A Bistro Meal of Mussels (Cooking My Way Through Hebrew)

Posted on by on June 29th, 2011 | 9 Comments »

I am an Ulpan dropout. Don’t judge. You would be too given the same situation. It all started about 10 months ago when I arrived in Israel and was considered a “עולה חדש” (oleh chadasha-new immigrant). עולים חדשים (olim chadashim – new immigrants) enroll in a program called Ulpan. Ulpan is a intensive language program developed to teach hebrew to new residents of Israel. Sounds like an amazing idea right? It is. If it works.

I was so ready to start the class and learn the language of my new home.

In no time at all I was able to get out the words “אני לא מדברת עברית” (Ani lo medeberet ivrit -I don’t speak hebrew) and was excited that I could say this to people instead of starring at them like a deer in headlights when they spoke to me. After that it was all down hill.

See, I live in Be’er Sheva among many עולים חדשים (olim chadashim), which you would think would be amazing. It would be if they also all spoke english and we could help each other. But, they don’t speak english. They are Russian and speak russian and so did my Ulpan teacher. This is where the problem arose. My class was primarily made up of native russian speakers and because of this my teacher would explain everything in russian. Katherine and I would look at each other baffled not knowing if she was speaking in russian or hebrew. The second problem was that our teacher, a lovely woman, wasn’t able to explain things well enough in english. Because of this, translations were often way off and many a class consisted of a game of charades trying to guess a word she was trying to teach us but didn’t know the english for. Frustrating and not helpful.

And so, here we are back at my original statement; I am an Ulpan dropout. Really it was doing more harm then good. I was learning hebrew better on my own just listening to people around me and looking things up in my translater. My hebrew is very far from perfect or fluent. I can get around fine on what I have taught myself. But, I would really love to leave here one day knowing the language of the country I lived in for few years.

I love to cook. Obviously. I spend a good part of my time in shuks, supermarkets, spice stores and restaurants all over Israel. I even intend to start a culinary program next year. So wouldn’t it be grand if my supermarket hebrew (as I like to call it) was flawless? The answer is simple, yes.

This brings us to my new project. I am going to teach myself some hebrew through what I love doing most, cooking. How? do you ask. Well, through hebrew cookbooks. That’s right. I am going to cook my way through hebrew and I am starting with a beautiful cookbook I found called “מסיבות; אוכל, יין, חברים” (Mesybot; Ochel, Yayin, Chavarem- Parties; food, wine, friends).

This project of mine should be interesting, fun and at times hilarious since some translations are just so off when put into google translate. Though I am leaving to travel through China for the summer in a few short days, I couldn’t wait until I was back in August to begin this project.

My first recipe on this journey is “מול פריט” (Mol Paret) translated as “With Item”. Yeahhhhhh. Ok well it’s not that. It is however, a beautiful Mussel dish with yummy flavors like white wine and parsley. Correctly translated as mussels with chips or french fries (Moules-Frites in french) I changed the recipe slightly by adding שום (shum- garlic) and חמאה (chamah- butter). I also didn’t make the fries and opted for a delicious crusty bread to soak up all the yummy sauce with instead.

Join me on my journey of cooking through hebrew.


Olive oil (שמן זית)
2 onions, chopped (בצלים קצוצים)
1 cup white wine (כוס יין לבן)
1 cup fish stock (כוס ציר דגים)
60 grams butter (60 גרם חמאה)
6 grams mussels, fresh and clean (6 מולים, רענן ונקי)
2 bunches parsley, chopped (2 צרורות פטרוזיליה, קצוצים)
5 garlic cloves, chopped (5 שיני שום קצוצים)
salt and pepper to taste (מלח ופלפל לפי הטעם)


Heat some oil and butter  in a large pot and fry onions and garlic until golden (חום שמן וחמאה בסיר ומטגנים עד להזהבה)
Add wine and stock and bring to a boil (מוסיפים יין וציר ומביאים לרתיחה)
Add mussels and cook covered for about 1 minute (מוסיפים מולים ומבשלים בסיר מכוסה למשך דקה אחת)
Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper (מורידים מהאש ומתבלים במלח ופלפל)
Top with parsley (מוסיפים פטרוזיליה)

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  1. Posted on: 6-29-2011

    I really love mussels… and i love this recipe!
    Wow, your experience with Hebrew must be really tough… I hope things will get better with time! And good luck in learning!

    • BethMichelle
      Posted on: 6-30-2011

      Thanks Guilia! Starting to learn a new language at 28 years old is so hard, especially hebrew where you also have to learn to read a different alphabet! I am getting there though. I have surprised myself with how well I have gotten around so far!

  2. Posted on: 6-29-2011

    Such a great idea! I am totally stealing it. Have the cookbook in Hebrew already, just need to start translating… Also, these mussels look amazing!!

    • BethMichelle
      Posted on: 6-30-2011

      Katherine, when we are back in August we will have to get together and tackle some hebrew recipes together!! Im sure we will learn more then in our Ulpan class ugh!

  3. Posted on: 6-30-2011

    This is SUCH a great idea! I tend to learn how to say food words first in languages I am learning! And these mussels look so aromatic! 😀

    • BethMichelle
      Posted on: 7-1-2011

      Thanks Tiffany! I have been meaning to do this for awhile now. I kept seeing all the beautiful cookbooks here and it inspired me!

  4. Posted on: 7-5-2011

    The mussels looks beautiful. Learning another language is so hard… I think I’m not very language person to begin with and I feel like I’m losing Japanese while I’m not improving English….argh… Good luck with Hebrew!

  5. Posted on: 7-8-2011

    Wow, that class does sound frustrating. I truly love your idea of learning the language through cooking. When you think about it, food and love are the two “languages” that are universal. So ya gotta figure that it’s a great place to begin. 🙂
    I admit, I’ve never had mussels before, but your pictures look so delicious that they have emboldened to consider it. 😉
    Good luck with learning Hebrew and enjoy China!

  6. Posted on: 8-27-2011

    Yum! I love mussels with crusty bread for dinner. Your pics are great and this looks awesome. Can’t wait to try.

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