Chef Einat Admony’s Sukkot Celebration
Chef Einat Admony knows a thing or two about “leaning in.” As creator of the popular New York eateries, Taim Falafel and Balaboosta, she has helped bring inspired Middle Eastern fare to New York City. The Israeli-native (her mother is originally from Iran; her father from Yemen), has a brand new cookbook out too. Also called Balaboosta, it shares many of her best dishes pulled from the restaurants and her Mediterranean roots. (See our peek inside it here.)
If that wasn’t enough, she is hard at work opening her third restaurant, Bar Bolonat, which will fuse Middle Eastern food with cuisines from around the globe. Despite her packed schedule, Admony, who has two children along with her husband, Stefan Nafziger, is an enthusiastic home cook.
Whether at her restaurants or at home, Admony loves nothing more than to feed people great food. So on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, a harvest holiday focused on feasting, abundance, and entertaining others, we caught up with Admony to find out what she does to make the holiday special.
What was your family’s Sukkot celebration like when you were growing up?
My mom made a lot of Iranian food at home and for Sukkot she would make her food particularly festive, doing things like adding saffron to rice for color. She also served stuffed vegetables, which are traditional for the holiday. She would make whatever she had, never letting anything go to waste. If she just had one pepper, one onion, and two zucchini, she would stuff them all with rice and beef and cook them all together. Sometimes she cooked them in tomato sauce, but she also made a delicious, tart pomegranate sauce.
Did your family build a sukkah [a temporary hut built for eating in during the holiday]?
Oh, of course! We had a huge communal garden that was shared by the neighbors. Everyone would fight over the best space to build their sukkah. Sometimes we would have our own, and sometimes we would share with our Moroccan neighbor, who was like a second mom to me. She didn’t have young kids anymore when we were growing up, so my brother and I would decorate her sukkah for her. We also had a lot of meals together, which meant we got to mix cultures and cuisines in the sukkah. It was like having a bigger family!
Were there any foods that showed up year after year?
Every year my mom would break open two cases of pomegranates to make her own marmalade, which seems unusual here but is very common in Israel. I would help her — that was my childhood. She would put the seeds in this large aluminum pot with sugar and let it sit over a low flame for hours, just cooking very slowly. She would strain it and then do the same process again until it was this thick, jammy texture. She would preserve it in glass jars for the year and use a spoonful here and there in cooking. The recipe in my book for pomegranate and walnut chicken, which would be wonderful for Sukkot, is hers.
Any other recipes in the cookbook that would work on Sukkot?
There are many, but one definite one is called “rice fit for a king.” It is colored with turmeric and filled with cumin seeds, carrots, and currants. It’s very festive and is often used to commemorate holidays.
Do you have a sukkah here in New York!
No, unfortunately I live in a loft with no outdoor space. I thought about building one on our roof, but that seemed a little weird. So I stick with the food as a way to make the holiday sweet.
→ Find Einat Admony’s new book at your local bookstore, library, or at Amazon: Balaboosta by Einat Admony
Mom’s Chicken with Pomegranate and Walnuts
Excerpted from Balaboosta by Einat Admony (Artisan Books, 2013). Photographs by Quentin Bacon.
Serves 4 to 6
If, for some crazy reason, you manage to live without pomegranate confiture, you can replace it by whisking together 1/2 cup pomegranate molasses, 1/2 cup pomegranate juice, and 1/4 cup honey.
2 pounds chicken thighs and drumsticks
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/4 cups Pomegranate Confiture (below)
3 cups toasted walnuts
Pinch of saffron threads (optional)
1. Place a large pot over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. While the pot is heating, pat the chicken dry and season with the salt, pepper, cumin, and turmeric.
2. Add the oil to the pot and add the chicken. Brown the chicken on all sides. Overcrowding the pot will steam the chicken instead of searing it. Add the pomegranate confiture and stir in the walnuts and the saffron.
3. Place a lid on the pot and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer for 45 minutes. Uncover and reduce the sauce for another 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and take the pot straight to the table for a family-style meal.
Makes about 2 cups
For this recipe you’ll need to learn how to seed a pomegranate. It’s easier than you think. Slice the pomegranate in half and then hold it upside down (i.e., skin side up) in your hand. Then do your best Ringo Starr imitation and bang the living daylights out of it with a spoon, and watch as the seeds rain down into your mixing bowl.
6 cups pomegranate seeds (from about 10 pomegranates)
6 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1. Place the seeds, sugar, and water in a medium saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer and cook until thick, like syrup, about 35 minutes. Stir the mixture occasionally to prevent the bottom from burning. Remove from the heat and cool completely.
2. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 year. Not only is the confiture great on slices of toast and sandwiches, it does wonders with so many delicious chicken dishes.
(Images: Quentin Bacon)