For some time now I had in my head that I wanted to make a brownie that involved halva, that delicious Middle Eastern sesame confection. I researched. I pondered.
And then when I got a jar of the brand-new Soomsoom Foods Tehina, I knew it was my sign to go for it. What I loved about using this particular sesame paste was the super smooth consistency, easy pour-ability and also the fantastic plastic container. Much less messy or tricky to open than the metal cans!
While I chose to sprinkle the halva pieces on top of the brownies, you could also mix them into the brownie batter itself, or make a double batch of the brownies and do a layer of brownie filled with the tahini-cream cheese filling. The possibilities are endless.
Want to make this “semi-homemade” or pareve? Use some tried-and-true store-bought brownie mix and mix as directed. Add 1/4 cup chocolate chips to batter, and sprinkle 1/2 cup crumbled halva on top for another variation.
For the halva-cream cheese layer:
5 oz cream cheese
2 Tbsp butter, softened
¼ cup sugar
1 Tbsp flour
½ cup tahini
For the brownie layer:
¾ cups flour
1/3 cup Hersheys Special Dark Cocoa
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
¼ cup butter, softened (1/2 stick)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
1/4 cup chocolate chips
For the top:
¼ cup – ½ cup crumbled halva pieces
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line an 8 x 8 baking pan with cooking spray.
For the brownie layer:
Sift flour, cocoa, cinnamon, salt and baking powder into a medium sized bowl.
In a small bowl cream the sugar and butter together until smooth, add eggs one at a time, beat well then add vanilla.
Fold egg, sugar, butter and vanilla mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients. Fold in chocolate chips.
Spread 3/4 of the brownie batter into the bottom of an 8 x 8 baking dish.
For the halvai-cream cheese layer:
Cream together butter, sugar and flour. Add cream cheese and mix/blend until smooth.
Scrape bowl and add the egg and beat until light and creamy.
Scrape down bowl again and add the tahini. Beat one minute or until the tahini is mixed into the cream cheese mixture completely.
Randomly dollop the tahini-cream cheese topping over the brownie batter. Dollop the remaining brownie batter on top.
Sprinkle halva pieces on top. Swirl the topping together into batter using a butter knife.
Bake at 350 for around 40-45 minutes.
Allow to cool and cut brownies into squares.
The weather is starting to take a turn, and it’s debatable whether it’s for better or worse. There is a definite bright side, and it’s not the skies: it’s soup season. Right when you’ve started unrolling your blankets, and reminiscing about fire places, that’s the time to stick a pot on the stove top.
I think everyone has a memory of tomato soup warming them up from the inside out. Tomato soup is one of those comfort food classics, that like coke, doesn’t need a new formula.
Tomato soup + me + spoon = happy.
That’s why I took the liberty with this recipe to not reinvent the wheel that’s been rolling smoothly; instead I played with it just a touch. While making this soup I couldn’t help but think about matbucha, the tomato based salad Jews have been drowning their challah in for generations throughout the Middle East. Its acidic touch of lemon and hint of cumin is what makes the salad so popular among noshers of all ages.
I added some lemon juice and spices similar to the ones found in matbucha, and some sweet peppers to give it a touch of unexpected flavor that’ll warm you up like an Indian summer.
1/2 tsp cumin
1 Tbsp paprika
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 medium purple onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 hot pepper, diced (optional)
1 ½ Tbsp sugar
5 plum tomatoes, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced
3 cups of tomato juice
3 cups of boiling water
Salt and white pepper to taste
1/2 cup of cooked wild rice
Toast cumin and paprika in large pot on medium heat until fragrant, about three minutes.
Add olive oil and lemon juice to the pot and cook for one minute. Once they are hot, stir in the onion, garlic, and hot pepper if you are using it.
Let your onion mix cook for about 6 minutes or until the onions become translucent.
Mix in your sugar, tomatoes, and sweet peppers. Let them cook for about 6 minutes. They should be done when the tomatoes and peppers have softened slightly.
Add tomato juice and water to the pot. Bring soup to a slow boil. Lower the heat to medium and let it cook uncovered for 40 minutes.
