Farm Flavors From Israel

SUNDAY GOURMET

September 04, 1994|By Gail Forman

Tova Admoni's house was hard to find, perched as it is on the summit of Mount Kamon in the Western Galilee region not far from the Lebanese border. But finding it was worth the trouble, and not only for the stunning view of rugged hills and ancient olive orchards. For how often does a tourist in Israel get the chance to chat with a resident and enjoy a delicious home-cooked meal?

Two years ago, seeking a way to supplement the income from her job as security officer for a Jewish settlement, Ms. Admoni turned her art-filled living room into a small restaurant. She calls it Good Meal. She serves "typical Galilee foods," including wild greens that she picks for salads. Guests must reserve two days ahead because everything is cooked from scratch, she says, "except the bread and the ice cream."

Pickled fennel and pickled fresh almonds still in their fuzzy skins were the delicious appetizers she served the night I was there. Marinated eggplants, cucumbers, lentils and cauliflower and assorted greens sprinkled with sumac powder comprised the salad course. That was followed by whole onions stuffed with allspice-flavored rice, pine nuts and prunes and whole tomatoes stuffed with olives, parsley, garlic and basil.

The main course was smoked chicken and a stew of wild pig. The stew meat was given to her by neighbors who hunt the feral creatures. Ms. Admoni marinated the pork overnight in beer, then seasoned it with nutmeg and fresh bay leaves and stewed it with wine and vegetables.

Good as these dishes were, for me the highlight was Ms. Admoni's cold yogurt soup, the best I have ever tasted. The cucumber, mint, scallions and garlic she adds to flavor the soup make it distinctive.

I'm sure that the real secret to the soup's extraordinary quality is its yogurt. Never much of a yogurt fan, I learned to appreciate the fine points of excellent yogurt in Israel. I got my education at Hardoof, a farm settlement founded in 1982 with the goal of bringing spiritualism into daily life and agricultural pursuits. The farm's organically produced, thick, creamy, full-flavored yogurt taught me the difference between the real and the ersatz.

Back home, I found that tangy whole-milk yogurt yields the rich results of the soup I liked so much in Israel. But for health reasons, I substituted premium low-fat yogurt with live, active cultures and a thoroughly sour taste (only about 140 calories per cup). This way, I can safely eat the soup often -- and be reminded of a region rich in history and Tova Admoni's friendly presence.

TOVA ADMONI'S YOGURT SOUP

2 cups tart plain yogurt

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely chopped

4 scallions, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

24 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste

Mint sprigs for garnish

Pita bread, optional

Beat together yogurt and lemon juice until smooth. Stir in cucumber, scallions, garlic, mint, salt and pepper. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight. Garnish and serve with fresh or toasted pita bread. Serves 3-4.

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