How to host Thanksgiving like an Israeli...

(From http://simplyrecipes.com/photos/pumpkin-pie.jpg)

Ok, so if you really want to host Thanksgiving like an Israeli, don't host it at all. (Yeah, that whole "It's an American holiday" thing.) But unlike Easter, Christmas, Halloween, New Year's Eve, and Valentine's day-- also holidays not really celebrated here-- I feel Thanksgiving is worth keeping, in a nostalgic and let's-force-Israeli-friends-to-eat-American-food kind of way.

The problem is that celebrating Thanksgiving in Israel is a lot like celebrating Jewish holidays in America-- this country really isn't set up to take Thanksgiving into account. So here's a way around a lot of the problems you might encounter if you try to host Thanksgiving dinner in Israel.

1. Be flexible about dates. Thursday night is a great night to have people over, because it's right before the weekend (Friday to Saturday). However, chances are, something else will already be scheduled for that night, even if you're doing something with the English-speaking community. (Those Brits just don't seem to understand the importance of gorging oneself with Turkey in solidarity with Pilgrim forefathers.) I have a memorial service to attend this Thursday night, so we're doing our Thanksgiving dinner on Friday night.

2. To buy a turkey, go to a butcher shop. Preferably one that specializes in turkey and poultry. And you'll need to order it in advance and probably pluck a few final feathers when you get it. Sadly, no, turkeys don't go on uber-cheap sale around the holiday-- I'll pay 25 shekels a kilo for mine. But you can shock all of your Israeli friends with the size of a full turkey! And, er, don't forget to specify-- several times, in as many languages as possible-- that you want a whole turkey in one piece.

By the way, last year the butcher thought I was crazy. This year he invited himself over for Thanksgiving dinner. Progress?

3. To find cranberries, look for Russians. And then follow them until you figure out where they shop. This year I bought my frozen cranberries at a little Russian macolet (mini-market), and while they appear to be manufactured in Israel (and are kosher parve and everything), the writing on the clear plastic container is Russian, not Hebrew. You can find dried cranberries in almost any supermarket.

4. If you need sausage for your stuffing, buy chorisos. Last year I went on an epic sausage-finding mission in which I ended up using pieces of kabobs, kabanos and kishkes in my stuffing. It tasted fine (it's pretty hard to mess up stuffing), but later this year I realized that choriso sausages-- available in the frozen food aisle-- actually have the right taste. Israelis don't do breakfast sausage or turkey sausage, so you need to be a bit creative.

5. Find sage fresh, not dried. Sage is another one of those crucial "Thanksgiving" flavors, but for some reason you'll find it more readily in the fresh leaves section (or even in a greenhouse) than in a bottle, dried.

6. Make your pumpkin pie from scratch! You will not find pre-prepared crust, canned pumpkin, or pumpkin pie spice in any ordinary Israeli supermarket. You will, however, find large chunks of ginormous pumpkins (wrapped in seran wrap, in the fresh foods section), butter, flour, and every spice that goes into pumpkin pie spice. While our pumpkin isn't technically sugar pumpkin, I've found it makes a mean pie filling. Just steam it and then (this step is important) puree it in your food processor... the texture of our pumpkin is stringier than a sugar pumpkin. Last year I used this recipe for my pumpkin pie, and it was delicious. Oh, and two things-- 1) if you use an Israeli-size pie pan, double the recipe for filling and crust... those pans are huge. 2) Don't expect actually Israelis to like your pumpkin pie. To them it's a little bit like eating, say, a sweet broccoli custard. They don't get it.

7. Make sure your turkey actually fits in your oven. You have an Israeli-size oven. This is an American-size bird. Make sure you do the math. :) Also, you won't have any automatic timer to tell you when the bird is ready, so make sure you know how long it will take to cook.

Now if anyone can help me find real apple cider in this country, I'll be eternally grateful!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. :) Is anyone else hosting a Thanksgiving in Israel or for Israelis?


  1. Thanks for the tips! I am hosting Thanksgiving, which will be my husband's first (his family never celebrated it despite living in the US for so long). We have Thursday plans and a Friday memorial forcing a double reschedule to Saturday and too many vegetarian guests to warrant a whole turkey, so it won't be totally authentic -- but I suppose no one other than the two culturally American Americans present will know.

