From a geography perspective Israel can seem like a pretty terrible place. Hot desert, rainy rocky mountains, not a great place for agriculture. However, for years, the Israeli’s have “made the desert bloom”. This is not to say that there wasn’t agriculture before the state existed. But there’s no denying the Israeli’s brought a level of quality and productivity to the region that hadn’t been seen before. This is especially impressive given the general lack of water in the region. Much of the progress has been through technological advances.
Productivity alone would have been enough, but that’s not the best part. The vegetables in Israel are not just plentiful, they are among the best I’ve ever tasted. No Wholefoods in the U.S. carries vegetables that are as good on average as those found in the crappiest supermarket in Israel. The only time I’ve ever tasted vegetables in the U.S. as good was for a brief few weeks at a farmer’s market near Santa Cruz California. I’m sure that there are other examples like this but they are the exceptions here. In Israel they are the rule. The single best example of this is the Israeli tomato. It’s unlike just about any tomato you’ve ever eaten. You take one bite and suddenly remember that tomatoes are technically fruits. So aromatic, so juicy, so crisp, no mealiness, and tart almost savory flavor that is so strong it needs no accompaniment.
The single best application of Israeli vegetables in my opinion is the Israeli salad. In its simplest form it’s finely chopped cucumbers (no waxy seed filled yuckiness in Israel), and tomatoes topped with local olive oil (full of flavor), fresh lemon juice, salt, and possibly pepper. In more advanced versions peppers, cabbage, scallions, and herbs are added. Sometimes even garlic slivers. I make it often here in the U.S. using cherry tomatoes (they’re the most flavorful I can find), english cucumbers (they’re the most crispy and least waxy and seed-filled), and Lebanese olive oil I buy from the market. In Israel however, the tomatoes are so incredibly flavorful I often skipped the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper altogether. The salad was already dressed from the tomato water. It’s often a competition to see who gets to drink the thin gazpacho-like “soup” that collects at the bottom of the salad bowl. It’s delicious.
Vegetables aren’t alone as fruit also shines in Israel. Of particular note is the citrus. All manner of Dr. Moreau like hybrid experiments find their way to the market in Israel. According to this article Jews come by their citrus cultivation honestly. It’s there I first tried Pomelos with their enormous thick skin protecting hundreds of little pearls of juicy grapefruitish goodness. The Israeli variety felt different to me than I’d seen elsewhere.
Strangely though blindspots do exist. Amidst all this citrus excellence there’s an odd lack of limes. They’ll sell you a green lemon and call it a lime but don’t be fooled. In years past Israeli’s were also particularly bad at producing a decent head of lettuce. Personally I avoid the average iceberg lettuce as it’s not much more than structured water from my perspective. That said, in years past, the Israeli’s appear to have mastered lettuce as well. Though I’m so busy eating tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, I never do get around to trying out the lettuce.