Episode 6: Sarah F. Berkowitz, Israeli food expert and recipe author

Our resident chef on her favorite meals and how cooking creates bonds between friends and family.

The guest: The Jerusalem-born Sarah F. Berkowitz is the resident chef at our Israeli Kitchen channel. Since 2015, she's been cooking up hundreds of recipes and sharing them with our readers. When she's not in the kitchen, she's traveling across the country to food shows to check out the latest trends. In addition to her work for us, she also writes a monthly food column for an international magazine that gets translated into multiple languages and distributed around the world. She's also worked as a personal chef and we hear she has plans to publish a cookbook.

The gist: She's famous for her healthy dishes like a lemon za'atar vinaigrette as well as her decadent desserts like tahini-infused chocolate chip cookies. And sometimes -- like with Carob muffins with halvah streusel -- she just mixes the two. This week, we chat with Sarah about what goes into the perfect meal, why Israeli food and the Mediterranean diet is so popular these days, and the strangest things that have happened to her since becoming a quasi-famous chef.

Further reading:

"Our Friend from Israel" is hosted by Benyamin Cohen. Our podcast theme music is by Haim Mazar, a Hollywood film composer who grew up in Israel. Follow our podcast on Facebook for behind-the-scenes access to the show.

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Sarah F. Berkowitz recording the 'Our Friend from Israel' podcast. Sarah F. Berkowitz recording the 'Our Friend from Israel' podcast. (Photo: From The Grapevine)


Benyamin: On this episode of Our Friend From Israel-

Sarah: You know, I had an interest in psychology since I was very little. You know, I loved the idea of nurturing people and helping them fix their problems. And I've really discovered that food has a way of doing that. The act of eating and cooking for someone is very intimate, and I find that it creates a strong bond. It's the kind of gift, when you give someone homemade food, or when you cook a meal for someone, it really strengthens your bond. It's more than just food.

Benyamin: That's Sarah Berkowitz. She's our resident chef here at the Israeli Kitchen channel on FromTheGrapevine.com. Since 2015, she's been cooking up hundreds of recipes and sharing them with our readers. When she's not in the kitchen, she's traveling across the country to food shows to check out the latest trends. In addition to her work for us, she also writes a monthly food column for an international magazine that gets translated into multiple languages and distributed around the world. She's also worked as a personal chef, and we hear she has plans to publish a cookbook.

Benyamin: She's famous for her healthy dishes, like guacamole stuffed mushrooms with tahini drizzle, as well as her decadent desserts, like cherry pineapple donuts with lemon glaze. And sometimes, like with carob muffins with halvah streusel, she just mixes the two.

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I used to say I had one foot in the garden and one foot in the cookie jar. But I think it should be hand. I said that to one of my family members, and they were like, "Okay, can you take your foot out of the cookie jar please." So yes. I have one hand in the garden. Very, very happy to play in the garden and eat salads. You know, my favorite meal any time, any day, is a massive green salad. But I am gonna follow that up with something sweet. Unfortunately or fortunately, that's who I am. I've got a sweet tooth. So I'm gonna have a piece of dark chocolate, or some kind of healthy treat.

Benyamin: This week, we chat with Sarah about what goes into the perfect meal, why Israeli food and the Mediterranean diet is so popular these days, and the strangest things that have happened to her since becoming a quasi-famous chef.

Sarah: Oh sure. Yeah, no, I can't go shopping without wearing big sunglasses and a hat. It's, yeah, it's dangerous. No.

Benyamin: Welcome to Our Friend From Israel, a podcast brought to you by FromTheGrapevine.com. I'm your host, Benyamin Cohen. And each week, we'll have a conversation with an intriguing Israeli. They'll come from all walks of life, actors, artists, athletes, archeologists, and other news makers.

Benyamin: In today's episode, we chat with Sarah Berkowitz, the resident chef at From The Grapevine's Israeli Kitchen.

Benyamin: Welcome to the show. We're so happy to have you here today.

Sarah: Thank you. So happy to be here.

Benyamin: Before you came in today, I was looking up on our website, and I think I counted that you had done, as of this taping, that you've done 390 recipes.

Sarah: Okay, and I counted 370, so I must be missing some. But yes. Either way, it's a huge number. Lots and lots of food.

Benyamin: Did you have any big plans for the 400th recipe?

Sarah: Oo, I'm gonna have to give that some thought.

