With its big flavors, lean proteins, veggies and fresh herbs, Israeli cuisine — which shares much in common with the Mediterranean diet, but has its own special twists — is the foodie’s dream diet. Here, cookbook author Adeena Sussman and Upper West Side dietitian Lyssie Lakatos break down the food staples that make Israeli cuisine so healthy and tasty.
It could very well run through the veins of cooks such as Sussman, who says she uses “gallons” of it in her kitchen — especially of her preferred Israeli variety, grown on the area’s “topographically blessed steps,” she writes. Olive oil is paramount to dishes such as hummus and tabbouleh, but also makes surprising appearances in many of her recipes, such as her olive oil chocolate spread. Rich in monounsaturated fat and anti-oxidants, olive oil has been shown to lower “bad” cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation, says Lakatos.
Swap a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich for a breakfast salad to frontload your day with veggies, Israeli style. Although you can do it with greens, the iconic Israeli salad consists mainly of “two non-negotiable ingredients,” says Sussman: firm, crunchy cucumbers and juicy, ripe tomatoes. Both come with health perks: Tomatoes are rich in beta carotene and lycopene, which help protect skin from sun damage and skin cells from harm. Cucumbers are naturally hydrating and loaded with anti-oxidants to protect against chronic disease, Lakatos says.
Got a sweet tooth? The so-called candy of the Middle East, dates, are a great source of fiber, B vitamins, potassium, calcium and magnesium. And silan, its syrup, is a less processed, more nutrient-rich sweetener than white sugar and corn syrup, Lakatos says — and a favorite of Sussman’s for adding a hint of sweetness to dishes.
Here’s a simple condiment that can add a punch of flavor without upping dishes’ calories. Lemons — Sussman favors preserved lemons and preserved lemon paste — are packed with bright flavor and disease-fighting phytonutrients, says Lakatos.
The hot chili peppers in schug, a spicy green sauce now available at many common grocery stores, are packed with capsaicin, a component linked to weight loss, according to researchers at Quebec’s Laval University, who found this year that it can boost metabolism and prevent future overeating.
Sussman calls this versatile, nutrient-rich paste made from ground sesame seeds “Israel’s peanut butter.” It’s found in everything from hummus to halva to smoothies, and is rich in protein, B vitamins, vitamin E, and minerals such as magnesium, iron and calcium, Lakatos says. Try drizzling it over roasted root veggies, using it as a salad dressing or drizzling it onto meat.
These little legumes have big health benefits. Chickpeas — the creamy pulses that give hummus their consistency and satiety — are a major source of pride in Israeli cuisine, Sussman says. They’re packed with protein, fiber, iron, potassium and anti-oxidants. A half-cup of cooked garbanzo beans delivers 9 grams of protein, Lakatos says.