Jerusalem — Just a few years ago, finding an Israeli caterer who was prepared to make healthy simcha food was a time-consuming and sometimes impossible mission. More often than not, super-health-conscious clients either had to compromise or prepare the food themselves.
Today, as Israelis have become more aware of what they put in their bodies and AS demand for healthy foods has grown, so too have the options for health-food catering.
While “healthy” catering still isn’t mainstream, it’s now possible to find caterers who specialize in food that is rich in nutrients and free of preservatives. Some caterers prepare food that is strictly vegetarian, even vegan, while others are ready to incorporate meat dishes with vegetarian fare.
Depending on the menu and who’s doing the catering, the price per guest for the food alone can be as low as $15 and as high as $50. Organic food is generally much pricier than non-organic offerings. Five years ago, Israeli-born Gil Maoz opened Aba Gil Organic Food (Tel: 972-3-566-3320), a vegan restaurant in Tel Aviv that also offers catering. The menu is wheat-free, dairy-free and egg-free, but whole wheat bread, baked elsewhere (so there is no danger of gluten contamination), is available upon request.
A practitioner of Tibetan medicine, Gil launched his business after adopting a strict vegan lifestyle in order to feel healthier.
Over time, Gil, said, “I began to realize that there were less and less places for me to eat out. I saw there was a big need for a restaurant offering this kind of food, and the longer I’m in the business, I love it more and more. For me, food is nutrition and nutrition is what gives you life.”
Gil has catered events for hundreds of people, though he is just as happy to cater a smaller simcha. Popular items on his menu include all kinds of egg-free/dairy-free/wheat-free vegetable quiches, lentil meatballs, quinoa, vegetable stews and salads. Aba Gil is also renowned for its hummus.
Because his restaurant doesn’t use several staples, “food allergies are scarce,” Gil said. “I don’t use potatoes because they’re full of sugar and very low on nutrition. We don’t fry things and we don’t use sugar or vinegar.”
Healthy Bite (Bis Bari in Hebrew, www.bisbari.com), a catering company based in Modi’in, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, also offers only organic food. Launched two years ago, the company offers vegetarian, vegan, dairy and fish options.
“One of the things I do is customize menus for people with dietary restrictions,” said Paul Hyams, Healthy Bite’s British-Australian owner. “They have nowhere else to go at the level I can create it.”
Healthy Bite’s specialties include antipasti such as peppers, zucchini, tomatoes and red opinions seasoned with lemon, parsley and olive oil; cucumber and mint soup; crispy skinned Asian salmon in a honey, soy, garlic and sesame sauce; and apple pie with a whole wheat or spelt crust.
The food created by Shmuel Stern, the young owner of Choose Life Catering (www.chooselifecatering.moonfruit.com) in Jerusalem, is largely inspired by the famed Moosewood restaurant/commune in Ithaca, N.Y., where Stern spent time in college hanging out and cooking in the kitchen.
“I can’t say it was a cooking school, but there were a lot of people with their mother’s and grandmother’s recipes that they made into healthy food,” said Stern, 29, who was born in Moscow but raised in Brooklyn.
Stern’s philosophy is “When it comes to healthy food, taste has to come even before health. Food is an emotional thing and if it doesn’t connect to you emotionally, you won’t stay with it.”
Stern’s catering company is an outgrowth of the time he spent studying in Jerusalem.
“I was in yeshiva and noticed that a lot of the guys were very unhappy about the yeshiva food. I cooked for myself and they asked, ‘Can I try some?’ Soon, guys from other yeshivas heard and asked me to cook.”
Stern decided to open a catering company about a year ago, after he got married. He caters Shabbat meals and events and has a take-out menu, mostly vegetarian (organic on demand), but meat can be prepared as well. He uses minimal salt, no white flour and no sugar.
The food is a fusion of the Far East and Middle East, Stern said. “I do use a lot of spices but the food is flavorful rather than spicy.”
Favorite dishes include dill and oregano hummus; green-olive tapenade with red wine; triple-stuffed eggplant (eggplant with zucchini and carrots baked with white wine); mint tabouli; white beans and tofu; fried zucchini slices with fresh zatar; and Waldorf salad with pomegranates and date honey.
Nature lovers planning an Israeli simcha for up to 50 guests might want to consider holding it at Moshav Meor Modi’im, which was home to rabbi-musician Shlomo Carlebach.
Dina Solomon (firstname.lastname@example.org), a longtime resident of the moshav and a former American hippie (she gave birth to one of her eight children in a Redwood tree house in Northern California), does healthy catering with Judy Avraham Chai, owner of the Chai Family Eco Farm, also on the moshav. The farm has a large pleasant patio for dining and a serene property filled with small animals and exotic birds that visitors are encouraged to touch and hold.
When Solomon’s husband had “a Yiddishkeit attack” and the family moved to the moshav in 1976, there were no stores nearby, so Solomon — who once lived in a commune — made do with the basics.
Recently, Solomon penned a cookbook, Wild Figs for Breakfast, which includes many of her favorite recipes. Her specialties are dishes with whole grains, fresh farm bread, roasted vegetables, dips (pesto, matboocha, eggplant, sunflower seed pate), and quiches made with organic goat cheese produced on the Chai’s farm.
An Earth Mother in every sense of the word (she recently delivered her grandchild at home when her daughter-in-law couldn’t make it to the hospital on time), Solomon takes food seriously.
“I really believe food should be our medicine,” she said. “Food gives us life.”