A friend from the Galilee area came to visit a bit ago and told me about some of the foods they’ve been eating while meeting with people in the Arabic villages in the area. One that intrigued me to try was Labneh. It’s very simple to prepare and is versatile in it’s flavorings.

– Yogurt
– Cheese Cloth (or other meshed cloth)
– Herbs & Spices

Set a cheese cloth in a strainer, or suspend it in a jar with a rubber band. Fill with yogurt and put in the fridge for a couple/few days. The liquid will filter out.

This was filled to the top, so quite a bit of liquid will filter out.

The remaining becomes more solid and soft cheese like.

Chop some herbs to mix in. I used green onions and the tops of fresh garlic. And by fresh I mean fresh.. like just pulled from the ground. The tops are basically green onions with garlic taste.. awesome.

Mix it all together and you get a little bit of awesome that is great on crackers, pita, as a sandwich spread, etc.

The taste before the herbs is very light and neutral. So as you can imagine it could be flavored in a variety of ways. Here are some I’ve been thinking about.

– Mustard greens and Dill
– Cinnamon, Vanilla, dash of sugar
– Garlic, Onion, Oregano, Basil, Rosemary (Garlic Herb bread anyone?)
– Cilantro and Parsley
Za’atar and Olive Oil


This is Ukrainian style borscht taught to me by our dear friends Vova & Luba. Be prepared, as I was not, to make a really big pot. Vova says “You can’t make a small pot of Borscht”. So there you have it.. make lots!

Start with a big giant pot and:

1 Kilo Pork
1.5 Kilo Pork Bones

Trim and fry pork fat in large pot until most of the oily fat comes out, then fry cubed pork until seared and slightly browned.

Finely chop or food process then add in:

2 Carrots
2 Onions
1/2 Bulb Garlic
1 Hot Pepper

Add in pork, bones, tomato paste, spices, and lots of water.

770 g Tomato Paste (basically lots. “Borscht should be really red”)
Black Pepper

Bring to boil for 20-30 minutes, then add in:

9 Potatoes – Large Cubes (“peeled because you feed the peels to the pigs and it makes them taste better”)
1 Beet – Peeled Small Cubes

Cook for another 30 minutes or so, then add in:

1 Cabbage – Chopped

Let cook for 5 minutes then add in:

1/3-1/2 Bunch Fresh Parsley Chopped (we actually used cilantro here, but they said parsley adds a better flavor)
1 Bunch of Fresh Dill Chopped

Let cook for 5 minutes more then serve with Sour Cream and more chopped Dill and Cilantro (Parsley?), and some nice dark rye bread with garlic bulbs and salt.

Falafel (פלאפל)

So yeah, falafel (פלאפל) is awesome. I don’t know if its official, but its pretty much the Israeli national food. I recently made my own hummus, then shortly after my own pita, so I figured that I might as well finish it out and give falafel a try. Mine definitely has the distinct falafel flavor, but definitely a tinge different than the shuk falafel I usually buy. Keep in mind that a lot is to taste so by adding or removing things can change the flavor quite dramatically. Here is how I made mine.

1 Cup Dry Chickpeas
1 Small/Medium Onion – Chopped
4 Large Pieces of Garlic – Chopped
2 Tbsp Cilantro – Chopped
2 Tbsp Parsley – Chopped

5 Tbsp Flour
1 Tsp Baking Powder
1 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Cumin
1 Tsp Hot Chili Flakes
1 Tsp Sweet Paprika

The night before you want to make falafel, soak chickpeas in cold water and let them sit until the next day. They will absorb quite a bit so make sure there is enough water to completely cover them and then some.

The next day
Drain the chickpeas. Chop onion, garlic, cilantro, and parsley. Mix flour, baking powder, salt, cumin, chili, and paprika. Add everything into food processor and blend up. Not too much mind you, or you’ll end up with something like hummus. Everything should be mixed thoroughly and have a coarse consistency. Set the mixture in fridge for at least an hour.


After the flavors have had a chance to blend together and the flour absorbs the moisture, its time to cook! Heat several inches of canola oil in a pot. You’ll be dropping cold falafel mix into it, so the temperature needs to be hot enough to stay cooking heat, but not so hot that the outside will get dark and the inside will not finish cooking. So try one by itself to get it right.