Fill bowls with a few spoonfuls of rice and then ladle soup over it.
In our home there is a clear division of labor when it comes to the kinds of meals we both cook. The husband is in charge of meat and fish. I am in charge of soups, sauces and salads. (And dessert too of course). Thankfully we both help out with the cleaning-up, at least most of the time.
Salads are really so much fun to throw together. I love experimenting with seasonal ingredients I find at my local farmer’s market and also using ingredients I have hanging around in my house. And above all about salads: I love that you can improvise.
The salad calls for arugula but all you have is spinach? Just substitute! Have some apples in the house that you want to use before they go bad? Chop them up and throw them in! This is actually how some of my best salad creations came about in the first place including one of my favorites, this Spinach, Blueberry & Goat Cheese Salad with edamame and cucumbers. It was literally what I had in my fridge and it happened to combine together for a delightful and delicious result. Just take a look:
I have found that traditional Israel salad is just the kind of salad that can be made into multiple variations, each one slightly different. For a little more spice you can add a pinch or two of sumac. You can leave out the peppers, leave out the cucumbers, or even add a few things, like chickpeas, feta and mint.
This salad came about like so many of my other favorite salad combinations. It was Saturday afternoon, my daughter was playing at the park with her dad and I was given a few moments to enjoy lunch by myself – glorious. Wine might have also been involved. I looked in the fridge, and threw together what I had: tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, chickpeas and feta!
And by adding chickpeas and feta, this classic side salad becomes a light but hearty main dish packed with protein, fiber and most importantly, flavor.
Keep improvising and enjoy!
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1 orange or yellow bell pepper, diced
¼ cup diced red onion
2 scallions, sliced
1 ½ cups canned chickpeas, rinsed
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
2-3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Juice from ½ lemon
Salt and pepper
Combine tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, red onion, scallion, chickpeas and feta cheese in a medium bowl.
Dress with lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle fresh mint on top.
Whereas the much acclaimed cookbook Jerusalem by Yotem Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi feature stunning recipes that sound delectable but require 27 steps and a chef’s degree to execute properly, Cook in Israel: Home Cooking Inspiration by Orly Ziv is a new cookbook featuring basic Israeli fare for the home cook. And that’s a good thing.
Everyone loves the variety of salads, or “salatim,” that traditional Israeli cuisine offers, and Cook in Israel dedicates its first three sections to eggplant and tomatoes, salads and vegetables. Included are simple classics like baba ghanoush, hummus and Moroccan carrot salad. But there are also some innovative twists on tradition like Israeli salad with pomegranate and avocado and shakshuka with eggplant.
I also like the Holiday section which includes recipes for several kinds of latkes, honey cake and apple jam among others. Top on my list of recipes to try? The chocolate and halva babka. Delish.
The ingredient list for the recipes is refreshingly short, and there is nothing that seems daunting.The book is truly filled with everyday, accessible recipes for the cook who loves to bring the flavors and warmth of Israel into their kitchen.
Cook in Israel: Home Cooking Inspiration, Orly Ziv
Most cookbooks leave me a bit bored and uninspired. I am admittedly very picky about where I procure recipes from, and which cookbooks occupy the precious counter space in my kitchen. But it was a delightful day last week when my copy of the Balaboosta cookbook by Chef Einat Admony arrived.
I have eaten several times at Balaboosta in NYC. And by several I mean, so many times I probably cannot count. Never once did I leave disappointed. When a friend tells me they are going to eat at Balaboosta, I always reply “make sure to order the cauliflower – it is the best cauliflower you will ever eat!” For those that haven’t yet tasted the cauliflower, they always look at me a bit strange. I mean, how life-changing could a cauliflower dish really be? Well, it is.
And to my supreme happiness, Einat’s recipe for salty, sweet tangy “Cauliflower Everyone Loves” is included in the cookbook.
Balaboosta’s menu is deeply rooted in Mediterranean flavors, although I would really call it Israeli fare – not kosher, but inspired by Einat’s Persian Jewish roots: grind your own hummus at the table and then relish eating it up with fluffy pita. Fried olives with labne. And whole grilled fish, just to name a few of my favorite dishes.
