IMA Cuisine: An Israeli Mothers’ Kitchen

middle-easatern-eggsThe recipe for Middle Eastern Eggs which follows is perfect for an easy and nutritious breakfast or brunch. It comes from a delightful new cookbook by Israeli born Yael Schochat who runs Ima Cuisine, one of Auckland’s most popular eateries.

In this her first cookbook Yael shares the food she loves from her home land.

Israel is one of the world’s greatest cultural crossroads. Over the centuries foreign rulers, and in more recent times, immigrants from all over the world have added to the rich culinary tapestry found in the Israeli kitchen.

Which is why the contemporary Israeli dishes Yael serves in her restaurant, and cooks at home, show influences from many parts of the world including the Middle East, the Mediterranean, North Africa and Europe.

With lots of tasty and healthy recipes for every meal of the day as well as Mazetim Nibbles (the Israeli version of mezze) there is lots to choose from.

ima-cuisineIn the bustling city of Tel Aviv, where Yael spent some time, coffee and pastries are an institution in which she loved to indulge. It encouraged her to put her scientific background to good use and to perfect the art of making scrumptious Danish pastries, jam doughnuts and brioche scrolls. All have a European rather than a Middle Eastern influence.

It’s been an anxious week for us as like so many others we have children and friends who live in the quake stricken areas. At such a time there is nothing like comfort food to assuage one’s anxiety. So Yael’s Mother’s favourite recipe for a homey chicken casserole served with mashed potatoes was really appreciated.

Her roasted eggplant salad is tossed with garlic, parsley, mint and basil. The dressing included some reduced balsamic which was simply made by gently simmering balsamic vinegar until it became an intensely flavoured syrupy liquid, simultaneously sweet and sour.

We love spanakopita , but didn’t have any filo pastry to hand so I cooked her Balkan Omelette using the same garlicky spinach and feta filling with a hint of nutmeg (a very, very simplified version of a Julia Child recipe says Yael).It was  very tasty and sufficiently filling to serve as a light vegetarian dinner.

Shakshuka, a recipe in which eggs are poached on a base of spicy tomatoes, was introduced to Israel by North African Jews. It has become a popular item on our local café menus recently. This breakfast staple can also be eaten for lunch or dinner.

The recipe for it is in her cook book, as well as one for Green Shakshuka, an intriguing variation. It turned out to be equally tasty. An added advantage is that you only need one pot.


Sometimes called ‘green shakshuka’, this is another dish where eggs are poached in their serving sauce. We find that a large frying pan holds half this recipe well, so if you are making the full amount you might need to have two pans going at the same time. If you can’t get any sumac, the juice of half a lemon can sharpen up the sauce in its place. As with shakshuka, don’t skimp on the bread. A chewy Turkish pide or Italian ciabatta works just as well as a soft pita or challah here.

Serves 4

15g butter

4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 1/2 tsp sumac

750g fresh spinach, preferably large leaves,

tough stalks cut away and leaves roughly


flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 eggs

4 or more slices good white bread

Melt the butter in a large frying pan for which you have a lid. Cook the garlic over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes until soft and only very lightly golden brown. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the sumac, add the spinach and a pinch of salt, stir, and place the lid on the pan for 3–4 minutes to allow the spinach to wilt.

Remove the lid, stir well and make eight wells in the mixture with the back of a tablespoon (don’t make the wells right at the edge of the pan, or the eggs inside will cook too quickly). Crack an egg into each well and sprinkle the spinach with 2 tablespoons of water. Replace the lid and cook on low until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny. Sprinkle the eggs with salt and pepper and the remaining sumac.

Divide the spinach and eggs between four wide, shallow bowls. Serve immediately, with the bread on the side.

Recipes extracted from Ima Cuisine by Yael Shochat with David Cohen, published by Random House NZ, RRP: $55.00. Photography by Callum Thomas.

By Lyn Potter. Read more here.