Benyamin: Did you ever think, did you ever imagine when we first got started with this, that you'd have that many, that you could come up with that many recipes?

Sarah: No. No. Not at all. I keep thinking every day and every week, there's nothing new under the sun. And then all of a sudden, something new does come up, a new product, something new I found in the store, or a new combination, a new way of presenting something or cooking something, and it just keeps coming. It's amazing.

Sarah: You know, you look at the food magazines, and you would thing that at a certain point, they're just gonna have to close up shop. Everything's been done. Everything has been discovered. And nope. They're doing great.

Benyamin: There's always new things coming out. I know you run like an instant Pot. A lot of new kitchen appliances come out. And I know a while back, you were into the Instant Pot, and you were doing a lot of Instant Pot recipes.

Sarah: That was a lot of fun. Yeah. I kinda like dived into it. It was a lot of fun, and I'm definitely exploring some other ones. The hydrators. I've played around with spiralizers. Some of these tools are just super cool, you know, like the kind of thing that you'd find in a hotel kitchen, but you can bring it into your own kitchen, and just produce some really cool foods.

Benyamin: Like high end stuff in your own house.

Sarah: Yeah. But high end has become mainstream, and it just gives us home cooks abilities to really broaden our horizons. I like that.

Benyamin: Right. So better than just mac and cheese or something.

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah.

Benyamin: Which is what I had for dinner last night.

Sarah: You're not supposed to admit that on public radio, but okay.

Benyamin: Before we dive too deep into the food stuff, I just wanna ask you a few questions about you and you know. You were born in Israel. Is that correct?

Sarah: Yes. Yes. I was born in Jerusalem.

Benyamin: And then how long did you live there before moving to America?

Sarah: Just four years actually. When I was four, our family picked up and moved to America. Started off in California, and then worked our way up north to Michigan. And that's pretty much where I grew up. Most of my childhood was in Michigan.

Benyamin: How did you get interested in cooking?

Sarah: I should make up a good story, but I really don't know. I mean, I had early inspirations, you know. So going back to my teenage years, I have this, I mean, I could write a movie about it. But I have this super, super strong visceral memory of my sister, my older sister Esther making grilled cheeses. My Mom, there were eight of us, so my mom worked full-time. So sometimes we did have to fend for ourselves, especially lunch, a day off, or whatnot. So my sister would make these grilled cheeses that were just perfect, and oozing with cheese. And come out of the frying pan, and she'd cut it into four perfect squares. And if I hadn't prepared myself any lunch, just watching her would've turned me into a chef instantly, because there's just something about those perfect grilled cheeses, you know?

Benyamin: Huh.

Sarah: And she shared. No worries. My mom was a great cook. But I just wasn't interested in it. My dad would cook sometimes.

Benyamin: Did you start mostly out of necessity? I know you're a married mom and you have kids. Is this something you just had to figure out how to do on your own?

Sarah: Sure. Sure. We'll go with that. My husband ... But the truth be told, my husband also is a fabulous cook. He's more into health than I am. But when we first got married, he told me that he really knew how to make all kinds of different foods. And he did. But I did most of the cooking. And I taught myself. Definitely came close to poisoning him a few times in our early marriage, but he survived that.

Sarah: There was a rice, I remember, a rice dish, that I thought, "Gosh, you could put anything in rice." And I must've just thrown every condiment we had in the fridge into that rice. And good husband that he was, he had it, had seconds, had thirds. And it wasn't 'til I tasted it that I was like, "Oh my God. This is nasty. Why are you eating it?"

Benyamin: That's true love.

Sarah: Yes. It was. It was. And then just somewhere along the way ... You know, I had an interest in psychology since I was very little. I loved the idea of nurturing people and helping them fix their problems. And I've really discovered that food has a way of doing that. The act of eating and cooking for someone is very intimate, like I said, very nourishing. And I find that it creates a strong bond. It's the kind of gift, when you give someone homemade food or when you cook a meal for someone, it really strengthens your bond. It's more than just food.

Benyamin: Like when you give food to a neighbor, when you bring food to a neighbor's house if a neighbor is sick, or if a family's in need and you bring food, it really transcends. It's more than just the food that you're bringing over.

