How to Make an Amazing Israeli Breakfast Buffet

Israeli Breakfast
An Israeli breakfast with egg, bread, cheese, olives salads, coffee, and juice. Credit: Photostock Israel/Getty Images

If you've ever visited Israel, then you can vouch that one of the most fantastic ways to start the day is with an Israeli breakfast. What started as kibbutz fare (collective living and dining made a big breakfast spread with lots of variety make lots of sense) has turned into a common -- and well-loved -- fixture in Israeli hotels and restaurants. But when it comes to entertaining, it's also an ideal change-up from the standard bagels and lox brunch. And even if you're just grabbing...MORE a nowhere-near-as-elaborate breakfast on the go, it's great inspiration for those days when you want something more exciting than cereal or an egg.  After all, hummus, cucumbers, and tomatoes in a pita may not be a full-on vacation-style breakfast, but it's a great way to fuel up in the morning. 

  • 01 of 13
    Hummus with Chickpeas and Olive Oil
    Hummus with Chickpeas and Olive Oil. Credit: Jean-Yves Tran/EyeEm/Getty Images

    Hummus -- that much loved, humble chickpea dip -- is a vital part of the cuisine throughout the Middle East. In Israel, where it's served at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack times, it's practically iconic.  

    Nowadays, you can find tubs of hummus in supermarkets worldwide, in all sorts of flavors. But nothing beats homemade hummus, and once you get the hang of the basic recipe, you can tweak it to get exactly the texture and flavor you desire. There are probably as many hummus recipes...MORE as there are people who make it, but Giora Shimoni's version is a typical example of classic Israeli-style hummus.

  • 02 of 13
    Freshly baked pita breads
    A basket of freshly baked pita breads. © Miri Rotkovitz

    Giora Shimon's recipe for Israeli Pita Bread  makes it easy to enjoy your own fresh pita breads (pitot in Hebrew) warm from the oven. If you want to make them ahead, you can store them in the freezer so they stay fresh, then warm them up before serving. 

    Pita, by the way, isn't the only bread you'll find in a typical spread. Rolls, multigrain breads, challah, and bagels are all popular choices, too. 

  • 03 of 13
    Israeli Chopped Tomato and Cucumber Salad
    Israeli Chopped Tomato and Cucumber Salad. © Miri Rotkovitz

     This chopped tomato and cucumber salad is so iconic of Israeli cuisine that it has been dubbed "Israeli Salad," and shows up on the table any time of day -- breakfast included. And it's virtually impossible to imagine stuffing a falafel sandwich or enjoying some freshly baked pita and hummus without it.

    The truth is, Israelis aren't the only ones who appreciate this simple salad -- you'll find similar ones throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean region. Some include...MORE fresh herbs, other vegetables, or vinegar. Giora Shimoni's version is nice and simple, and makes a great template for embellishment with herbs, cheese, pine nuts, chickpeas, or whatever else strikes your fancy. His only advice? Shimoni says "the secret to a really good Israeli salad is finely chopped vegetables." As for seasoning, he notes "Israelis tend to sprinkle on quite a bit of salt." If you're watching your sodium intake, try sprinkling on some za'atar instead -- you'll end up adding more flavor and less salt, especially if you make your own spice blend

  • 04 of 13
    Baba Ghanoush, garnished with pomegranate seeds and parsley
    Baba Ghanoush, garnished with pomegranate seeds and parsley. © Miri Rotkovitz

    Popular throughout the Middle East, Baba Ghanoush - also known as Baba Ghanouj and Babaganoush - is a dip or spread made of roasted eggplant and tahini. The recipe is straightforward - simply roast the eggplant, scoop out the softened pulp, and then puree with tahini and seasonings. Scoop it up with fresh pita bread or raw veggies

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  • 05 of 13

    Chocolate Spread

    Chocolate Spread
    Chocolate Spread on bread. Credit: Photostock Israel / Getty Images

    Think of chocolate spread as Israel's answer to Nutella, only without the hazelnuts. Like its much loved Italian counterpart, Israeli chocolate spread first hit the market in the mid-1940's, and has been popular as a breakfast spread, snack, and dessert ever since. Unlike Nutella, most commercial chocolate spread is pareve, so it can be enjoyed any time of day or night. But the original -- and arguably most popular brand in Israel -- is called HaShachar Ha'Ole (literally "the...MORE rising dawn"), so how can one not associate it with breakfast? Try it on challah or warm pita, or as a filling for crepes. Add some banana or strawberries if you want to up the nutrition factor. 

