Mediterranean in Little Italy: Tel Aviv Springtime on a Plate
Chef Olivia Hayo of Beautiful Food Inside + Out re-creates her culinary memories of the Mediterranean using inspiration, and local, seasonal ingredients, from her home in San Diego's Little Italy. This week, the confident fusion of colors and flavors in Tel Aviv inspire a vibrant cauliflower dish.
Thick, humid air clung to our skin as we zig-zagged, chasing the shade of awnings and trees on the Neve Tzedek roads. A cooling sea breeze swept through the nearly still afternoon as we made our way down Shabazi Street. We were searching for just the right spot for a late lunch, in what had become our usual weekend routine.
Rows of ivy-wrapped buildings housed sidewalk cafes. Their lazy cats stood watch as clotheslines sagged with the linens of the residents who lived above.
Bright blue shutters and fuchsia bougainvillea brightened the sleepy neighborhood in southern Tel Aviv.
Many of the cafes had already closed for the day, though some would reopen with the setting of the sun. A popular terrace sat in the shade of a large ficus tree. Diners still sat and sipped from sweating glasses of iced coffee. We had found our place.
A quick glance at the menu and I was won over: charred eggplant with feta, fragrant spiced couscous with prunes, and rice stuffed vegetables and savory pastries. We settled on a mix of hot and cold starters and ordered two glasses of limonana arak, an anise scented spirit blended with ice, lemon juice, and fresh mint.
We sipped the refreshing drinks and, from our light-dappled table, we watched sun-beaten locals pass by on their way to the sandy shores of Yafo beach, only ten minutes down the lane.
The dishes arrived and were as good as the view. They were balanced with warm spices, cooling sauces, and crunchy finishes that were perfect paired with the bright acidity of our drinks.
As a chef back in San Diego, I lean heavily on the influence of the styles of food I encountered in Israel. There, the confident, seasonal approach to creating a meal makes combining familiar and new ingredients in unexpected ways a routine undertaking.
It was with this attitude that I created this vibrant dish, first poaching a whole cauliflower head in a bath of amber-hued turmeric, pungent garlic, and black pepper, then roasting it until golden and tender. The result is a stunningly vibrant yellow cauliflower that’s fit to be the centerpiece of any meal. Paired with creamy garlic-tahini, spicy green zhoug, and toasted hazelnuts, it’s a love letter to Tel Aviv.