Everything you need to know about local Arab, Israeli, and Levantine food.
Over the years, I have learned more and more about Middle Eastern dishes. While each country and religion has different culinary traditions and methods, I was amazed to find out how many Arab and Israeli food dishes are similar. I grew up in a Sephardi community in London and was lucky enough to regularly enjoy traditional dishes from talented cooks from Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, Turkey, Iraq, and others. Over the past few years, I have expanded that culinary journey and tried to familiarise myself with local Arabic dishes in Israel, specifically around Jerusalem, Haifa, Nazareth, and the Galil. In addition, traditional Arabic dishes are becoming increasingly popular in Israeli restaurants all over the country, and not just knafe!
I have created this glossary of Middle Eastern food terms to help familiarise people with the culinary lingo, discover delicious food, and learn about Arab and Israeli cultures. The glossary focuses on Middle Eastern, Levantine, and Mediterranean cuisine. Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine can sometimes be confused. While Meditteranean cuisine includes some Middle Eastern cuisines such as Turkish, Israeli, Egyptian, and Moroccan, in general, Middle Eastern and Meditteranean cuisines are not the same. The Levant is the geographical region that includes modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestinian Territories, and Jordan, and this cuisine is referred to as Levantine.
I believe in focusing on similarities rather than differences and, as it is often said, food can bring us all together. I have included some recipes by popular chefs and I would love to hear your feedback if this post inspires you to taste or make any of these dishes.
Glossary of Arab and Israeli Food and Culinary Terms:
Akkawi Cheese (Akawi, Akawieh, Ackawi) is a salty, white cheese originally from Akko (Akka, Acre).
Amba is a pickled mango sauce that originates from Iraq, where it was part of the Shabbat morning meal. When the Iraqi Jews brought it to Israel, it became a condiment served with shawarma and falafel. Amba can now be found in most grill restaurants around the country (Michael Solomonov Amba recipe).
Arabic Coffee is brewed ground coffee, traditionally made in a finjan with cardamom spice. In Israeli restaurants, it is known as Turkish coffee but Arabic restaurants refer to it as Arabic coffee.
Arak (Araq) is an aniseed-flavored alcoholic drink, originating from the Levant.
Arais (Arayes) is a toasted meat-filled pita bread that is a popular street food dish in the Levant. In the past few years it has become increasingly popular all over Israel (Zaatar & Zaytoun Arayes recipe).
Babka is an Ashkenazi braided, sweet yeast cake filled with chocolate, cinnamon, fruit, poppy seed, or cheese. It was traditionally made with leftover challah dough (Uri Scheft / Breads Bakery Chocolate Babka recipe).
Baharat is a spice blend used in Middle Eastern cooking, which varies by region and ethnicity. Although Baharat in Arabic translates as spices, in recipes it refers to a specific blend of aromatic spices such as cumin, cloves, and cinnamon and is often used to season meat and vegetable dishes. It is a great seasoning for Dafina/Hamin (see more below).
Baklava is a pastry dessert made of layers of filo pastry and melted butter, filled with chopped nuts, and sweetened with a syrup that can contain rose water or orange flower water (Nadiya Hussain Baklava recipe and Anas Atassi Baklava recipe).
Bamia is a Middle Eastern dish of okra (lady’s fingers) cooked with tomato sauce and onion (Zaatar & Zaytoun Okra recipe).
Basbousa (Basbusa) is a North African semolina cake drizzled with syrup containing rosewater or orange flower water (Chef Tariq Basbousa recipe).
Bishbash is a Moroccan fennel salad, which can include other vegetables such as carrots and kohlrabi (Nir Mesika Bishbash recipe).
Brik (Borek) is a deep-fried Tunisian dish made from thin pastry, filled with egg and sometimes herbs and spices.
Bulgur (Burghul) is a type of cracked wheat, sometimes called groats. It is used in many Middle Eastern dishes including tabbouleh salad, kibbe nayah, and kubbe (see below).
Burekas (Borekah, Bourekas) are Turkish pastry pockets made from either puff or filo pastry, traditionally filled with white cheese, spinach, mushroom, potato, or a mixture of fillings. The larger burekas are often served cut in half and then filled with hard-boiled egg, tahina, harissa, and pickles (Michael Solomonov Burekas recipe).
Challa is a Jewish egg bread served on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. It is often braided, and many bakeries sell a sweet, brioche-like version (Uri Scheft / Breads Bakery Challah recipe).
