Orange trees line the streets of many of Israel's city hubs but particularly in Tel Aviv-Yafo, the “jaffa” orange in particular can be seen as a symbol of all things seasonality in the incredibly diverse cuisine of Israel.
For a modern cook, seasonality can be a pain point or cause of frustration, as we are so used to having our shelves stocked with all types of ingredients all year round.
However, in Israel, chefs view the seasonal ingredients as a sailor would view a gust of wind - we don’t sail into it, we just enjoy the direction we are taken in.
Israel has a focus on its produce, ensuring they are eaten in season, it not only means the ingredients you are cooking with taste better (and how they should) but it is also better for the environment. As we now look into the seasons with more detail and the produce that is grown we will see what Israelis are often waiting for with baited breath.
Autumn is a time of year in Israel, which is filled with holidays and celebrations as well as a change in the weather that sees cooler temperatures hit the shores of Tel aviv. The first olive oil begins to be pressed and frozen snacks are swapped for hearty casseroles.
In the fall harvest we begin to see a variety of fruits ready to pick such as, dates, pomegranates, mangoes and grapefruits. Autumn’s vegetables are perfect for warming dishes - squashes and root vegetables begin to take shape along with aubergines and mushrooms. Israelis at this time of year enjoy butternut squash, corn, sweet potato, cabbages and leeks.
As some farmers begin to pluck the dates and fruits from their trees or pull the squashes from the ground, other farmers are getting ready for the rain to come along with winter. This signifies the beginning of the planting season with lettuces, carrots and cauliflower placed into the ground.
As the cold winter really takes hold of the country, and the stone buildings of Jerusalem suffer from the lack of insulation, the chefs cookbooks turn to warming soups and slow cooked stews.
From the hearty root vegetables that grow in autumn the kitchen pantries in Israel during winter become more reliant on ambient ingredients, such as ground spices and dried pulses. Chefs and cooks alike will also make use of any preserved ingredients from earlier in the year and also all year round ingredients such as flour to make cakes and sweet treats.
Winter brings in many dishes that people who aren’t “in the know”, would think of being typically levantine. The dishes are warming and hearty, often made with chickpeas and other pulses alike, they feature warming broths and hearty vegetables. Next, on the seasonality charts is spring.
In Israel, spring can often feel like it comes and goes in the blink of an eye. Often symbolised by greenery in its markets as well as the greenery across the sweeping mountains to the north near Galilee.
During spring we see the introduction of citrus fruits once again, along with plentiful green leaves and in some parts of the country, green almonds and freekah (the roasted super grain). Fruits at this time of year vary from grapes to cherry tomatoes and avocado, and then further into the season we see vegetables like sweet peppers, Batata (sweet potato) and kohlrabi.
Spring brings a huge variety of dishes that many chefs get excited to create and adapt.
Along with the warming of the weather, the countryside bursts with green shoots - a perfect amazing time to be cooking with ingredients that are ripe for picking. All your dishes will taste fresher and be better for you.
Finally, the Summer sun is fierce in the Levant and much of the green scenery turns golden. This sunshine also brings the sweetest yields of the year, with stone fruits, more varieties of tomatoes and bananas.
At this time of year, chefs have an abundance of cherries, grapes and peaches to use. At this time of year when the temperatures are high, cooks and chefs often use hot sour soups to help cool the body.
The summer brings an abundance of produce that shapes menus across the season. The Levantine cook uses a variety of different dishes to keep the body cool and take advantage of all the amazing produce.
The region has embraced seasonal cooking with both hands - making sure that every dish that is cooked is made with the freshest ingredients. So why not take a leaf out of the Levantine cook book and let the seasons provide a framework to your cooking, embracing produce at its freshest, and helping out the environment while you’re at it.