Nov 16, 2016  By Jewish National Fund  Category: Blueprint Negev,

In the JNF kitchen: Harel Zeltzer's delicious desert matfuna chicken

Traditional Matfuna chicken prepared in the desert. 

This week's #RecipeOfTheWeek features a dish from Harel Zeltzer, a business owner in the Arava. This story first appeared in the current issue of B'Yachad magazine.

Harel Zeltzer moved to the Arava over 12 years ago to work as a tour guide for one of the area’s largest guest houses. "There’s nothing like the Arava," Zeltzer said. "Over the years I've had the opportunity to introduce the beauty of the region to those who are looking to explore this unique desert."

What started as a business coordinating hiking tours and rappelling excursions quickly evolved to include jeep tours and overnight camping. Leading desert tours is still a large part of Zeltzer’s business -- he still guides large scale groups sometimes numbering hundreds of tourists -- but over the last few years he has added another aspect to his offerings for these visitors: food. 

"People vacationing in the Arava don’t just come to see the sights; they want a well-rounded experience," Zeltzer said. "To fulfill this desire, I make a hands-on culinary experience part of the adventure, rather than just handing food to them. What I often do is take a group out for a hike, explore the Arava, and then make a turn down a path where there is a full meal waiting for them.” 

Cooking "al ha-esh," bonfire style. 

More on the Arava:
In the JNF Kitchen: Baked pita bread with lentils and feta
The magic that is life in the Arava desert: One family's story

Faced with a growing demand for culinary inclusions on hiking and camping trips, Zeltzer offers meals ranging from simple sandwiches; stir fries; poyke, a traditional stew cooked over a fire in a cast iron pot; or matfuna, a Middle Eastern dish typically prepared in the sands of the desert. Full dinners can be cooked over a bonfire during a family desert hike, but there’s also a sit-down formal meal option that leaves participants with the impression they dined at a five-star restaurant, complete with fine chinaware, wine, and mood lighting while surrounded by the breathtaking desert scenery. 

Though matfuna is traditionally prepared in the sand of the desert, the recipe below uses standard kitchen preparations. 

Enjoy this #RecipeOfTheWeek, and if you make any of these recipes, be sure to send a photo of your creation to or tweet it to @JNFUSA with the hashtag #JNFfoodie. We might share it! 


1 whole chicken 
1 cup long grain white rice
3-4 tablespoons date honey
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup dried fruit or raisins
Half an onion, sliced
Aluminum foil
Kitchen twine 


Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cook the rice in a pot of water over medium-high heat for 10 minutes. The rice should be too firm to eat. Strain the rice and set aside. 

Lightly saute sliced onions, then add dried fruit and date honey. In a separate bowl, add 3/4 of the onion-fruit mixture to the rice, saving the remainder for garnish.

Stuff the chicken with the rice mixture followed by some aluminum foil to seal the cavity, and bind the chicken’s legs with kitchen twine. Once the chicken is secured, tightly wrap the whole chicken in two layers of aluminum foil to ensure that it's completely covered.  

Place the wrapped chicken in a baking dish and place in the oven to cook for 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

Once fully cooked, remove the chicken and let it rest for 15 minutes. Slowly unwrap the layers of aluminum foil and place the chicken on a serving platter. 

Garnish with extra onion-fruit mix and serve.