Chebakia (Shebakia, Mkharka, Griwech, Griouech) is a Moroccan dessert made from deep-fried pastry in the shape of a rose. The fried pastry is then coated in a syrup flavored with orange blossom, cinnamon, saffron, or anise, and sprinkled with sesame (Taste of Maroc Chebakia recipe).
Chermoula (Charmoula) is a North African relish usually made from garlic, cumin, coriander, lemon juice, and oil. Other spices and herbs can also be added (Ottolenghi Chermoula recipe).
Chubeza (Khobbeizeh) is a wild green leafy plant that is a member of the mallow family. It is native to the Middle Eastern region and is used in both Israeli and Arabic cuisines (Zion Barnes Chubeza fritters recipe).
Cigars (Cigarim) are a fried Moroccan delicacy made of ground beef wrapped in pastry in the shape of a cigar (Joanna Bensimon Beef Cigar recipe)
Couscous is a Moroccan dish made from semolina flour. It is typically served with slow-cooked meat stews or with a vegetable broth (Eden Eats for Vegetable Couscous recipe and Einat Admony Couscous recipe).
Doha (Du’ah, Do’a, Dukkah, or Duqqa) is an Egyptian condiment made from a mixture of ground nuts, herbs, and spices. It is typically served as a dip for bread either dry or with olive oil. More recently, some Israeli chefs have started using it as a seasoning in their food, (Suzy Karadsheh Egyptian Dukkah recipe).
Eggplant Baladi is a whole charred eggplant (aubergine) dish topped with tahina and a variety of condiments including pine nuts, silan, pomegranate molasses, and/or pomegranate seeds (Eden Eats Eggplant Baladi recipe).
Falafel is a deep-fried chickpea ball, often mixed with fresh parsley. It is usually served inside pita bread, with hummus, tahina, and salad, or as part of a mezze of salads. Falafel can also be made with fava beans (ful) (Chef Tariq falafel recipe).
Fatayer is a Middle Eastern meat pie that can also be stuffed with spinach, or cheese such as feta, and za’atar. It is similar to an empanada (Chef Tariq Spinach Fatayer recipe and Muzna Bishara Fatayer recipe).
Fatteh is a Levantine dish made from hummus, yogurt, fried onions, and clarified butter, covered with toasted or grilled flatbread pieces. It sometimes includes chicken (Suzanne Matar Eggplant Fatteh recipe).
Fattoush Salad is a Levantine salad made from lettuce, cucumber tomato, radishes, and other vegetables, topped with toasted or fried pieces of pita bread and sumac. The dressing often includes pomegranate molasses which provides a tangy flavor (Ottolenghi Fattoush Salad recipe). Some Israeli restaurants serve a green herb salad called Fattoush but this is not the authentic recipe.
Freekeh is green durum wheat that is roasted and rubbed to create a nutty flavor. It is a popular side dish to grilled fish and meat dishes among Israeli chefs (Muzna Bishara Freekeh Tabbouleh recipe).
Frena is a Moroccan bread, that is thicker and fluffier than pita bread, and similar to Italian focaccia (La Boite Frena recipe).
Fricassé (Fricassee) is a traditional Tunisian sandwich made with a fried bun, filled with tuna, boiled potatoes, hard-boiled egg, harissa (chili pepper), and preserved lemon (Brigitte Choufan Fricassé recipe).
Ful is the translation of the Hebrew and Arabic word for fava beans. It is often served as a topping for hummus. Ful Medames is a traditional breakfast dish in Egypt and is common in many Middle Eastern cuisines (Claudia Roden Ful Medames recipe).
Ghraybe (Ghoriba, Qurabiya, Ghriyyaba) are Levantine biscuits similar to shortbread, found in both Jewish and Muslim cuisine (Hadia Zebib Khanafer Ghraybe recipe). They are often made in a crescent shape, S-shape, or round with a flaked almond on top. In my synagogue, they were served for every festival and known by the kids as S biscuits.
Gondi (Ghondi, Gundi) are Persian meat dumplings traditionally served on Shabbat in chicken soup. They can be made from ground beef, lamb, or chicken, with matza meal (Ottolenghi Gondi recipe and Adeena Sussman Gondi recipe).
Halawet el-jibn is a Syrian dessert made of semolina and cheese dough, filled with cream, and decorated with pistachio.
