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Israeli Breakfast Buffet Parfait

by Rob Eshman

September 24, 2013 | 8:19 am

Israeli Breakfast Buffet Parfait

The Israeli Breakfast Buffet Parfait is my attempt to recreate Israel in a glass.

The normal breakfast in an Israeli hotel is an endless buffet of fresh vegetables, pickles, olives, salted fish, fresh cheeses, boiled eggs, fresh breads, olive oil and za'atar.  I was 12 when I first laid eyes on one, and it was THE one: the breakfast buffet at the Sheraton Tel Aviv, which back then was the upscale American hotel of choice.  The buffet was laid out on huge tables, and one thing struck my groggy, jet-lagged pre-teen eyes immediately: no pancakes.  No sweet sickly syrup smell.  No greasy bacon (of course).  And even more astonishing: for breakfast,  these people ate VEGETABLES.

I fell in love.

My taste buds have always leaned salty over sweet, and the combination of truly good tomatoes and cucumbers, the marjoram-and-sesame spice mixed called za'atar, and fresh olive oil, along with homemade yogurts and soft fresh goat cheese-- that obliterated the desire for all the oily Grand Slams and IHOP platters I'd called breakfast in America.  After one of those gut bombs I felt gross.  After an Israeli breakfast, I felt-- well, Israeli.

The Israeli breakfast buffet evolved from kibbutz breakfast, when the workers would come in to the dining hall from their very early morning labors and go down the mess line, essentially eating what they or other kibbutzim had grown and made.  

I've since had dozens of Israeli breakfasts, at Hiltons, Dans, little B & Bs, private homes, and of course kibbutzim.  They range from spartan (the kibbutz) to over-the-top (Dan Panorama).  The one that stands out as the best was at Mitzpe Yamim, a resort overlooking the Sea of Galilee.  The vegetables were locally grown, the breads homemade, the cheese made from goats I petted on my way to the dining hall, the olive oil local and even the za'atar picked and dried and ground on site.  That's the Israeli breakfast I dream of.

And it was the one I tried to recreate in a glass this morning. 

I diced cucumbers, tomatoes and avocado, and layered them in a martini glass with Redhill Farms goat yogurt, along with chopped kalamata olives. I topped it with za'atar and strong green olive oil (Sultan from Lebanon, $17 for 3 liters at Sunland Produce-- get some).

And the first taste: Israel.  Mitzpe Yamim. 2007.  Take me back.

[RECIPE]

Foodaism's Israeli Breakfast Buffet Parfait

(Serves 4) 

1 large fresh tomato, diced

1 cucumber, diced

1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted

1 avocado, diced

1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil

1 T. za'atar (optional)

2 cups goat yogurt, or any high quality yogurt

In 4 shallow glasses, layer cucumber, tomatoes and avocado and yogurt in any order you like.  You can blend  the three or make separate layers.   Top with yogurt and chopped olives and za'atar, and drizzle with olive oil.

Serve.

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