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Israeli food is having a moment, beyond hummus dips and falafel fast food. It’s the dinner you aspire to have.

Harissa, sumac, and za’atar are trickling into the mainstream. Desserts with pistachios, olive oil, honey, and figs are beloved. Israeli egg dishes such as shakshuka are not only fun to say, they awaken your palate with bold flavors and excite your eye with vivid colors.

And oh, tahini, that shining star atop this mini culinary movement! You can drizzle that sesame butter on roasted meats and vegetables, dip into it with pita or crudités, and whip that paste into a tantalizing dessert. It’s called halvah, and we’d like you to have it. Halvah’s original meaning is related to sweetness. It’s made by mixing tahini with honey or sugar at a high temperature and then stirring in extra flavors. At the Seed + Mill halvah sweet shop in New York City, the selection includes traditional varieties like marble, pistachio, and rose oil, as well as more modern takes like white chocolate and lemon, ginger, cardamom, and sea salt dark chocolate.

So yes, there are flavors within every culture that are wonderful, and these flavors aren’t even exclusive to Israel, or even the Middle East. But still, it’s a thing. The United States ranks third in countries most interested in this food, after Israel (duh) and Australia (interesting).

Last week, Israeli-born restaurateur Michael Solomonov won the Oscar of the culinary world’s Academy Awards — Outstanding Chef at the 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards. Solomonov’s Sephardic-style restaurants include Zahav, Abe Fisher, and Federal Donuts, all in Philadelphia. He wrote the popular cookbook, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking.

Uri Scheft’s Breaking Breads: A New World of Israeli Baking, Yotam Ottolenghi’s and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem, and Ottolenghi’s Plenty are other best sellers in the last five years or so. And the New York Wine & Food Festival was hosted in 2016 by Eden Grinshpan of the Food Network’s Chopped Canada and the Cooking Channel’s Eden Eats. She’s half-Israeli and a social media queen.

So if you haven’t already, dip into this vibrant cuisine and try a few dishes at home. These are some of our favorites.

1. Shakshuka

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Not only is this a colorful dish, it’s yet another way to use your beloved cast iron skillet for brunch. The dish is basically baked eggs with tomatoes, a pesto-like cilantro sauce, feta, and Israeli spices. Sop it up with ripped pita. Get our Shakshuka recipe.

2. Toasted Israeli Couscous Pilaf with Dates, Almonds, Cinnamon, and Parsley

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Don’t serve rice or pasta with your meat, poultry, or seafood. Go with couscous. This Israeli variety of couscous is bigger than other kinds. And with all those add-ins, it’s so much more interesting. Get our Toasted Israeli Couscous Pilaf with Dates, Almonds, Cinnamon, and Parsley recipe.

3. Roasted Butternut Squash and Kale Salad with Tahini Dressing

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This is an ideal salad for the fall or winter because it’s hearty, warm, and filling enough to keep you cozy indoors. There are so many great textures and flavors going on here, it can be your main meal. Just add bread. Get our Roasted Butternut Squash and Kale Salad with Tahini Dressing recipe.

4. Traditional Tabouli

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The ratio of parsley to bulgur and method of cutting the vegetables differ for this Israeli staple, but the ingredients are the same. It’s a fresh, light dish that can be a good lunch in the summer or a side dish with dinner. Get our Traditional Tabouli recipe.

5. Sufganiyot (Israeli Jelly Donuts)

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They’re basically doughnut holes, or smaller filled jelly doughnuts, and we love them. You don’t have to use jelly either. Fill them with buttercream frosting or whatever your sweet heart desires. Get our Sufganiyot recipe.

6. Charoset

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Do you really need to wait for Passover or Rosh Hashanah to eat this tasty dish? We don’t think so. This Ashkenazic version with apples, walnuts, and wine is great on matzo or any crackers. Get our Charoset recipe.

7. Francisco’s Manaaeesh (Flatbread with Za’atar)

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The bread is not necessarily Israeli, but the flavoring on top can be claimed if you buy the Israeli version. This flatbread is more pillowy than pita or lavash and thicker than tortillas and crepes. See what it’s like, and mix the spice blend yourself with our Za’atar recipe or buy it from a grocery store, probably a specialty shop. Get our Flatbread with Za’atar recipe.

8. Wheat Berry Salad with Harissa and Pistachios

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This hearty, healthy whole grain salad is peppered with spicy harissa and nutty-sweet pistachios to make it stand out among the crowd of starchy sides. It’s anything but ordinary. Get our Wheat Berry Salad with Harissa and Pistachios recipe.

9. Baba Ghanoush

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Get a really good eggplant and then this garlic and lemon-flavored dip will explode with flavor. You’ll be like, hummus what? Get our Baba Ghanoush recipe.

10. Caramel Rugelach

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Dense, sweet, and flaky — what’s not to love about rugelach? Don’t wait until Hanukkah for this treat. Get our Caramel Rugelach recipe.

11. Challah French Toast

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This is another Israeli-inspired brunch recipe that will be a hit. Challah is an eggy bread made with a signature weave. The Israeli version often has sesame seeds. Here, we sweeten it with fruit and syrup. Get our Challah French Toast recipe.

For some recipes — and food for thought — from other surrounding areas, read Our Favorite Middle-Eastern Foods, We Welcome You. And get more versed in How to Infuse Your Meals with Middle Eastern Flavors.

— Head photo: Challah/Chowhound.


Amy Sowder is the assistant editor at Chowhound in New York City. She loves cheesy things, especially toasties and puns. She's trying to like mushrooms. Her running habit is the excuse for her gelato passion. Or is it the other way around? Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, What Do I Eat Now. Learn more at AmySowder.com.
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