Halva is a sweet dish made from sesame paste and sugar, with a variety of flavors. Halva means sweet desserts in Persian. In the US I recommend buying from Seed + Mill and in Israel from Halva Kingdom or Al Yasmin in Abu Ghosh.
Hamin (Chamin, Adafina, Dfina, Tfina, Skheena, Skinha) is a Shabbat stew made with chicken or meat with a selection of rice, vegetables, beans, garlic, seasonings such as turmeric and cinnamon, and haminados eggs. It is prepared before Shabbat starts and cooked overnight. It is then served for lunch on Shabbat day, similar to Ashkenazi Cholent (La Boite Hamin recipe and Nechama Rivlin Hamin recipe). The Iraqi version is called T’beet (see below) and the Tunisian version is called Pkaila and is usually vegetarian (Leah Koenig Tfina Pkaila recipe).
Haminados (Hamin Eggs) is a Sephardi dish of whole eggs cooked overnight on Shabbat either in a standalone pot or as part of the Hamin/Adafina stew. If cooked alone, people add tea leaves or onion skins to the water to make the eggs a darker brown (Etty Leon Huevos Haminados recipe).
Harira is a North African meat soup served mostly in Morocco and Algeria. Muslims eat it during Ramadam and Jews break their fast on Yom Kippur (Eden Eats Harira recipe).
Hashweh (Hashwa) is a Levantine rice dish, most commonly identified as Lebanese. It is made with rice, minced meat, toasted nuts and raisins. The dish can be served alone or used as a stuffing (Suzy Karadsheh Hashweh recipe).
Hawaij is a Yemenite spice mixture that comes in different varieties. The most well-known version is used for cooking soups and stews and another version is used to flavor coffee.
Hilbe is a Yemenite dip made from fenugreek seeds and hot pepper, which is added to soup or served as a dip (Michael Solomonov Hilbe recipe).
Jachnun is a Yemenite pastry dish cooked overnight and served with grated fresh tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and a spicy dip. It is traditionally served at home on Shabbat but can now be found in restaurants (Uri Scheft Yemenite Jachnun recipe).
Jerusalem Bagel (Bagel Yerushalmi, Ka’ak Al-Quds) is an oblong-shaped crusty bread, covered in sesame seeds, originally sold in the Old City of Jerusalem with a pocket of za’atar. The bread is similar to ka’ak bread found all over the Middle East and should not be confused with a traditional bagel which is a different shape and texture (Suzy Karadsheh Jerusalem Bagel recipe).
Jerusalem Mixed Grill (Me’urav Yerushalmi) is a grilled meat dish made of chicken hearts, spleens, and livers, cooked in lamb fat with fried onions and spices. The dish originates in Jerusalem but can be found all over the country with varying ingredients. Hatzot restaurant in Jerusalem claims to have invented the dish – see photos below.
Jibne (Jibni, Jibneh) is a hard, salty white cheese found all over the Middle East.
Ka’ak is a type of hard biscuit shaped into a ring. Savory versions can be sprinkled with sesame seeds or flavored with cumin seeds, while sweet versions can have aniseed and other flavors (Reem Kassis Mulled Wine Kaak recipe and Erez Komarovsky Sesame Kaak recipe). It is different from the Arabic Ka’ak bread or Jerusalem Bagel.
Kada (Kadeh or Qadeh) is a traditional Kurdish pastry filled with either salty white cheese or meat (Alon Hadar Kadeh recipe).
Kadaif (Kataifi) is a pastry made from long thin noodle threads filled with walnuts or pistachios and sweetened with syrup. In recent years, meat dishes have been created with kadaif pastry.
Katayef (Qatayef) is a Middle Eastern dessert made from folded mini pancakes filled with cheese or nuts and drizzled with syrup. These sweets are traditionally served during Ramadan but have recently become popular in Arabic restaurants in Israel all year round (Chef Tariq Qatayef recipe and Muzna Bishara Qatayef recipe).
Kebab is a small patty of meat, fish, or vegetables roasted or grilled on a skewer (La Boite Lamb Kebab recipe and Mini Kebab recipe). Adana kebab is a type of Turkish kebab and is made of mine meat, usually lamb.
Khachapuri is a traditional Georgian pastry. Although it is not Middle Eastern, this dish has become very popular in Israel in recent years. There are different versions of this dish that correspond to different regions in Georgia. The most popular version is Acharuli which is a boat-shaped pastry, filled with cheese, butter, and poached eggs.