Sarah: Absolutely. Absolutely. There was one summer where we had 15 or 20 girls stay with us overnight. They were from a camp for girls that were addicted to drugs and had all kinds of problems, family problems, social problems, addiction problems. And they wrote thank you letters. And the one thing that they all mentioned was the amazing food. And I know that the food wasn't that amazing. But to them, living away from home, and kinda living on the streets and everything, just having a home cooked meal was so meaningful to them, that that's what stood out in their minds.

Benyamin: What makes a perfect meal? You were just saying it's not necessarily ... Well I guess, you know, it's the comradery. It's not necessarily the food per se. But if we were just talking about the food, putting comradery and ambiance aside, what do you think makes the perfect meal?

Sarah: Okay, boring answer. A perfect meal is an entrée, some kind of protein entrée, cooked vegetable, raw vegetable. So you can put some tofu, some chicken, some fish, some meat, cooked vegetable. Could be a combination, roasted vegetables, whatnot. And then the raw vegetable would do great as a salad. If you wanna go a little fancier than that, you can add a grain, and ancient grain. Those are very trendy today, and there's a good reason for it, because they're so healthy. Or some kind of starchy side, mashed potato, sweet potato fries. And then depending on how rich the meal was, a light dessert or a super decadent rich dessert. And to me, that's a perfect meal.

Sarah: But that's the boring answer. That's the right answer. For me, the perfect meal is one that I didn't make. And I don't like eating out at restaurants. It's gotta be homemade. But that, to me, is the perfect meal.

Benyamin: Oh that's so funny. Why don't you like eating out at restaurants?

Sarah: I'm too picky. It's very hard to please me. And that's only, again, in a restaurant setting. But at home, or if I'm eating dinner at a friend's house, I am not picky.

Benyamin: Are people scared to have you over as a guest?

Sarah: Yes. It stinks. Yes. They are. And they shouldn't be, because I am very, very down to earth. I might be a critic at a restaurant, but I'm not a critic in people's home, because I taste the love that they put into it. I know it's like fluffy and fuzzy and all of that. But I really believe that your thoughts and your intentions affect the food that you're creating. Yeah.

Sarah: And my kids cook for me. Our son is actually in Israel now. He's been there for a few months, and he's gonna be there for a while. But he used to bring me lunch at work. He used to bring me homemade sushi or vegetable omelets, and that was awesome.

Benyamin: Homemade sushi, he should get a son of the year award for that.

Sarah: Oh my gosh. Yeah, I know. He made soups and everything. It's funny because we have two girls, but he's the one that's interested in cooking. And I'll tell you what. I credit it to when he was two years old, we bought him a Little Tykes kitchen. Okay?

Benyamin: Huh.

Sarah: None of that, "Oh boys don't play with pots," and whatever. I think most chefs today are men. But yeah. He's the one that's most interested in food.

Benyamin: Now you have, I know you write, in a lot of your recipes, you talk about I don't know if it's your husband or your son or both, they're vegetarian or they're vegan.

Sarah: Okay. Yeah, here's the scoop on our family. There's five of us. So my husband is actually a nutritarian. A nutritarian sticks with the foods that are the highest ratio of nutrients per calorie. So we've got nutritarian. I mostly follow a pescatarian diet. Our son is an omnivore. He'll be happy to eat a hamburger and french fries every meal. Older daughter is ethical vegan. Younger daughter is vegetarian.

Benyamin: Holy moly.

Sarah: Uh-huh.

Benyamin: So how do you mix all that and make dinner every night?

Sarah: Yeah. It's tricky. And I think that's probably why I have so much fun creating recipes for Grapevine, and it's because I can just do whatever I want, and make whatever I want. But the rules around our house are basically, a whole lot of vegetables. Soups, salads, stir-fries are the universal food that we all eat.

Benyamin: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I noticed in a lot of your recipes, you have substitutes. For example, our listeners are gonna be salivating when I say this. But like today, you brought in some avocado brownies into our office.

Sarah: Yeah.

Benyamin: And avocados were a substitute for butter. Is that what you were saying?

Sarah: Right. Right. And it's not even fair to the brownie to call it an avocado brownie. It's a hazelnut brownie. But what you either do or don't wanna know is that a little more than half of the butter was replaced with avocado, and that's a good fat. So you're not gonna find little green chunks in the brownie. You're never gonna know it was there. And I've learned to feel out my audience and not tell everyone what's in everything.

Benyamin: When we return, Sarah talks about the many benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

Sarah: It's very diverse. It introduces a whole lot of different vegetables and spices, and give you a lot of variety.

