Among the homey-est and most authentically Israeli foods, pashtida is a dairy-free savory vegetable crustless pie eaten as a light main or part of a larger meal.Yum
Many staples of the Israeli kitchen have found their way into the American mainstream — from tahini to shakshuka and, of course, hummus, an official snack of the Superbowl. (Sabra, the name of the sponsoring brand, is old-timey slang term for native-born Israeli, by the way.) And yet, there is so much about Israeli home cooking that remains to be discovered in the English-speaking world, which is why Serious Eats could refer to Yotam Ottolenghi’s cauliflower “cake” as “unusual and out-of-the-box,” when it’s the very thing moms all over Israel make for lunch…or dinner…or breakfast. We call it pashtida.
Pashtida: The Origin Story
It's often asserted that pashtida has a Sefardi pedigree, originating in the Jewish communities of medieval Iberia, but I'm unconvinced. To don my cranky historian tweed for a moment: food history in general and Jewish food history in particular is often a bunch of hooey (that's the technical term). All of the medieval sources I found for the term pashtida are Ashkenazi, including Machzor Vitry (an important Ashkenazi prayer and law book), the Arukh (an influential, early Hebrew dictionary written in Italy at a time when it was more closely connected with Ashkenazi culture), and many commentaries and teshuvot of Ashkenazi Rishonim (letters of legal decisions written by early authorities of Jewish law from northern Europe). Apparently Rashi actually gives his wife's pashtida recipe in a teshuvah, which YES, OF COURSE I'm going to track down (it's mentioned by Gil Marks in his wonderful, though sadly unfootnoted, Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, p. 447). Pashtida is clearly mentioned by the Radbaz (an early modern authority of the Sefardi diaspora) and comes down to the Shulhan Arukh (the definitive code of Jewish law hammered out at the dawn of modernity, compiled by the Sefardi Yosef Karo and extensively annotated with Ashkenazi interpretations by the Rema). But, it is unclear to me that the use of the term in the post-Spanish-expulsion Sefardi diaspora is not influenced by increased contact with Ashkenazi currents.
Be that as it may, what is clear is that a food called pashtida, probably a double-crusted savory meat pie, was commonly made by Jews in premodern Europe, likely as a dish kept warm overnight to eat on Shabbat day. It seems that a dairy savory pie was generally referred to as a fluden. In modernity in eastern Europe, the Latinate pashtida was dropped in favor of the Yiddish kugel, which was a crustless pie often baked overnight in the cholent (meat stew) pot.
In another twist, kugel travels to America where it's enshrined as beloved immigrant fare. Meanwhile, in the young state of Israel, pashtida is resurrected as a savory pie, albeit crustless like a kugel. Today, more often than not, an Israeli pashtida will be made with dairy, i.e. the thing that once was called fluden. In Israel, the word kugel is reserved for particular variants, generally noodle, like Yerushalmi (Jerusalem-style) kugel, which is made with long, thin noodles (like spaghetti) that are caramelized with plenty of sugar, plus black pepper, in a tube pan. Pashtida, by contrast, is an expansive term, potentially binding together pretty much any sort of vegetable in whichever pan is handy. People write whole books about them! (Hana Shaulov is a well-known cookbook author. As you can see, the English translation is simply "Pies," although the contents would probably surprise the American-as-apple-pie American.)
How to Make Pashtida
Essentially, you're binding together fried onion and lightly cooked vegetables with a relatively small amount of egg, oil, and some kind of flour, and possibly seasonings. You can put almost any kind of veg in it, according to the season, your leftovers, or what's in your freezer. Then, mix it all together and bake in a dish until you get a savory cake.
When it comes to making pashtida, it's the batter that will have the most variance between cooks. Some people use less batter for the binding, while others use more, usually by adding more oil or water. Dairy versions will often use sour cream or another soft, white cheese. The base recipe I've settled on over the years uses a moderate amount of batter, with less oil than many recipes. Any oil should work here (even olive; the savory taste is a plus), but my favorite in pashtida is avocado oil. Not sure why but it does some kind of textural magic.
And now, we come to soup powder. Soup powder (powdered bouillon) is Israel's all-purpose umami seasoning, and it's one of the most iconic tastes of Israeli home cooking. The standard-issue stuff was engineered to be parve (neither milk nor meat) but be "chicken flavored" with a little help from MSG. However, there is now actual-chicken chicken soup powder and the ingredients lists on the various kinds (mushroom and onion soup powder are also popular) keep getting progressive overhauls. Look, I can be a purist (snob?) about these things, but I have a unabashed love for Osem soup powder. Yeah, this is the part where I tell you that for authentic, soul-replenishing pashtida you want...need...soup powder. That being said, if you're averse or don't want to track it down, there's a simple fix: just use vegetable or chicken stock in place of the water in the recipe.
