Not all Jewish food is the heavy, hearty fare meant to sustain Eastern European ancestors through dark, cold winters. But Jews, of course, don’t come from just Eastern Europe—many come from hot-weather climates and have a culinary canon that suits the heat. Here are some of the best Jewish foods to indulge in when the temperature soars.—Sala Levin
The grande dame of Ashkenazi-favored soups, borscht is flexible: It can be served hot or cold; made with cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, parsnips, celery root or potatoes; cooked with meat or without. To many, beets, which give the soup its characteristic reddish-pink color, are essential, though there are versions that forego the root vegetable. Although historically eaten as a warming winter soup, the cold soup version with a dollop of sour cream remains an iconic Ashkenazi food—and, with its bright color, it’s Instagram-worthy enough for millennials.
Ubiquitous in the Middle East, this salad of finely chopped raw tomato, cucumber and onion is a refreshing option for scorching days. The classic combination can be jazzed up with bell peppers, herbs, lemon juice or olive oil and is served as a side salad, an accompaniment to falafel or shawarma, or part of a traditional Israeli breakfast.
Composed of parsley, bulgur, tomato, mint and onion—and dressed with olive oil and lemon juice—tabbouleh, generally served at room temperature, is supremely suited for the sweltering summer season. Originating in the Arab world, tabbouleh has caught on both in Israel and in the United States. Most recipes don’t deviate too far from the standard, but it can be modernized by swapping out the bulgur for everyone’s favorite superfood, quinoa.
The small but mighty chickpea (or garbanzo bean) is a key ingredient in what is perhaps Israel’s most recognizable culinary export: falafel. But falafel, in all its deep-fried glory, can be a little heavy for summertime. (Not that that necessarily stops us.) Instead, a chickpea salad offers a refreshing, protein-rich snack. New York Times columnist David Tanis suggests a version with mint, cilantro and scallions, the perfect cooling dish for a hot day.
The beloved warm-weather fruit—originally from southern Africa—is a summertime specialty in Israel, where it’s taken on something of an iconic status. A 2009-10 exhibit at Tel Aviv’s Rubin Museum called “Watermelons” highlighted pre- and post-statehood works of art that depicted the fruit that, to many, represented the agricultural ambitions of a Jewish state. Today, it’s often served alongside a salty cheese, such as feta.
Eggplant has staked out a place as a go-to Middle Eastern-inspired summer snack. As in the much-loved Mediterranean dip baba ghanoush, in which the vegetable is typically blended with onions, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice, eggplant makes an ideal alternative to hummus. Served with tahini, garlic and feta cheese as a salad—or “eggplant carpaccio,” if you’re feeling fancy—it’s a delicious change of pace from Israeli salad.