  2. In Jerusalem, you can get canned pumpkin at Super Deal.

  3. On one of our recent trips to Israel, we went to an apple orchard in the North...Gala apples...and THEY HAD CIDER!!! Now, if only I could remember exactly where it was...

  4. Being an ex-Brit I don't do Thanksgiving but I love cider. However being a ex-Brit I'm not sure if by cider you mean the alcoholic stuff or fizzy juice?
    Cider HaGalil still does fizzy juice, I think, but the alcoholic Out -Cider didn't do so well in Israel.
    You can find both in Arab and Russian supermarkets (though make sure it's not Perry - pear cider) but it is normally in small bottles and expensive.

  5. Esther, I don't mean the fizzy juice (at least, not the carbonated juice) or the alcoholic stuff... I mean the cider that is basically really strong-tasting apple juice, and SO yummy. Hmm... maybe I won't give up on this just yet! :) Debby, maybe I'll go exploring! I should also check a few of our local yarkans... they just might have cider.

  6. We discovered that 7 kilo is about as big as we can fit into our oven.

    Canned pumpkin often is either a mix of pumpkin or butternut squash, or sometimes just the squash. You might want to consider fresh butternut squash for your next pie.

    We use chorizos or margez in our stuffing recipes (or when I make biscuits and gravy) too... it's yummy.

    And we usually do a pot-luck Thanksgiving Shabbat lunch instead of the traditional Thursday night meal... just easier for everyone.

  7. Really, No Apple cider? OMG
    Come to France you will have the chose of your life! Even in Belgium :)

  8. Sure, we've made Thanksgiving dinner for the last 5 or so years with a bunch of other Anglo families in our neighborhood. Thanksgiving is the best! I feel like it's "Yom Hakarat Hatov," so what could be better?

    Re: the cider - a friend of mine made an interesting knock-off a few years ago by taking a few cartons of Israeli apple juice and cooking them on the stove with some hel (cardamom?) and cinnamon. It wasn't thick like cider, but it was super-yummy!

  9. Toby, I might try that! Sarah Kafif, I know... the lack of apple cider in this county is one of its worst qualities! We have so many apple trees, too... guess it's just not a common drink here. Quelle scandale!

    Pesky settler, butternut squash is a good suggestion, and sweet potato pie is pretty good too. However, why not just use the chunks of pumpkin available everywhere?

  10. I bought that "pumpkin" they sell in the shuk and was not impressed. I think it needs more sweetener to turn into pie. I'd go with sweet potatoes, or better yet, apples pie (check out my post).

    My mom never put sausage in her stuffing. It's interesting how different families consider different things Thanksgiving must-haves. In my parents' house, even the turkey was up for discussion. I think the number one must-have is family. Whether biological or aquired. This year all I did for Thanksgiving was realize it had arrived sometime in the evening, and then I found something appropriate to blog about. nonrecipe.com

  11. Mr Zol (in Jm area) carries canned cranberry sauce and frozen cranberries. For apple cider - try health food stores. I know I've seen it at Teva Net near Machane Yehuda.

  12. Hey Maya, I know this looks like a shameless plug of my blog, but I thought your readers might like to see what Israelis call "pumpkin". I took this picture in the shuk on Thanksqiving...coincidentally: http://nonrecipe.blogspot.com/2010/11/mortar-and-pestle-pesto.html (scroll to the bottom of the post)

  13. I hope you are safe during this horrible fire. I pray for all going through such a thing.

  14. So it's probably too late for this year's thanksgiving, as that's supposed to have been yesterday (or today) if I'm not mistaken, but it is possible to get real English cider (as in alcoholic, delicious, and usually sparkling) in Israel these days. There's a chain of liquor stores called שר המשקאות who sell it, and occasionally in other liquor stores as well. The best one is one called Green Goblin, but there's also Magners which is delicious too.
    It's not like the traditional American stuff, but it's just as delicious.

  15. Hello-this is a year late but for apple cider look for a large can -it's green- and in red it says Gallilee Apple on it-all you do is add boiling water & cinnamon & voila apple cider!!! Simmer with orange peels, cloves, etc & it's even yummier! For a pic of the can let me know and I can email it to you!

  16. Last week I went to Supersol (Or Shufersol) Deal and saw canned cranberry sauce.


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