Sesame seems to be enjoying a moment in the spotlight recently and I couldn’t be happier. Halva was always a staple in my house growing up, and now as an adult I am always looking for ways to include it in baked goods (like my halva swirl brownies) and other dishes. Earlier this year I was introduced to a sesame-based spread that my daughter and I both really enjoyed. In fact the jar has long been licked clean.
The newest halva spread business on the block is Brooklyn Sesame, started by native Israeli and expert “raw halva” maker Shahar Shamir who has been making and serving his all natural spreads for years for friends and family. Shahar actually never intended to start the small food business. Rather, he wanted to open a café, but when met with several challenges, his friends suggested he started selling his halva spread instead. And so Brooklyn Sesame was born.
In Israel it is common to eat halva or tahini with breakfast, as a snack or for dessert. And while the fat content of tahini has been a turnoff for some Americans, that perception is starting to change as it is more widely acknowledged that good fats from items like nuts and sesame can produce long-term health benefits and even help with weight-loss.
Shahar himself admitted that he gained 7 pounds this last holiday season when he took a break from making his halva spread. There weren’t any open jars lying around, and so he was eating less of the super food. “When I eat my halva, I am not eating other junk and I believe sesame and honey are great for digestion,” Shahar shared.
Brooklyn Sesame’s spreads come in six different varieties including pistachio, cocoa, black caraway seeds and toasted coconut. The high-quality spreads with a “Brooklyn sensibility” have even caught the attention of The New York Times, Food and Wine and Real Simple among many others.
Have a halva craving? The halva spreads are available in more than 25 stores in the New York area, one store in Massachusetts or you can order from their website.
You can also try whipping up one of Shahar’s signature recipes this holiday season and use some rich, sweet halva spread to usher in the New Year.
The following recipes are courtesy of Jörg Thoene, Leah Koenig and Shahar Shamir.
Apple and Coconut Halva Baklava Tarts
1 small Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
zest of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped pistachios
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamom
6 sheets thawed filo dough
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted (or substitute vegetable or coconut oil)
1/4 cup Brooklyn Sesame Halva Spread with Toasted Coconut, divided
Honey, for drizzling
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and set aside a 12-cup muffin tin.
In a bowl, stir together the apple, lemon zest, lemon juice, and brown sugar; let stand for 10 minutes until it gets juicy. Stir in the pistachios, walnuts, cinnamon, and cardamom.
Place 1 sheet of filo dough on a cutting board (cover the remaining sheets with a damp towel so they do not dry out), and gently brush all over with the melted butter. Place a second sheet on top of the first and continue in this fashion, alternating brushing with butter and stacking filo sheets until there are 6 layers. Use a sharp knife to cut the filo sheet into 12 squares. Arrange 1 square into each well of the muffin tin, pressing it into the bottom and sides.
Spoon 1 teaspoon of Halva Spread into the bottom of each cup, then fill two-thirds of the way with the apple-nut mixture. Brush edges of each pastry with a little more melted butter; bake until the pastry is golden, 15-20 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then carefully remove tarts to a wire rack. Just before serving, drizzle each tart with a little honey.
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 pounds lamb stew meat, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped, optional
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1/2 cup dry white or red wine
1 1/2 cups beef or vegetable stock
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, with their juice
1/4 cup chopped dried dates
3 Tbsp Brooklyn Sesame Halva Spread with Black Caraway Seeds
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Finely chopped fresh parsley, for serving
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot set over medium-high heat.
Working in batches (do not crowd the pan), add the lamb cubes and sear, turning with tongs, until well-browned on all sides. Transfer browned lamb to a plate and set aside.
Add remaining tablespoon of oil to the pot, then add onions, carrots, if using, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, and red pepper flakes and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.
Add the meat back to the pot along with the wine, stock, and tomatoes; bring mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is cooked through, about 1 hour.
Stir in the dates and Halva Spread, turn heat up to medium-low, and continue cooking, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until fruit softens and the stew thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. (It will continue to thicken as it cools.) Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, transfer stew to a shallow bowl, sprinkle with parsley.
When I first moved to Israel around five years ago, there were no Mexican food restaurants, and really very little interest in the cuisine. Fast forward to today: Tel Aviv has blossomed with possibilities for burritos and genuinely spicy salsa as well as 5 Mexican-style restaurants currently.
In truth, the ingredients used in Mexican food aren’t that different from those native to Israeli diets: a focus on fresh tomatoes, cilantro, avocado, lots of spices and citrus. So it was only a matter of time until Mexican food arrived in Israel.
It is also lime season in Israel, and for this reason a celebration of excess lime usage is in order. To most this declaration sounds confusing: Israel is known for its fine citrus fruits, so why would lime season be such a big deal? As it turns out, like other produce in Israel, much of the best crops are exported (primarily to Japan) so we don’t see it as much in our markets. Also, because the lime season is short, farmers do not see as much value compared to other citrus fruits.
Combine my love of Mexican food, love of lime season and shakshuka and you have a unique Mexi-terranean fusion perfect for summer breakfast, or anytime you feel like enjoying some Israeli fusion comfort food.
