Tag Archives | Israel

somek winery


Off a main narrow road in Zichron Ya’acov, in a rather obscure location, you can find Somek. I wasn’t familiar with the winery or wine until a friend arranged a visit. On a whim, I had a chance to visit this small boutique winery, taste their wine and spend an afternoon with their vigneron.


Perched atop the south end of the Carmel Mountain range in Israel, overlooking the Mediterranean sea, Zichron is an alluring place to visit. A beautiful and unpretentious spot for a stroll, the downtown cobblestone streets are aligned with bistros, cafés and other eateries along with various shops and small boutiques where you can find hand-made crafts. Interspersed amongst homes and shops are a couple of museums, converted old buildings that share the history behind the place. The original agricultural based moshav was established in 1882 and called Zamirin. A year following, the Baron Edmond de Rothschild, taking interest in its success and supporting the early pioneers, became a patron. He changed the name of Zamirin to Zichron Ya’akov in memory of his father, Baron James de Rothschild of the world renowned winery Château Lafite. Playing a pivotal philanthropic role not only in the establishment of Zichron and other towns in Israel, the Baron also takes credit for bringing vines to Zichron and planting roots for a future wine industry as a way for the pioneers to support themselves. Winemaking in Israel, an ancient craft, dates back to biblical times. The pioneers of Zichron harnessed their passion to return to the land of their forefathers, and took on the challenge to bring back this ancient tradition. They cultivated the early vines from France, and along with the Baron, established one of Israel’s first wineries and bottling centers (another winery was founded slightly prior but around the same time by the Baron in Rishon LeZion).

Barak Dahan

Somek Estate’s Proprietor – Barak Dahan

Barak Dahan’s great-great-grandfather was one of the original families from Romania who helped establish Zichron. Barak’s family continued farming for generations, living and growing wine grapes near the area. Barak, a fifth generation farmer, in 2002 along with his wife Hila, who holds a Masters in Viticulture and Oenology from the University of Adelaide, Australia, decided to try their hand at crafting wine. They established Somek in Barak’s grandfather’s home and converted the old place into an operational winery.


Barak greeted us that sunny afternoon to share his personal history, and his experience with growing grapes to creating and bottling wine. He took us through the process, from vine to bottle, explaining in-depth each stage of winemaking. Recreating and describing each task, we toured Somek (which means “blush” in Hebrew), the indoor oak barrel room and ventured to the small office where Barak himself puts labels on the bottles, then gets the bottles ready for market. Continuing to grow grapes for the large wineries in the region, Barak and Hila dedicate a portion of their land to harvest their own grapes and create wine that first and foremost pleases their palate. A small boutique establishment, Somek produces roughly 10,000 bottles a year. The wine is crafted using traditional machinery though the end result is different than wine being bottled en masse by the more established wineries. The grapes are crushed in a manually operated old crusher and then moved in small buckets to French oak barrels for fermentation. This technique, and lack of filtering, is an effort to extract as much color from the grapes and preserve as much of the essence of the grapes as possible.


Somek’s Chardonnay for example is much deeper, almost golden in color, rich in fruit. Barak notes this might not win him points with old-school wine reviewers, but he jokes if the wine doesn’t win rave reviews, at least he and his family will have plenty of delicious wine to enjoy. Somek may be producing relatively small quantities, but a few top chefs and restaurants in Israel are already recognizing the high quality of Somek’s wine, giving it praise and are adding Somek to their wine list. Israel’s modern day boutique wine industry may be relatively young, but wineries such as Somek are producing results that are starting to impress wine connoisseurs and are garnering more attention.


After the detailed tour, and a chance to ask questions, we had a chance to taste Somek’s wine, starting with the Chardonnay. Rich and golden in color, with a lightly floral nose of honey and citrus blossoms, medium-bodied and lightly oaked, the wine was creamy with a mix of stone fruit and an almost spring-almond nutty taste. It was distinctly different than the Chardonnay’s I was more familiar with from California; this Chardonnay was well enjoyed.

