What's the sign of a great cookbook in 2018? You don't know what shelf to put it on.
Does Shaya by James Beard award-winning chef Alon Shaya go next to the Israeli cookbooks? Or next to Marcella Hazan, since Shaya also owns two Italian restaurants, Domenica and Pizza Domenica? Or should we slide it next to Brock? Shaya's empire is in New Orleans, after all, and there's a hard-to-resist recipe for red beans and rice on page 197.
My advice? Time to change the way you organize that cookbook shelf.
That's because the food in Shaya is Southern-Italian-Israeli, and that makes complete sense as soon as you crunch into your first bite of za'atar fried chicken.
Why You'll Love Shaya If You Love Ottolenghi
Alon Shaya's eponymous Israeli restaurant is the darling of New Orleans. Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, and Saveur have called it one of the most innovative new spots in America. Yotam Ottolenghi calls Shaya's food journey "as gripping and seductive as his cooking."
What Ottolenghi doesn't say, but I will, is that Shaya is America's Ottolenghi. He has the same intelligence with ingredients and devotion to fresh, bright flavors, and I think they'd agree on these five essential tips for vibrant cooking. But Shaya's story is uniquely American — scrappy, bootstrapping, and defiantly uncontained. The whole book seems to be saying let Shaya be Shaya.
Shaya also does for new American cuisine what Ottolenghi did for vegetables — he makes you rethink what can go together and pushes you into places you would have never found on your own.
The recipes are organized around 26 stories that run through the course of Shaya's life, from leaving Israel at age 5, to growing up poor and a trouble-maker in Philly, to being saved by a Home Ec teacher who helped him find his footing in food.
It's also bursting with 153 full-color photographs, 26 watercolor illustrations, and more than 100 recipes — it's a heavy book, and with so much going on, you'll need a handful of afternoons to make your way through it.
But the recipes are full of light, bright, bold flavors that make you feel jazzed up again about roast chicken and pita. You turn the pages and find sweet tahini borekas, then a few chapters down there's ricotta cavatelli with white bolognese. There's also the highest high, like tortelli d'erbetta, alongside the lowest low, like the special sandwiches that have "green butter." (Yes, the illegal-in-some-states kind of green butter.)
You're both at home in your favorite Southern joint or Italian bistro but also feeling very ready to go buy a jar of harissa or duqqa. It's books like this that pull the edges of cooking into the mainstream — they can define what's stocked at your grocery store and in your own pantry.
Alon Shaya Calls This Recipe "Your New Favorite Way to Make Potatoes"
Let's get this out of the way — yes, you'll find Shaya's legendary whole roasted cauliflower with whipped feta in the book. But if you're looking for that perfect entry point into the world of Shaya, that gateway recipe that'll open the door to every other recipe in the book, come try the schmaltzy potatoes.
Oh, you don't have schmaltz on hand? Of course you don't. Nobody does. (Yet.)
That's why you can also make this simple roasted potato recipe with ghee instead of schmaltz, which is what I've done each time I've made it. It wasn't true just five years ago, but today you can easily find ghee in many major grocery stores, including Trader Joe's. Not at your store? You can also buy it online; it will last forever and be worth its weight in golden deliciousness. (Or try one of these four easy methods for how to make your own ghee!)
Here's something you can't buy but will cry tears of joy to discover: the herb salt in this recipe. It's insanely easy, a great use of leftover herbs, and adaptable and forgiving. Best of all, you can store it in a plastic bag in the freezer for months. I now feel mild anxiety when my baggie of herb salt gets low — I need it for everything.
So I'd like to submit the following as a brief and non-binding catalog of what to put your herb salt on.
- Chicken (especially over perfectly cooked chicken breasts)
- Eggs (definitely)
- Rice (eat this by the truckload; feel very good about self)
- Seafood (how could you not?)
- Plain buttered pasta (suddenly not so plain, and bonus points if you sub your butter for ghee)
- Salad (sublime)
- Everything else, except maybe dessert (I cannot be held liable for dessert applications)
Aren't recipes like this why we turn to cookbooks? We make roasted potatoes all our lives, but with two simple swaps, we've opened the door to something else. And all of that was because Alon Shaya woke up one day and decided to give us a Southern-Israeli-Italian cookbook that I still don't know where to shelve.
What ingredients have you discovered in cookbooks that have become a pantry staple?