To get the balls, I used a nice half round measuring table spoon and another spoon to round off the top and scoop it into the pot. One could even more easily use a falafel scoop. But alas, I was not able to find one on short notice… next time I go to the shuk for sure.

Spoon in 6 or so falafel at a time. If the oil doesn’t cover them completely you’ll need to make sure to turn them over.


Cook for a few minutes until golden. I used a metal spatula this time, but I’ll probably look to get a strainer scoop of some sort to pull them out of the oil.


Crunchy, golden, and delicious!!

Eat it with pita, hummus, Israeli salad, and some סחוג to turn it into a nice falafel meal :)

Pita (פיתות)

I grew up eating pita bread sandwiches in the States. It was thin, hard, and not really flavorful. I guess it was the experience of the pita pocket sandwich that made it appealing.

I came to find out that what I had known as pita was לא בסדר, and not really pita. After coming to Israel I discovered פיתות. Real pita… it’s thick, soft, fluffy, and a bit chewy. It’s amazing!

I found a really good bakery shop in the shuk where we buy whole wheat pita. Other places have it including the local שופרסל, although this place is a LOT better. We bought it in bulk and froze it to have it on hand its so good. Well no more! I now can make my own that is as good as or better than shuk pita.

3 Cups Flour
1 1/2 Tsp Salt
1 Tbsp Sugar
2 Tsp Yeast
1 1/2 Cups Water (slightly warm)

Mix thoroughly flour, salt, sugar, and yeast. Slowly mix in warm water 1/4 cup at a time until slightly gooey but well formed. Kneed on well floured surface for about 10 minutes until springy but still able to stay in a nice ball. Set ball in a bowl and cover. Let dough to rise in a warm area for about 2 hours until its about double in size. I put mine on the top shelf of the kitchen cabinets.

Punch the dough down to release air pockets then break dough up into 8-10 formed balls. Cover with a damp cloth for about 20 minutes to allow dough to relax.


Preheat your oven HOT with a baking stone. I set mine to max with top and bottom burner at 250°C and convection with a pizza stone on the bottom rack.

After dough is relaxed and oven is fully heated, roll balls into 1/8″ – 1/4″ pitas on a floured surface.


Place rolled dough in the oven on the baking stone for about 3 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when its nice and poofy.


These are totally amazing straight out of the oven with fresh hummus.


Next I’ll need to try my hand at Falafel and סחוג to complete the experience!

Update: I did try falafel! It’s really good and not so hard to make.

Hummus! (חומוס)

2 Cup dry Chickpeas
1/2 Cup Tahini
1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
1/2 – 1 Large Garlic Minced
4 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tsp Cumin

Soak chickpeas overnight in cold water. The next day boil then simmer chick peas in fresh water for about 1-2 hours until soft.

Blend tahini and lemmon juice until whipped, then blend in minced garlic, olive oil, cumin, and salt. Blend in chickpeas and chickpea water until you get your desired consistency.

Spread on a plate, sprinkle paprika, and drizzle olive oil on top.

Convert Images in Terminal on a Mac

There is some wanky muss with my Piwigo install so I’ve been playing around with all sorts of things. One thing I found is that it no longer seems to like “.png” files as “pwg_representative” for video files. Okay fine, but seriously why all of a sudden? But I digress.. The built-in “sips” (Scriptable Image Processing System) command on a Mac is an easy way to convert a bunch of images from png to jpg. This also works with other formats by the way.

sips -s format jpeg My_Picture.png –out My_Picture.jpg

An oddity for sure is that after “format” you need “jpeg” not “jpg” and yet if you specify “My_Picture.jpeg” it will warn you that it changed your file name to “My_Picture.jpg”. Way to go Apple. Anyway its a useful command, as the name suggests, its good for scripting. Here is how I scripted it..

for PICTURE in `ls pwg_representative | grep png`; do sips -s format jpeg pwg_representative/$PICTURE –out pwg_jpg/`echo $PICTURE | sed ‘s/.png/.jpg/’`; done

Feel free to suggest a more elegant way to do it.


Compress and Rotate Videos

For easier and faster viewing of videos online, I compress them before uploading to my server. My goto application for this is HandBrake. It’s cross-platform, has lots of options as well as easy presets, does a really good job of compressing, and is open source.

The two options HandBrake is seemingly missing that I’ve been wanting.. batch and rotate. It does have a queue that can be processed, but all things added to the queue are done so manually. And no rotate. However.. HandBrakeCLI DOES have these options. Because of course its CLI you can script to to do batch, and they’ve added a rotate feature.