The cookbook itself is a more of a hybrid, featuring the Mediterranean flavors of Balaboosta the restaurant, while also including some of Einat’s kids-friendly food ideas (bourekas, veggie chips and schnitzel fingers), romantic meals (coconut milk french toast, lamb chops with Persian lime sauce) and also her favorite healthy cooking options (butternut squash and saffron soup, pavlova with berry coulis). It also has an entire section dedicated to traditional, Israeli foods. Like the restaurant, not all the recipes are kosher, but there are so few dishes that include shellfish that I would recommend this cookbook to those who keep kosher (and don’t) without hesitation.
I expected to love the recipes in the Balaboosta cookbook. I didn’t expect to LOVE Einat’s stories about her family and food. For me a cookbook is about the recipes, not about the author. But I find myself unable to tear myself away from the authentic narrative sprinkled throughout her recipes.
Perhaps my favorite quote from Einat is her explanation of the Yiddish word ‘balaboosta’ and what it means to her:
Like my mom, my aunt Chana and the generations of balaboostas before then, I cook from the gut: no measuring cups, no scales. But unlike them, I see being a balaboosta not just a way to run a home but as a means of navigating the pitfalls of life with a courageous heart, a head filled with determination and a spirit of risk and adventure.
Every cookbook should have great recipes, and stories, that inspire even beyond the kitchen. So Chef Einat, thank you!
Balaboosta is available for pre-order on Amazon now and will be available on September 3rd. Will be a tad too late for Rosh Hashanah inspiration, but hopefully you can snag your copy in time for the remainder of the Jewish holidays this Fall and beyond.
Hi everyone – I am back from Israel! Hope you have been enjoying all the amazing guest posts while I ate my way through Israel the past few weeks!
We landed yesterday morning at 5:30 am, and the first thing I am missing? You guessed it – Israeli breakfast! Is there anything more delicious to the eyes (and mouth) than a huge spread of salads, freshly baked breads, cheeses and fruit!? The Israelis sure know how to do breakfast.
Coming back from Israel always has a bittersweet feeling to it. On the one hand, you are eager to return home. And on the other hand, you feel like you are leaving the other part of your ‘home’ and family behind. In some ways this is an appropo feeling to be carrying with me for the next 24 hours, as we commemorate a number of tragedies that befell the Jewish people on Tisha B’Av.
I will be missing the beautiful beaches and sunsets of Tel Aviv; and missing the rhythm of a Jewish week: the excitement and busy-ness before Shabbat, and the quiet, calming atmosphere that takes over even Tel Aviv. And most of all, I will be missing the wonderful food of Israel.
So what did we eat? I imagine you have been waiting to find out. More accurately? What DIDN’T we eat!? I will share the highlights.
With the Summer Israel heat, keeping cool and refreshed is a top priority, and so one of my favorite uniquely Israeli treats I enjoyed was an iced limonana. Limonana is a minty lemonade very common throughout Israel. But the iced limonana was so refreshing, I just couldn’t get enough – it was like a slushy! Thankfully The Shiksa has a recipe so I can recreate it at home soon! Want to take it up a notch? Add a shot (or 2 – hey I won’t judge) of Arak, also known as Raki, an anise-flavored liquor.
Since it opened, I have heard so much about the famed restaurant Mahane Yehuda, inspired by and close to the Mahane Yehuda market (shuk) in Jerusalem. The restaurant is not kosher, in fact, there are many obviously treif (or non-kosher) items on the restaurant’s menu. But it’s actually one of the things that I think is so cool about it. Not everything in Israel is kosher, not all Jews keep kosher, but we can all be inspired by the same culinary influences of Israel.
The food itself is incredible and diverse. And equally stand-out is the atmosphere – an open kitchen allows you to experience the food from start until it hits your plate; loud, lively music pipes through the restaurant while the host and waiters dance along smiling; and the décor inside includes baskets full of fresh fruit and vegetables, reminding you precisely of the shuk nearby that inspired.
