The Dish: Israeli chef Alon Shaya

Born in Israel and raised in Philadelphia, Alon Shaya loved helping his mother cook but it was a high school home economics teacher who spotted his talent and encouraged him to make cooking a career. After training as a chef and working around the country, he opened his namesake Shaya in New Orleans. The restaurant was an instant hit and won him James Beard Awards for Best New Restaurant and Best Chef in the South. 

Now, he's opened Saba in New Orleans and this summer opens Safta in Denver. He also has a new cookbook called "Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel."

Here are some of Shaya's signature recipes: 

Za'atar fried chicken

Ingredients

1 whole chicken, or 10 pieces bone-in chicken (see page 220)
1 quart plus 1 cup water, divided
1⁄2 cup plus 1⁄2 teaspoon Morton kosher salt, divided
1⁄2 cup sugar

5 cups ice water

2 to 3 quarts canola oil
1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1⁄2 teaspoon ground allspice
1⁄3 cup za'atar  

Directions

1. If you're using a whole chicken, break it down so that the rib bones and first wing joint stay attached to the breast. Cut each breast in half crosswise, leaving you with two drumsticks, two thighs, four breast halves, and two wings. Place all the pieces in an airtight container or ziplock bag. 
 

2. Combine 1 quart water, 1⁄2 cup salt, and the sugar in a saucepan, and cook over high heat until everything dissolves. Remove from the heat, stir in the ice water, and pour it
into the ziplock bag to submerge the chicken. Refrigerate overnight. 
 

3. Pull the chicken out of the brine, and set it on plates or a rimmed sheet to warm up slightly while you heat the oil and prepare the batter. 
 

4. Fill a large heavy-bottomed pot about halfway with canola oil (for a 5-quart Dutch oven, you'll want about 2 ½ quarts). Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pot, and bring the oil to 375 ̊F over medium-high heat. The oil's temperature is important not just for cooking but also for safety, so keep an eye on it. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 175 ̊F and line an ovenproof plate or cooling rack with paper towels, to keep the chicken warm as it comes out of the fryer. 
 

5. Make the batter: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, paprika, cayenne, and allspice. Add 1 cup water and thoroughly combine.   

6. Use tongs to coat the chicken thoroughly with batter, one 
piece at a time, and let any excess drip off. Carefully lower it into the oil, making sure you don't overcrowd the pot. (I like to cook the dark meat all at once, so it cooks evenly, then do the same with the white meat.) 
 

7. Flip each piece after a minute or two-make sure you don't beat up the crust-and periodically check the oil's temperature to make sure it doesn't dip below 350 ̊F; adjust the heat on your stove as needed. Fry the chicken until its skin is a deep, even golden brown and its internal temperature is 160 ̊F. Depending on the size, this will take 10 to 15 minutes. 
 

8. With your tongs, move the chicken to the prepared plate or rack. Generously sprinkle it all over with the za'atar, roughly 1⁄2 tablespoon per piece. 
 

9. Let the oil come back up to 350 ̊F, then continue to fry the rest of the chicken. Serve it right away, or keep it warm in the oven until you're ready to eat. 
 

Israeli couscous with summer vegetables and caramelized tomato 

Ingredients

1 gallon plus 1⁄2 cup water, divided

2 tablespoons Morton kosher salt, divided
1 large eggplant

1 large zucchini

1 yellow onion, chopped
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 cup Israeli couscous
4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 cup lightly packed fresh parsley leaves

3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
¾ cup tomato paste

½ cup assorted olives, black or green, pitted and halved

8 fresh basil leaves, torn  

Directions

1. Heat the broiler. Combine 1 gallon water and 1 tablespoon salt in a large pot, and bring to a boil.   

2. Meanwhile, cut the eggplant and zucchini into roughly 1-inch pieces, then combine them with the chopped onion, 1⁄4 cup olive oil, and remaining 1 tablespoon salt. Spread everything in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring the pieces every 5 minutes or so, until they are evenly golden and the eggplant is very tender.   

3. When the water comes to a boil, add the couscous, and cook for about 6 minutes, until it's tender and still has a little bite. Drain it, and set aside. 
 

