Two years ago, I turned up my nose at the sound of this new (to me) trend in Israel of halva ice cream. Endomela (literally “none-like-her” in Hebrew), an ice cream shop in Acre, Israel, owned by the famous, bearded, Santa Claus-like Uri Jeremias, who is nicknamed Uri Buri, was among the pioneers leading this trend.
Later, once the idea simmered, I realized that tahini in ice cream is not so far-fetched given that one of my favorite childhood sweets, halva, is made with the same sesame paste. As a child, I would occasionally—not too often—eat halva in a sandwich with chocolate spread, almost like peanut butter and jelly here.
My friend Inbal Baum, an American who grew up Rockville and now lives in Israel, is the founder and main culinary tours curator of Delicious Israel. Tahini ice cream, she says, is her favorite flavor to make. “I think it is a quite standard flavor now in most ice cream shops, with some variation of tahini or halva ice cream in almost every place. A big trend used to be tahini semifreddo (half-frozen mousse-like dessert), so maybe tahini mousse will make a comeback!” she says.
The fact that Israel is such a melting pot carries over into ice cream, with flavors you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the world, flavors that developed organically, inspired by the myriad of cultures making up the diverse population combined with the ingredients that are indigenous to the region. JFE’s Merav Levkowitz happened to be visiting Israel when I was preparing this post and shared with me, “I always look for the flavors that I can’t find in the US.”
Jonathan, my husband, and I stumbled upon Capitolina, while wandering and browsing through Shuk HaPishpeshim, the flea market in Jaffa, a couple of years back. “I tasted banana-date yogurt, but ended up settling for passion fruit and kulfi ice creams,” Merav told me about Capitolina. We, too, had the kulfi. It was out of this world and stayed true to its Indian roots and flavors, despite being made with a Western technique rather than a traditional Indian one. We rounded out our sampling with malabi (a popular Mediterranean milk pudding flavored with rose water) ice cream and grapefruit-Campari and limonana (lemon and mint) sorbets.
Merav didn’t have halva ice cream at Capitolina, but she wrote me that she tried it elsewhere: “A few days ago at the Iceberg chain, I had tahini-honey ice cream, which tasted very much like raw tahini and had sesame seeds mixed in, and halva-pistachio, which had a more subtle tahini flavor with little bits of pistachio and chocolate shavings. At Vaniglia I tasted halva ice cream, which had tiny pieces of halva mixed in and was very, very sweet, but delicious.”
I played around with making halva ice cream, and even ventured into making tahini and halva from scratch. Inspired by the sandwich I sometimes had as a child, I ended up making a tahini custard base and adding chocolate bits and shredded halva “hairs”—also a nod to chocolate swirl halva.
The final halva stracciatella ice cream was also inspired by an ice cream dessert I recently tried at Rose’s Luxury in DC. Stracciatella means “little rags/bits” in Italian and really captures the essence of the chocolate bits seamlessly mixed in. I think I have made my peace with the halva ice cream trend.