Benyamin: Looking for ideas for dinner tonight? Check out our vast archive of recipes at IsraeliKitchen.com. We've got nearly 1,000 to choose from. Whether it's an appetizer like red pepper crustini, or a dessert, like Meyer lemon raspberry cream pie, we've got you covered. We've also got helpful tips, ike the best ways to peel garlic, and how to make falafel in your microwave. We've even got some cooking videos from Sarah.

Sarah: Today we're gonna make chocolate babka muffins.

Benyamin: All that, and more, can be found at IsraeliKitchen.com. In fact, while you're there, sign up for the weekly Israeli Kitchen newsletter, and receive Sarah's recipes right in your inbox. That's IsraeliKitchen.com. And now, back to today's interview.

Benyamin: A lot of what you do at From The Grapevine is, our whole food channel is called The Israeli Kitchen. And a lot of what you do is Israeli food or more broadly Mediterranean cuisine. The Mediterranean cuisine is like a boom going on in the U.S. And even people who've never been to Israel. We report, at From the Grapevine, we report a lot on some of the major awards, the cooking awards in America, are being won by Israeli chefs, or restaurants with Israeli cuisine. Why do you think that is? Is it because the Mediterranean diet is healthy, or is there some bigger reason?

Sarah: I think that health is a big part of it. We've had some really crazy extreme fad diets, and this is nothing like that. It's not saying, "Don't have this, and don't have that." It's very diverse. It introduces a whole lot of different vegetables and spices, and gives you a lot of variety. When you sit down at a traditional Mediterranean meal, you're gonna have dips, and spreads, and a whole bunch of little tiny salads. And it's just this carnival for your taste buds. There's something everywhere you look. So it's got the health aspect to it, that it's very heavy on the vegetables, and healthy kinds of fats. But then it's also, it feels very indulgent.

Benyamin: I feel good eating ... Well first of all, there's so many people, when I visit Israel, they're all in good shape, everyone that I see there.

Sarah: I know. Don't you hate it.

Benyamin: And I'm like, "What are they eating?" And it looks like they're eating pita and hummus, and I'm like, "Okay. I'll start eating that."

Sarah: I think they also walk around a lot.

Benyamin: That's true.

Sarah: It's much more of a strolling society than we have here. So that probably helps. Spend a lot of time outdoors.

Benyamin: If someone, if some of our listeners wanted to start cooking more Israeli foods, and they wanted to turn their American kitchen into an Israeli kitchen, what kinds of foods or spices or anything else should they be focusing on?

Sarah: You know, you could definitely cheat. You could go to a specialty store and get some Israeli blends. You can get some Za'atar, which is a nice spicy blend. You can pick up some zhug. They have the zhug in the red pepper and the green pepper varieties. Definitely some kind of combination of cumin and tumeric, and lots of herbs. I don't even think the herbs are limited. But you'll find parsley. You'll also find cilantro. Lots of different herbs in the Mediterranean cooking. But that's definitely a start.

Benyamin: You go back and visit Israel? I mean, I'm sure you've been back since you were a kid.

Sarah: Yes. I actually spent a year there studying after high school, kind of a gap year. I've been back a few times to visit. But I am currently extremely overdue for a visit.

Benyamin: When you do eventually get back there, are there any kinds of foods that you're gonna wanna seek out, that you've heard about, that people always talk about when they go visit Israel?

Sarah: Oh, that's a great question. I mean, I personally have fond memories, one particular treat. I don't know if it's the largest bakery in Israel, but Angel's Bakery. Hopefully it still exists, but when I was there for a year, as a teenager, we could smell the bakery miles away, and we would go in there and get the chocolate Rugelach, the chocolate croissants, and they were just to die for.

Sarah: So yes. Today, I make my own Rugelach, but if I go back there, I will have to go back to Angel's and get myself a little chocolate croissant. I'm not big into fried foods. So I appreciate falafel, but maybe look for a baked falafel. I would definitely dive into whatever salads and spreads they have to offer me.

Benyamin: People talk about marzipan a lot. I hear that mentioned a lot.

Sarah: Right. Not a huge fan.

Benyamin: Wow.

Sarah: They actually make a marzipan Rugelach, which to me, is believe it or not, and I've got a sweet tooth, but a little too sticky and sweet.

