The Grill has two Israeli slang names: Mangal, and "Al Haesh" (On the fire). The traditional “On the Fire” of Independence Day is a huge picnic, usually among large crowds at the parks, resorts and beaches that dot this land. An unknown number of people arrive on scene—though nobody knows exactly where to meet—to eat and drink until they simply cannot move. Careful planning is necessary, but few cling to the details - it's a tradition to lose your way in this age of GPS. Someone will bring hot dogs instead of sodas. In the end, you may find yourself on the other side of the Sea of Galilee from your family. That’s the state of this State since it was first established, so just accept it and prepared to be flexible.
My late Mother, who came to Israel after WWII aboard the last Ha’apala ship organized by The Jewish Agency, taught me that Independence Day is THE most important Jewish holiday. While we’ve celebrated it for just 66 years, it's quite clear that Independence Day meets the basic requirements of a Jewish holiday: they tried to kill us all, they failed, let's eat.
The day goes something like this: In the evening, everyone watches the "12 torches" ceremony, then hits the town to dance in the streets, gaze at the fireworks, and party (usually) until dawn. Tel Aviv on the eve of Independence Day might reminds you of New York in New Year's, just a little more crowded and a little more white and blue.
Despite the partying from the night before, the country nevertheless gets up to obey the Independence Day barbecue mitzvah, commandment. We drag ourselves in traffic to the park or beach, meet friends and/or family and celebrate "on the fire"—demonstrating the fact that we are free people in our free country. There’s a lot of meat, vegetables and carbohydrates on the fire. Even those with biggest pop-bellies will have difficulty with this quantity.
Your table should include: pita-bread (you can cut into quarters, allowing people to eat only 10 quarters of pita instead of devouring two whole pitas), Israeli salads (minimum is finely chopped vegetable salad, hummus, tahini, eggplant one form or another, tomatoes in pepper, tabouleh – parsley, cilantro and semolina), wine and beer (most celebrators are a bit woozy from last night and may need help), soft drinks, lots and lots of water...and meat. Here, the sophisticated Mangalist (Mangal Man) knows the seder hayom, the order of the day.
First to go "on the fire" are chicken wings, simple sausages, and basic skewers. The goal of the first batch is simple: that all the children, the weak-hearted and the dieters feast on some meat alongside their various salads. This first course separates the weak from those with strong character who are ready to eat some serious meat when the food starts rolling from the grill: the steaks, artisanal chef sausages, and hot kebabs.
At this point, most likely everyone has eaten most of their daily caloric desired intake...and we haven’t even begun. Sit comfortably, and lean back. If you are celebrating in a friend's yard or balcony of a private house, it's time to see the Bible Quiz on TV. If you are at the park or beach, raise your head – the IAF conducts aerobatic sorties and shows over most of the relevant areas in the country, and the Israeli Navy sends a flotilla to sail back and forth along the 160 miles of the Israeli coast.
Relaxed? It's the time for the more sophisticated kebabs, chef sausages, steak with Chimichurri sauce. If you have planned correctly, there will be enough high quality meat for those who have strength / room for it. Time for food work again. Remember: in the Jewish state you just cannot throw food. Take a breather, and get a nice plate. Surprisingly, little by little, they all fail. Jewish holiday or not a Jewish holiday?. Now you can go slowly in the slow traffic jams of the afternoon ( safer that way) back home. Your body can heal until Shavuot.
Here are links to recipes for dishes that are characteristic of successful Israeli Independence Day barbecues:
Salads: Hummus , tahini , finely chopped Israeli vegetable salad, hot peppers, Turkish salad (tomatoes cooked with onions and peppers), tabbouleh ( parsley, bulgur wheat , coriander and spices ), pasta salad ( There will also be a vegetarian around, no?), Spreads mayonnaise, ketchup and hot pepper - Tabasco to Sriracha, anything goes , if it is severely hot. Lightly cooked green beans , eggplant slices / grilled zucchinis , potato salad, make it big, and at least one vegetable salad that contains also fruits. Calculate three pitas for a person.
Meat: chicken skewers - chicken thighs called in Israel "Pargiyot" (Chicks), spicy kabobs, chicken hearts, chicken breasts, and chicken wings. Lamb: Lamb chops, lamb kebab skewers. Beef: sausages, steaks and those who have a family member who emigrated from South America - Asado: Short ribs made for a few hours on low heat on the grill.
All pictures in this post are by my friend and ACE Mangal man – Boaz Yahav. Check out "Pricez", his startup http://www.pricez.co.il/