Sunday, November 10, 2013

Reef House Benedict

Although technically a part of Israel (depending on who you talk to it's sometimes called the West Bank), Palestine is separated from Israel with a guarded fence.  My friend Jamie, my thesis advisor Jaime, and I boarded a bus from Jerusalem and made the 2 hour trek to cover the 13.5 miles between Jerusalem, Israel and Ramallah, Palestine.  We went through checkpoints, showed our passports and visas, etc.  It was intense.

Jaime, me, and Jamie visiting Aida Refugee Camp.  The massive amount of trash you see behind us was a continuous theme in Palestine.  So sad.

We spent a pleasant evening smoking hookah and learning about the situation between Israel and Palestine from a friend-of-a-friend who happened to be working in Ramallah at the time (hi Tochi!) before turning in to a pension my advisor had found.  All the reviews of the Reef House Pension said that the owners (George and Iman) are the nicest people in the world.  This was not far from the truth (although people in Palestine were generally friendly and helpful).  The next morning Iman greeted us with an amazing breakfast spread, which she said was a typical Palestinian breakfast.  It included tomatoes, cucumbers, this bologna-like meat, a hardboiled egg, thick and tart yogurt, brine-y sheep cheese, hummus, tahini, olives, and flatbread with harissa, sweet olive oil, and za'atar for seasoning.  I can't begin to describe how delicious this was.  In fact, I think that the food in Palestine made up 3 of the best meals I ate while in the Middle East.

After breakfast we packed our bags, thanked George and Iman, and headed first to Taybeh to taste Palestine's only craft beer and then to Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity and to talk to people living in the Aida refugee camp.  Although I could go on and on and on about this part of my summer trip, I will suffice to say that I left with my eyes opened a little wider and my heart a little larger.  I think this trip was important, and I would recommend it to anyone.

Taybeh beer-- hooray beer!
A tribute at the entrance of Aida Camp to dead Palestinian prisoners of war.

Reef House Benedict Instructions

1) Prepare the tahini hollandaise.

     2 egg yolks
     Juice of 2 lemons
     2 tbsp. tahini
     1/4- 1/2 tsp. harissa paste (this is a hot Arabic spice paste that you can get in Middle Eastern grocery stores, the Arabic section of Whole Foods, or on

     a) In a very small pan, heat tahini over med-low until it is hot.  Be careful and stir often because it will burn if left unattended or heated over too high of heat.
     b) Put your egg yolks, harissa, and lemon juice in a food processor or blender and blend until fully combined and slightly foamy.
     c) While blending, very slowly drizzle the hot tahini through the hole in the top of the food processor or blender.  Take your time with this-- it should take between 1-2 minutes to get all the tahini in the bowl of the processor.  You want to do this slowly so that you don't scramble your egg yolks.

As you can see if you look closely, I added the tahini too fast and some of it stuck to the side of the blender.  You don't want to do this so make sure to drizzle it super slowly!

     d) Keep the hollandaise warm over a double-boiler set on low heat.  Make sure to whisk it every couple of minutes to keep it emulsified, and add water as needed to maintain a good hollandaise consistency.

2) Get your ingredients completely prepared to assemble the benedicts.  I can't stress enough how important this is because you don't want to be fiddling this stuff while poaching your eggs or else you can easily over-poach the eggs.

     4 pieces Middle Eastern flatbread (I was lazy and bought mine at Trader Joe's.  If you're ambitious enough to make your own flatbread, there's a really good looking Palestinian flatbread recipe here.)
     High-quality feta cheese (I get mine at Trader Joe's; there's a brand called Pastures of Eden that I love)
     4 small tomatoes, preferable campari or similar varieties
     Extra Virgin Olive Oil for drizzling
     1/4- 1/2 cup hummus (I make my own following this recipe from Smitten Kitchen)
     za'atar (you can buy this at a Middle Eastern grocery store or on

     a) Warm the flatbread by wrapping it in a damp towel and placing it in a 200 degree oven.
     b) Slice the feta so that you have 4 slices that are each 1/8-1/4 inch thick--slices should be big enough to cover a piece of flatbread.  If you need, cut more slices and place them side-by-side.
     c) Slice the tomatoes into about 6 slices per tomato.
     d) Get out hummus, EVOO, and za'atar so that they're all in easy reaching distance.

3) Get your poaching equipment ready.  You'll need a 10-12" high sided skillet filled with water to 1/2-1" from the top of the skillet, 2 tbsp. white or apple cider vinegar in that water, a plate that can withstand heat placed at the bottom of the skillet (so that your eggs will never touch the heat), 4 eggs, a small saucer, and a slotted spoon.  Heat your water to gently simmering.

4) When your water is just about to start simmering, prepare your benedicts.

     a) Place each warm flatbread on a separate plate.
     b) Spread each flatbread with 1-2 tbsp. hummus.
     c) Lightly drizzle olive oil over hummus.

     d) Place cheese across hummus.
     e) Place tomatoes on top of cheese.

5) Poach those eggs!

     a) Crack an egg onto a saucer, and then slide the saucer in your simmering water.
     b) Do this for one other egg.  If you can poach all 4 eggs at once, kudos to you, but I've only ever been able to do 2 at a time.
     c) Set your timer for 2 minutes.
     d) While you're waiting for the eggs to cook, keep the water moving by lightly moving your spoon around the perimeter of the skillet (you don't want the eggs to come in contact with heat from the pan or to rest on the bottom--the plate helps with this).
     e) Check your eggs for doneness at 2 minutes-- it may take up to 3 minutes to finish so pay really close attention for the 60 seconds in between.  Once your eggs look like the whites are of appropriate firmness, remove with slotted spoon and put one egg on top of each benedict.
     f) Top with tahini hollandaise and a sprinkle of za'atar and dig in!
My friend Jamie, who traveled to Palestine with me, said that this reminded her so much of the breakfast we had at the Reef House Pension.  Success!


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