There were so many dishes to choose from, but we chose three items that were either highly recommended or seemed a bit ‘different’ from typical Israeli fare, including creamy truffle polenta, sautéed sweetbreads with malawah and a Persian stew similar to gormeh sabzi, made with swiss chard instead of spinach!
Heading to Jerusalem and want to check it out? Make sure to make a reservation well in advance! We actually got lucky, showed up early for lunch and they were able to seat us. They may have regretted that decision after our daughter ran around the restaurant and I kept snapping photos. But we enjoyed, so thank you!
When I was in Israel a year and a half ago, a friend recommended I visit the Olia stand at Ha Carmel market in Tel Aviv – and wow was I happy that I heeded that advice! I came across their Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette which is addictive as a salad dressing. So on this trip, I made sure to send the husband to stock up some of our favorite products including three different kinds of olive oil, the fig balsamic and a pomegranate balsamic. Hoping this will last us, at least until the next trip! But you don’t need to go all the way to Israel to enjoy – you can actually order Olia products online too.
There are so many other amazing treats we enjoyed on this trip, but they will have to wait for now. For those fasting during Tisha B’av, I wish you an easy fast. I will definitely be thinking about Israel in the coming days as we reflect on Jerusalem.
I love making pizza at home, and especially enjoy trying new flavor toppings. Some of our favorites include white pesto pizza with spinach, butternut squash and kale pizza and white pizza with fennel and kalamata olives. Ok, so I veer off a little from the “traditional” when it comes to my at-home pizza experimentation. My sister loves penne vodka pizza, and I have even tried that! Probably not the healthiest meal I have ever prepared…
During Passover I was thinking about Shakshuka, and what a great, versatile dish it is when it hit me: I needed to try shakshuka pizza!
When I eat shakshuka, I like to add feta and have a plate of hummus with tahini on the side so that I can take a nice hunk of warm pita, dunk it into the tomato sauce, a bit of the egg, cheesy feta and tangy hummus. So that was the combination of flavors I was aiming for with this pizza.
This shakshuka pizza is the perfect dish to serve in honor of Israel’s 65th birthday this week. Serve it with some salatim, like Israeli salad and baba ganoush for a complete meal. Don’t feel like making your own tomato sauce? Swap the homemade tomato sauce for a chunky store-bought variety!
1 store-bought pizza dough
12 ounce can diced tomatoes
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
pinch red chili flakes
salt and pepper
olive oil for brushing
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
tahini sauce (optional)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. If using a pizza stone, place in the oven to heat up.
In a large saute pan, heat 3 Tbsp olive oil on medium heat. Add onions and saute until they start to get soft. Add garlic and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes.
Add bell pepper, cumin, chili powder, red pepper flakes and tomato paste and saute another 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add can of tomatoes and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Roll out dough on lightly floured surface.
Remove pizza stone from oven and place dough on stone. Lightly brush olive oil over dough. Spread tomato sauce over surface of pizza dough, leaving 1 inch border for crust. Crack eggs on pizza and sprinkle with feta cheese.
Bake for 8-10 minutes.
Remove from oven and sprinkle with fresh parsley. Drizzle with prepared tahini sauce if desired.
Israel is turning 65 this year and will be celebrating Yom Ha’atzamaut, or Israeli Independence Day next week. I love Israel – the feisty people, vibrant music, beautiful land and above all else: the food!
Israeli breakfasts are perhaps my favorite part of the cultural cuisine – a huge spread of different kinds of salads, cheese, freshly baked bread and juices. Mmmm. I love the bakeries in Israel, and the fresh borekas that come in dozens of different varieties.
But my absolute favorite dishes are labne, a thick yogurt spread (which I like to eat as a snack with pita chips), Shakshuka, a zesty tomato sauce with baked eggs and Sabich, an Iraqi sandwich with eggplant, hard boiled egg, pickles and tahini.