Selecting and Preparing Vegetables
Fried onion is the vegetal building block of an Israeli pashtida. You can go all in and make it a caramelized onion pashtida, in which case you'll want to use a lot more onion, maybe two or three big ones. I
Depending on the type of vegetables you select, you may need to do some additional prep work before adding them to the batter. Mushrooms can be cooked along with the onion. Veg like sweet potatoes, cauliflower, or carrots can be blanched in boiling water or roasted in the oven at high heat for 20-30 minutes. Or, if you need something quick, frozen vegetables, like corn, also work well in pashtida and you can mix them right into the batter frozen. They just have to be defrosted enough that they're not clumped together. And zucchini (like in my pashtida up top) can go in raw.
A classic topping for an Israeli pashtida is sesame seeds or nigella seeds (ketzach in Hebrew), or both. If you're not acquainted with nigella, which goes by about eleven other names, you're in for a treat. They're also called charnushka, kalonji, black cumin (they're nothing to do with cumin), black caraway (they're nothing to do with caraway), or onion seed (they taste a bit oniony, true, but have nothing to do with onion plants). The seeds look on first glance like black sesame seeds, but they're more teardrop-shaped. So what are nigella seeds, then? Delicious little bits of umami, and hard to find (in the US). I finally tracked some down with a hechsher at the wonderful Spice House (here's their instructions for ordering kosher spices). If you can get your hands on some, sprinkle liberally over your pashtida.
Dairy versions of pashtida
If you're making this pashtida for a dairy meal, you can simply spread grated cheese over top and leave it to bubble and brown up in the oven, like this broccoli pashtida.
Which Pan to Use
You can bake pashtida in many different types of pans. The pashtida will rise too much for a tart pan or sheet pan, but you can pretty much use any small to medium rectangular baking pan; round or square cake pan; pie pan; or loaf pan. (A large rectangular 13x9 pan or casserole dish is too big.) The baking time will vary from 45 minutes for a medium rectangular pan up to an hour or so for a standard loaf pan.
Looking for more Israeli home cooking?
- Israeli Homestyle Meatballs - An easy classic, with the meatballs cooked right in a savory tomato sauce.
- Israeli Chicken Schnitzel - The default for hot lunch, this beloved dish is a favorite of kids, and any grown-up who'll admit it.
- Israeli salad - We eat it morning, noon, and night, literally; this simple salad is easy to prepare and welcome alongside anything.
Pashtida | Israeli Savory Crustless Vegetable Pie (parve)
- 1 large onion, diced - or 2 small onions
- 2 cups chopped vegetables* - see note for suggestions and preparation instructions
- ⅓ cup oil, any kind you like - I use avocado oil
- ⅔ cup water or stock
- 3 eggs
- 1 Tbsp chicken soup powder - optional, but recommended
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour - you can also use spelt or whole wheat pastry flour
- Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C. Prepare a pan for baking: either a medium rectangular, square, or round caking pan, or a loaf pan. Grease and line with parchment paper if you'd like to remove the finished pie for serving.
Prepare the vegetables:
- If you are using vegetables that require oven roasting or parboiling, begin with that (see note below). Otherwise, dice the onion and fry in a drizzle of olive oil over a medium-low flame.
Make the batter:
- Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining ingredients: eggs, oil, water/stock, soup powder (if using), baking powder, and, last, the flour.
- When the onions and other vegetables are ready, add them to to the bowl. Gently fold the warm vegetables into the batter.
Bake the pashtida:
- Pour into the prepare baking pan and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until golden at the edges, full dry on top, and a toothpick comes out with mostly dry crumbs attached. Allow to cool somewhat before slicing. (The pashtida can be served warm or at room temperature.)
- zucchini—dice into medium cubes
- mushrooms—add to the frying pan with the onions just as the onions are beginning to brown; cook until mushrooms release their juices and season with thyme if you like
- broccoli—separate into small florets and blanche for 2-3 minutes in boiling water
- spinach—blanche in a bowl of boiled water for 1-2 minutes
- sweet or yellow potatoes—peel, dice, and boil for 5-7 minutes, or roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes
- frozen corn—thaw just enough that the kernels separate (they're not all clumped together)
- onion—slice 2-3 large onions and allow to caramelize fully before adding to batter.