Kibbe Nayyeh (Kubbi Neyee) is a Levantine dish of minced raw meat mixed with fine bulgur, and various seasonings (Chef Tariq Kibbeh Nayeh recipe). I had a delicious fish kibbeh nayeh at Magdalena restaurant on the Kinneret.
Kofta (Koftah, Kufte, Kofte, Kafta) are balls of spiced minced meat or fish found in Middle Eastern and Asian cuisine. Kebab and Kofta are very similar (Ottolenghi Fish Kofta recipe). In Arabic cuisine, kofta can be cooked in either tahina or tomato sauce, often with potatoes (Sami Tamimi Kofta with tomato recipe from Falastin cookbook and Chef Tariq Kafta with tahina recipe).
Knafe (Knafeh, Kanafeh, Kunafa) is a Middle Eastern dessert made with kadaif and melted cheese, soaked in a sugary syrup. Some traditions use semolina rather than kadaif and the dessert is often topped with Turkish ice cream and crushed pistachios (Salma Hage Knafe recipe). Avoid any knafe made with bright orange dye!
Kubane is a traditional Yemenite pull-apart bread baked overnight and served on Shabbat morning, accompanied by haminados, and grated fresh tomatoes.
Kubbeh (Kibbeh, Kubbi, Kubbi bi-siniyee, kobeba) is an Iraqi and Kurdish delicacy made of bulgur (cracked wheat) or semolina, filled with ground meat. It is either served as a fried croquette or a boiled dumpling. Kubbeh soup varieties include beetroot (Michael Solomonov Kubbeh Selek recipe), red (tomato), and sour with green vegetable Sherri Ansky Kubbeh Hamusta recipe). Making Kubbeh is an art form (Chef Tariq Fried Kibbeh recipe) but here is a Baked Kubbeh Pie recipe by Reem Kassis which is healthier and easier to make.
Kugel is an Ashkenazi baked dish, traditionally served on Shabbat, and can be sweet or savory. The savory versions include potato kugel, carrot kugel, and Jerusalem (Yerushalmi) kugel, which is made with spaghetti noodles, and lots of black pepper. Lokshen kugel is sweet and is made with egg noodles and raisins, and sometimes cream cheese (Claudia Roden Lokshen kugel recipe) and Jamie Geller various kugel recipes).
Kuku Sabzi is a Persian herb omelette similar to a frittata. It is often served with barberries and walnuts (Ottlolenghi Iranian herb fritters recipe).
Laban Kishk (Kashk, Jameed, Yogurt Stone) is a hard cheese made of goat milk yogurt that is salted and dried. It was originally made by the Bedouins in the desert but is now popular across the Levant.
Labaneh (Labneh) is a strained, slightly sour yogurt that is served plain, with za’atar, or in olive oil. Some places serve labaneh balls preserved in olive oil or covered in crushed spices (Ottolenghi Labaneh recipe and Eden Eats Labaneh recipe).
Lachuch (Lachoh) is a Yemenite bread that is a cross between a flatbread and a pancake, with a spongy texture (Einat Admony Lachuch recipe).
Lafa (Laffa) is an Iraqi soft flatbread that is larger than pita bread and is served rolled up with a falafel or shawarma filling.
Lahmajin (Lahm Bi ‘Ajin, Lahmajun, Lahmacun) is a Middle Eastern meat-topped flatbread. It is normally cooked with lamb, but beef can be used. It is sometimes referred to as a Turkish pizza and is a popular dish among the Jews from Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq (Ottolenghi Lahmajin recipe).
Lebanese Nights (Layali Lubnan or Beirut Nights) is a Levantine dessert found in Arabic restaurants. The rich semolina pudding is flavored with orange blossom water and/or rose water and topped with cream, crushed pistachios, and syrup. It is aromatic but not overly sweet or rich.
Limonana is a type of juice made from freshly squeezed lemons and mint. It is served chilled or as an ice slushy or granita. It can also be served with arak for an alcoholic version (Michael Solomonov Limonana recipe).
Mafrum is a Libyan dish made of ground beef, sandwiched in between potatoes or eggplant, battered, fried, and cooked in a tomato sauce (Einat Admony Mafrum recipe).
Maftoul (Maftool) is a North African couscous that is common in Levantine cuisine and is sometimes known as Palestinian Couscous. It can be included in a variety of dishes, but is traditionally served is a broth with chickpeas, chicken and vegetables (Reem Kassis Maftoul recipe).
