I HAD the honor of learning from and cooking with one of Israel’s most prominent chefs, Michael Katz, in town to showcase Israeli cuisine as the state celebrates its 63rd anniversary.
Katz is executive chef of the Adom Group. His restaurants include Adom, Colony and Lavan in Jerusalem – acclaimed among the best in Israel.
To Chef Michael, food is science, history, art, love, life. He lives it, breathes it, talks about it all at the same time, with unwavering passion and unequalled intensity. The man takes his food very seriously, yet cooks so gleefully.
When the Deputy Chief of Missions of the Embassy of Israel, Yaniv Revach, who has never cooked in his life, was assigned to man our wood-fired oven and all the breads to be baked in them, he burned a few in the beginning, obviously.
Chef Katz quipped: “Don’t worry, it’s all good! It’s perfect, it’s beautiful, it’s rustic, it’s delicious! We are all having a good time!”
Such was the air of joy in my kitchen last Sunday as Chef Katz gave it all he’s got.
I requested a traditional Israeli menu, so he prepared kaved katutz, chopped chicken liver; hatzil al la hishe, open-fire roasted eggplant with yogurt sauce; Israeli/Arabic salad; hummus, sabich; lamb shawarma with sumac marinated onions; hraime (spicy fish stew) and baklava.
His food was light, fresh, yet highly flavorful, spiced and seasoned right, making for well-balanced, hearty, healthy mouthfuls that left you wanting for more. His version of shawarma – sliced meat wrapped in dough like a roll, then baked – was the best!
He said it’s no different from the traditional one, but done this way, the meat juices are preserved, so it is more flavorful.
“Originally, shawarma is a Middle Eastern dish which is very popular in Israel, Syria, Turkey, Greece,” he said. “The name comes from Turkey, meaning “turning,” due to the fine tranches of meat on a spit turning.”
Here’s the recipe for one of Chef Michael’s creations:
Lamb Shawarma with Tahini Sauce and Sumac Marinated Onions
For the dough: (If you don’t want to do the dough, use pita instead)
1 k (2.2 lb) flour
50 g (1.7 oz) of yeast fresh or dry
25 g (0.8 oz) salt
20 g (0.7 oz) sugar
30 ml (0.1 c) olive oil
630 ml (2.6 c) water
Dissolve yeast and sugar in water.
Add salt into sifted flour, pour water and mix to a ball.
Grease bowl with olive oil and let dough rise; cover dough with cling film until double in size.
Punch dough down and divide into approximately 60-gram dough balls.
Let rise until double.
Stretch dough to discs, spread tahini, put sliced meat in the middle.
Gather edges of the dough together and seal, to make 5- to 6-inch logs/rolls.
Heat the oven to 230 degrees.
Bake until golden.
Serve with Sumac onions and tahini sauce.
1 deboned leg of lamb leg cut into thin strips
Marinate lamb at least 12 hours in 2 tsp salt and pepper, 8 pieces garlic cloves pounded to a paste with a bit of salt, 2-3 tbsp shawarma seasoning, 2 tbsp vinegar, 2 lemons. (I am reconstructing this as we didn’t measure anything, so adjust everything to taste).
Heat a pan and cook meat in a little oil until half done; do not overcook.
500 g tahini (can be bought at Santi’s)
500 g water (adjust water according to desired consistency)
1 bunch blanched parsley leaves
1 spoon cumin
100 ml lemon juice
Mix in a blender.
Marinated onions in sumac
5 red onions, very finely sliced
sumac (available at Flavors and Spices, Market! Market!)
2 spoons regular vinegar
juice from 1-2 lemons
Mix, let sit at least an hour before serving.
Cut meat as finely as possible.
Freeze meat a little before slicing.
Shawarma spice is basically a mix of approximately 30 percent cumin, 10 percent allspice, 30 percent turmeric, 10 percent sumac, salt and pepper to taste; some will add little gram masala, little cardamom etc… But the base is cumin, turmeric.
For the home, fry the meat in high heat in a very large pan so the meat has space to caramelize and for liquid to evaporate. Do a few batches. If a griddle is available, it is a good option.
Shops use spit method, some others charcoal, but most are gas operated.
Shawarma meats – turkey is popular, with lamb fat added; veal shoulder or rump; lamb leg or shoulder; even gizzards, etc.
Generally served with pita bread in many countries, though baguettes, focaccia are now also used.
Serve with diced tomato and cucumber, finely sliced cabbage, marinated onions. Some will add deep-fried eggplant slices, fries, roasted peppers, pickles.
Israel is kosher, so no dairy, no yogurt sauce. In Turkey and Greece, they can be used. Sauces can also be different like Amba – Indian-type salty mango sauce.
I would like to thank the Embassy of Israel, especially Yaniv and Gladys, for all their help.
For my new cooking class schedule and my summer promos, call 0917-5543700, 0908-2372346, 4008496, 9289296.
E-mail the author at raspiras @inquirer.com.ph
Michael Katz is executive chef of the Adom Group. His restaurants include Adom, Colony and Lavan in Jerusalem – acclaimed among the best in Israel.