Contributed and photographed by Paloma Aeylon
Falafel. Shawarma. Hummus. Shnitzel. Shakshuka. These are typically the foods we salivate over in anticipation of touching down in the land of milk and honey. While these Israeli delicacies certainly warrant our attention and appetite, there’s a culinary craft that’s lesser celebrated despite its rich role in Israel’s colorful cuisine.
Selection of white cheese (gvina levana) at Basher Cheese, Tel Aviv
Produced with passion by farms dotting the map of the holy land, Israel’s dairy has developed into an art that attracts lactose lovers worldwide. Gvina levana. Bulgarit. Zefatit. Labane sprinkled with zatar. These are merely a few delicious dairy discoveries that never fail to leave a lasting impression.
Family-owned dairy farms throughout the country have recently made it a point to introduce artisanal items unique to Israel. As more boutique cheese-makers populate the country’s north and south, Israelis are even starting to identify differently pronounced regional flavors. Tzfatit, for example, a mild curd cheese molded in a basket, deviates in taste when made in the Negev as opposed to its original birthplace in the Galilee.
Watch out France. You’ve got an unassuming foe de fromage in your future!
With Shavu’ot at our doorstep, Israel’s cheese mongers are about to have a voluptuous variety of dairy products to choose from throughout the country. Marking the moment that Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai, also called Har Gavnunim (similar to gevinah, the Hebrew word for ‘cheese’), Shavu’ot represents the day that Jews began observing the laws of Kashrut (Kosher).
Without the tools needed to prepare Kosher meat, the Jewish people headed straight for milk-made magnificence. This is why, to this day, the arrival of Shavu’ot elicits indulgent images of blintzes, cheesecakes, casseroles, and all-around killer creaminess.
Whether defined by the homemade touch of a private Israeli kitchen, the speedy simplicity of a street vendor, or the gourmet innovation of Tel Aviv’s chef restaurants, there’s a morning-to-night staple in the sabra dairy diet that’s easy to make and deserves a spot on your Shavu’ot menu. Bourekas, or börek as originally coined in Turkey, is a traditional Ottoman comfort food brought to Israel with the influx of Turkish Jews.
In Ladino, a Jewish-Spanish dialect, boureka is the singular name of this ageless food favorite. However, because Israelis were so used to hearing the plural form of the term, bourekas (no one simply bought only one boureka!), the double plural suffix stuck. Coming in a variety of shapes, sizes, and flavors, the deliciously destructive b-bomb will be a guaranteed winner on your dairy-day table.
Commonly made with yummy yufka or flaky phyllo dough, the boureka is filled with cheese, minced meat, or vegetables and is topped off with sesame seeds, making the ultimate savory sensation. Whether enjoyed as a small snack accompanying tea or eaten as a hearty meal served with a hard-boiled egg, these cheese bourekas are sinfully addictive!
NOTE: Shavuot 2014 is celebrated from sundown on June 3 through one hour after sundown on June 5.
What dairy delights will you be enjoying for Shavuot? We want to know!
Inbal Baum (left), founder, Delicious Israel
Paloma Aelyon, Director of Delicious Development at Tel Aviv-based culinary tourism company Delicious Israel, has a voracious appetite to explore and document a culture linked closely to her Turkish Jewish heritage. Her passion for storytelling, matched with past experience in marketing for the travel and culinary industries, fuels her desire to share a behind-the-scenes peak into the colorfully complex reality that permeates Israel.
Founded by Israel’s food expert, Inbal Baum, Delicious Israel offers intimate culinary crusades in Israel.
If you want to the real-deal boureka, you know who to call!
Dairy Recipe- Paloma Aelyon
A staple in the homes of every Turkish grandmother, the recipe for bourekas, or bourekitas, as my Istanbul-born Uma calls them, is an inevitable hand-me-down to subsequent generations of future Jewish mothers. Often eaten alongside a small glass of freshly brewed Turkish tea, the aroma of bourekas has always been a nostalgic reminder of my grandmother’s tiny kitchen, family breakfasts, and competitive evening card games.
Here's my version of Uma’s cheese-filled favorites.
- 1 lb, 2 oz gvina levana (fresh white cheese) or ricotta
- 9 oz kashkaval or Parmesan, grated
- 9 oz brinza or feta, crumbled
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 T. corn starch
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 lbs, 5 oz puff pastry dough
- 1 egg, beaten with 1 T. water, for brushing
- Sesame seeds for garnish
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Beat all ingredients for filling until smooth.
- Roll the dough into ¼ inch thick sheet. Cut into 5-inch (12-cm) squares.
- Put one tablespoon of the filling in the center of each square, fold diagonally to form a triangle and pinch the edges together.
- Arrange the bourekas with sufficient space between them on a tray lined with baking paper.
- Brush the triangles with the beaten egg and sprinkle sesame seeds on top.
- Bake for 30 minutes until the bourekas are golden.