Mahshi is a generic term for stuffed vegetables in Arabic cuisine but it typically refers to squash or zucchini stuffed with rice and/or meat (Nina Dahan Onion Mahshi and Zucchini Mashi recipes). Stuffed cabbage is also called Malfouf Mahshi (Chef Tariq Malfouf recipe). In Hebrew, stuffed vegetables are called Memoulaim (ממולאים).
Majadra (Mujaddara) is a Middle Eastern rice and lentil dish which is topped with caramelized onions (Erez Komarovsky Mujadara recipe).
Makdous is an eggplant dish found in Levantine and Middle Eastern cuisine made of baby eggplants stuffed with roasted red peppers, walnuts, and garlic, and preserved in olive oil. It is usually served with labaneh at breakfast (Zaatar & Zaytoun Makdous recipe).
Makluba (Maqluba, makloubeh, Ma‘louba) is a Levantine rice-based casserole with meat, and vegetables (eggplant, cauliflower, carrots) in a pot, which is flipped upside down when served, hence the name, which literally translates as “upside-down”. Some restaurants in Israel now serve a vegetarian version of this dish (Sami Tamimi Chicken Makluba recipe and Vegetable Makluba recipe).
Malabi (Muhallebi, Mahalabia, Muhallabi, Mahelebia) is a sweet Turkish creamy pudding made with cow’s milk or coconut milk and cornstarch, topped with pomegranate sauce (Linda Dangoor Malabi recipe).
Malawach is a Yemenite pancake made from thin layers of puff pastry, brushed with oil, and shallow fried. It is often served with hard-boiled eggs, zhug, and grated tomato dip, but can be served with honey (La Boite Malawach recipe).
Manakish (Manaqeesh, Manaqish, Man’ousheh, Mana’eesh) is a Levantine flatbread topped with zaatar, cheese, spinach, or ground meat (Reem Assil Mana’eesh recipe).
Mansaf is a traditional Levantine dish made of lamb, cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt and served with rice or bulgur. It is the national dish of Jordan and can be found in traditional Arabic restaurants in Israel (Chef Tariq Mansaf recipe).
Masabaha is a variation of hummus, popular in the Levant. This version includes whole chickpeas or white lima beans and sometimes has hard-boiled eggs inside (Michael Solomonov Masabacha recipe).
Mashwiya (Mechouia, Mishwiyya ) salad is a Tunisian salad that translates as a grilled salad. It is made with grilled onions, peppers, tomato, and garlic, and is sometimes topped with hard-boiled egg, olives, and/or tuna.
Matbucha is a Moroccan dip made from cooked tomato, pepper with garlic, and chili. It is very similar to Mashwiya is sometimes called Salad Cuite (Sonya Sanford Matbucha recipe).
Merguez is a spicy North African sausage.
Meze (Mezzeh, Mezze, Mazzeh) is a selection of small dishes of salads and dips, served as starters in a traditional Middle Eastern meal.
Mufleta is a Morrocan pancake that is traditionally made for Mimouna, the festival which celebrates the end of Passover (Pesach). The pancakes are served with butter and honey (Ruth and Gabriel Stulman Mufleta recipe).
Musakhan (Muhammar or Msakhan) is an Arabic dish consisting of roasted chicken, baked with onions, sumac, allspice, saffron, and fried pine nuts served over taboon bread. In Israel, it is a popular dish among Palestinians, Israeli Arabs, and Israeli Druze in the Galil (Sami Tamimi Chicken Musakhan recipe and Reem Kassis Msakhan recipe).
Mutabak (Murtabak, Motabbaq, Mutabbaq) is a Middle Eastern pastry that can be found in many different cuisines with varying names. The savory version can contain an omelet with vegetables or meat, while the sweet version contains soft cheese or nuts and fruits.
Mutabbal (Mutabal, Mutabbel, Moutabal) is a Levantine smoked eggplant (aubergine) dip made with tahina, garlic and spices, and sometimes includes yogurt. It is similar to Baba Ghanoush – see above (Ottolenghi Mutabal recipe and Anas Atassi Moutabal recipe).
Orange Blossom Water is a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking and is known as Mei Zahr in Arabic and Hebrew.
Pastilla (Bastilla, Basteeya, Bestilla) is a Moroccan dish made from filo pastry filled with shredded chicken, covered in icing sugar and cinnamon. It was traditionally made with squab (young pigeons) (Suzy Karadsheh Pastilla recipe).