4. Strip the leaves from the thyme, and finely chop them with the parsley. Warm the remaining 1⁄4 cup olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then add the garlic and herbs. Cook for just 30 seconds to 1 minute, before the garlic has a chance to brown. 
 

5. Stir in the tomato paste, and continue to cook, breaking it up with your spoon, for 5 to 10 minutes, until it's fragrant and deeply caramelized. Remove the skillet from the heat, and fold in the roasted vegetables, couscous, and remaining 1⁄2 cup water, followed by the olives and basil. Serve warm; leftovers keep well for a few days. 
 

Everything borekas 

Boreka dough ingredients

20 ounces (5 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
5 ¼ cups (630 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 ½ teaspoons Morton kosher salt
4 teaspoons canola oil
4 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

1 ¼ cups club soda, cold, plus more as needed  

Directions for boreka dough

1.  Cut the butter into slices 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 inch thick. Spread them in a layer on a plate or baking sheet, and refrigerate until they're very firm, at least 1 hour. 


2.  Meanwhile, combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl (preferably the bowl of your stand mixer) and keep
it in the freezer. Gradually stir the butter into the flour mixture, with the paddle attachment on low speed, or with a pastry cutter, until the smallest chunks are pea-sized and the larger pieces have broken down a bit. 


3.  Pour in the canola oil and vinegar, then gradually add the club soda and continue to mix until a rough dough forms; make sure you scrape the sides of the bowl periodically to moisten the flour at the bottom. There will still be distinct pieces of butter and dry bits of our, so gauge whether it's ready by pinching pieces between your hands; it's done when it starts to clump together. If it's still too dry, add more club soda 1 tablespoon at a time, but be careful that the dough doesn't get too wet. 


4.  Spread a piece of parchment at least 18 inches long on your work surface, then dust it with flour. Empty the dough onto it and, using a light touch and the heels of your hands, shape it into a rectangle about 2 inches thick. Be careful not to let the butter start melting on you: a decisive touch will get the job done faster, so don't linger with it. Fold the sides of the parchment around it to seal, then wrap the whole thing tightly in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until it's very cold throughout. You can store it like this for as long as a couple days before proceeding.

5.  On a floured surface, roll the chilled dough into a rectangle about 12 by 18 inches; use the sides of your hands or a bench scraper to square off the edges so they stay neat and even, and dust with more flour as needed to keep the dough from getting sticky. Fold it in thirds, as you would a letter (a bench scraper is helpful here, to help you lift and manipulate the dough), then glide your rolling pin lengthwise along the dough once or twice, just to smooth out any air pockets. Fold it in half crosswise, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. 


6.  This process—rolling, folding, and chilling—constitutes one "turn" in the process of making laminated dough. Do it two more times, then cut the dough in half and wrap each piece tightly in plastic. Allow the dough to chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, until it's thoroughly cold throughout, before you use it in a recipe. If you prefer, you can store it 
in the freezer until you're ready to use it, then let it thaw completely in the fridge. 


Everything borekas ingredients

1 cup crumbled sheep's-milk feta, preferably Bulgarian
¾ cup grated kashkaval or provolone cheese
1 egg

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

All-purpose flour, for dusting

1 ½ pounds boreka dough (preceding recipe) or store-bought puff pastry
Water, for sealing
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 ½ teaspoons dried onion flakes

1 ½ teaspoons dried garlic flakes

1 ½ teaspoons Maldon or other flaky sea salt

1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons milk  

Directions

1. To make the filling: Stir together the cheeses, egg, and black pepper, mashing them with your spoon or spatula just until they're incorporated. Set the mixture aside until you're ready to fill the dough. 


2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Generously
dust flour over a work surface, your rolling pin, and the dough; if it's so cold that it's impossible to work with, let
the dough sit at room temperature for 5 or 10 minutes. Roll it into a rectangle a little bigger than 12 by 16 inches, about 1⁄4 inch thick; dust with our as needed, flipping the dough occasionally so it doesn't stick, and keep the edges neat. Trim away any uneven edges.

3. Dust off any excess flour, and brush a little water over the dough. Cut it in thirds lengthwise, then make four even cuts crosswise, to get twelve 4-inch squares. Spoon 1 heaping tablespoon of filling into the center of each one, wrap the dough around the filling to make a triangle, and firmly pinch the edges to seal. Arrange the borekas on the lined baking sheet, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. 


