By Michele Chabin

JERUSALEM – Martha Stewart spent the Labor Day weekend in Israel, where she attended a family wedding and scouted locations for an upcoming segment of her popular TV show.

Stewart is so well known, even in Israel, that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife, Sarah, invited her for a 45-minute chat — on a very busy news day.

“I always wanted to come here and finally got an invitation to my nephew’s wedding,” Stewart said during an exclusive interview with USA TODAY in Tel Aviv. “I was also planning to do a show here — we go to foreign countries and do a one-hour almost-documentary on how to travel to a country — so we contacted the Ministry of Tourism.”

While the ministry, which paid for the four-day trip, is used to wining and dining visiting dignitaries and celebrities, it rarely hosts foodies with a fan base as large as Stewart’s.

In Jerusalem, Stewart took in the sights and smells at the Mahane Yehuda market, a cacophonous place brimming with the freshest local produce, baked goods, and funky restaurants.

Stewart said she “still dreams about” the meal she ate at the Machneyuda Restaurant at the market. “They shop twice a day in the market and cook what they find there.” Chefs Assaf Granit and Yossi Elad prepared samplings of yellowtail sashimi, tuna tartare, red mullet, and shrimp carpaccio, all served with a cucumber salad with vinaigrette-ginger dressing.

In Abu Ghosh, an Arab village between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Stewart dipped pita bread in creamy hummus, topped with olive oil and za’atar. “Olive oil is very fine here in Israel, and so much is used in the preparation of foods,” Stewart noted. “I love za’atar, which is a combination of sumac, hyssop, sesame, salt, and pepper,” she said.

Stewart ventured even farther afield, to Shai Seltzer’s goat farm west of Jerusalem. “There are 150 Anglo Nubian goats, and they naturally graze on the hillside, eating all kinds of herbs and weeds.” The Seltzers make “delicious” cheese, she said.

Israelis, Stewart said, tend to use fewer ingredients in their dishes than Americans, especially New Yorkers. “They use tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, sesame seeds, olive oil, fish. And eggplant. I had it at every meal, including the rehearsal dinner!”

The wedding of explorer (Discovery Channel’s Into the Unknown) Josh Bernstein, Stewart’s “nephew by marriage,” to Lily Snyder (daughter of Israel Museum director James Snyder) took place at the venerable Rockefeller Museum opposite the Old City’s ancient walls.

The Old City is a must-see, Stewart said, first outside the walls and then within. She was also fascinated by the tranquility and healing powers of the Dead Sea.

At her nephew’s nuptials which, in accordance with Jerusalem custom, took place outdoors under a chuppah (wedding canopy), Stewart said she was moved by “that black-blue sky and that breeze, with the chuppah and tallit (prayer shawl) with the navy-blue stripes and the olive trees holding up the chuppah.” The wedding was “stylish and beautiful and elegant and evocative of something Israeli and something very contemporary.”

Ever the stylist, Stewart said she can envision a tallit-inspired tablecloth, with dark-blue stripes with intricate silver trim. “And antipasti, put on big plates in the center of the table, with everyone digging in.”

Israeli-style dining “fosters generosity and a love of food and entertaining,” Stewart said.

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