This savory Israeli pastry combines malawach, a flaky Yemenite flatbread, with a filling of white and yellow cheese and sliced green olives. Basically, everything good in life rolled up in the best pastry ever. It's one of the most irresistable of Israel's superstar lineup of savory pastries, including its more famous cousin, burekas.
Meet ziva—an old-school Israeli girl's name, which somehow got appended to this wonderful pastry—and get ready to fall hard. Made with Yemenite flaky pan bread as the pastry base and stuffed full of creamy, salty cheese and umami olives, ziva is one of my favorites of Israel's many delicious savory pastries, usually eaten for dinner, snacks, and sometimes brunch. All that goodness is folded up inside a horseshow shape and baked in the oven until golden, with sesame and nigella seeds atop.
Ingredients for ziva
Ziva requires some specialty Israeli ingredients: notably, malawach. If you're not familiar with it, malawach is a flaky flatbread that comes to Israel by way of the Yemenite Jewish community and...there is not a superlative enough adjective in any of the languages that I know to describe its wonderfulness. It's sort of like puff pastry, in the way that carob is sort of like chocolate. (Pay no attention to that "pan phyllo bread" on the product label; calling this stuff phyllo is like comparing matzah favorably with challah.) Yemen vs. France in the pastry arena? Advantage: Yemen.
Making homemade malawach is at the top of my baking bucket list—I've had homemade malawach made by the best Teimani (Yemenite) grandma cook in Israel, and it is sublime. But for the moment, we're going with store bought. The most common brand I've seen in the US is called Ta'amti. (They also make frozen burkeas and kubbeh.) Ta'amti and occasionally other brands may be available in the kosher freezer section of Jewishly well-stocked chain supermarkets, like maybe sometimes. Some of us cannot deal with life unless there's malawach in the freezer at all times, so when we see it, we buy it. I think it's worth sussing out for ziva, because malawach is an essential part of this dish. If you really have no way of sourcing it, you could substitute frozen puff pastry.
About the cheese: Here, you can make more substitutions. The classic filling is made with Israeli white cheese and Bulgarian cheese (more on those here). Bulgarian cheese is similar to feta, so that's an easy substitution. I've only spotted Bulgarian cheese once in the US, and it wasn't kosher, so I went with Tnuva sheep's milk feta, which worked perfectly (and is available at my local Costco). I can easily get white cheese (gvina levana) at my kosher market, so I used that. Cream cheese would be too thick here, so I'd substitute sour cream or plain Greek yogurt if you can't get white cheese. Finally, you can use whichever grated hard cheese you prefer—I used a combination of cheddar and mozzarella.
The best olives to use in ziva are pitted and sliced Israeli green olives. You could use any sliced olives, though; black olives would also be good here.
About the cheese and olive filling
The genius trick for getting the filling to cooperatively stay filled inside the pastry is two teaspoons of cornstarch (potato starch would work too). To make the filling, you mix together all the cheeses and that's that. The olives get sprinkled on top of the filling inside the pastry, so you can easily leave them out for an all-cheese ziva if you or some of your people prefer.
Shaping ziva pastry
You can make three large, sharing-size, dinner-friendly ziva pastries using two malawach leaves per pastry; or smaller, individual-sized pastries, using one malawach leaf per pastry. Malawach generally comes with six pieces per package, so this recipe uses one package and makes three large or six individual-sized pastries.
It looks like it would be complicated to shape a ziva, but it's not. For smaller pastries, you just fold them burrito-style, then tug them into a horseshoe shape. For larger pastries, you take the defrosted, but still cold and firm, pastry and overlap two leaves slightly, tamping down the seam with your hand. You then fold it up by the long side, as though it's one big rectangle of pastry.
The shaped pastries get a coat of egg wash, and then are traditionally sprinkled with sesame seeds and, often, nigella seeds (ketzach in Hebrew—see here). The nigella seeds are borderline necessary here, imparting a flavorful, oniony addition to the finished ziva. They can be a little hard to find, but are definitely worth tracking down, especially if you enjoy Israeli and Indian food.
Like plain malawach, ziva is often served with grated tomatoes and hard-boiled eggs. We like to have ours with a simple Israeli salad.
Ziva - Israeli Savory Malawach Pastry with Cheese and Olives (dairy)
- 6 frozen malawach leaves - thawed but very cold
- 1 cup Israeli white cheese - substitute sour cream or plain Greek yogurt - 250 g
- ¾ cup Bulgarian or feta cheese, crumbled - 100g
- ½ cup shredded yellow cheese, such as mozzarella, cheddar, or a combination - 50 g
- 2 tsp cornstarch - or potato starch
- ¼ tsp salt
- pinch black pepper
- ½ cup sliced green olives - drained
- 1 egg, for egg wash
- sesame seeds
- nigella seed - ketzach
- Preheat oven to 350°F / 170°C.
- Combine all the filling ingredients in a small bowl. Mix well.
- If making large pastries: take two leaves of malawach and overlap them slightly, pressing down on the seam. Place ⅓ of the filling in the center. Fold up one long edge, then fold in the short edges. Roll up into a long cylinder. Tug slightly to firm and lengthen. Place on a lined baking sheet.
- If making small pastries: Working with one leaf of malawach at a time, roll as for the large pastries.
- Brush shaped pastries with egg wash. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and/or ketzach.
- Bake small pastries for 25-30 minutes, large pastries for 30-35 minutes, until golden and flaky.