In the mood to celebrate Israel with some food? We’ve got tons of recipes for you and your family to enjoy. Here are some classic Israeli dishes for next week, and all year:
Wanna get inspired? Check out one of these beautiful cookbooks, Jerusalem and The Book of New Israeli Food which are filled with mouth-watering photos and fantastic recipes inspired by the people of Israel.
Happy Birthday Israel!
Every year at the holidays it seems like our lives get busier and busier and so we have to find creative ways to get all our friends and family visits in during Hanukkah. This year is no different, in fact it was even busier now that we have a new baby!
So in order to fit in a visit with some of our close friends we decided to host a Hanukkah brunch -latkes for breakfast, my favorite kind!
Last year for our latke-breakfast combo we served my classic (amazing) latkes with smoked salmon and poached eggs. But this year we wanted to do something slightly different.
First, we decided to make two different kinds of latkes – my husband tried out a recipe for Balkan Potato Leek Latkes from Janna Gur’s The Book of New Israeli Food. These latkes are made by cooking, then mashing the potatoes, dipping in egg and flour and then frying them. They tasted like a mashed-potato fritter. They were good, but we decided we liked our classic shredded style latke better.
And to accompany my more traditional latkes we decided to make two different condiments: tzatziki and Amy Kritzer’s cranberry-applesauce. The cranberry applesauce was so good there wasn’t a drop left! If you are still frying up some latkes during the rest of Hanukkah I definitely recommend whipping up a batch – its very easy and doesn’t take long at all on the stove.
Last weekend the husband and I were watching Rachel Khoo’s “Little Paris Kitchen” on The Cooking Channel (sidenote: what a great show! definitely check it out) when we came across her “Croque Madame Cups,” where she butters white bread, sticks it in muffin tins and then bakes eggs (ham) and bechamel for a heavenly little egg cup. We knew at once we HAD to make them.
And thank goodness we did – they are absolutely our new favorite recipe. We did not use any kind of meat product, but you could substitute spinach, mushrooms or even smoked salmon for the ham she uses. They truly are two-bites of rich, creamy delight-fulness.
Also included on our Hanukkah brunch table? Mimosas, Israeli salad and some homemade cookies for dessert.
Hope everyone is enjoying Hanukkah, whatever time of day you serve the latkes!
When I have the urge to travel it’s often motivated by a particular food I’m craving. For example, I would absolutely get on a plane to South America for granadilla. Or to Italy for fresh mozzarella. Or to Cincinnati for Graeter’s ice cream. Or to Israel for labneh.
While you can get frozen granadilla and fresh mozzarella and Graeter’s almost everywhere in the U.S., I’ve been hard pressed to find good labneh on this side of the Atlantic.
Labneh is is a Middle Eastern cheese made from yogurt. It’s commonly rolled into balls, served with extra virgin olive oil, or used as condiment with cucumbers, tomatoes, and pretty much any other vegetable found in the shuk. Both a breakfast staple and an anytime snack, labneh is creamy, tangy, and versatile. Labneh is also full of health-boosters. Since it gets strained, labneh has less sugar and carbhoydrates than other dairy products, while still retaining a significant amount of protein. Because it is made from yogurt, labneh is full of probiotics. It also happens to be the easiest cheese to make yourself.
Many cheeses require heat, thermometers, rennet, or other accessories. Labneh needs only 2.5 ingredients: plain yogurt, salt, and cheesecloth. I say 2.5 because the salt is somewhat optional. I’ve made labneh just by dumping yogurt into cheesecloth and hanging it up in my fridge.
Now that I have my own stash of labneh in the fridge, I have to come up with a new excuse to travel.
Do you have a food you’d hop on a plane for?
3 cups yogurt
1 teaspoon sea salt
In a small bowl, mix the yogurt and salt.
Gently pour the mixture into two-three layers of cheesecloth. Collect the ends of the cheesecloth and tie up the "package," hanging it in your fridge over a bowl.
Serve with a drizzle of great olive oil and a sprinkling of fresh herbs or za'atar.
Leave the pouch hanging in the fridge for 12-24 hours. Store the final product in an airtight container. You can save the whey (the liquid left in the bowl) for future projects.