The Nine Essentials This London-Based Israeli Chef Always Keeps in His Pantry | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

The Nine Essentials This London-Based Israeli Chef Always Keeps in His Pantry

The Nine Essentials This London-Based Israeli Chef Always Keeps in His Pantry

Tomer Amedi, the head chef at London’s acclaimed Palomar restaurant shares his kitchen’s must-haves

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Located in the buzzing Soho neighborhood of London, Palomar has become a popular eatery whose meat and vegetable-heavy menu is proudly described as Jerusalem-style. Though it is not kosher, the offerings, such as Kubaneh, Yiddish Style Hand Chopped Chicken Liver Pate, and Malabi, span the Israeli food spectrum, and are not dishes you would find in a typical English restaurant (fish and chips this food is not).

Anti-Semitism may be at an all-time high in the UK, yet this Jewish food establishment has attracted a following. Before moving to London to work at Palomar, Amedi cooked at the trendy Machneyuda restaurant in Jerusalem, whose seasonal menu is also not kosher but well-regarded. In the newly released Palomar Cookbook Amedi and proprietor Layo Paskin (a retired Jewish-English DJ-turned-restaurateur) share recipes and thoughts about Palomar.

Below, Amedi shares the nine things he makes sure to have on hand.

Freekeh

Simply put, freekeh is smoked green wheat. The wheat is picked while still young and moist, then piled up and set on fire; the end result is a herbal, smoky cereal that is way more fun to cook with than regular wheat. To this day, the Druze, an esoteric religious community living in the Galilee area, still use the old-school methods of production (it’s even mentioned in the Bible!), and it’s an important ingredient not only in Galilean cooking but also in Lebanese, Syrian and Egyptian. It’s easy to cook with — you just need the right amount of liquid and some love and attention.

Bulgur wheat

Bulgur is wheat (usually durum) that has been precooked, then dried and cracked. It became popular in the Middle East thanks to the influence of the Ottoman Empire. The wheat is cracked to three different particle sizes — coarse, fine and jarish (extra fine) — and each size is good for a different use, for example in kibbeh, tabbouleh, Kubenia and so on. It’s also versatile in that it can be served hot or cold. But the best thing about bulgur is that it’s super-easy to cook with — no actual cooking is needed, just a soak in boiled water, salt and a touch of oil.

Pomegranate molasses

This thick, dark, rich, sour and tangy liquid is a big star in Persian cuisine and it is one of my favorite ingredients. Basically it’s a reduction of pomegranate juice so the flavors are really concentrated. We use it in the restaurant for stews, vinaigrettes, vegetables and even in desserts.

Date syrup

This date honey, also called date molasses, has a great natural sweetness and a loose texture. It’s good not only for desserts or as a substitute for honey but for vinaigrettes and savory dishes, too. My papa likes to mix it with raw tahini and spread it on toast for breakfast. He’s smart, my old man.

Tahini

The king of pastes and a mega-key ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking, tahini is made from ground sesame seeds. The quality of the tahini is determined by whether the sesame seeds are unhulled or hulled, toasted or not, and the method used to grind them, for example stoneground. For me, a good tahini should be nutty and smooth with a hint of sweetness. Mightily versatile, tahini is great in so many kinds of dishes, savory and sweet, raw or cooked, and it’s very easy to handle. Good brands to look for are Al Nakhil, Al Arz, and Al Taj.

Israeli couscous

Called ptitim in Hebrew, this is basically a flour- and water-based baked pasta. The story behind this awesome ingredient goes all the way back to the austerity period in Israel (1949–56), when times were hard and the first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, approached the biggest food company at that time, Osem, and said: “Guys, I need a tasty, easy, cheap, kick-ass fast-food solution, so go to your labs and bring me the holy grail!” (Well, I’m not sure those were his exact words, but that was the spirit of them — he was a cool prime minister, they say.) So they came up with this form of pasta shaped to look like rice, which to this day is known as “Ben-Gurion Rice” by the people of Israel. The famous couscous shape wasto come later. Every child in Israel (present company included) grew up on this super-easy-to-cook ingredient, and I can only recommend you do the same for your kids. But wait, the story doesn’t end here! In the late 1990s, a couple of New York chefs started to use Israeli couscous and now it can be widely found in Michelin-starred restaurants. A humble beginning with a superstar ending, this is a Cinderella story come true.

Kosher salt

“So does the Rabbi bless this salt or something?” “How does it become kosher?” and many more questions are frequently asked of me about this ingredient, and all because it’s been wrongly named! It should actually be called koshering salt, given that it has a much larger grain size than ordinary table salt and is a purer form (no iodine is added). In Judaism, meat must be drained of blood and koshering salt is used for the purpose because its larger, purer grain helps to draw the blood more effectively, which is how it got its name. In this book, as in our restaurant, when I refer to salt I always mean kosher salt (unless Maldon salt is specified), so do make the effort to find it to replace your regular table salt — you won’t regret it. You can, however, use regular table salt for all the recipes if you prefer, but you will need to reduce the quantities given, as table salt is denser (it delivers more actual salt per measure), or simply salt to taste.

Rose water

The name pretty much says it all — this is water flavored with rose petals, used frequently in Middle Eastern desserts as well as in Pakistani cooking, and the Persians add it to their lemonade. It is a key ingredient in our Malabi.

Orange blossom water

Maa zaher in Arabic, this is another amazingly flavorful flower essence with a very refreshing scent. Genuine orange blossom water is alcohol-free and is used mostly in Moroccan and Algerian desserts for making baklava and flavored syrups, but we create a killer ice cream with it. Don’t be afraid to experiment, though, as you can use both this and rose water as you would vanilla extract, for example.

Tapenade

Matbucha

Kubaneh Bread

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