4. When you're ready to bake, heat the oven to 450 ̊F with a rack in the center of the oven. Make the everything-bagel topping by combining the sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried onion flakes, dried garlic flakes, and flaky sea salt. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg yolk and milk. 


5. With the tines of a fork, crimp the chilled borekas' edges well, so they're completely sealed. Brush the egg wash
all over their tops, and sprinkle each one with about
1⁄2 teaspoon of the bagel seasoning. Bake for 10 minutes, then decrease the heat to 400 ̊F, rotate the pan, and bake for another 15 or 20 minutes, until they're deeply golden all over. Serve warm, or cool to room temperature and store in an airtight container for a day or two. These reheat beautifully in a 400 ̊F oven for 5 minutes.

Lutenitsa

Ingredients

4 red bell peppers

1 large (1-to-1 ½ -pound) eggplant

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

¼ cup tomato paste

1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Morton kosher salt

¾ cup canned whole tomatoes with their juice

2 tablespoons lightly packed fresh parsley leaves, chopped  

Directions

1. Set the peppers on their sides over high heat on a gas stovetop's burners or grill so they're exposed directly to the flame (you may want to line the burners with foil to prevent a mess, and if you've got one, use a small metal grate to keep
the peppers from falling into the burner, so they char more evenly). Cook until that side is completely blackened, 3 to
4 minutes, then rotate; they're done when they're charred black all over. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool. 
 

2. Use a fork to prick the eggplant a few times all over. It gives off a fair amount of liquid as it cooks, so lining your burner with foil as mentioned in step 1 makes for easy cleanup. Lay the eggplant on its side over the burner, as you did with the peppers, and cook over medium-high heat until the bottom is blistered and blackened with bits of papery white char. Rotate and keep cooking until the whole thing is uniformly charred-depending on your stove, this usually takes about 45 minutes. It'll be ugly, and you'll think you overcooked it. You didn't. This is what gives it a ton of flavor and a creamy texture. Remove it from heat, and set aside to cool. 
 

3. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, use wet fingers to rub off all their papery, charred skin. Resist the urge to run them under water in the sink; although that lets you peel them faster, it also rinses away the smoky flavor you just built. Once the skins are removed, pull or cut out the stems, halve the peppers lengthwise, and scrape out all the seeds and any pith. Chop the peppers and set them aside; you should have about 11⁄2 cups' worth. 
 

4. Halve the eggplant lengthwise, and cut off the top. The inside should be creamy all the way to the center, but if it's not, you can finish the job by placing the halved eggplant in a 375 ̊F oven for 5 to 10 minutes. Use a spoon to scoop out the flesh gently, taking care not to bring too much charred skin with it, and set it aside with the peppers; you should have about 3⁄4 cup's worth. 
 

5. Set a large skillet over medium heat, and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Once it's warm, add the tomato paste, and use a wooden spoon or spatula to break it up as much as you can, to build a toasty flavor. 
 

6. Once the olive oil is orange and the tomato paste doesn't smell so raw, add the garlic and cook just until it starts to soften and smell great. Add the roasted peppers, eggplant, and the salt, and stir to incorporate. Roughly crush the canned tomatoes by hand, or chop them, then add them to the pan with their juice. 
 

7. Reduce the heat to low, and cook, uncovered, for about 1 hour. You want the mixture really to dry out, thicken, and kind of slump into itself. Stir it occasionally to scrape up the brown bits and prevent the bottom of the pan from burning. It's done when it tastes sweet and deeply caramelized. Set it aside, and cool to room temperature. To serve: scatter with parsley and drizzle on the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil.  

Classic hummus with tahini  

Ingredients

4 ½ quarts water, divided
3 teaspoons baking soda, divided

1 ½ cups dried chickpeas
7 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
¼ cup raw tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoons Morton kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons hot water
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

¾ cup prepared tahini 
¼ cup lightly packed fresh parsley leaves, chopped teaspoon
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper  

Directions

1. In a large bowl, combine 11⁄2 quarts water and 1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda; add the chickpeas and soak overnight.

2. Heat the oven to 400 ̊F. Drain the chickpeas, and toss with 2 teaspoons baking soda, then spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast until the beans have visibly dried, 10 to 15 minutes.