After the Chardonnay we tasted the 2008 Adom (adom translates to red in Hebrew), comprised of 40% Syrah, 40% Carignan, 10% Malbec and 10% Mourvèdre. The Adom models a Côtes du Rhône or Rhone style wine. After fermentation, the wine was aged in French oak barrels for 24 months. Deep red in color with a nose of berries, and dark sweet cherries, medium-bodied and balanced tannins.

Onto the 2006 Bikat HaNadiv (this literally translates to “the generous valley”, the name of the valley pays homage to the late Baron Rothschild). Bikat HaNadiv is a Bordeaux style blend comprised of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. The grapes for this wine are picked and crushed the same day, then aged in French oak for 24 months. A floral nose of dark stone fruits, plums, and cocoa, the wine is also dark in color with a long finish.


It was the 2006 Carignan that I was most intrigued by, having not been familiar with this grape varietal or having tasted Carignan in pure form. Coming from old vines, the grapes are handpicked in the early hours of the morning and crushed the same day. After fermentation, the wine is oaked in French barrels for 24 months. The Carignan is not filtered, and after bottling, the wine continues to age for another two years before going to the market. On the nose, plums, blackberries, and currants along with dark fruits a just a hint of orange zest on the palate. Medium bodied, a nice balance of soft tannins, fruit and acidity and a long finish.

Limited on space, I brought back only one bottle of the Carignan to California, though my local friends bought several bottles of Somek wine to enjoy in their home in Zichron. I look forward to going back to the winery to enjoy more wine, meet Barak again and maybe even be lucky enough to visit the vineyards next time. For now, my bottle of Carignan and pictures remind me of a wonderful afternoon spent with friends. It was a terrific opportunity to hear first hand the effort that goes into making quality wine, spend time with a winemaker and visit a boutique winery that I hope will grow for many more wine enthusiasts to enjoy.


Discover more about Zichron Ya’acov, the Baron Edmond de Rothschild, visit Somek and learn more about the Carignan grape via these links:
Go Israel and Discover Zichron Ya’aacov
The Traveler
Zichron Ya’acov Home of Wine and Spies
Zichron Ya’acov – Home of Israeli Wine
Ramat Hanadiv Memorial Gardens
Jancis Robinson on Carignan
Israel Adventure: Somek Winery
Israel Wine Tour: Why We Love Taking Our Guests to Somek Winery

For more wines in Israel visit: Award Winning Wine in the Judean Hills: Flam Winery

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from jerusalem: kofta b’siniyah

A recently released cookbook that piqued my interest is ‘Jerusalem‘ by chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. While flipping through the pages, I found myself conjuring up the taste of many of the recipes and the ingredients that comprise them. The recipes reflect dishes I’ve eaten over the years with family or friends in some of the incredible restaurants in Jerusalem itself or throughout Israel. A number of the dishes are ones I prepare in some variation and are on my menu of comfort food here in California. This wonderful kofta recipe included.

Full of flavor, these savory meat kofta kebabs are incredibly appetizing. Good luck getting them plated, it’s hard to resist eating one or even a few straight out of the pan. Certainly guests will appreciate them on plate garnished with toasted pine nuts and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds.

Kofta (in Arabic) translates to meatball, though the flavor of this Middle Eastern variety differs from its Italian or American-Italian inspired counterpart. In Hebrew we call them ktsitsot, from the root word meaning chopped. Ktsitsot can be either comprised of ground meats or poultry, vegetables or some combination thereof, and there are even fish ktsitsot as well. Relatively easy to prepare, it’s a popular dish served in many homes. Sometimes we interchange the “torpedo” shaped ktsitsot basar (meatballs or meat patties) with the word kebab (also written kabab) like the Persian dish kabab koobideh. Kofta, ktsitsot, meatball, kebab, it all translates into something delicious, so let’s get to the recipe.

