Can you actually describe the flavors of such a diverse and complex nation in just one word? We are certainly going to try. The flavor of Israel is fresh.
Why fresh? Fresh is alive with possibility. Fresh is joyful. Fresh is young, welcoming, bountiful, and so much more. Fresh is life-giving, and when you are primarily a desert nation, fresh is as good as it gets.
A melding of flavors comes together in simplistic and spectacular ways Arabic meets Jewish meets German meets African meets other worldly influences. Every falafel vendor swears that there’s is the best in the city, country, or world, which is to say, you can’t go wrong anywhere you do decide to eat in Israel.
Beyond the traditional flavors like paprika, turmeric, za’atar, cumin, thyme, and salt, younger, globetrotting Israelis have brought the flavors of the world back with them and are mixing in flavors from Thailand, Ethiopia, Russia and even native flavors to the United States, like California Chile peppers. This cross pollination of flavor profiles has made the Israeli food scene even more epic in recent years as traditional meets contemporary much like the streets of everyday Tel Aviv.
There’s something for everyone in Israel. Because of the large Jewish population, keeping Kosher means that there are several restaurants that only exclusively serve meat and others that exclusively serve dairy. So if you are a vegetarian, and even vegan, you will find no shortage of dining options as you make your way around the country. Many dairy-only restaurants are happy to remove eggs and cheese from their recipes to accommodate guests. Hummus and falafel, both made from chickpeas and great bases for more flavor-rich dishes are extremely common in meals and a great veggie option. You’ll often find hummus served with beans, tahini, and raw or roasted veggies of all types placed on top. Of course you’ll be scooping it up with a hot, fresh pita!
Even more so than most other cultures that have a strong focus on meal time with family and friends, meals in Israel are quite often a religious experience. With Palestinian Muslims praying five times a day, Israeli Jews observing Shabbat, or the sabbath, weekly, and both groups having periods of fasting throughout the year, the focus around food can be profound and holy. The breaking of fasts is a celebration often done in large groups where family-style eating is as popular as is music, dancing, and all sorts of merriment.
In honor of the coming Jewish holiday of Passover, below we are sharing a kosher for Passover recipe (that’s also always acceptable to eat even when it isn’t Passover) that is an Israeli staple — Shakshuka. Often served family-style, Shakshuka is an egg dish served in a bed of fresh sautéed vegetables and tomato sauce. This hearty dish is actually quite lite and delicate and is sure to impress all your friends!
1 yellow bell pepper
1 red chili pepper
2 cloves garlic
4-5 sprigs fresh parsley
3 tbsp. oil
1 cup chopped (canned) tomatoes
1 tsp. sweet paprika
½ tsp. cumin
½ tsp. turmeric
½ tsp. salt
Dice all the vegetables.
Sauté the onion in the oil until translucent. Add the yellow pepper, chili pepper, garlic, tomato and chopped tomatoes. Add the paprika, cumin, turmeric, and salt, and simmer until vegetables are cooked through.
Drop the eggs into the tomato mixture and cook until eggs are just set. Garnish with fresh parsley. Serve with pita or flatbread.