The vegetable kitchen; photo by Lior Cohen.

Israeli Defense Forces soldiers in the Negev desert were treated to a “home-cooked meal” by American and Israeli chefs, bakers and “foodies” this week. The food specialists, a group of 26 Americans joined by 10 Israelis, are participating in a 10-day niche Taglit-Birthright Israel culinary group.

This niche culinary tour of Israel has provided participants from all over the US with a very different kind of Israel experience. These participants, who work as chefs, bakers and food critics, or are simply unabashed food enthusiasts (“foodies”), have experienced a wine tour in the Carmel, food tasting in Machane Yehuda (the shuk/market) in Jerusalem, mixed with Israeli chefs, picked fresh vegetables in a greenhouse in the desert and experienced Bedouin hospitality.

Michelle Leeds from Boston prepares the Basboosa (semolina cake); photo by Lior Cohen.

The participants agreed that there have been many highlights of this Taglit food experience.  However, the biggest highlight of the trip so far had been a preparing a “home-cooked” meal for soldiers far from home.

Daniel Levin, executive chef of the Berlyn restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, and one of the “committee” that arranged the meal and the menu, said the experience was so different from what he usually does in restaurants. “It’s more like ‘Dinner Impossible’, which is a TV show back home. We came here without knowing what we had, but we wanted to make sure that we made the best meal that we possibly could for the soldiers, and I think we really succeeded. They don’t get the greatest food all the time and we were able to introduce some new ingredients to their meal and make a difference, so it has been a really special experience for me.”

IDF soldiers with more choice than usual; photo Lior Cohen.

The menu was something soldiers don’t usually experience on base – a vegetable and pasta soup to start, followed by a choice of chicken breast marinated in coconut milk, ginger and curry or chicken breast glazed with honey, soy and garlic and some mediterranean spices, with garlic rice and a variety of vegetable side dishes. Dessert was a choice between apple or pear crumble and Basboosa (semolina pudding – a recipe from North African and Middle Eastern countries).