Kofta Ingredients
14 oz/ 400g ground lamb
14 oz / 400g ground veal or beef
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
7 tsp / 50g toasted pine nuts, roughly chopped, plus extra whole ones to garnish
1/2 cup 30g flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, plus extra to serve
1 large medium-hot red chilli, deseeded
and finely chopped
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
1½ tsp ground allspice
¾ tsp grated nutmeg
1½ tsp ground black pepper
1½ tsp salt
2/3 cup / 150g light tahini paste
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 medium clove of garlic, crushed
2 tbsp sunflower oil
sweet paprika, to garnish

* I’ll add a note here about tahini paste. Outside of Israel and the Middle East, tahini paste can be found at specialty markets and can even be found in some supermarkets. Whichever brand you buy, be sure to taste the ground sesame paste as is before mixing it up to create the sauce. Good tahini starts with great tahini paste and it should taste great on its own.

• Put all the kofta ingredients in a bowl and use your hands to mix everything together well. Now shape into long, torpedo-like fingers, roughly 3 1/4 or 8cm long (about 2 oz / 60g each). Press the mix to compress it and ensure the kofta is tight and keeps its shape. Arrange on a plate and chill until you are ready to cook them, for up to one day.

• In a medium bowl whisk together the tahini paste, lemon juice, water, garlic and a quarter of a teaspoon of salt. The sauce should be a bit runnier than honey; add one or two tablespoons of water if needed.

• Heat the sunflower oil in a large frying-pan and sear the kofta over a high heat; do this in batches so they are not cramped together. Sear them on all sides until golden brown, about six minutes for each batch. At this point they should be medium-rare. Lift out of the pan and arrange on an oven tray. If you want them medium or well-done, put the tray in the oven for two to four minutes.

• Spoon the tahini sauce around the kofta, so it covers the base of the tray. If you like, also drizzle some over the kofta but leave some of the meat exposed. Place in the oven for a minute or two, just to warm up the sauce a little.

• Scatter with pine nuts and parsley and finally sprinkle some paprika on top. Serve at once.

The story behind these two men and how they came together to capture the flavors of Jerusalem in one story is compelling. You can read more about it in Gourmet: When Yotam Met Sami. There’s even more meatball recipes to enjoy by Yotam Ottolenghi, and certainly grab a fork to enjoy kofta b’siniyah. Bon appétit, in Hebrew we say b’tayavon and in Arabic belhana wel shefa!

Be sure to follow #TastingJrslm on Twitter to enjoy more Jerusalem recipes.

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in the old city of jerusalem

I love the street foods of Israel. With a multitude of accessible small shops, kiosks and bakeries that deliver savory along with sweet delights, there’s always something within reach for a bite or drink on the go. Ripe fruit can be squeezed on the spot and turned into a cup of fresh juice. For something more filling, flaky pastries such as burekas, or sambusak, a calazone-like turnover filled with either cheese, sautéed vegetables or minced meat fillings is a quick fix. There’s of course toast which is actually a panini, or Israel’s version of grilled cheese, a variety of flatbreads to choose from including a favorite which is covered with a blend of herbs known as za’atar, and of course there’s falafel. The list goes on and it provides an endless menu of tasty foods to find on the run.

Slowing down for a moment to stroll through the Old City of Jerusalem, in the winter you’ll be delighted to find sahlab. The hot creamy drink is available throughout Israel (and the Levant in fact) though not always easy to spot. Sahlab, also written as sakhleb, salep, or saalab is essentially made from “dried tubers of various Old World orchids”. The orchid roots are ground into a flour or powder that’s high in starch, and when combined with milk creates a pudding like drink that’s a treat especially in cold weather. It’s topped with shredded coconut, toasted pistachio pieces and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Here the sahlab is kept warm in a beautiful ornamental metal jug and the toppings are stored in decorative wooden boxes.

