Four Rosh Hashanah Recipes From Tel Aviv's Best Turkish Restaurant

Elran Shrefler, owner and chef of Tel Aviv's Azura Restaurant imbibed a love of Turkish cuisine from his restaurateur father. A holiday menu inspired from home

Ronit Vered
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Stuffed onions in pomegranate concentrate.
Ronit Vered
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7 A.M., July 31. The following morning the doors of the Azura Restaurant in Tel Aviv would be closed for a month, to reopen only on September 2. Elran Shrefler, owner and chef, takes a 30-day vacation every August. But on the morning of the last day of July he arrives at the restaurant as usual, at 5 A.M.

“I’m like vegetables, it depends on the season,” laughs Shrefler when asked at what time he wakes up every day. Suddenly he becomes serious. “They took Dad away,” he exclaims, as the arm of a crane removes one of the huge billboards that for the past two years separated the excavations of the light rail from his restaurant on Mikveh Israel Street. The print portrait of Ezra (Azura) Shrefler – the founder of the famous Azura Restaurant in the Mahaneh Yehuda market in Jerusalem – swings in the air for a few long minutes, and is then loaded onto a truck and disappears to an unknown destination.

Elran Shrefler grew up in the kitchen of the tiny restaurant that his father opened in the early 1950s. Rachel and Ezra Shrefler had nine children, five boys and four girls, “all of them in the kitchen, but not like me from the age of zero,” attests the youngest son, who was born in 1981. In February 2015 Elran opened Azura in Tel Aviv.

Elran Shrefler. 'I become dizzy all over when I think about the chi-kofte'Credit: Dan Peretz

The Tel Aviv restaurant also serves hot cooked dishes. “Locantsi” is the Turkish word for simple workers’ restaurants, which specialize in various hot dishes. In Turkey, his father’s birthplace, you can find wonderful locantsi on almost every street corner. In the Tel Aviv branch of Azura, as in the one in Jerusalem, aluminum pots can be seen on the kerosene burner every day: kubbeh soups; sofrito (a divine dish of slow-cooked beef or chicken and with potatoes, which melts in your mouth); moussaka; lamb patties in eggplant; fish patties; rice with beans; various stuffed dishes; and other dishes inspired by the tradition of Jewish Kurdish-Turkish cuisine, which has become identified with present-day Jerusalem cuisine.

Rachel Shrefler was born in the city of Saqez, in the Turkish-Kurdish part of Iran. Ezra Shrefler was born in Diyarbakir, Turkey; and their young son returns to Urfa and Gaziantep – his father’s childhood realms – in order to order pots and knives there from the coppersmiths and ironsmiths, and mainly in order to eat as much of the wonderful local food as possible.

How do you identify someone who loves food with all his body and soul? According to the way his face lights up when he recalls the taste of a dish he ate somewhere during his journeys. The purpose of the trip may be forgotten, and the circumstances have also become vague with time, but the precise taste of the food is immediately called up from the memory cells. “I become dizzy all over when I think about the chi-kofte,” says Elran dreamily, as he talks about the raw meat and burghul patties he tasted at some unknown street corner there in Gaziantep.

Elran Shefler’s Rosh Hashanah recipes – All the recipes serve 12

Squash salad in pomegranate concentrate

You can prepare this salad for the holiday eve, and anyone who lights a grill on the holiday itself can roast the squash on a charcoal grill and serve the salad on the holiday afternoon.

Stuffed onions in pomegranate concentrate.Credit: Dan Peretz

Stuffed onions in pomegranate concentrate

People tend to be deterred from stuffing onions. It looks complicated, but it’s the easiest thing in the world. The scales disintegrate easily during cooking, it’s easy to stuff them, and the stuffed dish that results – which absorbs some of the flavor of the onion – is one of the most delicious there is.

Azura's fish patties in sefiha.Credit: Dan Peretz

Fish patties in sefiha

Sefiha is a traditional dish of tomatoes, eggplant and peppers

Azura's Three-blessing dish.Credit: Dan Peretz

The three-blessing dish

Fatty meat, mangold and beans are all part of the traditional signs (blessings) of Rosh Hashana. The wonderful meat, which is seasoned only with salt and pepper but absorbs flavors thanks to slow cooking in its own fat, is for me the essence of my father and mother’s simple and wonderful cuisine.

At Azura, aluminum pots can be seen on the kerosene burner every day.Credit: Dan Peretz

Azura: 1 Mikveh Israel St., Tel Aviv, 03-5015050


Squash salad in pomegranate concentrate

  • 1.5 kg. tiny squashes(the smallest available)

  • 1/4 cup spearmint leaves

  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves

  • 1/4 cup parsley leaves

  • 4 peeled and chopped garlic cloves

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

  • 3 tbsp. olive oil

  • 2 tbsp. pomegranate concentrate

  • 1/2 hot pepper finely chopped (the bottom half, which is less spicy)

  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Stuffed onions in pomegranate concentrate

  • 6 medium-size onions, peeled

The stuffing:

  • 2 cups rice

  • 2 finely chopped tomatoes

  • 1 finely chopped onion

  • 6 peeled and chopped garlic cloves

  • 5 celery stalks, including the leaves, finely chopped

  • 5 scallion stalks, finely chopped

  • 1/2 cup chopped spearmint

  • 1 tbsp. dried spearmint (optional)

  • 5 tbsp. pomegranate concentrate

  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • Salt and ground black pepper

Fish patties in sefiha

    For the patties:

    • 1 kg. (net weight, after cleaning the skin and bones) of a white saltwater fish such as grouper (locus), mullet or anthias

    • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro

    • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

    • 1 small onion, finely chopped

    • 5 chopped garlic cloves

    • 1/2 hot pepper, finely chopped (the bottom half, which is less spicy)

