11 Ultimate Winter Comfort Foods To Eat In Israel | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

11 Ultimate Winter Comfort Foods To Eat In Israel

Cholent is a favorite winter warmer for Israelis. Photo by Shutterstock via ISRAEL21c.

From soup to sachlav, we’ve got your guide to foods and drinks that’ll warm you up on cold and rainy winter days, and where to get the best of them.

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In Israel there is no in-between weather. It’s hot, then slightly less hot, then BOOM, it’s winter. And when winter finally arrives, it tends to pour, with gusting winds and thunderstorms.

But with this umbrella-wrecking weather come the special Israeli foods we wait all year to enjoy. The kind that warm you and power you up to deal with the river of rain you’ve got to tackle just to cross the street.

In cozy cafés, bakeries, homestyle restaurants, street carts, and of course at the shuk (outdoor market), they call out our name once the galoshes and sweatshirts wake from their wardrobe hibernation.

1. Sachlav (otherwise known as sahlep)

A hot, thick, milky sweet drink you eat like rice pudding, sachlav is a Turkish treat quite popular in the Holy Land.

Made of milk, thickener (cornstarch, or more traditionally ground orchid bulbs), sugar and rosewater, sachlav is topped with coconut, walnuts or other nuts and cinnamon.

The cold-weather counterpart to its chilled cousin, malabi — a sort of Arab panna cotta topped with red syrup – sachlav is almost exclusively made and sold in the wintertime.

Where to get sachlav

Sachlav can be found in open-air markets such as the one in Akko’s Old City, Arab sweets shops such as Al-Mokhtar sweets in Nazareth, and in kiosks and cafés.

In Jerusalem, indulge in a steaming sachlav at Kadosh Café or Mifgash Hasheikh in Machane Yehuda market. Both are kosher.

In Tel Aviv, get your sachlav at the famous Abulafia Bakery in Tel Aviv Port, on Ibn Gvirol Street, or at its original location in Old Jaffa.

2. Cholent/Hamin

Cholent at Sender restaurant in South Tel Aviv, another must-try cholent establishment. Photo: courtesy

A slow-cooked winter stew that traditionally starts off a hearty Shabbat lunch to fill your belly for an entire day thereafter. The trend of reviving heritage foods in Israel brought this stew in its many forms out of the house and into the Israeli café.

Ashkenazi-style cholent and Sephardi-style hamin can be found in the most surprising of locations: hipster Tel Aviv cafés (in both vegan and meaty versions); cholenterias in ultra-Orthodox enclaves like Bnei Brak; and kiosks, served alongside thick slices of Jerusalem kugel as the centerpiece of the late Thursday night yeshiva-boy social scene.

Where to get cholent/hamin

Shleikes Restaurant in Bnei Brak (kosher) serves up an Ashkenazi Polish version of the dish, kishke and all. Made from a family heirloom recipe, this cholent is served alongside other traditional Ashkenazi staples in a modern Boho-chic setting that gives a nod to the past.

Azura, open since 1952 behind Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem, is a famous kosher family-run Iraqi homestyle restaurant with a newer branch in Tel Aviv on Mikve Israel Street. Azura uses traditional kerosene burners to keep many large stock pots of traditional Mizrahi stews and dishes warm. In addition to hamin, you can get rice and beans, and ruby red beet-based kubbeh soup (see below).

Warning: Cholent is a Thursday evening/Friday morning delicacy in Israel’s cafes and restaurants. You might not find this special dish for sale any other day of the week.

3. Krembo

Homemade Krembo by Jessica Halfin

Every Israeli adult seems to have a nostalgic thing for Krembo (literally, “cream inside”), a wintertime treat sold by the giant boxful.

These tall mounded marshmallow-topped cookies, coated in chocolate, are the only item on this list that Israelis tend to pop in the freezer for a cool treat. While the logic is lost on us, we do understand that the concept is a winning one.

You may want to forgo the store-bought version and try a Krembo from an Israeli restaurant dessert menu — or simply roll up your sleeves and make your own.

Where to get Krembo

Turkiz Restaurant on the waterfront in North Tel Aviv has a version on its 2019 winter dessert menu.

Jacob’s Bread in Ramat HaSharon and Kiryat Ono sells a white chocolate version as one of its gourmet pastries.

4. Kubbeh soup

Red kubbeh soup. Photo by Shutterstock

Homestyle restaurants that set giant pots on old-fashioned slow cookers, called ptiliot, are kind of a big deal in Israel. They are what kosher-style delis are to American Jews, and often showcase the best of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish cooking.

