Yom HaAtzmaut is the National Day of Grilling Meat in Israel. It’s a holiday celebrated in backyards with the family barbecue, or with portable grills in green spaces throughout Israel, a day dedicated to spending time outdoors with family and friends, a true Sunday with no work, all play, beers, cake…
There is a joie de vivre felt throughout the country, a simchat chaim for all foods grilled. There are parades to honor the brave men and women who tend the grills, political speeches dedicating the day as the first official day of the grilling season, military air shows and more.
Oh yeah, it’s also Independence Day.
As much as this country takes grilling on Yom HaAtzmaut seriously, there’s an odd lack of creativity when it comes to grilling things here. The reliance on packaged flavors, from grill seasonings to seasoned hamburger patties makes things taste a little one-dimensional.
Grilling meat becomes more of a challenge for astute gourmets like yourselves because while its simple to “turn and burn” your favorite slice of meat on the grill, sometimes a little extra flavor can turn a good piece of meat into a great one. The trouble is you’re stuck preparing side sauces, which is just begging to be forgotten, spilled or ruined by someone knocking a bottle of soda into it (you know what I’m talking about). Do yourself a favor and flavor the food before you go.
Nothing in this country has earned the appellation frankfurter, so I’m not going to even bother talking about it.
Steaks – Use thick-sliced (3cm/1in) #5, #6, or a whole #7 for meat marinated before grilling. Refer to my meat chart for the names.
Hamburgers – Make burgers a 250g (8oz) piece of meat. Also, a trick I picked up from Heston Blumenthal is to use salt as the binder, not eggs. Make sure the meat is salted well. It will “melt” the beef fibers (think icy sidewalks in winter) and they’ll stick together better when you cook them. And, while Bobby Flay is fond of embedding his burgers with various culinary odds and ends, I like my patties to be all beef. If you’re travelling, you can portion the meat into balls to save space, then hand-flatten them right before they go on the grill.
Skewers – Soak skewers in water overnight. Alternate 3cm cubes of (#1 or #7) beef with vegetables like red onions, zucchini, mushrooms, butternut squash, cherry tomatoes, peppers and cross-cut corn on the cob. Marinade in a mixture of apricot jelly, white wine vinegar, tomato paste, crushed garlic and soy sauce (or as I like to call all of that, “duck sauce”).
You can use cutlets, drumsticks, or wings.
Thai – marinade overnight in oil, dried lemongrass, ginger, peanut butter, soy sauce and scallions. Place meat on the grill and brush once with marinade while raw. Do not use marinade that raw chicken has sat in to baste cooked meat.
Herb – In a small bowl pour some oil. Add salt and crushed garlic. Add a mixture of chopped parsley, basil, mint, thyme, sage, oregano, rosemary or cilantro. Use the wet spice mixture to baste chicken on the grill.
Fennel – Mash four cloves of garlic with the side of a knife. In a spice grinder pulverize 2:1 teaspoons fennel seeds to black pepper. Add spices, fresh thyme and salt to garlic. Combine and use as a rub for chicken.
Cajun – Moisten the surface of the chicken with oil. Coat evenly with Cajun Spice Rub. Press to adhere rub to the chicken. Grill.
Onion – Trim the root base off and wrap the onion up in tin foil with a couple of teaspoons of minced garlic, olive oil and salt. Leave on the grill for an hour.
Eggplant – Trim off the calyx and split lengthwise. Slice the eggplant meat crosscut with a sharp paring knife. Brush with olive oil, squirt with fresh lemon juice and season with salt, pepper and granulated garlic. Let sit face up for ten minutes to absorb the flavors. Grill face down until the flesh can be easily scraped out.
Mushrooms – Marinade portabello or oyster mushrooms overnight in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dried thyme, and salt. Grill.
Sweet Potatoes – Brush with oil and sprinkle with salt and cardamom. Grill until soft.
Fennel – Slice into quarters, Brush with oil and sprinkle with salt. Grill until wilted.
Pineapple – grill slices of fresh pineapple or skewers of pineapple chunks sprinkled with brown sugar and cayenne pepper.
Full Disclosure: My family and I visit an IDF base on Yom HaAtzmaut where we grill hundreds of pre-seasoned hamburgers and kabobs (sausages) for the soldiers. Visit http://www.stogether.org/bbq for more information. That’s me last year in the photo, slicing watermelon.