What I love most about traveling is the opportunity to experience ethnic foods. I long for foods that challenge my palate, expose me to the unfamiliar, and push all of my senses to the limit. What is that spice I am tasting? How did the chef achieve these delicate yet complex layers of flavor and this texture?
Last year I introduced my Foodie Friends to Yotam Ottolenghi, the Israeli born chef who has written a couple of my favorite cookbooks, ( “Plenty,” “Plenty More,” and “Ottolenghi”) over the last few years. Ottolenghi challenged me once again last year with yet another magnificent book, “Jerusalem.” His luscious recipes for fattoush, latkes, and mejadra have exotic ingredients like za’atar and pomegranate molasses. I am grateful to you Ottolenghi for my replenished and captivating spice rack and my expanded culinary vocabulary.
Just as I was beginning to experiment in the kitchen with my new recipes and spices to create this Mediterranean style of food that I thought that I could never find here, Shaya restaurant opened in New Orleans. An Israeli restaurant in New Orleans? New Orleans, the birthplace of creole and Cajun cuisines. Would it be possible to fuse our traditional native cuisine and local ingredients with a middle eastern cuisine? Yes, Shaya has proved that it can be done well.
There’s a lot of hype, justifiably so, around Shaya, Alon Shaya’s Israeli award winning restaurant in New Orleans. I have been there several times, and have slowly and contentedly eaten my way through most of the menu. Alon Shaya won the 2015 James Beard award for Best Chef South and Best New Restaurant in America by Esquire Magazine and the Daily Meal.
From the ikra, to the wood roasted brussel sprouts, lamb ragout, sabich, Moroccan carrots and labneh and the avocado toast, another one of my personal favorites, each dish is spectacular in its simplicity, freshness and authenticity.
One might think that it is impossible to do anything creative with the ubiquitous dip, hummus. Those predictable round plastic containers of hummus served with chips or raw veggies have shown up at almost every party I have attended in the last 5 -10 years. Shaya defies that myth of the reputation of hummus as an insipid tasteless bean puree. Shaya’s creamy hummus with curried cauliflower, caramelized onions, pink peppercorns and cilantro served with warm pitas fired in the brick oven is ethereal. Here is a recipe for Alon Shaya’s curried cauliflower hummus that was recently featured in “my Rouse’s everyday,” magazine. I make it weekly at home and still order it when I go the restaurant. I’m hopelessly stuck in the hummus with curried cauliflower rut. And it feels so good!
Shaya is introducing Israeli food to the masses and I am right in there with them enjoying every morsel I consume. I love the rich and complex diversity of the cuisine and the culture. The flavor and texture combinations are perfectly balanced and satisfy my adventure seeking palate.
Ottolenghi and Shaya both see modern Israeli food as a true melting pot, drawing influence from North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Turkey and Greece. And now, New Orleans. I will never win a James Beard culinary award nor do I aspire to. However, I am inspired by these 2 Israeli influenced chefs who were inspired by their grandmothers cooking just as I was. I admire these 2 stellar chefs that have taken these lessons from their families and created innovative cuisine drawing on their personal experiences and the fresh ingredients from the places that they live.
That’s the true meaning of being an authentic foodie and a locavore. Mazel tov!
Shaya’s Curried Cauliflower Hummus
Either make hummus from you favorite recipe or go to the Farmer’s Market and buy a high quality homemade hummus.
1/2 lb cauliflower
2 tsp curry powder
1 large onion, thinly sliced
11/2 tsp pink peppercorns
Chopped parsley or cilantro to garnish
In a skillet heat 1/4 ” of canola oil. Add cauliflower and fry over moderately high heat stirring until tender and deeply browned for 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel lined bowl to drain. Add 1 tsp curry and toss well. Season with salt and toss again. Pour off all but 1/4 C of oil. Add sliced onions and a pinch of salt to skillet and cook over medium-high heat stirring until soft and brown for about 5 minutes. Add pink peppercorns and remaining tsp of curry powder and cook until fragrant for 3 more minutes. Season with salt.
Spoon hummus into bowl and top with onion and cauliflower. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with cilantro or parsley. Serve with warm pita.