Benyamin: You're the opposite of me. I will take anything sweet.

Sarah: Yeah. No, I've trained myself. I used to have just a straight sweet tooth. I remember just chugging lemonheads as a kid. So you know what? Even then, so it was a candy, but It had that tart note, that lemon note to cut it. So maybe I've always been that way. I've come a long way from lemonheads.

Benyamin: And what are your thoughts on halva? Is it too bitter, or too dry?

Sarah: Nope. Nope. Halva I like, and probably because it has a little bit of a savory side to it. But I love playing around with halva. I've made a halva muffin. I've got a recipe for that on Grapevine. I don't think I've done a halva cheesecake. I know I've played around with a few other halva recipes. But I like it.

Benyamin: I was surprised. You know, when I was growing up, the only thing I remember about halva, they just sold them like in cubes at the checkout counter. But now it's become like this gourmet thing. They make halva ice cream, and halva spreads, and halva in different flavors.

Sarah: It's the sesame. Sesame is not a flavor you find in American cuisine. And I don't know if any other countries are using it. But it is so unique. And it starts off savory. Go ahead and toast sesame, you've got toasted sesame oil. And then [talina 00:18:26] just brings in the sesame in a whole new way. And it's fabulous. It's fabulous, whether you put in in talina, or whether you put it into a dessert or halva. It's just, like I said, a very unique flavor, and I think it's very attractive to people.

Benyamin: So one of the things that you are, and I'm gonna say that you're famous for, on our website, is your decadent desserts. Our food editor, Jamie Bender, likes to refer to you as the dessert queen. So first of all, do you have a favorite dessert is one question I wanted to ask.

Sarah: Hmm. Good question. Okay, well first of all, I want a crown. Really nice sparkly crown.

Benyamin: Or a tiara. Can we, maybe we can get her with a tiara.

Sarah: Okay. I'll take a tiara. That's fine.

Benyamin: Okay.

Sarah: Favorite dessert. Wow.

Benyamin: Yes.

Sarah: Right now, my favorite dessert, I'm sorry, I'm gonna mention this again. But a chocolate mousse pie that is made out of healthy ingredients. That's gotta be my favorite, because I just feel like I can dive in and enjoy it with no guilt. And I don't need to eat the whole pie. But just, I can have a slice and feel good about it, and it still felt like a treat.

Sarah: But other favorite dessert, babka muffins.

Benyamin: Oo.

Sarah: Yeah.

Benyamin: Those are good. I just pulled up your list of desserts. I'm just gonna read a few so people can get the idea. I got chocolate matcha and vanilla bean cheesecake, apple snickerdoodles, peppermint patty brownies, chocolate chip s'mores sticks, all natural pink cupcakes, and I mean, triple chocolate peanut butter brownies. Just saying these names makes me hungry.

Sarah: Yeah. And I've got this big smile on my face.

Benyamin: And I actually say, the pictures are really what sells it. What goes in ... I know, when you first started, did you know how to take a food picture, or was it something you kind of, was that a skill you learned over time?

Sarah: Still working on it. Still working on it. No. Never knew how to take a picture. Got some training. I have a friend who is a photographer. Actually, have a few friends who are photographers, who give me pointers along the way. I've learned, I don't know that I've mastered it completely, the whole lighting and shadows and all that. But it's really about honing in on that one crumb, and that one drip, and just making it like I could just reach into the screen and grab myself a little piece of it.

Benyamin: When you're taking pictures of one of your recipes, what's the most important thing to keep in mind?

Sarah: Angle. Absolutely angle. Yeah. And I've turned myself inside out and upside down to get a good angle. Yeah, just recently, I was climbing under the counter to get the perfect shot, kind of like backward, holding, I was using my camera phone at that point. And it was a mint matcha grasshopper pie. And there I am, kind of like half crawled on the counter, my head under the countertop, under the cabinet. And all of a sudden, my phone just dropped. But it didn't just drop on the counter. It dropped into the pie. The worst part of it was, I couldn't even take a picture of it, because the phone was in the pie. But it was covered in just delicious looking cookie crumbs, and gooey green matcha deliciousness. And I just cracked up. It was so funny. So I didn't get a good shot. I didn't. But-

Benyamin: But it's like-

Sarah: It is a great memory.

Benyamin: It's like gymnastics, trying to bend and contort yourself into taking a good photo.

