My first Israeli recipe ever: Ketzitzot!

This week, I plan to subject my husband's Israeli family to a full Thanksgiving dinner. I ordered a full turkey from a butcher shop-- they thought I was crazy, and I'm not sure the turkey will fit in my oven, but it's on its way! I found kosher frozen cranberries in Tiv Taam. I bought fresh sage (which is for some reason readily available, while dried sage isn't), and I am planning to boil down the chunks of pumpkin sold in every veggie shop into pumpkin pie.

The last one is almost guaranteed to disgust my guests, because Israelis see pumpkins as a purely savory food-- I guess they see pumpkin dessert the way I see those Asian bean curd pastries. Is it bad that I am highly entertained by the idea of inflicting American recipes on Israeli guests?

Anyway, trying to cook American for a change made me think about the first Israeli recipe I ever managed to cook, way back before I made aliyah. I had eaten at my Israeli mother-in-law's house countless times and attempted to duplicate her cooking, but whatever I cooked always tasted so... American. I began to think that something on my birth certificate made it impossible for me to get the seasonings right. Finally, I sucked it up and figured out the Hebrew in one of my M-I-L's cookbooks, and I made these meatballs (ketzitzot). They were a revelation! My food finally tasted completely Israeli! 

After that, I began to improvise my own Israeli-tasting dishes simply based on the confidence (and seasoning insight) I gained from this one recipe. I also learned that it pays to use Hebrew cookbooks. Not only do they help me cook like an Israeli, but they improve my vocabulary-- I may not be able to tell you what the word for "shoelaces" or "steering wheel" is in Hebrew, but I know how to say "frying pan" (machvat) and "minced" (katzutz dak)!

This recipe is found on page 136 of the book BaRega Aharon (At the Last Minute) by Benny Saida, one of the foremost Israeli cookbook authors. Saida's recipes are easy, delicious, and very Israeli. The Hebrew he uses is simple and the directions concise. I've never been disappointed by any recipe from any of Saida's books. You can order this cookbook online in the US here.

Veal Meatballs with Green Tahini Sauce

Click on the image below to see a larger version. The translation is my own... it may not be perfectly accurate, but hey-- I've made this recipe many times, and the ketzitzot are always delicious! Comments in italics are from me.

Prepare large quantities, because these meatballs will disappear from the table even before you have had time to fry all of them.

5 servings


For the meatballs:

700 grams (1 1/2 pounds) ground veal (Ground turkey and ground beef also work well)
1 cup chopped parsley
1 onion, grated (or chopped finely)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 eggs
4 tablespoons bread crumbs
salt, freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sumac (sumac powder might be hard to find in the US, despite the fact that sumac bushes abound. You can harvest your own from a weedy patch-- being careful to avoid the poison-ivy-like poison sumac-- or check out a kosher, middle-eastern, or possibly Indian grocery store. You can try replacing the sumac with paprika, although the bittersweet flavor of sumac adds something special to this recipe.) 
1 teaspoon cumin

oil, to fry (Just enough to coat the pan is ok. I never deep-fry these.)

For the green tahini sauce:

1 cup tahini (available in most grocery stores-- this is sesame seed butter, and it's an ingredient in hummus as well as halva. In Hebrew, tahini is pronouned tachina.)
4 cloves garlic (Yes, 8 cloves garlic total. Israeli food is FULL of garlic!)
1/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup water
1 1/4 cup coarsely chopped parsley
  1. To prepare the meatballs: Mix all the ingredients of the meatballs in a bowl, and form the mixture into oval-shaped balls (kind of flat and long, like in the picture). Heat up the oil to fry, and fry the ketzitzot in the hot oil (high heat, fry until they are firm and golden). 
  2. To prepare the tahini: Put all of the ingredients of the green tahini into a food processor, and mix to a thick sauce. (If it's too thick, add more water. If you want it to look more like the picture rather than a green paste, add in the parsley only at the end.) Taste, and adjust seasonings.
  3. To serve: Divide the meatballs onto individual serving plates, and spoon over them three tablespoons of the green tahini. Serve with hot pitas.
So that was my first Israeli recipe. By the way, ketzitzot are a very popular Israeli food, which makes it all the more strange that Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs became Geshem shel Falofel (Falofel rain) when it came to this country. If you've never had Israeli meatballs, definitely try this recipe-- no spaghetti involved!

What was the first time you felt like an Israeli cook? What are your favorite Israeli recipes? What Israeli foods would you like to learn how to cook?


  1. i am not an israeli cook, and doubt i ever will be. I am also torturing my husbands israeli family with thanksgiving though... i cheated and had my grandmother send me pumpkin pie mix and cranberry sauce. we have 15 israelis coming, who all think i am varying degrees of crazy... though a couple want to be american very badly, and are confident that this look into american life with make every better for them

  2. I love to cook; before all of my knee surgeries and my present inability to stand for extended time periods I wanted to become a professional chef, I worked in resturants and almost went to culinary school. My little sister went on a trip to Turkey and brought back Sumac and several other spices for me. So I did a bunch of research on Sumac to figure out how to use it. Sumac was used to give a kind of tangy citrus esq taste to food before lemons were introduced to the middle east... it still is used like that. So my suggestion a substitution for the sumac is a drizzle of lemon juice along with the paprika; that way you get that hint of citrus.

  3. Yonatan, great suggestion! And Lisa, glad I'm not the only one who enjoys making Israelis eat Thanksgiving food. :)

  4. That looks really yummy - I'm going to give it a try! ...after Thanksgiving :)

  5. haha... yes, I realized after I posted this that my timing might not be ideal. :)

  6. I came across your blog by "accident" your 2 cats caught my eye, so I started reading and I loved it so much, even sent it to my family in America.
    I wish you "be-hazlcha" in becoming an Israeli cook and a Hebrew speaker:))) I think you on the right path...

  7. Thank you thankyou thank you!!! Been looking for something do do with all my groud turkey....forgot all about ketzitot! Lived in Israel for 5 years a looong time ago...so glad to be able to find this recipe!


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