Israel's Locust Invasion Offers Intriguing Options For Cuisine

03/07/2013 02:31 pm ET

By Linda Gradstein/The Media Line

This week’s invasion of locusts from Egypt offers adventurous home cooks an opportunity to try something new for dinner this week – locusts, which most rabbis say are kosher, can be prepared many different ways.

“You can sauté them like shrimp with garlic, baby cherry tomatoes, lemon and saffron,” Moshe Basson, owner and chef of the Eucalyptus restaurant in Jerusalem which specializes in Biblical foods told The Media Line. “You can make them like french fries, or you can poach them like lobster, roll them in egg yolk, chickpea flour and spices and them deep fry them.”

Basson says about seven insects constitute a main course. They are high in protein and low in calories. He says that similar to shrimp, to prepare locusts you take off the head and the small wings. The legs are the tastiest part, he contends.

Basson himself says that in the past few days he has gotten a good supply of the insects from friends who have gone down to southern Israel to bring him back bags full. Gathering locusts is easy, he says.

“In the evening just before sunset when the temperature drops the locusts find a place and go to sleep on trees and bushes everywhere --- you have just to pick them,” Basson, who often picks his own spices in the hills around Jerusalem said. “In the morning when the weather warms up they will start to eat and within an hour they can turn a field from green to brown by eating all of it.”

In Israel, the swarms of locusts – the most seen since 2005, have not been welcomed by farmers who fear extensive crop damage. Drivers caught in the swarms are also not fans. But for some epicureans, locust offers an opportunity for free, sustainable eating.

Of course, this being the holy land, religious disputes are to be expected. Some rabbis said that only those Jewish communities which have a tradition of eating locusts such as the Yemenite Jews, are permitted to consume them according to Jewish law. But other rabbis say that in the book of Leviticus four types of kosher locusts – red, yellow, spotted gray and white – are listed as kosher.

“They are kosher -- the Bible lasts them as kosher and the Talmud says they’re kosher,” Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky, a scientist at Bar Ilan University and an expert on exotic animals. “The only issue is that Jews from eastern and northern Europe have not seen them in over 1000 years and don’t have the knowledge on how to distinguish which are kosher.”

The timing of the locust swarm, coming just a few weeks before the Passover holiday, when Jews reenact the exodus from Egypt at a ritual meal called a seder, has been uncanny. Before Pharoah allowed the Jews to leave Egypt, God visited ten plagues on the Egyptians, one of which was locusts.

Interestingly, the locust is also permitted according to Muslim law, meaning it is kosher and halal at the same time.

Zivotofsky says he has never eaten the insects himelf.

“My kids have, but I think it’s a cultural thing for me,” the New York native says. “I just can’t bring myself to eat them.”

But Basson has eaten them and says the flavor is a combination of sunflower seeds and shrimp, which are not kosher. To be kosher, fish must have fins and scales.

Zivotofsky says that the kosher food industry has become commercialized and limits choices for the kosher consumer.

“People forget what the Bible intended,” he said. “All we eat is what’s commercially available – chicken, turkey and beef. The kosher laws are not that restrictive. One hundred or 200 years ago, people were eating locally available animals and birds all the time.”

Now, before the swarms are blown away, they can eat locusts too.

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