  • 06 of 13
    Potato Borekas
    Potato Borekas. © Miri Rotkovitz

     In Israel, freshly baked bourekas with all sorts of fillings are a bakery mainstay, and the supermarkets sell frozen ones as a convenience item. Kosher supermarkets in the US and elsewhere often carry them, too, but they can be hard to find otherwise. Fortunately, they're not at all hard to make at home. Cheese or potato bourekas are often included as part of a breakfast buffet at Israeli hotels, and you an grab them on the go from countless bakeries or shuks (open air markets). 

  • 07 of 13

    Gvina Levana

    G'vina Levana
    G'vina levana on bread. Credit: Vlad Fishman / Getty Images

    Gvina levana, which translates simply as "white cheese" is an iconic Israeli food, though as food journalist Janna Gur explains, it was the Templars who first brought it to Israel. The soft, spreadable, cow's milk cheese is quite similar to the German quark, which makes sense, given it's origins. Gvina levana has a distinctive sour creamy tang, and makes a nice complement to whole grain breads or vegetables. 

  • 08 of 13

    Labneh and yogurt

    Labneh with Zaatar and Olive Oil
    Labneh with Zaatar and Olive Oil. Credit: PhotoStock-Israel/GettyImages

    Labneh is a thick, tangy strained yogurt that's delicious with cucumber and tomato salad, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with zaatar, or served as a spread for pita and breakfast breads. It's easy to make your own from plain yogurt and salt, thanks to Middle Eastern Food Expert Saad Fayed's simple recipe. Fruit yogurts also tend to make an appearance on Israeli breakfast buffets, so if you prefer things on the sweeter side, that's another option. 

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  • 09 of 13

    Eggs

    Shakshouka
    Shakshouka, a dish of eggs cooked with tomato and peppers. Credit: Stuart West (c) Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

    Eggs of all sorts are a staple of the Israeli breakfast. Some like them sunny-side up, some as an omelet. And shakshouka -- eggs cooked in an aromatic, tomato-based sauce -- is having a major moment now, thanks to its inclusion in cookbooks like Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem, and Michael Solomonov's Zahav.

    Giora Shimoni's simple Israeli Shakshouka includes onion, bell pepper, tomatoes and eggs. He notes that it's perfect for those occasions when everyone's...MORE "starving-hungry," but there's not much in the fridge! If you want a more elaborate version, with lots of aromatic spices and and a rich tomato sauce, then check out Moroccan Food Expert Christine Benlafquih's recipe.    

  • 10 of 13
    Rugelach
    Israeli Chocolate Rugelach. Credit: PhotoStock-Israel/Getty Images

    Breakfast at dessert? Sure! Just think of these Chocolate Rugelach as mini chocolate croissants, and it's not so hard to get your head around the idea of cookies as breakfast food. Giora Shimoni's recipe includes as cream cheese pastry dough baked around a dark chocolate- cinnamon filling. 

  • 11 of 13

    Olives

    Green and black olives
    Green and black olives. Credit: Image Source / Getty Images

    Israeli breakfasts feature plenty of locally grown produce, and a olives are no exception. Plus, they're a natural fit for a meal featuring savory fare like hummus, cheese, and eggs. 

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    Fruit Juices

    Fruit juices
    Fruit juices. Credit: Ligia Botero / Getty Images

     Mitz -- juice -- is a well-loved thirst quencher any time of day in Israel, and you'll always find it at breakfast. Grapefruit, mango, and orange juices are especially popular.  

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  • 13 of 13

    Coffee

    Cafe Hafuch, or upside down coffee
    Cafe Hafuch, or upside down coffee. Credit: lina aidukaite / Getty Images

    Israel has always had a strong coffee culture, with Turkish coffee a perpetual mainstay. But espresso-based drinks have gained lots of ground, too. One favorite is the "cafe hafuch," or "upside down coffee," a latte-like drink made with steamed milk on the bottom, espresso, and sometimes foamed milk on top.