Flying El Al to Israel a few years ago, I was a little surprised when I saw a green salad on the breakfast menu.
I thought it must be a mistake. But faced with the alternative of rubber eggs and bread made from library paste, or some god-awful pastry made entirely of sugar, white flour and water, I took a chance. The attendant took my salad order without batting an eyelash.
It was a mediocre salad, but by far the best breakfast I’ve ever had on any flight, to anywhere, ever.
Because of rolling time changes, when I got to Tel Aviv, it was still breakfast time, so I went to a cafe and got another green salad with pita and hummus.
You might already be familiar with the so-called “Israeli salad” which is nothing but cucumbers and tomatoes in some vinaigrette. A bit of a stretch to give that to any particular country. Hence the alternative titles of “Arab salad” and “Palestinian salad.” In my experience, it could also be called the “Lithuanian salad” or the “super cheap summer salad” or the “Freshman dining hall experience salad.”
My Israeli breakfast salads were full-on tossed salads, rich in leaf.
My reaction to this was: “F-*k it, I’ve always want to eat salad for breakfast, and now there’s a cultural precedent.”
Turns out the vegetable-laden breakfast of Israel originated at the Kibbutzim. Aspiring young farmers would get up at the crack of dawn, eat something light, do a few hours’ work, presumably before it got to be 120 degrees out.
Then they would go back to the common area and have a real breakfast: eggs, hummus, salads, baba ghanoush, fish, herring. Breakfast is officially a “dairy meal.” That means no meat or poultry is served, because Jewish law says you can’t serve dairy and meat at the same time.
I can’t eat that much for breakfast or any other meal, but now I eat a green salad for breakfast. This morning’s was Kroger spring mix with chopped cabbage and carrots and onions.
But wait! Where’s the protein? Typically, this salad would come with a side of hummus and whole grain flatbread, but I didn’t have any, so I mashed up some tofu and seasoned it with lemon juice and salt.
I call this confection “blows my hair back tofu,” in honor of a friend who dissed my use of raw tofu in salads with the words, “Whatever blows your hair back.”
My non-vegetarian friends tell me this tastes nothing like cheese, but it’s good enough for me.
Topped off my salad with a mixture of vegenaise and rice vinegar. Chased it with coffee, not wine.
So. If you get up in the morning, look in the fridge, and what you really want is a green, leafy salad, but you feel weird, just say these words, “It’s the breakfast of Israel.” Then go ahead and make your salad.