There are few things as wonderful as Israeli breakfast. Unlike the cheerios-and-milk American routine (or, even worse, the ubiquitous but tasteless nutrition bar), Israeli breakfasts are adventures in flavor, texture, and spice. Like the people themselves, Israelis’ breakfast foods are bold, with assertively tangy flavors, and comprise the freshest ingredients.

Think stacks of fresh pita to be dunked in hummus, labane (a thick yogurt-based cheese), fruity olive oil, and za’atar--the essential Israeli herb. All this accompanies fresh sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, as well as a spread of other cheeses and much more.

Here are recipes for three Israeli breakfast spreads: a nutty hummus, homemade labane, and Muhamarra -- a Syrian red pepper and walnut spread with a kiss of pomegranate syrup. Serve these spreads with sliced vegetables, but also try them with my final recipe, pickled cauliflower. Its flavors are strong enough to stand up to the spreads. The cauliflower is great 24 hours after preparation and only improves with age.

Walnut Hummus

Inspired by 101 Cookbooks

1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
2 cups cooked (or canned) garbanzo beans, drained
1-2 medium cloves garlic, to taste
Juice of 1 lemon (about 4 tablespoons)
1/4-1/2 cup hot water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon za'atar (or paprika)

Grind the walnuts in a food processor, so they are a sandy texture. Add most of the garbanzos, 1 or 2 tablespoons of the oil, 1 clove garlic, and lemon juice. Process until smooth.

Drizzle in the water a bit at a time and puree more, until the hummus is creamy. Taste; if desired, add the second garlic clove. Let the processor run for a minute or so, to incorporate air into the puree and give the hummus a light texture. Taste, adjust the seasoning--more salt, more lemon juice, etc.

Serve in a shallow bowl, topped with remaining chickpeas, drizzled with plenty of the remaining oil, and sprinkled with paprika or za'atar. You can also garnish with cured olives and red pepper oil, another lovely option.

Makes roughly 2 1/2 cups.

Labane

1 quart greek or regular yogurt
1 teaspoon salt
Olive oil
Za'atar

Stir salt into yogurt. Line a wire mesh strainer with either cheesecloth (at least two layers) or paper towels. Spoon yogurt into strainer; set over a bowl, cover loosely with saran wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, bowl will contain much of the whey, which should be discarded. Greek yogurt will be ready if it has sat over night for about 8 hours. For regular yogurt, strain an additional 3-4 hours for maximum thickness.

Serve in a shallow bowl; drizzle olive oil, and top with a generous sprinkle of za'atar.

Muhammara

Adapted from Epicurious
Serves 8 as an appetizer

1 12-ounce jar roasted red bell peppers, drained, OR 2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips
1-2 cloves garlic, to taste
1 cup walnuts (more if a chunkier texture is desired)
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses or 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper OR 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (a slightly sweet and not-too-spicy pepper from Syria, available at most spice stores, including Penzeys and Kalustyan’s)
1 teaspoon paprika (omit if using Aleppo pepper)
Pita chips

If using fresh red peppers, spread in a single layer on an oven sheet in a 400-degree oven to roast, about 45 minutes, until skin is blistered and flesh is soft.  Allow to cool 15 minutes, then carefully remove skins from pepper strips and discard. 

Blend all ingredients except pita chips in food processor until a coarse puree forms. Season with salt to taste. Transfer to bowl; garnish with fresh parsley or mint, and a drizzle of olive oil, if desired.  Serve with chips.

Pickled Cauliflower

Serves 4 as an appetizer

3 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon white mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds, optional
3 bay leaves
1 head cauliflower, washed and separated into florets
1 large carrot, sliced into thick chunks
1/2 a small yellow onion, halved then sliced into half-rings
1 1/2 cups white wine or plain white vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons kosher salt
A pinch of cayenne pepper, optional

Bring a 2-quart saucepan of salted water to a boil. Boil the cauliflower and carrots for 3 minutes; drain and transfer to a large bowl. Add the onion and stir to combine.

Mix spices, not including sugar and salt, together in a medium bowl. In a large sealable container (canning jars will work, but are not required if you plan to eat the salad soon and store in the fridge), add half the spice mixture. If dividing the salad among several jars, divide half the spice mixture among the jars, saving the other half to top the vegetables.

Add the vegetables into the container(s), leaving about 3/4 of an inch of space at the top of each container.

In a 4-quart saucepan, bring 2 cups water and all the sugar and salt to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally until fully dissolved. Add vinegar and stir to combine.

Pour the vinegar solution into the container(s), leaving 1/2 an inch of space below each rim.  Divide remaining spice mixture evenly between the jars.

Close or seal container(s) and transfer to the refrigerator. Allow to marinate at least 24 hours before serving; the longer you wait, the better.

 

Rivka Friedman

Rivka Friedman is a native Washingtonian, back in her home town after stints in Manhattan and Jerusalem. She spends the lion's share of her free time cooking up a storm and making pottery in which to serve said cooking. With whatever time remains, Rivka maintains a food blog, NotDerbyPie, where she catalogs her cooking adventures and posts photos that'll make you hungry.