Sarah: It really is. And I'll lay on the grass sometimes, just to get that, the opposite of the bird's eye shot, but you know, the ant's view of things. But angle is really, I think angle is everything. I'll say lighting is secondary. But lighting is pretty important too. But angle is definitely key.

Benyamin: Speaking of which, how important is it, the way a dish looks. I know, I personally am not that ... If something tastes good, I'll just mush everything on my plate. I'm one of those, I guess I'm a typical guy.

Sarah: Oh my gosh.

Benyamin: I'll mush whatever's in front of me. And if it tastes good, it tastes good. I don't really care what it looks like. But you as a home chef, what, how important is it that the dish looks good?

Sarah: I'm not gonna say it's everything, but I think it's very important. And I am so flattered and gratified that I see that my kids picked up on that, because when they do make me food, and I don't have to ask for it. I just have to say I'm hungry. But if I get a vegetable omelet, there's gonna be an avocado sliced just so, and fanned out, and a couple tomatoes. And I think that it enhances the eating experience, makes you feel like you had more of a satisfying meal, and could possibly even prevent you from snacking later. You know-

Benyamin: Right.

Sarah: I feasted with my eyes. I was satisfied internally. And I think that's, yeah. I think that visual's a big part of it. And I love presenting beautiful food. And just taking something simple and beautifying it ... Take a strawberry cantaloupe smoothie. That's a recent recipe that I put up there. So you can just pour the smoothie into a bowl and eat it, and it's delicious. Or you could take a strawberry and fan it, and place blueberries just so, and all of a sudden, it's something that you'd be served In a five star restaurant. And it's so easy. So I love garnishing. I think it's a big part of food presentation.

Benyamin: That's your slogan. I love garnish. It's a full sensory experience, I guess, eating. It's not just the taste buds.

Sarah: Yeah. I believe that. I just read, I think this was an article on Grapevine. But an Olympic skier whose personal chef does not allow her to do anything else while she's eating. And I think that's brilliant, to just immerse yourself in the experience. So put your phone away, put the magazine away, and just appreciate what's in front of you. And I think when you do that, you also leave more satisfied, just conscious eating.

Benyamin: Yeah, I was gonna say mindful, or conscious. Yeah, mindful eating. Do you think that's ... That's fascinating. 'Cause I know, you know, I'm at fault for this too. I eat in front of the TV, or should we, I guess we should be, you're suggesting we probably should be more focused on enjoying the food. And it will probably help us from overeating, and enjoying the food more, I guess.

Sarah: Yeah. I definitely believe so.

Benyamin: Hello listeners. You'll notice that every single podcast on the planet asks you to rate and review them on iTunes. Why do they do that? Well here's the answer. The more reviews and ratings that a show gets, the higher the show winds up on the iTunes charts, which in turn, helps more people discover the show. So if you're enjoying this podcast, please head on over to iTunes and leave us a rating and a review. We greatly appreciate it.

Benyamin: And if there's a particular episode you've enjoyed, like the one with Michael Pasikov, the cancer survivor who plays piano with one hand, or the alien hunter, Avi Lobe, from Harvard University. Any of those episodes, if you've enjoyed those, why not tell a friend about them, send a friend to that episode, so that we can have more people like you enjoying Our Friend From Israel. And now, back to today's interview with Sarah Berkowitz, the chef at FromTheGrapevine.com.

Benyamin: Are you looking to, are there any food trends on the horizon that you can see and tell us about?

Sarah: Absolutely. I love using healthy substitutes in food, so taking some of our most well-loved comfort foods, and just kind of upping the nutrition, while still keeping, while still holding onto it. Nobody wants to go on a diet, and just let go of everything that they love. No more pizza, and no more hamburgers, and no more cookies, and no more chocolate. But taking those same foods, and healthifying them, if that's even a word, like the avocados in the brownies, and instead of mac and cheese, you could do cauliflower and cheese. Instead of the traditional pizza, you're doing cauliflower pizza. So even people who don't have celiac or who don't have to be gluten free, that's a healthy change. Again, taking comfort food and just making it more nutritious. It's kind of a win win situation.

Benyamin: And people who follow your recipes on our site, it's interesting. You're, it's almost like a dichotomy. It's split personality. You got healthy food, and then you got these decadent desserts. It's funny. I don't know if it's an American thing, or maybe just the way I was brought up. I always need dessert, no matter how full I am after a meal. Like we always had dessert growing up, so like, it's just something that's in ... Like, after dinner every night, I'm like, "Okay, where's dessert?"