Pomegranate Molasses is a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine and can be purchased in most supermarkets and delicatessens or made from pomegranate juice, sugar, and lemon.
Qizha is an Arabic dessert, most commonly found in the city of Nablus, made from ground nigella seeds, often referred to as black tahina.
Ras al Hanout (Rass el hanut) is a North African spice blend used in savory dishes such as fish, and meat, and can also be added to couscous, pasta, and rice. The blend varies by store, family tradition, and region.
Rice and Beans (Orez shu’it) is a simple side dish that can be found in workers’ cafes (misedot poalim) all over Israel. It is believed to have been invented by Sephardi Jews in Israel and is made with white rice, and topped with white beans cooked in a tomato sauce. Similar to British baked beans but not as sweet.
Rose Water is made from rose petals and used in sweet and savory Middle Eastern dishes. It is called May Ward in Arabic and Mei Vradim in Hebrew
Rugelach (Rogelach) is a Jewish Polish baked pastry normally with a chocolate filling, but cinnamon, almond, and halva varieties exist (The Spruce Eats Rugelach recipe and Dave Dreifus Walnut Rugelach recipe).
Sabicḥ is an Iraqi sandwich of pita bread filled with fried eggplant, hardboiled egg, salad, tahina, and pickles. It is one of the few dishes that was invented in Israel and originated as a way to eat food left over from Shabbat (Michael Solomonov Sabich recipe).
Sahlab (Saleb) is a thick winter drink traditionally made from the powdered bulb of the orchid plant, mixed with milk, and topped with cinnamon and chopped nuts. Nowadays it is normally made from flavored cornstarch and in the winter it is mainly sold in Jewish and Arab markets all over Israel (Chef Tariq Sahlab recipe).
Saluf (Salouf , Saloof) is a traditional Yemenite flatbread similar to an Iraqi pita or Laffa.
Sambusak (Sambousek) is a semi-circular pastry pocket with various fillings such as chickpeas, meat, or salty cheese (Sami Tamimi Sambusak recipe).
Samneh is the Arabic term for clarified butter or ghee.
Schnitzel is not an Israeli food, but the Israeli version is made with chicken breast rather than veal and is very popular in Israeli cuisine, (Michael Solomonov’s Chicken Schnitzel recipe).
Schug (Skhug, Shug, Zhug, Zhoug, S’chug) is a Yemenite hot sauce made from red or green chili peppers and sometimes includes garlic and/or coriander (Michael Solomonov Schug recipe).
Sfiha (Sfeeha) is a Levantine flatbread topped with minced lamb flavored with onion, tomato, pine nuts, and spices. It is very similar to meat Manakish and Lahmajin (see above).
Shakshuka (Shakshouka) is a North African (possibly Tunisian) breakfast dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce (Ottolenghi Shakshuka recipe). Toppings can include feta, spinach (Nadiya Hussain Spinach Shakshuka recipe), and other vegetables. Many Israeli restaurants and hotels also serve a green version made with spinach and cream instead of tomato (Honey and Co Green Shakshuka recipe).
Shamburak is a Syrian Kurdish savory pastry filled with slow-cooked meat, often made with leftovers from Shabbat. Ishtabach restaurant in Jerusalem serves ten different variations of this dish.
Shanklish is a ball-shaped Arabic cheese, aged, dried and covered in chili and za’atar.
Shatta is a type of Middle Eastern hot sauce, made with green or red chili.
Shawarma (Shwarma) is a Levantine dish of thinly cut meat stacked on a vertical roasting spit. It can be found all over Israel. Most places serve chicken or turkey, but the more expensive places have lamb, veal, and/or beef. Due to kashrut rules, Shawarma in Israel is served with hummus and tahini rather than the traditional accompaniment of yogurt (La Boite Shawarma recipe and Nadiya Hussain’s Chicken Shawarma recipe).
Sheikh al-mahshi (Sheikh el Mahshi) is a Levantine dish of eggplant or zucchini stuffed with minced lamb meat and pine nuts in a yogurt sauce (Zaatar & Zaytoun Sheikh el Mahshi recipe).
Shish Barak (Shushbarak) is a Levantine dish of ground meat dumplings cooked in a spiced yogurt sauce (Nadir Abu-Seif Shish Barak recipe). It is becoming easier to find vegetarian versions of this dish.
