An American Moment for Israeli Food

By Shannon Sarna

Food guru Shannon Sarna, spokeswoman for Every Bite Counts: Hadassah's Nutrition Program, celebrates the delectable, diverse universe of Israeli food and its  popularity in the US. "Israeli food is both Ashkenazi and Sephardi, Jewish and non-Jewish, new and old, and though no one has precisely defined it yet, it is terribly exciting," she says. Check out her latest column and recipe.

Israeli food is having such an exciting moment in America. Chefs like Alon Shaya, Michael Solomonov, Uri Scheft and Einat Admony have put Israeli cuisine at the forefront of trendy food with their James Beard-awarded restaurants, acclaimed cookbooks and popular dishes.

Yet what, exactly, is Israeli food? Many food writers and chefs concur that, as a young country with diverse global influences, Israeli food is still very much in the process of defining itself.

Israeli food certainly isn't just falafel, hummus, shawarma and pita. And popular Israeli chefs have helped catapult dishes like shakshuka, the Miznon-inspired whole roasted cauliflower and za'atar spiced vegetables as staples on restaurant menus across the United States.

Israeli food is both Ashkenazi and Sephardi, Jewish and non-Jewish, new and old, and though no one has precisely defined it yet, it is terribly exciting. And due to the abundance of locally grown produce in Israel, it's also incredibly fresh and healthful. Israeli-inspired dishes are ideal to add to a heart-healthy diet -- smoky roasted eggplant, shakshuka and fresh salads nourish your body and also taste amazing, exactly what we need to stay healthy and make sure that Every Bite Counts.

I have been deeply inspired by the food of Israel from my numerous trips, as well as the chefs named above. I often make za'atar spiced chicken and cauliflower with chickpeas for weeknight dinners, adding my own American-mom spin -- in this case, a sheet-pan preparation. After experiencing the fluffy, light pita of Israel, I just couldn't go back to store-bought, and so homemade, whole wheat pita bread has become a staple in our home. And shawarma whole grain bowls are another dinner staple beloved by my kids and husband alike.

You can use any whole grain as the base for this dish, from quinoa, brown rice, barley, farro or a combination. I love prepping my rice or other grains on Sunday night so I have them ready to go during the week for faster dinner preparation. You can also prepare the chicken ahead of time for easier weeknight meal prep.

Chicken Shawarma Grain Bowls
Yield, 4 servings


    For the chicken:
  • 1 ½ lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts or chicken thighs
  • 1 ½ Tbsp cumin 2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 ½ tsp coriander
  • 1 ½ tsp paprika
  • 1 ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground clove
  • ½ tsp salt pinch red pepper flakes
  • (optional) 2 Tbsp olive oil
    For the bowls:
  • 1 cup brown rice, cooked according to directions (can also use quinoa, farro, or other preferred grain)
  • 4 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 1 English cucumber, diced
  • 1 orange or yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1-2 Tbsp each of chopped fresh parsley, mint and cilantro
  • juice of one lemon
  • tahini

Note: Other possible additions: chopped pickles, canned chickpeas, pickled tomatoes or shredded cabbage.

Recipe inspired by Danielle Oron's version from her cookbook, Modern Israeli Cooking.


  • Combine spice mixture in small bowl. Add 2 Tbsp olive oil and mix.
  • Slather spice mixture all over chicken. Allow to marinate overnight. (If you don't have time to prep ahead, just marinate in the fridge for 15-20 minutes before making).
  • To cook chicken in an oven: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lay chicken on a lightly greased baking pan in a single layer. Cook 35-40 minutes, depending on thickness of chicken. Cut open to ensure it is no longer pink inside.
  • To cook chicken on the stovetop: Heat a large non-stick skillet or cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Add ½ Tbsp olive oil. Sear chicken on each side until slightly charred, and cooked through in the middle (around 4 minutes on each side).
  • Combine diced tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, chopped herbs and lemon juice in a medium bowl.
  • Divide rice into four bowls. Top with chicken, chopped salad and a drizzle of tahini.

Note: Other possible additions: chopped pickles, canned chickpeas, pickled tomatoes or shredded cabbage.

Recipe inspired by Danielle Oron's version from her cookbook, Modern Israeli Cooking.

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