Foods of Israel
May 1972

“Foods of Israel,” Ensign, May 1972, 67

Holy Land Issue

Foods of Israel

There is a great diversity of foods in Israel because people of at least eighty nationalities have emigrated there, all wanting the dishes to which they have been accustomed. Every visitor is impressed by the thousands of formerly barren acres that have been transformed by irrigation into green fields to produce all of these foods and more in abundance.

At Brigham Young University I talked with a group of students from Israel. “If you could choose right now, what would you ask for?” I inquired.

Several responded eagerly, “Felafel.” So here is a recipe for this favorite dish, deep-fried chick-peas and crushed wheat balls.

Felafel (Fel-ah-fel)

1/2 cup fine bulgur (crushed wheat)

1 1/2 cups coarsely crumbled homemade-type bread

1 1/2 cups dried chick-peas (garbanzos, soaked, cooked, and drained)

1/4 cup lemon juice (fresh)

2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 tablespoons fresh coriander, finely chopped

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable oil or shortening for deep frying

Place the bulgur in a small bowl; pour in enough cold water to cover it completely, and let it soak for about 15 minutes. Drain thoroughly in a sieve or colander. Meanwhile, put the crumbled bread in another bowl, add cold water to cover, and soak for 15 minutes or so. Drain the water form the bread and squeeze the pieces completely dry. Set the bulgur and bread aside.

Combine the chick-peas, lemon juice, garlic, red pepper, coriander, cumin, salt, and a few grindings of black pepper in an electric blender. Blend at high speed until mixture is reduced to a smooth puree. Transfer the mixture to a deep bowl.

Stir the wheat and bread into the chick-pea puree. Moistening your hand occasionally with cold water, shape the mixture into balls, each about 1 inch in diameter. Arrange the balls on wax paper or a plate and let them dry at room temperature for about 1 hour.

In a heavy 10- or 12-inch skillet or deep fryer heat 2 to 3 inches of the oil or shortening until it reaches a temperature of 375° F. Fry several balls at a time in the hot oil for 2 to 3 minutes or until they are golden brown. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Recipe makes about 30 one-inch balls. Serve hot as an accompaniment to drinks, or put them in a bun like an American hot dog.

Equally enthusiastic was the desire for blintzes. “Blintzes! There’s nothing in the world like blintzes!” Blintzes are rolled pancakes filled with cheese. The pancakes are cooked on one side, then filled with a cream cheese or cottage cheese and sour cream mixture, rolled, and cooked for 3 to 5 minutes. They are served hot topped with sour cream and strawberries.


“No day is complete without potato latkes,” one student said. “It makes me homesick just to think of them.”

Potato Latkes

2 eggs

3 cups grated drained potatoes

4 tablespoons grated onion

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons cracker crumbs or matzah meal

1/2 cup fat or butter

Beat the eggs and add the potatoes, onion, salt, pepper, and meal. Heat half the fat or butter in a frying pan and drop the potato mixture into it by the tablespoon. Fry until browned on both sides. Keep pancakes hot until all are fried, and add more fat or butter as required in cooking. Serves 8.


I was intrigued by schwamas—peda bread buns stuffed with barbecued lamb (I use beef) and a salad of lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles. The sliced meat is stacked, one slice on top of another, on a skewer resembling a Christmas tree and then barbecued as it revolves. The barbecued edges are cut off the meat with a sharp knife. Then a pocket or slit is cut into the flat peda bread bun; the barbecued meat is stuffed in, followed by the lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and pickles. More barbecued meat and salad follow.

Peda bread is that round, crusty bread seen everywhere in the Middle East. I was told that a stone oven is necessary, but I have found it can be made even with the “handicap” of a modern range.

Peda Bread

2 packages dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water

1 3/4 cups warm milk

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

About 6 cups unsifted all-purpose flour

Olive oil

1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water

4 tablespoons sesame seeds

In a large bowl combine yeast and warm water, stirring to blend. Let soften about 5 minutes, then stir in milk, sugar, salt, and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add 3 cups of the flour and beat with electric mixer at medium speed for 5 minutes. Remove beaters and with a heavy spoon work in 2 1/2 cups more flour. Spread the remaining 1/2 cup flour on a board and turn dough into it. Knead for about 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic.

Cover dough and let rest 20 minutes. Knead on a lightly floured board to collapse air bubbles. Divide the dough into eight pieces, and knead each portion into a smooth ball. Flatten the dough into flat, round cakes. Brush lightly with olive oil. Cover dough with clear plastic film and refrigerate 2 to 24 hours. When ready to bake, remove dough from refrigerator, uncover, and let stand at room temperature for ten minutes. Brush each loaf with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 350° F. for ten or fifteen minutes or until crust is a deep golden brown. Cool slightly on wire racks before cutting.