Kubbeh soup, an Iraqi comfort dish, is basically a Middle Eastern alternative to matzah-ball soup. Kubbeh are semolina dumplings stuffed with spiced ground meat and poached in broth (a red beet-based broth or yellow- or orange-tinged vegetable-based broth including anything from Swiss chard to pumpkin).

Where to get kubbeh soup

Azura, mentioned above, as well as nearby Morduch behind the Iraqi shuk in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda shuk. Morduch, like most homestyle food joints, makes a killer couscous with meatballs (see below), but you can also find the perfect bowl of red or yellow kubbeh soup there.

In the north, Hakubbe Restaurant in Yokne’am Illit offers four kinds of kubbeh soup, as well as the fried version of kubbeh dumplings, eaten dry.

Make sure to check opening times before you go. Many homestyle food places are open only for lunch.

5. Couscous

Galia’s Couscous is a favorite eatery in Tel Mond. Photo: courtesy

We all know the instant couscous that takes five minutes to prepare. If you’ve never had real hand-rolled couscous, you’ve got to get some – like, immediately.

Real North African-style couscous is made from scratch by painstakingly pushing a mix of semolina flour and water through a sieve, before undergoing multiple steamings. It’s a fluffy treat with a buttery finish.

In Israel, homestyle places tend to serve handmade couscous on Tuesdays year-round. But seeing as it’s traditionally served as a base for soups and stews (chicken soup with root vegetables is most common), couscous is particularly delicious and satisfying in the chilly wet months of winter.

Where to get authentic couscous

At Mamos, a family-style kosher Tunisian restaurant in Beersheva, owner Gila Mamos is an expert at making the same from-scratch couscous that she has been making for her family’s Shabbat meals for years.

The restaurant serves 10 couscous options ranging from a vegetarian version to a meaty one with mafroum (pan-fried ground meat-stuffed potatoes) or lubia (a meat and bean stew) on top. Presented with different side salads and house-made pickles,it all comes together to make a complete meal.

Galia’s Couscous in Tel Mond is a homestyle kosher restaurant featuring the buffet of your dreams, filled with all the humble heartwarming foods Israelis crave including stuffed peppers, different types of meatballs, extra-large crispy schnitzel, and of course couscous made by Mama Galia herself (we counted seven versions, including vegetarian options). Everything is accompanied by side salads and a smile.

6. Orange soup (marak katom)

Homemade orange soup by Jessica Halfin

Named for its color, not its content, this typical Israeli vegetable soup can be found on pretty much every café menu, as well as in every Israeli’s kitchen.

Ingredients can include sweet potato, pumpkin, butternut squash, carrots or a combo of any of the above.

Extras and seasonings stay happily neutral to all cultures and backgrounds. What’s most important is orange soup be served hot in an extra-large bowl, next to a basket of freshly baked bread and enough space to open a good book to read while eating.

Where to get orange soup

The Inbal Hotel Yearly Soup Festival, running through February 28, Sunday to Thursday from noon to 10 pmAn all-you-can-eat kosher soup buffet with plenty of add-ons and toppings is served each year in this award-winning Jerusalem hotel.

Or make your own orange soup from recipes like this.

7. Sufganiyot

Sufganiyot from Roladin. Photo by Nicky Blackburn

It can’t be winter in Israel without an invasion of yeasted donuts called sufganiyot. While sufganiyot are directly associated with Hanukkah, you tend to see them popping up like flowers in the springtime as soon as November approaches.

Typical fillings are nondescript bright red jam, as well as chocolate and dolce de leche. They’re usually topped with powdered sugar (or dipped in ganache and sprinkled with colorful nonpareils).

Recent years have seen creative donut displays containing unusual flavors, with creative fillings and elaborate garnishes. Surveys suggest that we still all crave the classic jam-filled version of our childhood, but it is fun to taste-test your way through the years’ specialty displays.

Where to get sufganiyot

Roladin (nationwide, kosher) is the undisputed champion of gourmet sufganiyot. Each year, this chain releases a catalogue detailing the flavors that will fill their bakery cases.

Otherwise, try Nomili (kosher) in Kfar Saba. The sufganiyot are handcrafted by Paris-trained pastry chef Dan Kelly using sourdough starter and high-quality ingredients like real Belgian chocolate and Madagascar vanilla beans.