Sesame bagels, referred to as “bagaleh” in Hebrew is another popular street food that can be found year round. Though called a bagel, the dough is quite different than your typical New York New Jersey variety. Eaten as is these can be covered with sesame or za’atar. If you’re curious for a bite (or miss these from back home) here’s a recipe and guide on how to prepare: Jerusalem Bagles

Mild weather the day of my stroll through the City of David; warm with blue skies and a bright sun that illuminated the limestone, and as it set turned the city to gold. Walking through Jerusalem you’ll find not only a tasty bite to enjoy, but a feast for the eyes and nourishment for the soul.

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the port market: shuk hanamal tel aviv

Now just a few years old, Shuk HaNamal which translates to The Port Market, is a trendy albeit family friendly destination in uptown Tel Aviv. Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the indoor market is a few steps away from the sand, the newly built building adjacent to remnants of an old port and an existing boardwalk that now caters to a new crowd. Inside this emporium you can find a smorgasbord of foods, such as a wide variety of pickles, breads, baked goods, a wonderful selection of halva a tahini or sesame paste sweet confection, along with a wine shop, charcuterie, cheese stop and you can shop for organic produce here. It’s a comfortable place to meander through, to stop and taste a bite of something simple or gourmet, enjoy a gelato or even pack a few things for a nearby picnic. Shuk HaCarmel, a bustling farmers market in central Tel Aviv, may be the spot to stock up on for produce, but in both destinations you can enjoy a taste of Israel. And there’s nothing like experiencing and exploring with your taste buds. Enjoy the market.

Enjoy more of the Port Market at Slow Food or go People Watching at Shuk HaNamal with Sarah Melamed. Find more markets to visit at Go Israel. And directions to and hours of Shuk HaNamal at shuknamal.co.il

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sweet sufganiyot and the foods of hannukah

If you could walk through the streets of Jerusalem, or anywhere in Israel this time of year, you’ll catch a distinct whiff in the air of foods frying in oil. Mixed with sweet or savory flavors, it’s one way to whet your appetite and warm your soul in the cold winter. When your mouth finally gets to participate, a few bites and your taste buds are drenched in crispy fried goodness. It’s of course Hannukah, a time when oil fried foods are the king of the plate for eight days (sometimes even for weeks prior). And for many observing traditions, dairy products such as cheese pancakes or rugelach cookies are also on the menu.

Traditional foods eaten on this joyous holiday include the ever popular potato pancake, levivot in Hebrew, latkes in Yiddish. Sufganiyot, from the word ‘sponge’ in Hebrew, yeast based doughnuts are typically filled with jelly or dulce de leche and are a huge treat. In more recent years bakeries throughout Israel have come up with wildly creative flavors (similar to the cupcake phenomenon in the United States). I agree with Cafe Liz though, they’re a bit too sweet for my taste and on this holiday I prefer a little more traditional flavors (at least when it comes to doughnuts). But if you enjoy something less vanilla (or in this case very vanilla) doughnut flavors range from pistachio to rose petal to chocolate orange and are fun to experience (at least once).

Another doughnut that’s a real treat and made in Moroccan households over the holiday is called sfinj. My mother in-law dusts sfinj with powdered sugar when they’ve cooled a bit, but usually we’re hovering around the frying pan so they never even make it to a plate. Serve, as with most Moroccan dishes, with hot mint tea.

Even if you don’t celebrate Hannukah (also spelled Chanukah, Chanukkah or Chanuka), the Festival of Lights is a time your taste buds can celebrate the traditions and hopefully you can experience an evening of good food, friends and candle lighting no matter where you are in the world.

Explore more details about the history of the foods enjoyed over Hannukah, and try these great recipes:

Food History
Go Jerusalem | Why Eat Dairy and Oily Foods on Chanukah
Epicurious | Encyclopedia of Jewish Foods
L.A. Times Food | The little pancake with a big history
The Shiksa In The Kitchen on PBS | Discover the History of Latkes During Hanukkah

OMG Yummy | Eight Potato Latke Recipes
Food Bridge | Leek Patties and Hannukah, Time for Cauliflower Fritters
Tablet | Video: Joan Nathan Makes The Ultimate Latke
NPR | Beyond Latkes: Eight Nights of Fried Delights
Epicurious | How to Make Rugelach
Food 52 | Moroccan Donuts – Sfinj
SF Gate | Hannukah Sufganiyot a Simpler Approach
Karin Goren | Bakery Style Sufganiyot (in Hebrew)

In Hebrew we say “b’tayavon” bon appetite and “hag samech” Happy Hannukah!

