The Israeli-American chef gives his recommendations and tips for Israeli dishes to make at home.
It's too simplistic to say that "Israeli food is having a moment," but in the last few years it has started finding its way to more and more places around the world. One of the biggest proponents of the cuisine in the United States is New Orleans-based chef Alon Shaya. The Israeli-American chef runs two Italian restaurants in the Big Easy as well, but it’s his namesake restaurant Shaya that is helping further modern Israeli cuisine in the U.S. We chatted with chef Shaya before his dinner at New York City’s Seaport Food Lab about his secrets for making perfect pita bread, along with other Israeli dishes to make at home.
“'Israeli' food" he says "is like saying 'American' food: It’s a combination of so many different cultures and influences that all culminated in one place. It’s so much more than just falafel and I promise that everyone can find something they like..." And here are four things that get you into Israeli food if you aren't already.
Perfecting the pita.
According to Shaya, the secret to making good pita bread at home is getting your oven roaring hot. “Turn your oven onto the broiler setting, set your pizza stone on the middle shelf and let it preheat for at least an hour.” Shaya points out that once you slide your dough into the preheated oven, it cooks with the broiler while still getting the high temperature char that you get from a wood-burning oven. Rather than just turning the oven on the highest setting, “it’s more like a 700 or 800-degree temperature with the broiler,” and this is what gives pita that almost smoky element that we all crave.
Start with homemade hummus.
According to Shaya, when it comes to Israeli food, hummus is the second building block behind pita bread. His tahini hummus “is like the margarita pizza of hummuses and it’s the one thing on our menu that just brings me right back to Israel every time I taste it.” Along with cucumber-tomato salad with lemon and parsley, hummus is one of the dishes served every single day in Israel.
Change up your egg routine with shakshouka.
Shakshouka, the classic Israeli breakfast dish, can be customized however you like, depending on what produce is readily available. “Shakshouka is a great dish because it’s just eggs, tomato sauce and vegetables, but it’s completely approachable all the way around,” says Shaya. While his restaurant version of this Israeli staple includes the North African spice chermoula, sunchokes and spicy chilies, the shakshouka that Shaya’s preparing for the Food Lab dinners includes squash, eggplants and chanterelle mushrooms, which further highlights how customizable the dish is.
Expand your dip game with lutenitsa.
Regardless of how hard we try, we cannot live on hummus alone. Lucky for us, Israeli cuisine includes a vast number of dips, including this Shaya favorite that his grandmother taught him to make. “Lutenitsa is a Bulgarian purée of roasted pepper, eggplant, garlic and tomato and it’s literally the first thing I ever cooked when I was seven years old,” he says.
Chef Alon Shaya is cooking at the Seaport Food Lab, presented by Chase Sapphire Reserve, until August 12th and you can make reservations here. Additionally, if you're looking for more Israeli recipes to try, including chef Shaya's signature pita bread, his first cookbook, Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel, will be published next March and is available for pre-order now.