Shaya: An Odyssey of Food
My Journey Back to Israel
Southern-Israeli-Italian fusion? Really? Yes really. Food and culture are rarely homogenous, particularly in North America. Like many of us, Alon Shaya gets around. This book tells a tale of an Israeli teenager uprooted to Philadelphia, who grew up and cooked his way to Italy, back to Israel and then down to New Orleans, where he currently runs a number of award winning restaurants.
I had never heard of Alon Shaya or his restaurants before this book came out last year, but this book is a cult favourite. I have read umpteen internet posts from people who cooked from this book and loved it, and it was a semi-finalist in the annual Piglet cookbook competition (https://food52.com/the-piglet/2019). Since Middle-Eastern and Italian are two of my very favourite cuisines, I had to check it out.
It does not disappoint. It is both a memoir and a cookbook. The food is great and there is a lot of variety. The recipes are driven by the stories rather than the other way around. As a result, the recipes are organized in a way that could be described as completely illogical, but hey, that’s what an index is for. There are Southern recipes like Buttermilk Biscuits and Red Beans and Rice and Italian recipes like Ricotta Cavatelli with White Bolognese, Chocolate-Hazelnut Semifreddo and Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder on Creamy Polenta with Taleggio. There are “Jewish” recipes like Classic Hummus with Tahini, Pastrami Scrambled Eggs and Cured Salmon. Then there are mixed up dishes like Za’atar Fried Chicken, Schmaltzy Cornbread with Gribenes and Kugel in Crisis (with bacon!).
There are also many vegetable dishes, which is where I went with this book. Brussels Sprout Salad with Mustard and Toasted Almonds was a bit hit. It was packed with flavour from lots of mustard, vinegar and herbs and crunch from the raw brussels and toasted almonds. The same description fits the Farro and Kale with Saffron Vinaigrette, with fresh orange, peas, radishes, cucumbers and nuts. This was a great hot weather dish, pretty to look at, healthy and filled with things I like to eat.
For a vegetarian dinner, I made Fried Eggplant with Caramelized Tomato and Goat Cheese. As a recent convert to eggplant, I haven’t cooked it much. But it was easy and delicious – crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside. Shaya’s grandmother’s recipe for thick tomato sauce made out of tomato paste was a winner. And the goat cheese topping was the icing on top.
I also made the Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Whipped Feta, which was a dramatic looking dish. It was a bit more work because the cauliflower was cooked two different ways, but it did taste good.
A bit of a mish-mash of cultures, but that’s real life and it’s all good. Lots of good things to make and eat, certainly not boring. This is a cookbook that I will use, and I do recommend it.