Sarah: Yeah. And it's dangerous. It's dangerous.

Benyamin: Yeah.

Sarah: I've read little tricks, like take an almond and stuff it into a date, and have that. And you know what? For some people, it'll work. For me, sometimes it does work, because dates are so sticky sweet. And I don't know where that comes from. Why? Why do we wanna end off with something sweet? So another trick they say is go brush your teeth. You know, once you feel all minty and fresh, you're not gonna mess that up with some kind of, I don't know what.

Benyamin: That's smart. That's smart. I like that.

Sarah: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Benyamin: I like that.

Sarah: Yeah, yeah.

Benyamin: So do people come up to you, after nearly 400 recipes, I'm sure people come up to you and tell you stories, that they've cooked your recipes.

Sarah: Oh sure. Yeah. No, I can't go shopping without wearing big sunglasses and a hat. It's, yeah, it's dangerous. No. I was accosted on the street the other day. It was so funny. My husband and I were just taking a walk. We live in a very pretty neighborhood. It's very woodsy. And all of a sudden, I hear someone screaming my name. And I look around. There's nobody to be seen. And there's a lady hanging out her window. Bless her soul. She says, "I read your article on eggs. I loved it. I loved it." And I just looked at my husband. I wanted to kinda dig a hole in the ground. She, you know. So, it's okay. I'm not known for landing on the moon. I'm known for my fabulous egg articles. But it's a lot of fun. No, people do stop me and ask me all kinds of questions in the supermarket. "Should I buy this sauce or that sauce? And what do I do with this new funky vegetable?" And it's fun.

Benyamin: So you've told us a lot of stories where people enjoy your cooking, and women leaning out the window and telling you they love your egg stories. Is there anything, any cooking failure stories or any bad things that happened when you've been cooking?

Sarah: Oh definitely. Definitely. There was a time I nearly poisoned my brother. But I have to admit that that was on purpose. And I completely forgot about that story until, actually it was at his wedding party, and he mentioned this story. But apparently, my brother and his friend had been getting on my nerves. So my friend and I hatched a plan that we were gonna make some brownies, but put shampoo and hand soap in them, and get back at the boys that way. And so we did that. We actually ruined a great batch of brownies-

Benyamin: Oh my gosh.

Sarah: ... by putting in some liquid toiletries. And unfortunately for us, they overheard us, and wouldn't go near the brownies, so that was definitely an early attempt at poisoning, which thank God was a failure.

Benyamin: So can we expect a shampoo ganache on our website soon?

Sarah: Absolutely not. And don't get confused, 'cause they sell, you know, they sell avocado and passion fruit shampoo. But don't be drinking those or adding those to your brownies.

Benyamin: So do you have any, for those of us wanna be chefs, do you have any cooking tips for us?

Sarah: Sure. Sure. I mean, part of it is my own style. But you never know what you're doing that just comes naturally to you that could help someone else. So firstly, I met a chef years and years ago, that taught me the concept, and I'm probably gonna butcher this, but mis en plus, which means everything in place. So when you have a recipe that you're about to do, to collect all the ingredients, collect all the tools that you're gonna need, and lay them out. And actually, to backtrack, I always start with a perfectly clear counter, kitchen. I'm a little neurotic, but I'll clean my kitchen before I start cooking.

Sarah: So definitely mis en place, having ... yeah. I know, I know. It's a little OCD, but ...

Benyamin: Most people clean up after they cook. You-

Sarah: Well.

Benyamin: ... clean up before you cook.

Sarah: And that's the funny thing. When I'm done cooking, the kitchen's clean. But yeah. So mis en place, everything in place, is very helpful, and also let's you know, if you thought you had that ingredient and you really didn't, so you can run out and get it before you're halfway through and the egg whites are falling, and whatever. So having-

Benyamin: So you're saying like set everything out on the counter to make sure you have everything.

Sarah: Exactly. And it sounds unnecessary. It sounds like, what is this, a cooking show? But it really makes things easier and makes things go faster.

Benyamin: Sure.