8. Dried fruit

Dried fruit teas at Lagaat B’Ochel. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Around January, supermarkets start displaying an abundance of dried fruits — including exotic ones like mango slices, papaya and kiwi — for the Tu B’Shvat holiday (also known as the birthday of the trees). This year, Tu B’Shvat takes place on February 10.

Sale prices in this season make it a good time to stock up on the otherwise expensive products.

Parlaying dried fruit into a winter-specific treat, you can also find upscale spice stores selling their own blends of sugared dried fruits ready to be brewed into fruity tea. But if you want to cut back on sugar, there’s nothing better than a good Israel-grown Medjoul date.

Where to get dried fruits

Havaat Derech HaTavlinim in Beit Lechem HaGlilit (Bethlehem of the Galilee) has spices, dried fruits, and tea blends that are otherwise hard to come by.

Lagaat B’ochel stores offer similar items in a less crowded seting, albeit without the country atmosphere.

The stalls of Machane Yehuda shuk carry unusual items like dried sugared hibiscus flowers and dried strawberries.

9. Oznei Haman

Roladin Oznei Haman. Photo by Ronen Mengen

Called “Haman’s ears” in Hebrew, you might know these festive triangular cookies as hamentaschen. Here in Israel they start to pop up after Hanukkah in anticipation of the Purim holiday.

Traditional flavors are old-fashioned poppy seed, date or prune. But like sufganiyot, modern updates found across Israeli bakeries are using playful flavor profiles that go way beyond Nutella and halva fillings.

Where to get oznei Haman

Tel Aviv bakeries Lachmania and Dallal each create delectably delicious versions, as does the original Shany Bakery (kosher) in Haifa.

Or make you own. Here’s how:

 

10. Fresh seasonal produce

Israeli winter fruits. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Because winter is the rainy season, winter produce in Israel includes strawberries, citrus, lush greens, and specialty herbs like wild zaatar.

Once the strawberry season in Israel gets into full swing in late winter and early spring, they can be bought by the kilo. If you can’t eat them all before they go bad, freeze them and use in fruit shakes and sauces.

Citrus fruits like mandarin oranges, sweet red grapefruits, large pomelos and smaller pomelits (also known as “sweeties”) are the pick of the litter in the wintertime. The larger citrus fruits have tougher skins and membranes, and so are best peeled entirely and served in segments. You can often find them in fruit stores all peeled and ready to go for a higher price.

Israel’s farmers and gardeners grow herbs and all kinds of lettuces and leafy greens during this time. Chard, spinach and other bitter greens, including specialty items like mallow, as well as herbs such as basil and wild zaatar, will be best at this time of year.

Winter herbs at the Haifa shuk. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Where to pick up (or pick your own) Israeli winter fruits

Any open-air market, especially those in major cities with everyday fruits and vegetable markets, like Haifa’s Talpiyot market or Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market.

Greens/fresh zaatar: Wadi Nisnas marketplace in Haifa or markets in other Galilean cities.

Pick your own in Kfar Neter. More than just a citrus farm, here you can eat homemade jachnun, ride horses, and get your child’s face painted while you pick oranges and lemons from the trees.

Ruach Shtuta fun family-friendly activity in the Sharon region, lets you eat all the pesticide-free strawberries you can get your hands on.

11. Shoko cham (hot chocolate) and hot apple cider

Hot chocolate and hot apple cider at Tmol Shilshom in Jerusalem. Photo by Jessica Halfin

It’s not winter until you feel compelled to order shoko cham or sip some hot spiced apple cider (wine optional) at your favorite café.

While neither of these is inherently Israeli, they have become so over time due to the country’s Mediterranean coffeehouse culture, for which these non-caffeinated gems are no-brainer crowd-pleasers.

Israeli cafés make extra rich creamy hot chocolate by melting chocolate directly into steaming hot milk. If you don’t want dairy and/or sugar, hot apple cider infused with whole cinnamon stick and apple garnishes is a perfectly heavenly alternative.

Where to get the best hot coffeeshop drinks

For scrumptious versions of both these drinks, try Jerusalem’s Tmol Shilshom kosher café. The setting is a romantic stone building that’s bookworm friendly.

If you’re looking for an ultimate hot chocolate experience, Max Brenner is the place for you. With seven locations in central Israel, Max Brenner offers almost too many hot chocolate variations to count, including build-your-own versions where you choose which single origin cocoa beans will grace your creamy dream-like chocolate libation. Favorites are spicy white chocolate chai and chili infused Mexican hot chocolate.

This article originally appeared in ISRAEL21c.

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