The Shabbat Table: Happy 70th birthday Israel


Good Shabbos, Shabbat Shalom! Israel is celebrating its 70th birthday and there’s no better way to celebrate than with food.

Food writer Leah Koenig is the author of one of my favourite cookbooks, Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes and Customs for Today’s Kitchen (Chronical Books LLC). Highly recommended! I recently featured her hamentaschen for Purim:

She is also the author of The Little Book of Jewish Appetizers (Chronicle Books), which I wrote about recently: Tiny but mighty, this cookbook is a culinary treasure for anyone who loves to nosh.

Koenig was a vegetarian for 10 years, so she always makes sure that her meat-free friends are covered in her cookbooks. Although she’s not a vegetarian anymore, Koenig still craves creamy dips and spreads, vibrant salads, briny pickles, and small fried bites the most.

Middle Eastern-inspired recipes in Modern Jewish Cooking include: Heirloom Tabbouleh, Spinach Shakshuka, Fattoush, Toasted Almond Israeli Couscous, and Watermelon Israeli Salad, and Butternut Squash and Sage Bourekas. Mmm-good!

Enjoy some ofKoenig’s delicious favourites from Modern Jewish Cooking to help you celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday! They’re perfect for Shabbat… or any time at all. B’tayavon!



Serves 8


This saucy, savoury North African salad made from cooked tomatoes, bell peppers, and sometimes eggplant is an integral part of Middle Eastern cuisine and has become very popular in Israel. It is typically served as part of the mezze course along with hummus, baba ghanoush, and other cold salads, but Koenig thinks it has a much broader appeal. She serves it with challah or pita whenever she has people over for Shabbat dinner. Then she spreads leftovers onto sandwiches (she particularly loves it in a grilled cheese); pile it on top of steak, baked fish, or grilled vegetables; and occasionally spoon it right from the bowl.


1 large eggplant

Kosher salt

8 Tbsp/120 ml extra-virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 Tbsp sugar

3 medium red bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1/2-in/12-mm chunks

1 jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 Tbsp sweet paprika

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1 can (28-oz/800-g) diced tomatoes

Freshly ground black pepper


  1. Peel the eggplant with a serrated knife. Starting at the top, gently saw downward, following the curve of the fruit. Cut the eggplant into bite-size cubes, place in a colander, sprinkle with 2 Tbsp salt, and mix with your hands to coat. Let stand for 45 minutes, then rinse well and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400F/200C.
  3. Spread the eggplant cubes on a large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 Tbsp of the olive oil and roast, stirring occasionally, until soft and browned in spots, 20 to 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, heat another 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion and sugar and sauté, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the bell peppers and jalapeño and continue cooking until the peppers soften, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic, paprika, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Stir in the roasted eggplant and the tomatoes with their juice, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and cook, partially covered and stirring often, until the vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in the remaining 4 Tbsp/60 ml olive oil and use a potato masher to mash to a chunky consistency with some larger pieces. Continue cooking, partially covered, until the mixture thickens, 10 to 15 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and let cool. Serve at room temperature.




Serves 8


As someone who grew up in the 1980s, Koenig remember a time before hummus. The creamy chickpea and tahini spread had already become the dip of choice for health food fans, but it had hardly penetrated the mainstream. While hummus is not specifically Israeli in origin (it has been eaten throughout the Middle East for centuries), according to Gil Marks’s book The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, Jews returning from visits to Israel and wandering Israelis “initially helped popularize hummus in the West.”


Today, hummus can be found in virtually every supermarket and even on pub menus. And just about everyone seems to have a recipe for hummus, ranging from thick, chunky spreads to smooth, fluffy dips.

Koenig’s version is richly flavoured and creamy in texture. Some recipes suggest peeling the chickpeas with your fingers, but Leah never found the process to be worth it. Her secret instead is to blend in some of the liquid from the can of chickpeas, and to press the hummus through a fine-mesh sieve to rid it of any bumpy bits of chickpea skin. It only takes an extra five minutes, and the resulting hummus is smooth as silk.


