May 22, 2019

Authentic Israeli Cuisine at Jaffa

The buzz on foodie social media is all about a modern Israeli restaurant named Jaffa that opened in January on Third Street. I also was excited because I love Israeli food and have been cooking many traditional Israeli dishes for as long as I can remember.

On our first visit, we had a delicious lunch and met executive chef Santos Navarro, who has been working with chef-partner Anne Conness for many years but had not previously cooked Israeli food. They attended a conference at the Culinary Institute in Napa Valley, where they were introduced to Middle Eastern cuisine and its exotic spices. Back in Los Angeles after exploring, experimenting and cooking Israeli food, they decided to open Jaffa. 

Navarro and Conness have transformed their restaurant into a Jaffa-Tel Aviv sidewalk café, where the three menus — lunch, dinner and brunch on weekends — change monthly.

I love the idea of sharing several dishes in order to taste many different foods, and Jaffa offers plenty of choices. We began our lunch with an assortment of appetizers: hummus, tabbouleh and charred eggplant with a tahini sauce, which was my favorite. The pita bread that is baked fresh daily is a special treat, so be sure to order it. 

We also had a bowl of North African chickpea stew that had all the wonderful spicy flavors, and of course a plate of shakshuka (a traditional Israeli baked egg and tomato dish) that Jaffa calls hanshuka, because it’s combined with fresh hummus. It’s a fantastic combination and was cooked to perfection. 

When we returned for dinner, we also began with appetizers. “Slaw” was a very unusual salad concept; a combination of lettuce, asparagus, English peas and pesto sauce with fennel, pistachios, dates and Pecorino Romano cheese. I would return for that dish alone.  

We also enjoyed the smoked trout served on diced beets, and loved the kofte — spicy lamb meatballs, served with hummus and cherries. The main courses of Alaskan halibut and a wonderful lamb couscous made with Israeli pearl pasta were perfect. The couscous is also available with fresh vegetables for vegans.

I love the idea of sharing several dishes in order to taste many different foods, and Jaffa offers plenty of choices, including hummus, tabbouleh and charred eggplant with a tahini sauce.

Although we were full, we couldn’t resist ordering the chocolate mousse tart and rhubarb hamantashen for dessert. The sweet treats were a perfect ending to a delicious dinner.

When I requested several recipes, I was told the chefs have a cookbook pending and could not give them out. Instead, I’m sharing a recipe for hummus available in my cookbook “The Gourmet Jewish Cook.” You can prepare it in your kitchen when not dining at Jaffa.

Jaffa is located at 8048 W. Third St., Los Angeles. For more information and reservations, visit

From “The Gourmet Jewish Cook”
by Judy Zeidler 

Hummus is a simple, wonderfully flavorful dip or spread made from garbanzo beans (chickpeas) and tahini (sesame seed paste). Its texture is velvety, rich and firm enough to scoop up with wedges of pita bread or crisp vegetables. The taste is robust, nut-like, garlicky and so satisfying that you won’t be able to stop eating it.

1 can (15 ounce) garbanzos, with liquid
1 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/2 cup lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 cup olive oil
6 fresh parsley sprigs, stemmed (optional)
1 to 2 teaspoons salt

Place the garbanzo beans in a processor or blender and process until coarsely pureed.
Add the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and cumin and process until smoothly pureed.
Add olive oil in a thin stream and continue blending.
Blend in the parsley leaves and l teaspoon of salt.
Add additional salt to taste.
Serve with hot pita bread and sliced vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, mushrooms and jicama.

Makes about 2 1/2 to 3 cups.

Judy Zeidler is a cooking teacher and cookbook author.