Cooking in Israel is fabulous. The melting pot of cultures and cuisines that is this country makes a trip to the supermarket an adventure that gives you a chance to expand your culinary repertoire. But sometimes, especially for new olim, making something familiar and comforting can be a little challenging. When I polled my oleh friends about what they found tricky in cooking here, most of the responses ran to unavailable ingredients, and most people were remarkably specific.
Spices here are wonderful, both pre-packaged and purchased loose. While many pre-mixed combinations are available, they all tend to have a distinctive middle-Eastern flavor. More “Western” spice mixes are not found here. Some people mentioned garlic salt as a “can’t-live-without.” One part granulated garlic to three parts salt is a good replacement. Seasoned salt is not available, but this copy-cat recipe will deal with any cravings - Magic Salt. Please note that this recipe uses granulated garlic, or shum g’vishi (also called gvishei shum, just to mix things up!), as opposed to avkat shum, which is powdery and tends to clump soon after purchase. There is no equivalent granulated version of onion powder here, so use imported, or just add a little extra garlic.
An interesting difference between Israel and the US is in the cuts of meat. Israeli cuts are numbered, and divide the meat differently. New olim tend to find this very confusing. Read the labels – see what type of cooking is intended for each cut. And watch out for packaged meat with water added or ground meat with added soy – best to avoid the additives. Names of types of fish are also different, but it’s easy to find charts for both meat and fish equivalents on line.
American ketchup has been available here for quite a while, but still missing from the shelves here is American style chili sauce. An easy substitution is combining one part Thai sweet chili sauce – delicious on roasted potatoes, by the way – with two parts ketchup. Like a little less spice? Adjust the proportions to suit your palate.
Canned tomato sauce is another ingredient that is just not widely available here. Tomato paste, available in two consistencies, 22 Bx and 28-30 Bx (higher numbers mean more concentrated) combined with tomato juice make a good substitute. My Old Fashioned Sweet and Sour Meatballs uses these two to make a delicious sauce.
By all means, get acquainted with what is available in your supermarket. We have an amazing array of fruits and vegetables. Once you accept the fact that produce is truly seasonal – you will never be able to make that strawberry AND mango salad you loved with fresh fruit – you can make use of the bounty of beautiful produce on the shelves. Jamie’s Persimmon Salsa is a great example of this! We may be lacking in a few convenience foods that can be replaced; butternut squash kugel made with fresh squash is a little more work, but absolutely delicious. Try the new flavors your store offers – hawaij in your chicken soup, kubbe soup instead of knaidlach, Moroccan fish instead of gefilte – to create a new cuisine for you and your family. And please feel free to contact me if you have any questions I can help with!
Tools for fish or meat buying in Israel