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Golda’s Kitchen Cabinet

August 5, 2008
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One of her legacies was the cabinet meetings she regularly held in her kitchen. Though this “iron lady of Israeli politics” wasn’t a great cook and ate simply, she loved to bake and serve her “guests” cheesecake and apple strudel. And, as an avid coffee drinker—12 cups a day—she was famous for her thick, strong, aromatic coffee and often served chicken broth as well. Today in Hebrew, the select sub-group of ministers who do all the stuff is often called the “kitchenette.”

When Russian-born Golda and her husband made aliyah (immigration to Israel) from Denver, Colorado in 1921, they started out in a kibbutz (communal settlement), where one of her jobs was to run the kitchen. In her autobiography, My Life, she writes about her culinary adventures. “Baking bread was for me a thing of wonder…We would buy the flour from the Arabs in Nazareth, and it wasn’t as refined as it should be, so bread came out purple and sometimes rather sour.” They bought their oil from the Arabs as well, which Golda described as “bitter as death.” Chickpeas, soaked and cooked with onion, was soup for lunch. “Then it became cereal, and in the evening we would grind it up with onions and it was salad.” In those days, water had to be boiled, but the only place to get hot water was in the kitchen. She wrote that if there had been hot water in their rooms, maybe thousands wouldn’t have left the kibbutzim. “Who had the patience to wait for the water in the tank to boil?”

So was life before independence. But some Israeli eating habits haven’t changed. For Western visitors to Israel, eating breakfast is a bit of a shock. A breakfast smorgasbord includes boiled eggs, granola and yogurt, hummus (pureed chickpeas), tehina (pureed sesame seeds), lebaneh (a creamy cheese made from yogurt), baba ghanouj (roasted, pureed eggplant), shakshuka (eggs in tomato sauce), Israeli salad (chopped tomato, cucumber, and onion), mixed cheese salad (cottage and feta with cucumbers, peppers and onions), rugelach (pastries made from rich cream cheese dough and filled with jam, chocolate, honey, or nuts), and strong, black Turkish coffee.

Israelis like to eat shakshuka any time a day. It’s not uncommon to pass a small sidewalk shop offering shakshuka in an oversized iron skillet with eight eggs simmering in tomato sauce. I doubt Golda made it for her cabinet, but it’d probably go well with her strong coffee.

By Charleeda Sprinkle
Assistant Editor

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