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.