If there is one essential Israeli food, it’s hummus. Many Mediterranean cultures lay claim to this humble, yet delightful, spread – but it’s the Israeli version that perfectly balances creamy chickpeas, earthy sesame seeds, bright lemon, and zesty garlic. In Israel, hummus and pita eaten warm is a meal, not just a snack.
Predictable? Yes. But falafel is delicious and falafel stands are everywhere in Israel. I’ll get to some lesser known dishes below, but it’s hard to give a rundown of Israeli cuisine without including these spiced chickpea morsels. Since home frying isn’t for everyone, I’ve given a baked falafel recipe too.
Kubbeh Dumpling Soup
Brought to Israel by Iraqi Jews, kubbeh are dumplings filled with a spiced meat mixture, often served in soup. If matzah ball soup is the great European Jewish soup, kubbeh is the glorious Middle Eastern contribution to the Jewish food pantheon.
Dairy farming is a huge industry in Israel, so what to do with all that fresh, local milk? Labneh is a rich, slightly sour cheese with the texture of very thick yogurt – a description that can’t do justice to how delicious it is. Drizzle a little olive oil over it and eat with pita, or smother it in olives, nuts, herbs, or other toppings.
Schug Hot Sauce (AKA “Charif”)
In Israel, any falafel, shawarma, or sandwich joint worth its salt will ask you if you want your meal with or without “charif,” which literally means “spicy.” What you get is a chunky mix of chili peppers and garlic, perfectly spiced to go with Middle Eastern flavors.
Sabich is fried eggplant in a sandwich that often includes hard-boiled eggs, pickles, and the aforementioned charif. All of those things are delicious, but as with any good sandwich, you can mix and match your favorite toppings.
In just about any Middle Eastern market, you’ll see vendors selling slices off huge wheels of halvah. Halvah showcases the incredible versatility of the sesame seed – they don’t just go on your bagels or get ground up into the bitter condiment tahini.
*Bonus – Israeli Chocolate Truffles