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2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
8 small (or 5 large) tomatoes
1 red chili pepper, diced
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne Pepper
1 tsp salt
1 can refried beans
1 lime, cut into wedges
Corn tortillas (or Corn Tortilla Tostada Shells)
Avocado, sliced thinly
Warm the olive oil in a heavy pan at medium heat. Add the onion and stir frequently until onion turns golden.
Add the garlic to the pan and cook for one minute, then add the tomatoes and cover. Lower the heat to medium-low heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until the tomatoes are softened.
Add the spices and stir, tasting and adding spice to your desired flavor.
Crack the eggs directly into the tomato mixture, being careful not to break the yolk.
Continue cooking the sauce with the eggs for another 5-10 minutes until the yolks are cooked to your liking.
Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat the refried beans according to the instructions on the can.
If making the tostada: In a separate pan, grill the corn tortillas until crunchy then cut into chips to be used for dipping.
Arrange the tortillas either on a plate or in a bowl (or use a pre-cooked tostada shell), layering on top the refried beans and other desired toppings of cheese, cilantro, and avocado.
Once the eggs are cooked into the tomato dish, use a large spoon to transfer the tomato sauce and eggs on top of the tortilla (or tostada).
Add additional toppings to your taste, including a hefty squeeze of lime juice.
I am back from Israel after three wonderful, sometimes challenging weeks. And while I am not missing the sirens the country is currently experiencing daily, I am missing my friends and, of course, the food.
Each time I visit Israel I am more inspired by the Israeli way of daily eating as well as the culinary innovation I see happening all over: Swedish-Israeli fusion food; the most beautiful and delicious nondairy pastries I have ever experienced; and even some type of “exotic” Jewish food I have never before heard of or tasted.
My most recent trip was no different, and despite daily sirens in Tel Aviv, life continued and so did fabulous food consumption. I ate a Yemenite bread called “lachoch” for the first time, which I would describe as a cross between a fluffy pita and the spongy Ethiopian injira bread.
I ate halva ice cream and frozen yogurt topped with chunks of halva; we definitely need to add that as a topping at American fro-yo joints.
But there were three stand-out eats that I just couldn’t stop thinking about.
Stuffed croissants at La Gaterie, 97 King George Street, Tel Aviv
Have you ever had a mascarpone and chocolate stuffed croissant at 2 am after a night of drinking? Well I hadn’t either until I stopped by La Gaterie in Tel Aviv. La Gaterie doesn’t just crank out authentic, buttery, French croissants round the clock. Oh, no no my friend. They are also stuffing these flaky croissants with a variety of sweet and savory fillings to satisfying any craving. There are two locations, and while it wasn’t cheap, it was one of the most outrageous things I have ever eaten.
Malabi and pomegranate lemonade at Malabiya, right next to Carmel Shuk, off of Allenby Street, Tel Aviv
Have you ever had Malabi, a Middle Eastern pudding made with rosewater? You can find this sweet treat everywhere in Israel, including often on the street. And just recently two friends who met in the IDF decided to open a Malabiya “bar” together, offering several flavored syrups and crunchy toppings for the customer’s choosing. Almost like a Middle Eastern version of a fro-yo bar. They are also offering a pomegranate lemonade. And hey, who doesn’t want to be served up a sweet treat by some authentic Israeli eye-candy like this? Enjoy some pudding and a lemonade outside at their small stand, or get it to-go.
Kubbeh soup dumplings at Kubbeh Bar, 10 Malkhei Yisrael Street, Tel Aviv
Many people have heard of kubbeh, the Iraqi dumpling-esque treat filled with beef, lamb and other deliciousness. But never before had I heard of, never mind tasted, such a unique hybrid: the kubbeh soup dumplings at Kubueh Bar. You get your choice of around 6 different broths as well as several different kinds of kubbeh. You can also choose the number of kubbeh you want in your soup, and we immediately regretted only getting 2. But the meal didn’t end there: we were also treated to a heaping plate of rice, beans, Israeli chopped salad and tahini. It was unlike anything I had tasted before and absolutely delicious. Ha’aretz has a full write-up of all the places to enjoy kubbeh in Tel Aviv if you find yourself on a kubbeh-tasting adventure.
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No matter how much I plan or prep, I find myself in a pre-dinner panic almost every time we host. I’m opening and closing the fridge, wondering if I’ll actually have enough food. No one has ever gone hungry at my table and there’s always plenty of variety so surprise allergies or unannounced vegetarians are never a concern.
That said, I’ve built an arsenal of “quick extras” that I can add to almost any menu. Anything from roasted chickpeas, grilled polenta or this eggplant dip which reassure me there will be enough food.
This roasted eggplant and garlic dip is quick, and when you serve it in the skin of the eggplant, it looks beautiful and impressive on the table. All of the ingredients are things that I typically have in the fridge, so when I get a last minute “can we bring two friends to dinner?” phone call, I never have to say no.
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Two whole eggplants
Six cloves of garlic
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Scoop out eggplant flesh and cut into cubes, leaving eggplant skin whole and uncooked. Place eggplant chunks on a greased baking sheet with garlic and roast for 30 minutes.
Allow the eggplant to cool slightly.
While it's still warm, place in a food processor fitted with blade attachment and pulse with the tahini, parsley, olive oil and the juice and zest of one lemon until desired smoothness.
Serve with other various salads and fresh bread.
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.