August 5, 2016
Vol. VIII No. 16
Spotlight on Israel
Israeli cuisine is the ultimate culinary melting pot. It is mostly a product of Israel's diverse population, which is a result of the Jewish Diaspora. After the State of Israel was established in 1948, more Jews returned to their ancient land of Israel from over 80 different countries. From this point on, and particularly in the 1970s, an Israeli fusion cuisine developed, combining local dishes by people native to Israel with dishes brought to Israel from around the Middle East, Africa, the Mediterranean, and Eastern Europe. 

Many dishes that are considered "Israeli" actually incorporate foods from many different areas: 
  • Shakshouka, a dish of poached eggs in a sauce of chopped tomatoes often seasoned with onions and cumin, was originally eaten in North Africa and brought to Israel by Tunisian Jews. 
  • The well-known Israeli salad, made from mainly chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, comes from traditional Arab cuisine. 
  • Hummus. While Israelis consider hummus a national food, it is thought to have originally come from Lebanon and is shared by many other cuisines of the Middle East. 
  • Sabich, fried eggplant, hard boiled eggs, and hummus stuffed into pita, is originally from Iraq, and was brought to Israel when the Jewish population was expelled from Iraq. 
  • Falafel, a popular street food consisting of fried balls of chickpeas and/or fava beans served inside pita bread alongside different salads, pickled vegetables, hummus, and tahini sauce, is believed to have originated in Egypt, but it was Yemeni Jews who first set up falafel shops in Israel and introduced the street food to Israeli society. 
In a way, food is the glue that keeps Israelis connected to one another. People of different backgrounds will shop together in food markets or eat in each other's restaurants, demonstrating the unifying power food has in this part of the world. 

In addition to the influences brought to Israeli cuisine from other countries, local Mediterranean ingredients impact the way people cook. After many years of borrowing recipes from other countries, Israeli chefs realize they have an opportunity to create a true, vibrant Israeli cuisine by using local foods, such as dates, pomegranates, and olives. With a long Mediterranean coastline, fish is also very popular. Thus, modern Israeli cuisine is one that incorporates the foods of Mediterranean diet, a way of eating that emphasizes olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs and whole grains, more than ever before.

That being said, Israeli cuisine is also influenced by Jewish customs and includes traditions like sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) on Hanukkah and challah bread on Shabbat. It is a tradition on Hanukkah to consume foods that are fried in oil, such as sufganiyot, to commemorate the miracle that one small quantity of oil enough for one day lasted eight days. Foods like these are eaten in moderation, on special occasions when family and friends come together to celebrate and enjoy the pleasures of the table. 

Check out the Israeli-inspired recipes for your table below.

Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipe.

This hummus recipe breaks from tradition and uses canned chickpeas, great for when you're short on time. Use it as a nutrient-rich dip, spread, or topping for sandwiches, wraps, salads, and more.

Oldways recipe and photo, from our 4-Week Vegetarian & Vegan Diet Menu Plan book. 

Israeli salad is the perfect way to use up summer tomatoes and cucumbers. It can accompany any meal, including breakfast! Try adding olives, beans, or feta cheese, or stick to traditional version with just four main ingredients.

An Oldways recipe and photo. 

Shakshouka is made simply by poaching eggs in spicy tomato sauce, and it looks impressive despite minimal work and inexpensive ingredients. Serve it at your next brunch or for a quick dinner.

An Oldways recipe and photo. 

Books We Recommend
by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
by Claudia Roden
by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook
In Jerusalem, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi explore the vibrant cuisine of their home city, with its diverse Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities. It offers 120 recipes from their unique cross-cultural perspective, from inventive vegetable dishes to one-pot meals.
A monumental work, the story of the Jewish people told through the story of Jewish cooking, The Book of Jewish Food traces the development of both Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jewish communities and their cuisine over the centuries.
Zahav won both the James Beard Book of the Year and Best International Cookbook in 2016. Chef Michael Solomonov has been turning heads with his original interpretations of modern Israeli cuisine, including dishes such as a pink lentil soup that one critic called "Jerusalem in a bowl."

Fresh Fridays is a bi-weekly celebration of Mediterranean eating and living. We hope our Friday recipes will remind you just how easy and delicious eating the Mediterranean way can be.   

To find even more delicious Mediterranean recipes please visit: