Jewish and Arab Israeli chefs join forces for good cause

Yossi Elad, left, and Osama Dalal prepare a semolina dessert (Barbara Silverstein photo)

On a Tuesday afternoon recently chef Yossi Elad, one of Israel’s best known chefs, was in Toronto trimming cauliflower and artichokes at a kosher facility for people with dementia.

Elad is one of the founders of such highly acclaimed Israeli restaurants as Talbiye and Machneyuda in Jerusalem and The Palomar in London. On this day Elad was one of two celebrity chefs volunteering their time headlining two culinary evenings for Shalva, the Israel Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities.

Elad said he’s a big supporter of the Jerusalem-based organization. “This is the fifth or sixth time I’m doing a charity dinner for Shalva. I’ve done them in New York. I did two or three in London.  They’re doing a great job taking care of people.”

He said he did his first fundraiser for Shalva 10 years ago. “Since then I told them whenever you need an evening like that I’ll do it.”

Fast forward two days to May 16. The setting was the home of Ronnie and Sabrina Strasser, where some 60 people, mainly women, were seated for a food demo with Elad and Osama Dalal, a young, Israeli Arab chef and restaurateur. They were assisted by Elad’s partner, Orli Elias.

Johanna Brooks, executive director of Canadian Friends of Shalva, told the group that having two talented representatives from both the Israeli Jewish and Arab communities reflects Shalva’s mission. “Each chef exemplifies what Shalva is all about – inclusivity.”

Brooks introduced Avi Samuels, Shalva’s chairman, who had flown to Toronto for the two culinary events. Samuels could not contain his excitement. Earlier that day the Shalva band had played at Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv.

The people attending the food demo watched the replay of the band’s rendition of “A Million Dreams.”

“I was moved to tears seeing the Shalva band perform on the Eurovision stage,” Samuels said.

After his older brother, Yossi, became severely disabled in childhood following a corrupted vaccine, their parents, Malki and Kalman Samuels struggled to find support services and so they founded Shalva, Samuels recounted.

“My mother was driven. She started programs to give the kids tools to develop and to give the families the tools they needed.”

Helping these people integrate into the greater society through vocational training is an important aspect of the organization, he said pointing out that Yossi is proud of having a job. “When you are working and a contributing member of society you have dignity.”


The food demo followed. Elad and Dalal made an assortment of dishes that included tuna tartar, sashimi in a warm herbed yogurt sauce, melon gazpacho and “Nights of Beirut,” a semolina pudding with whipped cream and pistachios.

Carol Jacobson Bearg organized the venue logistics. The celebrity-chef events were chaired by Shane and Nancy Spring.

Elad was relaxed and smiling throughout the entire evening. “I love people and I love cooking,” he said. “When people come and eat my food it makes me happy.”

The celebrity chef evenings were the brainchild of Shane Spring, who said he was thrilled with the outcome. “The events were a huge success. Our goal was to expose new people to Shalva and the wonderful work done there, and to give them an amazing culinary experience.”


Nights of Beirut

o 255 g (9 oz) of semolina

o 960 ml (4 cups) milk, separated

o 240 ml (1 cup)  plus 2 tbsp sugar


o 415 ml (1 3/4 cups) sugar

o 240 ml (1 cup) water

o 1 tsp rose water

Cream Topping

o 400 ml (1 2/3) cups heavy cream

o 1 tsp vanilla sugar – or sugar

o Seeds of 1 vanilla bean pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract

o 240 ml (1 cup) crushed pistachio nuts

o Berries (raspberry or blackberry) for garnish

Mix the semolina with 300 ml (1 1/4) cups milk. Bring the remaining milk to a boil. Add the semolina/milk mixture to the boiling milk. Add the sugar. Turn the heat to low and keep stirring until the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes.

Spread the semolina mixture on a tray and let it cool. Then refrigerate.

To make the syrup bring 240 ml (1 cup) of water to boil. Add 415 ml (1 3/4 cups) sugar and rose water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Let the syrup cool.

Before serving, whip the cream. Add the vanilla sugar and vanilla. Spread the whipped cream over the cold semolina. Cover the cream with the pistachio nuts.

To serve, cut the “semolina cake” into 2 to 3-inch squares. Top each square with 2-3 tsp of syrup and garnish with a berry. Makes 6 to 9 servings.


Chef Dalal’s Warm, Herbed Yogurt Sauce

3 tbsp flour

3 tbsp butter

240 ml (1 cup) heavy cream

700 ml (3 cups) plain yogurt

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp zatar or sumac

1 tbsp fresh thyme

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp fresh basil, shredded.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan set over medium-low. Whisk in the flour and continue whisking constantly until the mixture turns into a paste or a roux, about 2 minutes. Do not let it brown. Add the cream and continue to whisk. Add the cumin, zatar and thyme. Then add the yogurt, whisking constantly. Increase the heat to medium. Continue cooking until the sauce thickens, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the salt. Add the basil. Use right away or pour into a jar and cool. Refrigerate the sauce for 2 to 3 days.

The sauce can be reheated and will not separate. Serve it with your favourite fish dish or sashimi. Makes 4 cups.