Shuk: From Market to Table, the Heart of Israeli Home Cooking
“Shuk is the delightful way . . . for home cooks to travel from the comfort of their homes to famed Israeli shuks or marketplaces and experience the exotic cuisine of the Middle East.”
A simple definition of shuk is an Israeli open-air marketplace, but in reality it is much more. Unlike a Farmers’ Market that promotes local produce, an Israeli shuk is a stunning combination of history and culture in one setting. It is a bustling place where myriad civilizations are celebrated through food and drink from flaky pastries to meat-stuffed pitas to fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice.
If you can’t visit an actual shuk, don’t worry, you can travel from the comfort of your home through the pages of a new cookbook titled Shuk. Einat Admony and Janna Gur have combined their love of Israeli food and culture into a fascinating trip to the shuk.
Admony, author of Balaboosta, is also a celebrated chef/owner of three restaurants in New York City. Admony and her father often shopped in the local shuk, stopping for a taste of the lachuch, a springy, moist Yemenite flatbread, and bringing home an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats for her mother to make into fantastic dishes. At the tender age of 11, Admony learned the intricacies of Persian or “Mizrahi” cooking, and her culinary horizons were further expanded when her Moroccan neighbor let her help in the kitchen. Admony’s restaurants celebrate her multicultural heritage, which she shares in her latest book.
Gur is the founder of Al Hashulchan, Israel’s premiere food and wine magazine. She is also an author and editor of numerous cookbooks. You could say she knows her food. She is also a talented writer, and her section on the short story of Israeli food is fascinating and enlightening. As a young nation Israel had something of a food identity problem, but lucky for us that identity crisis has been resolved.
As Gur explains it “chicken soup, chopped liver, or babka, the unique cuisine of eastern European Jews never became part of mainstream Israeli cooking.” Instead Israeli cuisine is a true melting pot, welcoming North African Jews and their couscous, shakshuka and chraime. Living in close proximity with Palestine meant now hummus, labneh, tahini and grilled skewered meats became part of the Israeli cuisine. This overlapping of cuisines was not without dispute. As Gur says, “the connection of Israelis to Palestinian food culture is fraught with controversy and sometimes viewed as a form of culinary colonialism. To put it bluntly: First you take our land, then you take our hummus.”
But the reality is more nuanced and even during times of conflict, ties between Israeli and Palestinian chefs remain strong. “The fact that Jews and Arabs who live in Israel love the same food could be seen as a unifying rather than dividing factor.”
The bottom line is that Israeli cooking begins in the bounty of the shuk and ends up on dinner tables laden with the goodness of fresh fruits and vegetables.
The duo want home cooks to bring the shuk to their kitchen and have a chapter devoted to ingredients, most of them easily found in Middle Eastern stores or online. The section is full of information and recipes for such delicacies as preserved lemons, fiery harissa, and the famed Baharat (spices) mix. As a bonus they also take us on a tour of their favorite shuks in Tel Aviv.
Israelis eat salad with every meal, including breakfast, and so it makes sense there is an entire chapter devoted to delicious salads. Follow the “Israeli Salad Rules” to make the perfect salad. First find the freshest of ingredients, then mix with appropriate herbs and seasonings and serve it in a timely manner. What could be simpler? Mouth-watering Three Tomato Salad or Whole Romaine Leaves with Fenugreek-Yogurt Dressing and Ja’ala are just a few dishes in this section. Ja’ala is scrumptious nutty mix of roasted nuts, seeds, and spices that is unique to the Jewish Yemenite community. This savory mix is perfect on salad, soup, or a bowl of fresh yogurt.
If you like eggplants, Israeli cooking is for you. You can choose from dips, spreads, and salads. And of course there is the famed Sabich sandwich featuring slices of meaty fried eggplants, a smear of hummus, a scoop of Israeli salad, a hardboiled egg , topped with tahini sauce and the famed amba (pickled mangoes seasoned with salt, mustard seeds, turmeric, chilies and fenugreek) all stuffed into a pita bread.
The book has delectable section after section and detailed instructions of making everything from hummus to the famed shakshuka (Cinderella in a Skillet) to stuffing beets and squash (Delicata Squash stuffed with Spiced Beef and Tahini).
Learn how to make Labneh, a creamy simple cheese made from strained whole milk yogurt. This soothing cheese pairs well with warm pita and is served with a generous helping of extra virgin olive oil and topped with a spice mix.
What is an Israeli meal without couscous? Learn how to make it from scratch and enjoy the unique and delicate taste of homemade couscous, with or without seasonings.
The star of an Israeli-style cookout is the charcoal grill, and everything from meats to vegetables and flat bread are quickly seared on a grill for a tasty, smoky meal.
A variety of breads from the Balkans, Lebanon, Yemen, and Palestine are grouped together in one section. Look for fresh pita, Fattayers (spinach and pine nut pies), and Boureka Pie with Chard and Four Cheeses.
Cakes, cookies, and sweets are an essential part of the cuisine. Choose from Creamy Israeli Cheesecake with Homemade Labneh and Pistachios or the Lazy Cook’s Baklava, to mention just a few.
The book can sometimes be a sensory and information overload with gorgeous photographs and paragraphs of information about shuks, shopping, baking, and prepping. Don’t get overwhelmed; just try one recipe at a time for a pleasurable and scrumptious cooking and dining experience.