The upscale Israeli food craze

(Shutterstock photo)

Israeli-style food has become one of the hottest cuisines on the planet and can now be found in many major cities worldwide.

Israeli cuisine is a melting pot of eastern European, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food that is evolving. Some restaurateurs have expanded the range of the traditional foods – reinterpreting familiar dishes by incorporating new ingredients or infusing them with new flavours.

Many of these restaurants have become hip and upscale eateries that are garnering great reviews for their food and ambiance.

In the United States, Michael Solomonov, an Israeli-American chef and restaurateur, has won six James Beard Foundation Awards, which are the culinary equivalent to the Academy Awards.

In 2016, Solomonov’s Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking won the best cookbook award. In 2017, he was the outstanding chef of the year and, this spring, his Philadelphia-based Israeli restaurant, Zahav, was named best restaurant in the country.

In London, people line up nightly to get a seat at The Palomar, a trendy Israeli restaurant that serves up an eclectic array of mezzes – small-plate Middle-Eastern inspired dishes like beetroot carpaccio and burnt courgette tzatziki.

The Palomar – which was started by the people behind the popular Israeli diner Machneyuda – has since spawned The Barbary, while some of the staff have gone on to open their own hip Israeli-style restaurants.

Many people have attributed the current popularity of Israeli food to Jerusalem-born celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi, who’s now a London-based restaurateur and cookbook author.

His upscale Middle Eastern-style delis, along with his cookbooks, have helped to elevate the stature of Israeli cuisine in London and around the world, according to cookbook author and food columnist Bonnie Stern.

She is also an Israeli food aficionado who has been leading culinary tours of Israel since 2006.

Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, a Palestinian from east Jerusalem, are the “two chefs that put Israeli cooking on the map,” she said. The two expats met in London and teamed up in 2012 to co-author the best-selling cookbook, Jerusalem.

Stern said Israeli cuisine is characterized by the extensive use of exotic Middle Eastern spice rubs, such as: za’atar, a herbal blend of sumac, thyme and sesame seeds; hawaij, a Yemenite blend of turmeric, cumin and black pepper; and baharat, a rub made of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cardamon, cumin and coriander.

The flavour of the dishes are also enhanced by condiments like as z’houg, a spicy Yemenite pesto-like dressing, and sauces made from tahini (sesame seed paste).

The healthy orientation of Israeli food may also explain its wide appeal, Stern said, pointing out that many of the dishes are plant-based and make use of fresh produce.

Indeed, vegetables like eggplant and cauliflower have been elevated from side-dish status to main courses. For instance, the cauliflower entree – a whole roasted cauliflower dressed with tahini, herbs and pomegranate seeds – is one of the most talked about dishes at Fat Pasha, a popular upscale Israeli-style restaurant in Toronto.

In fact, this spring, Fat Pasha’s owners, Anthony Rose and Rob Wilder, converted Bar Begonia, their French restaurant, into a Middle Eastern one.

The new eatery, Fet Zun, offers a range of Middle Eastern fare, with an emphasis on small plates and sharing.

Parallel, another trendy Israeli restaurant in downtown Toronto, is creating a lot of buzz, especially among millennials.

Jackson Davis, Parallel’s head chef, described the ambiance as “industrial chic.” He said reservations are advisable on weekends, especially during the summer, as the patio is a big draw.

The menu at Parallel’s is similar to that of Fat Pasha.

What’s unusual is that Parallel runs a kosher tahini factory on its premises. It mills its own seeds and packages three flavours of tahini.


Pappardelle with Rose Harissa, Black Olives and Capers

(Adapted from Ottolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi)

ο 2 tbsp olive oil

ο 1 large onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)

ο 3 tbsp rose harissa

ο 14 oz cherry tomatoes, halved

ο 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, torn in half

ο 2 tbsp baby capers

ο salt

ο 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp water

ο 3/4 cup parsley, roughly chopped

ο 1 lb 2 oz dried pappardelle pasta
(or other wide flat pasta)

ο 1/2 cup Greek-style yogurt

Put the oil into a large sauté pan with a lid and place over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onion and fry for 8 minutes, stirring every once in a while, until it becomes soft and caramelized. Add the harissa, tomatoes, olives, capers, and 1/2 tsp salt and continue to fry for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently until the tomatoes start to break down. Add the water and stir to mix it in thoroughly.

Once this mixture boils, decrease the heat to medium-low. Cover the pan, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, until the sauce is thick and rich.

Stir in 1/2 cup of the parsley and set aside.

Meanwhile, fill a large pot with plenty of salted water and place over high heat. Once boiling, add the pappardelle and cook according to the package instructions, until it is al dente. Drain well.

Return the pasta to the pot along with the harissa sauce. Add 1/8 tsp of salt and mix well. Divide the mixture among 4 shallow bowls. Serve hot, with a spoonful of yogurt and a final sprinkle of parsley.


Tahini Ice Cream

(Adapted from The Palomar Cookbook by Layo Paskin and Tomer Amedi)

ο 21/2 cups heavy cream

ο 1/2 cup egg yolks

ο 1/2 cup date syrup

ο 1/2 cup honey

ο 12/3 cups tahini paste

Put the cream in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat. Place the eggs in a bowl and whisk. Add 1/3 of the cream while whisking and continue to whisk, making sure the eggs are tempered but not cooked. Gradually add the egg yolk mixture back to the saucepan and continue whisking. Add the date syrup and honey and continue whisking. Add the tahini paste and whisk until it’s incorporated.

Transfer the mixture to a freezer-proof container with a lid. Freeze overnight.

Makes 8 servings.

The ice cream can be kept in the freezer up to 3 months.



Onions In Bourbon

(Adapted from The Palomar Cookbook by Layo Paskin and Tomer Amedi)

ο 3 large red onions cut into 3/4-inch rounds

ο salt and pepper to taste

ο 2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

ο 1/4 cup vegetable stock or water

ο 5 tbsp bourbon

ο 1/4 cup date syrup

ο 2 tbsp butter, cut into cubes

Preheat the oven to 375 F.


Arrange the onion rounds in a single layer on a large baking sheet.

Season the onions with salt and pepper. Mix the stock or water and the bourbon. Spoon 2 or 3 tsp of this liquid over each round. Drizzle date syrup over the onions and then place a small cube of butter on each onion round.

Cover the onions with foil. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes. The onions will be caramelized and can be served as a side dish or garnish.