Shish Kebab is the traditional term for grilled skewers of cubed meat. It is often shortened to kebab and can be confused with the term Shisklik or Shashlik. Shish means skewer in Turkish (Anas Atassi Chicken Shish Kebab recipe).
Shish Tawook (Shish Taouk) is an Arabic dish of chicken skewers or chicken kebabs, soaked in a yogurt-based marinade with citrus, garlic, and lots of warm spices (Chef Tariq Shisk Tawook recipe).
Silan is the Hebrew term for date honey or date syrup. It is extracted from date fruit and is used in a lot of Middle Eastern cooking.
Siniya (Sinia or Siniyah) has various versions in Levantine cuisine but in Israeli restaurants, Siniya is normally a lamb and tomato casserole, baked with tahina on top until it forms a crust (Eden Eats Siniya Recipe).
Steakiyah is the term used to describe an Israeli meat grill restaurant serving skewered meat dishes, along with a mezze of dips and salads.
Sofrito is a Moroccan meat stew (lamb, beef, chicken) sauteed with potatoes, garlic, turmeric, and cardamom (Michael Solomonov Lamb Sofrito recipe).
Sufganiyot are Israeli Hanukkah doughnuts traditionally filled with strawberry jam and can have any filling or topping (Uri Scheft / Breads Bakery Sufganiyot recipe).
Sumac is a burgundy-colored spice made from the ground dried berries of the sumac bush, which is native to the Middle East. It has a slightly sour taste and is typically added to salads and grilled meat and fish dishes.
Taboon is the name of a clay oven used to bake many Levantine dishes but it is also the name given to flatbread common in Arab cuisine (Reem Kassis Taboon recipe).
Tabbouleh (Tabouli) is a Levantine salad made of tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, mint, bulgur, and onion, and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. The Israeli versions have more bulgur, while the Arabic versions are mostly fresh herbs with a small amount of bulgur (Nadiya Hussain Tabbouleh recipe).
Tagine (Tajine) is a slow-cooked North African savory stew, typically made with meat, poultry, or fish together with vegetables and/or dried fruit. It is named after the dome-shaped clay pot it is made in and is often served with couscous (Claudia Roden Chicken Tagine recipe and Eden Eats Vegetarian Tagine recipe).
Tahina (Tahini, Tehina) is a sesame paste that is now popular all over the world but originates in the Middle East. Tahina sauce is made from raw tahina paste, water, and fresh lemon juice. Many people add raw garlic but some prefer it without. Once you have made your own tahina dip, you will never buy it again (Chef Tariq Tahina Sauce recipe).
T’beet (Tbeet, Tebit) is the Iraqi version of Hamin (Shabbat overnight stew, see above). It is made with a whole chicken and seasoned rice (Linda Dangoor T’beet recipe).
Tirshi (Chershi, Chirchi, Tershi) is a spicy North African salad made with baked pumpkin and a variety of spices (The Nosher Chershi recipe).
Torshi is a Middle Eastern pickled vegetable salad often served with shawarma, falafel, and grilled meats. The pickled vegetables primarily include carrots and cabbage, but can also include cauliflower, kohlrabi, celery, and chili pepper.
Toum is a Levantine garlic dip that is similar to Mediterranean aioli. It is mostly found in Lebanese cuisine but is also used in other Levantine cuisines. It is similar to mayonnaise but is made with garlic and oil, without egg (Suzy Karadsheh Toum recipe).
Tzfatit Cheese is a white cheese in brine, similar to feta, which was first produced by the Meiri dairy in Tzfat (Safed) in 1837.
Yaprah is a term used to describe stuffed vine leaves and other vegetables stuffed with spiced rice.
Za’atar (Zaatar) is a spice mix made with thyme or hyssop with ground sesame seeds, sumac, and salt. It is often served on or next to fresh bread (La Boite Zaatar recipe).
Zalabia (Zalabieh, Jalebi, Z’labia, Zingoola) is a Middle Eastern fritter or donut. It can be served as a savory dish or covered in syrup as a dessert. It is a traditional dish for Yemenite and Iraqi Jews and is a holiday dessert for Muslims (Nir Mesika Zalabia with Honey recipe).
Ziva is an Israeli pastry filled with white cheese, sometimes with olives, and topped with sesame seeds. It is similar to a bureka and is usually crescent-shaped.
I hope that you will find this glossary both useful and helpful in your culinary travels around Israel. I would love to hear about your experiences trying new dishes and please let me know if there are any other terms that could be added to this list.