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symbolic blue

photos du jour

All across Israel it’s possible to find the most beautiful doors. From vintage to modern styles, fabricated from wood or metal or other creative material, on private limestone homes or public sanctuaries, the doors can be found in many shades of symbolic blue.

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the shwartzman dairy

A visit to the old and tiny one street village of Bat Shlomo will make you feel as though you took a trip back in time. The small agricultural settlement, known as a moshav in Hebrew, and being even smaller referred to as a moshava, was established in 1889 as an offshoot to the neighboring town of Zikhron Ya’akov.

Beyond the few stone houses along a tree-lined narrow road rests fields, farmyards and a few scattered vineyards. Though rustic countryside is what awaits you when you journey here, the reason for venturing to Bat Shlomo would be no doubt to have a bite at the quaint dairy shop and restaurant owned by the Shwartzman family.

As you enter the enclave down a stone paved entrance way you’re greeted by vintage paraphernalia that dangle off trees and other knickknacks that align the pathway. A chicken coop rests off to the side along with an outdoor seating area. Moments after entering inside the shop you’ll be warmly greeted by Ziv Shwartzman, third generation farmer, cheese maker, olive oil producer and owner of the Shwartzman Dairy.

Before you’ve had a chance to gather your bearings, Ziv will be tempting you with bites of assorted cheeses and house cured olives, and while you are busy tasting cheese, your eyes are tempted to wander around the room. The small shop functions as a museum of sorts; old jars and cans along with framed articles and signs that capture the history of the Shwartzman family and the dairy itself are scattered throughout the place.

Over the years, whether I was living in Israel or going back for a visit to see family and friends, I’d stop here to buy olives, sometimes some cheese, dulce de leche and herbal tea or za’atar a popular spice mixture. The dulce de leche was unfortunately phased out over the years but instead the dairy shop expanded their menu to include other homemade specialties.

Sitting down on the small wooden stools to dine on Arabic textile covered tables, it’s fun to enjoy a bite of warm pita or lafah bread, salad, an assortment of cheeses, mostly goat with some cow varieties, as well as labaneh and an olive platter. There’s also house made olive oils for dipping. Ziv is outgoing and hospitable, entertaining each visitor as though they were a personal guest in his home. He also tends to dole out bits of humor along with lunch for an afternoon of entertainment. Hot tea, a house-made blend, or black coffee is perfect after the meal.

The Shwartzman Dairy in Bat Shlomo is certainly a quaint leisurely rest stop or perhaps a vehicle to take you back in time to enjoy a bite of local history and a bite of olives and cheese.

To learn more about the shop and moshava visit:
Bat Shlomo and the Shwarztman Dairy

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strolling through a spice market


It’s hard to describe most open-air markets as tranquil, certainly not markets in the Middle East. People often walk with a purpose when visiting the market, they hardly stroll. Between the hustle and bustle of shoppers crowding the pavement and vendors actively seeking buyers in an effort to sell their goods, there’s too much excitement going on for shopping in a souq to be deemed relaxing. Even the vibrant colors of spices, produce or knickknacks dangling from windows scream for attention.

For a moment though while visiting the spice market on Levinsky Street in Tel Aviv, known as Shuk Levinsky, I was lost in thought. These pictures collectively capture some of the quieter moments standing at the entrance of a few small shop fronts. The images blend together and somehow reflect my disposition at that moment. I was pondering the origin of markets and trying to conjure up the history of the spice trade. Alas, my thoughts set sail on a long journey back in time. For a moment though I allowed myself to just revel in the simple and enjoy the sights, the sounds and the scents of strolling through the spice market.







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