Sarah: So I like that. Just this little random trick that I have is I take little plastic shopping bags from the supermarket, and I'll lay one out on the counter. And then all my trash goes on there, the egg shells, and the vegetable peels, or the little seal form the brown mustard, or whatever it is. And then I just wrap up that little bag and throw it out so I've got a neat, kind of a neat surface to work on. But I like cleaning as I go along. So start with a clean kitchen. By the time the cake is in the oven or the soup is bubbling on the stove, my whole kitchen's back to clean again. You know, might have a couple pots to wash. But that's my system.

Benyamin: I think a lot of people are gonna wanna hire you to come over to their house and cook and clean for them.

Benyamin: Are there any chefs that you look up to?

Sarah: Any chefs I look up to? Well, Erma Bombeck is my absolute hero. And she was a full-time mom, so she was definitely a chef. But Erma is fabulous. She's fabulous. And she's a writer. I think she was printed in something like 900 magazines, 900 newspapers, for about 30 years. So that's definitely something to look up to. But Erma just took what should be stressful aspects of life, and just plastered them with humor. And I tend to be more of a serious person, believe it or not. I have a very serious side. So I just love the fact that she can lighten up everything. So she's a definite hero of mine.

Benyamin: She's more down to earth also.

Sarah: Absolutely.

Benyamin: It's not like a fancy french kitchen we're looking at.

Sarah: Yeah. And that's my style. So I might produce some beautiful things, but for the most part, I'm just a basic simple home cook. Sometimes play around with gourmet. But I like real. I like to keep it real. I'm not gonna serve you a plate that has a two inch piece of entrée on it, and then a little green fuzzy thing standing up. That's not me.

Benyamin: So you cook a lot. Obviously, we see all your recipes online. I don't think you or your family could consume all that food. So what happened? Tell us a little behind the scenes. What happens to all that food?

Sarah: I become very, very popular. I have a lot of friends. I don't know if they're friends or if they just love my food. No, just kidding. No, my friends are great. But I do try to get the food, especially the desserts, out of the house as fast as possible. I'll bring them to work. I'll post the on a neighborhood chat. "Anybody want this and that," and it's gone instantly. And it's great.

Benyamin: You actually have like a little public freezer in your carport that people-

Sarah: Yes.

Benyamin: Your friends and neighbors can just come and take stuff out of.

Sarah: Yes. It's awesome. I don't even have to be home. I just leave stuff out there, and I let them know, "Hey, stop by and pick up your cheesecake, or your vegetable soup, or whatever." Yeah. It's kind of like an ATM but you don't have to put any money in it. You just get the food out.

Benyamin: What a great neighbor. Is there any question I should've asked you that I didn't ask you?

Sarah: You know, we might've circled around it, but you know, really why do I spend so much time on food? Why do I spend so much time cooking? There's definitely other pursuits, other things that I could be doing. But there's something about cooking for people that just gives me great satisfaction. I think that I have this tiny little grandma inside of me. She's ever present, and she's always like, "Eat. Eat. Eat more." And it just, when I feed people, when I make food for people, it just gives me this great satisfaction, and makes me happy. It's simplistic, but it's very satisfying. It's very nourishing.

Benyamin: That's a beautiful thought. And that's actually a perfect place for us to end. I wanna thank you for joining us. I especially wanna thank you for bringing all the treats into the office today.

Sarah: Oh, my pleasure.

Benyamin: Everybody's gonna love that. And for those of you who are interested in seeing Sarah's recipes, you can head on over to FromTheGrapevine.com, and click on Israeli Kitchen. And you will see, as I said, as of this taping, nearly 400 recipes, and hopefully many, many more to come. Thanks so much.

Sarah: Oh my pleasure. Thank you.

Benyamin: Our Friend From Israel is a production of FromTheGrapevine.com. Extra notes and a transcript of today's episode can be found at OurFriendFromIsrael.com. Our show is produced by Paul Kasko. Editorial help from Jaime Bender and Ilana Strauss. Our head engineer is Everett Adams. Our theme music is by Haim Mazar, a Hollywood film composer who grew up in Israel.

You can visit our website at FromTheGrapevine.com to find more episodes of the show. Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or your favorite podcast app. Feel free to leave us a review there. When you do, it helps others discover Our Friend From Israel. I'm your host, Benyamin Cohen, and until next time, we hope you have a great week.


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Related Topics: Chefs & Restaurants, Food News

Episode 6: Sarah F. Berkowitz, Israeli food expert and recipe author
Our resident chef on her favorite meals and how cooking creates bonds between friends and family.