1/2 cup/120 ml tahini

1/3 cup/80 ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 large garlic clove, roughly chopped

3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Kosher salt

2 cans (15 1/2-oz/ 445-g each) chickpeas, drained through a fine-mesh sieve and liquid reserved

Za’atar for sprinkling


  1. Combine the tahini, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and 2 tsp salt in a food processor and purée until slick and smooth.
  2. Add the chickpeas and continue processing, using a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary, until a chunky paste forms, about 1 minute. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in 1/3 to 1/2 cup/ 80 to 120 ml of the reserved chickpea liquid to loosen the hummus. Continue processing until the hummus becomes whipped and very creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Taste and add more lemon juice or salt, if desired.
  3. Place a fine-mesh sieve over a large bowl. Working in batches, press the hummus through the sieve with a rubber spatula; discard the solids. Serve the hummus at room temperature drizzled with additional olive oil and sprinkled with za’atar. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.


Variation: Add 1 cup/40 g roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley to the food processor along with the tahini, oil, garlic, lemon juice, and salt, and blend until smooth. Continue as directed.



Serves 4 to 6


There’s nothing quite like really amazing hummus—unless, of course, that hummus is topped with warm spiced lamb and pine nuts. A lesser-known gem of Middle Eastern cuisine, Hummus im Basar, which literally means “hummus with meat” in Arabic, is practically a meal unto itself. Find a couple of friends to eat with, serve the hummus with plenty of warm pita, and scoop your way to a blissful dinner.


8 oz/225 g ground lamb

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tsp sweet paprika

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup/40 g pine nuts

1 recipe supremely creamy hummus (above)

Za’atar for sprinkling


  1. Combine the lamb, garlic, paprika, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cayenne, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and mix well with your hands. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion and pine nuts and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens and turns light brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the lamb mixture and cook, breaking up the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Spoon the hummus onto a serving plate and make a wide, shallow well in it with the back of a soup spoon. Fill the well with the lamb mixture, then top with a generous sprinkle of za’atar and a drizzle of additional oil, if desired. Serve immediately.


Butternut squash bourekas



Makes 18 bourekas


Iraqi Jews traditionally serve bourekas—phyllo or puff pastry pockets stuffed with potato, cheese, spinach, or any number of other fillings—on Shabbat (Saturday) morning after synagogue. Today, these savory pastries are available in bakeries across Israel. The last time Leah Koenig visited the country, she bought a couple to nibble on while browsing in the shuk (Jerusalem’s famous vegetable market) and felt powered for the whole morning. This version combines spinach and cheese inside a pocket of golden dough. Serve them for an on-the-go breakfast or as a dinner party appetizer, or pack them as a treat into your family’s lunches.


For the Filling:

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped

Kosher salt

One 10-oz/280 g package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed of excess water

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 garlic clove, minced or pushed through a press

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

1/3 cup/80 g ricotta cheese

1/3 cup/40 g grated mozzarella

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper


2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed

1 egg, lightly beaten

Sesame seeds for sprinkling


  1. Make the filling: Heat the olive oil in a small pan set over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the onion, spinach, egg, garlic, nutmeg, ricotta, mozzarella, pepper, and 1/2 tsp salt.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C and grease two large rimmed baking sheets. Unroll the puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface. With a rolling pin, roll out one sheet of puff pastry into a 12-in/30.5-cm square, then cut into 4-in/10-cm squares. (There should be 9 squares total). Spoon about 2 Tbsp of the filling near the corner of each square, using your fingers or the back of a spoon to flatten the filling. Fold one corner over to meet its opposite corner, making a triangle and locking the filling inside. Press firmly all along the edges to seal. Repeat with the remaining sheet of puff pastry and filling.
  4. Lay the filled bourekas on the prepared baking sheets. Brush the tops with the beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake until puffed and golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve warm.