    • 1/4 cup bread crumbs

    • 1 egg

    • 2 tbsp. olive oil

    • Salt and black pepper

    • 1 tsp. spicy harissa or sweet paprika

    • 1/4 cup turmeric

    For the sauce:

    • 3 medium-sized eggplants, peeled lengthwise alternatively into stripes (“zebra”), and cut into coarse cubes

    • Corn oil for frying the eggplant

    • 4 tbsp. olive oil

    • 10 peeled garlic cloves, halved lengthwise

    • 2 spicy green peppers (you can use more, or less, to taste)

    • 1 tbsp. tomato paste

    • 10 tomatoes, peeled and cut into quarters

    • 2 sweet red peppers or chushka peppers, peeled, cleaned of seeds and coarsely cut

    • 2 tbsp. sweet paprika

    • 1 tsp. harissa (optional)

    • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

    • 1 tbsp. sugar

    • Juice of 1/2 lemon

    • Basil leaves for serving

    The three-blessing dish

      For the bean dish:

      • 3 cups of dried white beans (preferably small Turkish beans that have a thinner peel)

      • Salt and ground black pepper

      • For the fried onions:

      • 1. 5 kg. onions, finely chopped (about 8 medium-sized onions)

      • 3/4 cup olive oil

      For the meat:

      • 1.5 kg. lamb shoulder cut into thick and coarse slices, with the bone

      • 1 kg. lamb neck, cubed

      • 1/4 cup olive oil

      • Salt and ground black pepper

      • For the mangold dish:

      • 3 bunches of mangold (Swiss chard or similar greens), thoroughly rinsed

      • Juice of 1 lemon

      • Salt and ground black pepper


      Squash salad in pomegranate concentrate

      Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. If you find really small squashes, halve them lengthwise, if they’re somewhat larger, cut them lengthwise into four sections. Place them in a greased baking pan in a little olive oil, and place in the oven for about five minutes of grilling. Remove and allow to cool.

      Place the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and mix. Add the grilled squash, mix and serve.

      Stuffed onions in pomegranate concentrate

      The onions: Make a deep cut the length of the onions – up to the middle. Cook the onions in a large quantity of boiling water with a small amount of salt for 10-15 minutes, until they open. Strain and let cool. We recommend refrigerating them – so they’ll be more pliable and easy to separate.

      The stuffing: Place the rice in a bowl, cover with water and rinse. Repeat the process twice and strain. Return the rinsed and strained rice to the bowl, add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

      Stuffing the onions: Separate the scalded onions into scales. Place each scale on the work surface and fill with the stuffing. Roll them from end to end while pressing them closed, so that the stuffing remains inside. With the rest of the scales – the large first layer and the small interior ones – line the bottom of the pot.

      Arrange the stuffed onions in the pot in a circle, with the open side face down. Strain all the liquids that remained in the bowl of stuffing and pour into the pot – they will serve as the cooking liquids and there’s no need to add more water. Cover the pot and cook on a low flame for at least two hours, or more if you like.

      Fish patties in sefiha

      Patties: Coarsely grind the fish in a meat grinder, or ask the fishmonger to do so. Place all the ingredients for the patties in a bowl and knead well for about a minute. Form balls the size of ping-pong balls (about 24 balls) and flatten them to get oval patties. Refrigerate.

      Sauce: Heat the corn oil for half-deep frying in a deep skillet. When the oil is hot add the eggplant cubes and fry them on all sides until they brown. Remove and transfer to a plate lined with absorbent paper.

      Heat the olive oil in a wide shallow pot, add the garlic and the hot pepper and steam for about a minute, while stirring, over a medium flame. Add the tomato paste and steam for another minute. Add the tomato quarters and the red peppers and steam for another five minutes, while stirring.

      Add the rest of the seasonings, the lemon juice and 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Place the eggplant cubes on the sauce – without mixing, and arrange the patties over them. Cover the pot and cook for 15 minutes. Turn off the flame and let the dish sit for 15 minutes. Scatter the basil leaves over it and serve.

      The three-blessing dish

      The beans: Place the beans in a large bowl and cover with a lot of water. Soak overnight, strain the beans, place in a pot and add 1.5 liters of water. Bring to a boil and cook for 45 minutes. Strain the beans and return to the pot. Cover the beans with water and continue to cook.

      While the beans are cooking, fry the onions: Heat the olive oil in a wide pot, add the chopped onions and fry over a low flame while stirring, until the onions brown nicely and begin to caramelize.

      Add half the amount of fried onions to the pot with the beans (the second half is saved for the mangold dish), season with salt and black pepper, cover and cook on a low flame for at least three hours. Stir every half hour. The longer you cook it – the better. The beans should disintegrate and the final texture should be like a puree. If you’re afraid the dish will get scorched you can add a little water, but it’s important to remember that the end result isn’t soup.

      The meat: Heat the olive oil in a wide pot and fry the pieces of meat of about 10 minutes. Add salt and black pepper, pour in four cups of water and bring to a boil. Lower the flame and cook for about three hours on the lowest flame. There’s no need to add water. The idea is for the meat to cook in its own fat – like confit. At the end of the cooking the meat should be very soft and slide off the bone.

      The mangold: Cut the white stalks into 2-3-cm. slices and the green leaves into slices about 5 cm. wide. Bring one liter of water to a boil in a deep pot, add salt and the juice of one lemon. Scald the stalks for about 5 minutes in the boiling water and then add the leaves for scalding for about two more minutes. Strain and transfer to a bowl. Add the other half of the fried onions to the cooked mangold, mix well and add salt and pepper to taste.

      Serving: Arrange the bean puree in a suitable tray, place the mangold dish above it and the meat above that

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