A new documentary on the complex, diverse and ancient cookery screens Nov. 5 at the Jewish Community Alliance, followed by a reception and tastings.

“Food is not political. It is what is grown on this land by the people who are living in it – if they are called Palestinians or Israelis, I don’t think the tomato care.”

So an Israeli chef tells narrator and chef Michael Solomonov in the new documentary “In Search of Israeli Cuisine.” The film follows Solomonov, a James Beard Award winner and chef/co-owner of the celebrated Zahav restaurant in Philadelphia, as he travels around Israel talking with chefs and home cooks, cheesemakers and vintners, food writers and farmers about the definition of Israeli cuisine. There’s no single answer – it’s complex, ancient and diverse.

In recent years, the food of Israel has become widely popular, spurred in no small part by cookbooks like those of Yottam Ottolenghi as well as Solomonov’s own “Zahav: A World of Israeli Cuisine.” In Portland, restaurants like Tiqa and Baharat testify to the newfound interest in and respect for Israeli cuisine. At the same time, the tradition of Jewish deli food in the United States has escaped the confines of Jewish eaters and spread to the culture at large.

On Nov. 5, the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine and the Maine Jewish Film Festival will be screening “In Search of Israeli Cuisine” in Portland, followed by a reception with Israeli foods prepared by Portland-area chefs. — PEGGY GRODINSKY

BEETS WITH TEHINA

Recipe from “Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking” by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook.

Makes 4 cups

5 cups plus

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

8 medium beets

1/2 cup Basic Tehina Sauce

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill, plus more for topping

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, plus more for topping

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Spread 1 cup of the salt in an ovenproof skillet or baking dish. Put the beets on the salt and cover with the remaining 4 cups salt. Bake until the beets are tender, about 90 minutes.

When they are cool enough to handle, remove the beets from the salt and peel. Set them aside to cool completely.

Grate the beets into a mixing bowl using the coarse holes of a box grater. Add the tehina sauce, oil, lemon juice, dill and mint and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix well to blend. Top with more chopped dill and mint and serve at room temperature or cold.

BASIC TEHINA SAUCE

Recipe from “Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking” by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook. You’ll need just a little of this sauce to make the beets recipe. Solomonov also combines the sauce with green herbs to make a dip for crudite; he uses it to make a harissa-spiked sauce for fried potatoes; he serves it with fried eggplant and pomegranate seeds; and much more.

Makes about 4 cups

1 head garlic

3/4 cup lemon juice (from 3 lemons)

11/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 generous cups tehina

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

A vendor in Levinsky market with narrator and chef Michael Solomonov in the new documentary “In Search of Israeli Cuisine.” Courtesy of Florentine Films/Sherman Productions

Break up the head of garlic with your hands, letting the unpeeled cloves fall into a blender. Add the lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Blend on high for a few seconds until you have a coarse puree. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes to let the garlic mellow.

Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large mixing bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids. Add the tehina to the strained lemon juice in the bowl, along with the cumin and 1 teaspoon of the salt.

Whisk the mixture together until smooth (or use a food processor), adding ice water, a few tablespoons at a time to thin it out. The sauce will lighten in color as you whisk. When the tehina seizes up or tightens, keep adding ice water bit by bit (about 11/2 cups total), whisking energetically until you have a perfectly smooth, creamy, thick sauce.

Taste and add up to 11/2 teaspoons more salt and cumin, if you like. If you’re not using the sauce immediately, whisk in a few tablespoons ice water to loosen it before refrigerating. The tehina sauce will keep a week refrigerated, or it can be frozen for up to a month.