Image design by Mollie Suss

8 Israeli Twists on Traditional Thanksgiving Dishes

You’ve never had mashed potatoes like these.

I enjoyed a few Thanksgivings while I lived in the States, but something about that traditional spread always left me wanting. 

Perhaps it’s because, as both a Brit and an Israeli, I’m flabbergasted by sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows served as a side dish. Or perhaps it’s because I’m a food writer and can’t resist the urge to play in the kitchen. 

I’m not calling for complete culinary anarchy, but consider this a gentle nudge to mix it up this year from someone with no skin in the game.

Israel’s diverse, fresh and colorful kitchen is always my source of culinary inspiration, and I’ve rounded up seven dishes that celebrate that vibrancy while honoring classic Thanksgiving ingredients. From creamy tahini mashed potatoes to a salty-spicy-sweet turkey pastrami roast, here’s how to give your Thanksgiving menu a Middle Eastern revamp:

1. Sweet Potato Hummus

After 10 years in Israel, I’m no champion of flavored hummus; it always seems a) quite random and b) not as tasty as the original. The one exception is this sweet potato hummus by Dawn Lerman: It’s very tasty and a welcome savory twist on a classic Thanksgiving ingredient. 

2. Libyan Pumpkin Spread

Photo credit Emily Paster

Talking of welcome twists, why not cut through all the carbs and richness of Thanksgiving din-dins with a fresh, zingy salatim (Israeli-style mezze) appetizer? This fiery Libyan spread would be a great seasonal addition. 

3. Israeli-Style Corn 

As part of your salatim or as a side, this Israeli twist on Mexican elote will enliven your Thanksgiving meal. “Elotes are traditional Mexican grilled street corn that gets roasted over an open fire,” writes Chaya Rappoport, who subs labneh for crema, parsley for cilantro and feta for cotija cheese. A sprinkling of za’atar finishes it off. 

4. Fasoulia (Turkish Green Beans)

“These Turkish green beans may actually be the perfect Thanksgiving side dish, particularly since this dish should be cooked, cooled and served at room temperature,” writes Stephanie Ganz on fasoulia, a dish I fell in love with in Israel, where it’s very common. 

“This dish is a welcome alternative from the heavy, beige dishes that crowd the table on America’s favorite food holiday… It might just replace green bean casserole forever,” Ganz continues. I’m sold.

5. Israeli Couscous Mac & Cheese

I’m always game for mac and cheese. This recipe by Shannon Sarna plays with the American classic, subbing the “mac” for Israeli couscous for a very fun mouthfeel, and adding cottage cheese and feta for an Israeli twist. This is pure comfort food, just not quite as you know it.

6. Tahini Mashed Potatoes

No Israeli meal is complete without tahini, so I’m very into this recipe by Vicky Cohen and Ruth Fox. “Forget the cream or non-dairy substitute to make creamy, dreamy mashed potatoes,” they write. “Tahini will achieve the same smooth texture while adding a unique, nutty flavor. Unusual and absolutely delicious!”

7. Israeli-Style Homemade Turkey Pastrami 

“Until recently, Israelis ate more turkey than people in any other country in the world. This record was all the more remarkable because most Israeli ovens are too small to roast a whole turkey,” writes Rachel Ringler. But who needs to roast a turkey when you can turn it into shawarma, schnitzel or — my personal favorite — turkey pastrami? This easy recipe by Orly Peli-Bronshtein is a great option for smaller Thanksgiving celebrations. 

8. Krembos

If you simply can’t skip the marshmallows, I beg of you, save them for dessert and make krembos: “A buttery cookie base topped with a swirl of marshmallow cream and coated in a thin layer of chocolate,” explains Micah Siva. Krembos are not only totally delicious, but seasonal, too. Due to the risk of melting in sweltering Israeli summers, they’re an exclusively wintertime treat.

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