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You may know Danielle Oron from her delicious recipes on Foodnetwork.ca that always has everyone salivating for her latest creation. Her eclectic palate brings us such mouthwatering concoctions like Greek waffle nachos with spiced lamb, spicy Chinese crispy beef and broccoli noodles, and bangers and green mash with onion gravy. Now the Tel Aviv-born chef and owner of Toronto’s Moo Milk Bar has released her first cookbook, Modern Israeli Cooking, a tribute to her heritage and features tons of incredible Israeli recipes.

And just in time, too, since increasingly there’s evidence that a diet rich in plant-based meals is touted for having many heart healthy benefits. Typically low in fat, Israeli cuisine boasts a variety of fresh vegetables and places an emphasis on using simple, natural ingredients to create maximum flavour. We spoke with Oron who shared her inspiration for the cookbook and her five favourite Israeli foods.

What inspired you to create Modern Israeli Cooking?

When I was about three and half years old, my family moved from Tel Aviv to a very American town in New Jersey. Growing up in a school where I was one of three Israelis — the second being my brother — was not something that was easy for me. I always felt uncomfortable bringing friends home after school to have my mom, who had a very strong accent, serve us after school snacks of schnitzel and Israeli salad. It embarrassed me and I felt out of place. All I wanted was to fit in and that meant bologna sandwiches and grilled cheese with tomato soup!

A few years back, I visited my grandma in Israel. We went to the shook (market) and I was suddenly overwhelmed by everything that I was feeling; the foods, my heritage, the culture. I knew in that moment that I had to reconnect with my roots. When I was asked to write a cookbook, there was no question in my mind that it was going to be composed of Israeli dishes. I took all of what made me uncomfortable growing up in that American town and embraced it. I’m so proud of it now.

Why is Israeli food considered healthy?

Israeli food is naturally more vegetarian and pescatarian. Yes, there’s a ton of meat and chicken dishes too, but the bulk of the cuisine is more vegetables and fruit. Israeli families eat in a way that the heavier and more filling meals happen for breakfast and lunch, while dinner tends to be very light. And tons of spices are used which have been said to have many health benefits.

What are your 5 favourite healthy Israeli foods?

Hummus. It’s so versatile; the toppings are endless though traditionally it’s served with tahini sauce and some sautéed chickpeas. It’s common to eat hummus in the morning because it’s cheap, hearty and will keep you full. Homemade hummus is the best in my opinion and the only way you should eat it!

Israeli salad, which is eaten with every meal. It’s mainly composed of a cucumber and tomato mixture, dressed simply with olive oil and lemon juice. You can get fancy with it like I did in Modern Israeli Cooking and add peppers, radishes, tons of herbs, red onions. Here’s the secret to creating the most delicious Israeli salad: dice your veggies super small (1/4 inch to 1/3 inch)! With every bite you get an array of fresh flavours and textures. I think I’m healthier just thinking about it.

Sabich in a pita is the ultimate Israeli street food, right up there with falafel. Quick history: Israelis took a traditional Iraqi Jewish Shabbat breakfast spread and shoved it in a pita. The pita is stuffed with fried eggplant, hardboiled eggs, Israeli salad, amba (pickled mango), tahini, hummus, pickles, cabbage, onions, potatoes and schug (hot sauce). The ingredients have to be layered, strategically, in such a way that you can taste each component with every bite.

Shakshuka is so classic Israeli. It’s a trendy dish now, but growing up it was a regular Saturday morning brunch. I have such fond memories of my mom and dad making it, using leftovers from Shabbat dinner the night before. It also reminds me of my summer visits to Tel Aviv where we’d frequent this tiny shakshuka shop close to my grandma’s house. The woman behind the counter always remembers me. My visits would not be complete without eating there.

Simmered Moroccan fish. It’s typically red snapper or tuna steaks simmered over carrots, tomatoes, chickpeas and potatoes with tons of spices and tangy lemons. My mom would make a version of this every Shabbat and holiday. Before her, it was my grandmother on my dad’s side that would make this dish. Full of lean protein and flavourful. And believe it or not, it’s a really easy dish to make as long as you’re using fresh fish!

Cookbok Giveaway!

For a chance to win a signed copy of Modern Israeli Cooking by Danielle Oron, email us at giveaways@foodnetwork.ca with the subject line “Modern Israeli Cooking” and tell us which of Danielle’s healthy foods you like best. Giveaway closes Monday, November 9th, 2015 at 9am E/T. See here for giveaway rules and regulations.