The Jewish holy days and festivals are rich in symbolic meaning, and food plays an important part in much of this symbolism.

The Sabbath dinner on Friday evening is the highlight of the week and is prepared with great care. The traditional items on every Sabbath table are two loaves of bread, called challah, a yeast bread made rich and golden with eggs. The two loaves are covered with a cloth, and after the blessing the cloth is raised. The cloth symbolizes the dew that gathered on the manna from heaven in the days of the exodus from Egypt. When the challah is uncovered, the family is ready for the first course, which may be gefilte fish. The next may be chicken soup, followed by a main dish of chicken boiled in the soup, and a potato latke. The final course might be lekach (honey cake).

Lekach (Honey Cake)

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon baking soda

4 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 cup honey

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup milk

Shredded almonds

Sift flour, ginger, and allspice together. Dissolve baking soda in the milk, which should be slightly warm. Put butter and honey in a mixing bowl and put it over hot water until the butter has melted. Add the beaten egg. Stir in the sifted flour and then the milk. Mix thoroughly and pour into a greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Sprinkle with almonds or arrange in daisy fashion on top of the cake. Bake in a 350° F. oven about 1 1/4 hours.


Every Sabbath is truly a day of rest. Sabbath begins at sundown Friday night and continues until sundown on Saturday. Religious law forbids lighting a fire on the sabbath. Therefore, Jewish mothers who want their families to enjoy hot noonday food prepare slow-cooking meals the day before and leave them in a hot oven overnight. The food gains flavor from the extended cooking. Cholent (stew) is a traditional dish served on the Sabbath when a hot meal is desired.


1/2 pound butter beans

2 pounds medium-sized potatoes

1 small onion

2 pounds fat brisket or short ribs

Dumpling (recipe below)

1 tablespoon sugar


Peel the potatoes and leave them whole. Put the beans in the bottom of a large casserole dish with a tight-fitting lid. Add the chopped onion and half the potatoes. Place the meat and dumpling in the center and fill up with potatoes. Season each layer with salt and pepper. Sprinkle sugar over the whole and cover with boiling water. Put on the lid. Place in the middle of a moderately hot oven until it comes to a boil; then turn the heat down to 250° F. and leave till required the following day.

To make dumpling: Mix together 1/2 cup flour, 2 tablespoons finely chopped suet, 1 tablespoon grated onion, 2 teaspoons chopped parsley, and a fairly large grated potato. Season with salt and pepper; then form into a roll.


At the annual Passover feast, Jews all over the world celebrate their deliverance from bondage in Egypt and recall their flight across the Sinai desert to Israel, as described in Exodus. This week-long holiday is a time of joy and fun, and part of the fun is in eating. The ancient Jews fled from Egypt with bread dough that did not have time to rise, so modern Jews eat only matzah—unleavened bread—during Passover week. Here is a favorite casserole using matzah, which may be purchased in Jewish delicatessens or in most supermarkets.

Maafeh Vematzah Metubal Beshamiz
(Baked Matzah, Chicken, and Dill Casserole)

6 eggs

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 cup finely cut fresh dill, or 2 tablespoons dried dill weed

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

2 teaspoons salt


3 cups cooked chicken meat cut into pieces

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 cups chicken stock, fresh or canned

3 large matzah crackers (slices of day-old bread may be substituted)

Preheat the oven to 400° F. In a deep mixing bowl, beat the eggs until frothy; stir in the onions, dill, parsley, salt, and a few grains of pepper. Add the chicken, and turn the pieces gently with a spoon until they are thoroughly coated.

Dip a matzah into the chicken stock. Lay it in the bottom of a baking dish that has been greased with one teaspoonful of oil. Spread half the chicken and egg mixture evenly over it; moisten a second matzah in the chicken stock and place it over the chicken. Spread the remaining chicken and egg mixture on top and cover with the third moistened matzah. Pour about half the remaining oil evenly over the last matzah and bake for 15 minutes. Then sprinkle with the rest of the oil and continue baking for 15 minutes longer or until the top is browned. Serve at once.

As they say in Israel, “Betayavon!” (With good appetite! May you enjoy it!)

  • Sister Ricks has accompanied her husband, Dr. Eldin Ricks, on two recent tours of the Holy Land. She served on the YWMIA general board for fourteen years and on a correlation writing committee for four years. She now teaches Sunday School in the BYU Ninth Ward, where her husband serves as bishop.

Foods prepared by Lu Dornbush