Sephardic Recipes With A Modern Twist

Sephardic Spice Girls

Recently, Rachel and I were picking up some flowers at the French Florist on the corner of Bedford and Pico Boulevard in the ‘hood and we noticed the bright blue exterior of Star Juice. We wandered in and discovered an oasis of fresh juices, fruit smoothies and açaí bowls.

We met the young owner Yitzchak Avtalion, a man who is passionate about the health of the body and the soul.

“We opened in July, after the first Coronavirus lockdown. We wanted to educate people on the importance of diet for our health and immunity and to offer our customers healthy choices,“ he told us.

Avtalion, was born and raised in Los Angeles, where he attended Hillel Hebrew Academy, Beverly Hills High School and graduated from Cal State Northridge. He spent time in Israel and upon his return to Los Angeles, he became a personal trainer and health and fitness coach. He authored a book called “Soul Fit,” that espouses a philosophy of mind-body wellness gleaned from the “timeless wisdom” and “divine truths” of Judaism, as well as tried and true techniques from the field of nutrition.

“Eating better is preventative medicine. When we give our body the nutrition it needs it protects us from illnesses,” adds Avtalion.

Zahava & Itzchak Avtalion, mother and son proprietors of Star Juice on Pico

Zahava & Itzchak Avtalion, mother and son proprietors of Star Juice on Pico

It is obvious that Star Juice is a labor of love and an invitation to the community to feel at home while feeding the body. In fact, the restaurant is a family affair—Avtalion’s partners include his wife Meirav, his mother Zahava and his sister Rachel. The menu is filled with items that evoke Jewish heritage. The smoothies include Rambam’s Remedy, which is billed as a detoxifying cleanser and contains carrot, blueberry, spinach, ginger root, cinnamon and turmeric; Jerusalem Sesame provides a healthy dose of fiber, iron and calcium with ingredients like Almond Milk, dates, tahini, walnuts and blueberries; and Maccabee Guava lends a massive immunity boosting punch of Vitamin C from guava, mango and strawberries.

You can build your own Açaí bowl. You can indulge in wellness shots that boost energy with King David’s Sling Shot or that provide antioxidants with the Turmeric Slam Dunk. You can build your own pressed juice from a long list of fresh ingredients. And you can enjoy the nourishing goodness of the soups of the day (recent choices were lentil soup and butternut squash soup).

The Signature Hot drinks include Sweet Shooting Cider (apple, cinnamon and maple) and Get It Going Beetz (almond milk, beet, ginger, cinnamon and raw honey).

Our favorite (and current obsession) is the Sachlav Star. See Sahlab Recipe below.

In a kosher restaurant scene that has the best pizza places and fabulous hamburger joints, the completely vegan Star Juice is a refreshing addition.

Sharon’s Sahlab Recipe

Just saying the word Sahlab feels like a warm embrace. A popular Middle Eastern winter drink, Sahlab is a hot, silky, milky beverage that is spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon and studded with coconut flakes and bright green pistachios. Sahlab means orchid and the flour that was used to thicken this delicious drink was made from grinding orchid tubers. Nowadays there are ready made powders and a quick search online will pull up Hafiz Mustafa’s Salep powder from Turkey, Egyptian Sahlab powder and Knorr’s Israeli Sachlav that are available for purchase. Sahlab is also pretty good when made with cornstarch.

Follow our recipe, which calls for coconut milk, or try it with milk, almond milk or oat milk. The spices add a healthy dose of antioxidants and adding pistachios or walnuts make the drink even more amusing for your mouth.

We hope you try this unique, creamy drink.

4 cups coconut milk
4 tablespoons cornstarch
5 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons coconut flakes
1/2 cup chopped pistachios

Combine milk, cornstarch, sugar and vanilla in a pot.

Whisk over medium heat and bring to a boil.

Continue stirring for two minutes, until the mixture becomes thick and creamy.

Pour mixture into four mugs and top with a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg, coconut flakes and pistachios.

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