Israeli cuisine is having a moment in the United States. Rare is the food site without a recipe that calls for straight-from-the-shuk ingredients that not long ago were foreign to many American cooks. Za’atar, zhug, silan, tahini, pomegranate molasses and labneh have become kitchen staples.
It wasn’t always easy to access these ingredients in the U.S., but savvy entrepreneurs have brought the tastes of the Middle East to us. No more lugging a jar of harissa home from Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market (and thanks to Covid and limitations on travel to Israel, who can?). Check out these American companies selling the spices and condiments you will need to make the chraime or hummus of your dreams.
1. Seed + Mill
This New York company crafts sesame seed-based foods like tahini (a nutty spread made of pressed, roasted sesame seeds) and halva (a Middle Eastern sweet made by combining tahini with sugar or honey). They use Ethiopian sesame seeds, widely considered the best in the world. You can order Seed + Mill’s condiments and sweets online, but if you want their vegan salted tahini caramel soft serve (trust me, you do) you will have to visit them at their Chelsea Market store.
2. Date Lady
The founders of Date Lady, Ryan and Colleen Sundlie, spent time in the Middle East and fell in love with the flavor, versatility and health benefits of dates and the sweet syrup extracted from them. Upon their return to the U.S., the pair found it hard, if not impossible, to find the date syrup they enjoyed abroad. So they founded a date syrup (also known as silan) company using organic dates.
Silan’s savory-sweetness can be subbed for honey or maple syrup in baking, drizzled on roasted vegetables or used as a topping for waffles or ice cream. Date Lady’s product line also includes date paste, chocolate spread (made with date syrup, coconut oil and cocoa), a BBQ sauce made with five varieties of Californian dates and more.
3. La Boîte
La Boîte founder Lior Lev Sercarz has turned seasoning into an art form. His spice blends set him apart; he makes za’atar by combining za’atar (wild oregano leaves), sumac (a tart, lemony ground berry), sesame seeds and salt. It is the smell of the shuk in a jar. Use his hawaij, a Yemenite blend of turmeric, cumin and black pepper, to add color and flavor to soups and roasted vegetables. Don’t skimp on the small-batch olive oil from his father’s farm in Israel available onsite, which will transform your chopped salad.
4. Trader Joe’s
If you don’t feel like taking out your food processor and whirring up your own blend of cilantro, chili and garlic to make the Yemenite hot sauce zhug, Trader Joe’s will come to the rescue. They offer other Middle Eastern salads and spreads, like herbed tahini sauce and harissa.
Three entrepreneurial sisters came together to make magic in the form of Soom (from the Hebrew word for sesame), a purveyor of creamy tahini made from those high quality Ethiopian humera seeds. During their time in Israel, the sisters fell in love with tahini’s taste, versatility and health benefits (high in calcium, iron and minerals), and they guessed right that it was time to introduce it to the American consumer. Their original tahini is so luscious that it is the darling of chefs like Michael Solomonov and food writers nationwide. And now they offer flavored varieties, like vanilla bean and dark chocolate tahini, delicious on ice cream.
6. New York Shuk
Ron and Leetal Arazi, founders of New York Shuk, have aggregated the condiments and spices you need to give your cooking Levantine flair. Rather than making your own Middle Eastern sauces, you can turn to the pair for harissa (a hot pepper sauce made of dried chili peppers, lemon juice, garlic, sunflower oil, coriander seeds, cumin and salt) to eat with tagines or as a sauce for fish, or their most recent product, matbucha (made of slow cooked tomatoes and hot peppers). Their preserved lemons, a zesty, mouth puckering combination of lemons and salt, will brighten sandwiches, stews and salad dressings.
Then there’s Kalyustan’s, a veritable silk road, connecting East with West where you’ll find any Middle Eastern food product that you need. You want pomegranate molasses — that sweet/tart juice made from crushed pomegranate seeds — to flavor your brisket or swirl into cocktails? It’s here. They carry a thick, tart labneh (strained yogurt) that you can nestle under a roasted cauliflower, or top with olive oil and za’atar to scoop up with fresh pita bread.
Amble through their overstuffed Manhattan store (123 Lexington Avenue) or find their products online.
The descendants of Mina, an accomplished Moroccan cook, founded this brand 11 years ago with their mother’s harissa. They now sell red and green harissa — available in hot and mild versions, shakshuka sauce and preserved lemons, among others. And if you want to make a Moroccan chicken tagine in a hurry, pick up their ready made tagine sauce and just add chicken and an onion.