3.  Move the chickpeas to a large sieve or colander; with cold water running over the chickpeas, start roughing them up with your hands to loosen the skins. You can grab a small handful and briskly run them between your palms, or pinch them between your fingers (don't worry about removing and discarding the skins yet). The more you do now, the more will come off during cooking, so take some time here and don't worry if they split. It's good to be thorough— this is like giving them a deep-tissue massage to loosen everything up. 


4. Combine the remaining 3 quarts water with the remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda, this time in a pot. Add the chickpeas, and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium. With a small sieve or slotted spoon, skim away the foam and loose skins from the top of the water and discard. It may be helpful for you to reserve the discarded skins in a bowl to track your progress; with enough persistence, you're aiming to have about 3⁄4 cup of skins by the time you're finished.

5. Every couple of minutes during the cooking process, strain away the skins by plunging your sieve deep into the pot and giving a good stir, then using the sieve to catch the swirling skins, as you would fish for minnows. It's okay to beat the chickpeas up a little against the side of the pot to speed this along. Repeat this process as much as you have the patience to do (you won't get them all, so don't drive yourself insane), until the chickpeas are just becoming tender, in 20 to 25 minutes.

6. When the chickpeas are still sort of "al dente," give them one last skim to trap any skins, then add the garlic. Cook for another 25 to 30 minutes, until the beans are super-creamy. Drain, and let them sit in the strainer for a few minutes, so any extra moisture can evaporate. 


7. Combine the chickpeas in a food processor with the raw tahini, lemon juice, salt, and cumin. Process for several minutes, until the mixture is incredibly smooth. With the machine still going, stream in the canola oil, hot water, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Let it rip—there's no way to overprocess this stuff, and you want it to be as light as air. 


8. Serve the hummus at room temperature. I like to spread it in a wide, shallow bowl, where I can smear it up the sides and show off the topping. Use the back of your spoon to make
a well in the center, and fill it with prepared tahini if you're using it. Drizzle with the last 3 tablespoons olive oil, and scatter the parsley and Aleppo pepper on top. 

Yogurt pound cake with cardamom-lemon syrup

Ingredients

½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan
3 ½ cups cake flour, plus more for the pan
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon Morton kosher salt
3 ½ cups sugar, divided

1 lemon

1 cup full-fat Greek yogurt, room temperature, plus more for serving
4 eggs
6 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup water
1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
8 cardamom pods, crushed
2 cups blackberries, halved  

Directions

1.  Heat the oven to 350 ̊F. Generously grease and flour a Bundt or tube pan. 


2.  Sift the cake flour, and combine it with the baking powder and salt. 


3.  Add 2 ½ cups sugar to a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Grate the zest of the lemon and rub all the zest into the sugar; reserve half of the lemon for the cake soak. 


4.  Add the butter and yogurt to the mixing bowl, and cream everything with an electric mixer or the paddle attachment of the stand mixer on high speed for 5 minutes. You want the mixture to be light in color, with plenty of air in it. 


5.  Add the eggs and the yolks one at a time, mixing between additions, followed by the vanilla. Don't worry: the batter will look broken and curdled, but that's okay. Gradually add the flour mixture, and beat on low until just incorporated. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Lift the pan a couple inches off the counter, and let it drop evenly; do this a few times, to get rid of any air bubbles in the batter. 


6.  Bake on the center rack for 50 to 60 minutes, rotating the pan once, after 30 minutes. The cake is ready when a knife comes out clean. 


7.  While the cake bakes, make the soak: Combine the remaining cup of sugar with the water and olive oil in a saucepan. Squeeze the lemon juice in, and drop in the lemon with the cardamom pods. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then cover and remove from the heat until the cake is ready. (The oil and water will stay separate, which is fine.)

8.  Once you've pulled the cake from the oven, let it cool for about 10 minutes; strain the syrup, and discard all the solids. 


9.  Use a thin knife to cut about sixteen deep slits all over the 
cake, then gradually pour the syrup all over, 1⁄4 cup at a time, pausing between pours to let each one soak in. Let the cake cool completely in the pan before inverting it onto a cake plate or cutting board. Serve each slice with a dollop of yogurt, a drizzle of olive oil, and a pile of fresh berries.