perch and haddock in the supermarkets, sometimes on offer. Useful for making that old shabbat favourite – morrocan fish. No idea what else you would buy it for.

Fruit n’ Veg and herbs

Lemons and in fact most citrus are fabulously cheap over the winter and early spring. We juiced oranges and greapefruits every day. Jojo loved it. We also introduced the kids to pommela which they loved, and which are also nice in salads. If you havent already, I suggest you befriend someone with a lemon tree. Lots of people have mini ones in their gardens and you can use them for most things.

Rosemary is freely available in the streets all over karmiel as are a whole host of other herbs. Find a local to give you a lesson in cooking with local green things. Thats what I did. Then take your kids out for a walk and get them to pick the stuff. Pretend you don’t speak ivrit if anyone tries to lecture you.

Dahan sometimes sell these mini potatoes front, dirt cheap. They are probably lower grade but I have found them to be fine fort making wok fried potatoes with ginger and chilli [dont let husband see this or I will have to go and make him some] or you can simply cut them in half and toss them in olive oil, fresh rosemary, garlic and salt n pepper, put them in baking paper, seal up the sides with a stapler and bung them in the oven for an hour. They come out awesome.

Beetroot can be really lovely here and is cheap for several months. I use it to make beetroot chummous [just boil one in the microwave with a but of water covered for a few mins til soft, and add it to the processor. Voila – pink chummus. bit sweeter too]. Really nice fresh ones can be grated/chopped fine [really nice with apples and dill and dressing]. Israelis also use them to colour their pickles [e.g. turnips, mini aubergines] and they are also surprisingly sweet if you roast them. You can use the older/larger ones to make a chocolate fudge cake and tell your american guests its low calorie. Very 90’s.

Kishuim [courgettes/zuchini] are pretty cheap out here for the most part of the year. Frugal israelis hacve even found a way to turn them into mock chopped liver [sold in pots for a ridiculous price when you consider the ingredients]. Very fresh small ones are nice grated in a salad with lemon, olive oil and herbs. Bigger ones go in the soup or curry. They are actually very amenable to curries as they soak up all the flavour. Failing that you can stir fry, roast or try one of the 5 million sefardi recipes out there. I use them as a replacement for other green veg in asian cooking [pak choy etc very hard to get hold of here] and save a fortune. It’s all in the chopping.

You can get these giant round ones also very cheap. My vegetable delivery man instructed me to stuff them. So I did, a la good sefardi housewife, with meat and rice, tomato sauce and spices. Great friday night dinner – meal in a pot.  Jojo enjoyed doing the stuffing part of it.

This time of year there are people selling corn ears direct from the fields. Its lovely and fresh and I got 3.5 kilo for 20 shekel [he threw in an extra one at my request]. So its corn on the cob here at the moment which jojo loves [6 minutes with some water covered in the microwave, saves a lot of gas], or you can shave them and make asian soups or thai corn cakes with sweet chilli sauce [Husband adores.]

Tomatoes are ridiculously cheap at the moment. So its time for tomato soup, salad, matbucha, salsa, pasta sauces, and all those things that were just a distant dream a few months back. As it seems to be a mission to buy buy tinned tomatoes sans salt in this [blessed] land, there are those who make passata/sauces this time of year and freeze them. Probably a good idea if you have a baby in the house or just want a reduced salt diet.

Peaches/Nectarines are currently the fruit of the season. Split in half and put a dollop of mascarpone in them and stick under the grill a few mins. Fabulous dessert or breakfast. Can also serve with biscuits, riccota cheese and a bit of sugar. You can also add them to chicken salad or make a salad out of them with some lemon and coriander [cilantro].

For some reason apples are hideously expensive most of the year in the north and not very good. Avoid avoid. They do however sell pale green ones very cheaply which are fine for apple pies and things.

Bags of giant dried chillis very cheap from supermarkets or spice shops [designed for making morrocan fish] but much cheaper than buying chilli flakes at the supermarket and good if raw chillies are a bit strong for the baby. You can throw them in whole or crush ’em u0p and store them in a jar.

Tehina

As mentioned above in my visit to Tipat chalav, its very nutritious. Coupled with chickpeas you have all the vitamins and minerals you could ever need. The supermarkets have the different brands on special offer regularly – buy 4 for 3 or whatever. As it keeps for ages and frankly I havent noticed a taste difference in brands, I would say buy buy buy.

Olives

This is something Israel knows how to do. I knew olives were somewhat healthy but according to my research they are full of iron, vitamin E and all the right sort of fat. The ones on display at the supermarket are not so expensive and seem to be less salty and full of additives than the tinned ones, although don’t quote me on that. Anyway we have introduced them as a staple part of the traditional israel dinner of bread, cottage cheese, tomatoes/salad meal. Gone down very well.

Chickpeas [canned] are pricer [supermarket brands generally a shekel cheaper] but if you can be bothered get the dried ones from dahan or somewhere else where they sell by the bagload. Just make sure you soak them and cook them properly or your family will become an orchestra of wind instruments. Greatly amusing for those under 5 but still something one wants to avoid.

1 Comment

  1. We do travel to Dahan for our fruits and vegs, and I will say tht I buy grains and beans at dahan but generally leave them for 2 weeks before using as I have sometimes found that they have larvae that turn into worms within that time.

    I will say, though, that we do most of our shopping at Rami Levi, and if I lived further I would STILL do most of our shopping there. Why?

    .99/2 nis bags of pasta (every month or so)
    15 nis per kilo chicken breasts.
    10 nis per kilo whole chickens
    5 nis per kilo wings
    32 nis per kilo brazillian beef (no water added)

    We also buy Fresh Frozen tuna slices (where they freeze it immediately) and while it’s a bit pricey (32 nis per kilo) the fish doesn’t shrink like most, and it’s super yummy. I can get 6 meals out of a kilo for two adults.

    I don’t have any good recipes, but that’s some of our deals that we do. We eat a lot of chicken 🙂

    One day in the future when we have a freezer, tomatos will be bought by the tens of kilos and frozen for tomato sauces etc. As will many other fruits and vegs.

    Oh, and opt for the pink lady apples when they are in season — i’m going to plant — they are the most delicious apples ever, well worth the extra 2nis per kilo to buy

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