The rotate is a little funky and not documented so well though. From various forums it seems that the options are:

  • 1 = flip X axis
  • 2 = flip Y axis
  • 3 = flip on X & Y axes (180 degree rotate)
  • 4 = flip? (anyway this does a 90 degree rotate)

So the command I used was:

HandBrakeCLI -i -o vid_file.mp4 –preset=”Android”, –rotate=4

Then I scripted the process for the entire directory.

for FILE in `ls`; do HandBrakeCLI -i $FILE -o ../export/`echo $FILE | cut -d”.” -f1`.mp4 –preset=”Android”, –rotate=4; done

Cool. I’ll be bypassing the GUI and using the CLI from now on. 

Generate Video Thumbnails using Terminal on a Mac

I use a hosted service that does not support video services like ffmpeg. That means that if I use a software package like Piwigo that supports automatic video thumbnailing, I can’t take advantage of that feature. I can however upload my own thumbnail of a video, and if its the same file name (ex: vacation.mp4 and vacation.png) then it will automatically apply that image to my video. I wasn’t able to find a thumbnail generator that worked well and was free. Enter Terminal and the built in services to a Mac.

qlmanage -t -s 512 your_video.mp4 -o .

This command will use the QuickLook Manager utility to generate a 512 sized thumbnail and output it to the current directory. I wrote a quick one-liner to generate for all the videos in my directory that I wanted to upload.

for i in `ls`; do qlmanage -t -s512 $i -o .; done

Then another one-liner to remove the double file extension.

for i in `ls | grep png`; do mv $i `echo $i | cut -d”.” -f1,3`; done

As with all of my scripts, its not the most elegant way to do it, but it works.

Change EXIF Data with ExifTool on a Mac

Ever want to change the EXIF data in your pictures? I’ve had this question responded to in the form of another very shortsighted question “Why would you want to do that?” Here are a few reasons why you might want to update your EXIF data.

  1. Your camera clock went wanky and your pictures came out with the default year of the camera (apparently the vacation we just had actually happened in 2006, at least according to iPhoto).
  2. You took pictures in another timezone, but your camera clock is still at home.
  3. You want to resize your photos but retain the EXIF data.

Right, so here is how to do it.

First, grab a brilliant little tool by Phil Harvey called ExifTool. Seriously, thanks a lot Phil, ExifTool really is brilliant. There is a metric butt-load of options for ExifTool, but if you need to just change the date/time the command goes something like this.

exiftool -AllDates=’2014:01:31 15:35:33′ -overwrite_original your_picture_file.jpg

So that’s nice, but how about 2-300 pictures? Here is the one-liner I used to change my sister’s camera photos that were set to the correct time and day but in 2006. There are for sure more elegant ways to write this. This was quick and what came to me so it fit the bill.

for PIC in `ls Camera/`; do DATE=2014:`exiftool ./Camera/$PIC | grep Create | cut -d’:’ -f3-6`; exiftool -AllDates=”$DATE” -overwrite_original ./Camera/$PIC; done

This changed the year in all the date stamps to 2013 while retaining month, day, and time information. Feel free to make it more extensible and elegant as you see fit.

Pho Broth Recipe

Awesome Beef Tail Pho Broth Recipe

2 Beef Tails
10 Liters of Water
3 Medium Onions (quartered)
5 Inch Piece of Ginger (halved)
3 Cinnamon Sticks
1 1/2 Tablespoons Coriander Seeds
1 1/2 Tablespoons Fennel Seeds
9 Star Anise Pieces
9 Whole Cloves
1/3 Cup Fish Sauce
3 Tablespoons Sugar

Add bones to pot and fill with cold water. Bring to boil keep boiling for 5 minutes. Drain dirty water and bones. Rinse bones in warm water. Thoroughly clean pot.

Add clean bones and cold water to clean pot. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer.

Quarter onions, halve the ginger, then broil (turning occasionally) until charred/browned on all sides. Add to simmering pot.

Toast spices by adding them to dry frying pan and cooking on low heat until fragrant. Add to simmering pot.

Add fish sauce and sugar. Simmer all day or overnight.

Pro tip: wrap everything except bones in a tied cheese cloth before putting in pot to make it easier to filter.