Chefs Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis said they were born from the concept of Bavel, their Middle Eastern restaurant in Los Angeles’ arts district, inspired by memories with Palestinian, Moroccan, Egyptian and Israeli flavors. Menashe knew that once he perfected his pita they were ready to open a second restaurant, the first being the very popular Bestia. With small plates of mezze, many of their dishes cater to non-meat eaters, including candied okra and mushroom skewers. Finally, Gergis uses mild cheeses, dried fruits, nuts and spices in his desserts. Fans of the duo can now cook the bite to eat at home from their new eponymous cookbook, “Bavel. “
Confit okra with whipped feta
FOR 4 PEOPLE
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: Candy or other probe thermometer
Every Friday evening, all of my extended family gathered at my grandmother’s house for Shabbat dinner. Most of the time there were twenty-one of us – eleven children and ten adults – and somehow she always managed to keep everyone force-fed and happy. There were platters of stuffed cabbage leaves and braised beef with onions, and in the summer you could always expect a dish of okra to be on the table. My grandmother had a good instinct and knew how to choose exactly which okra in the market was the least sticky and viscous. Then she would fry them in a pan, cover them with a tomato base and cook them slowly and slowly for a long time.
The okra I serve in Bavel is loosely based on my grandmother’s but also on a dish Gino Angelini served in his LA restaurant, Angelini Osteria, where I worked for many years. He was entrusting artichokes in olive oil with onions and parsley, and in the end, the artichokes tasted like themselves, only amplified. My dish is made with okra and other Middle Eastern flavorings including mint, cilantro, ginger, and turmeric, but like Gino artichokes, the okra flavor is ultimately intensified. I serve the okra over whipped feta cheese to add some acidity and creaminess to this cutting edge summer dish.
- 1⁄2 large yellow onion, medium dice
- 4 green onions, white and light green parts only, sliced
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
- 1/4 cup (about 20 leaves) coarsely chopped mint, plus more for garnish
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 teaspoons of ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
- 1 black lime, pricked all over with a knife
- 1 pound of okra
- 21⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 cups of olive oil
- 3⁄4 cup whipped Feta (recipe follows)
- Juice of 1⁄4 lemon
- Pinch of Marash pepper (can replace Aleppo pepper)
- Maldon or other flaked sea salt, to taste
-In a medium pot off the heat, add the diced onion, green onion, parsley, cilantro, mint, garlic, turmeric, ginger, cumin and lime. Stir to combine. Add the okra to the pot in an even layer and season with the kosher salt.
– Secure the pan with a candy thermometer and add the oil. (Because the okra sits on the bed of onions, herbs, and spices, it won’t be completely submerged at first.) Transfer the pot to the stove over high heat and heat until the oil comes to a boil, about 5 minutes. When the oil reaches a temperature of 210 ° F, lower the heat to a simmer, cover and continue cooking over low heat for about 10 minutes. Check doneness every few minutes until okra is fork tender but not too soft. (The exact timing will vary depending on the size and freshness of the okra.) Remove the pot from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. (Okra will continue to cook while it sits in the oil off the heat, so be careful not to overcook.) Remove the lid and let cool to room temperature.
-When ready to serve, distribute the whipped feta evenly on the bottom of a plate. Drain the okra and place it over the feta in an even layer, stacking more okra on each layer, almost like a pyramid. Garnish with mint, lemon juice and marash. Add Maldon’s salt to taste.
-You can use the leftover infused oil for roasting vegetables or any other way you like.
MAKES 11⁄2 CUPS
Good feta cheese is a wonderful thing, but the truth is, there’s a lot of really bad feta too – dry, crumbly, and strongly acidic. Whipping in fresh cream, even mediocre feta turns into a creamy, light spread with no harsh chalky hints. Look for the feta that is still in the brine. My favorite is the Valbreso brand, which you can find in many stores.
- 1 cup packed feta cheese, crumbled
- 1⁄2 cup of sour cream *
-In a small bowl, combine the feta and crème fraîche until combined and the consistency is similar to cottage cheese; do not over mix. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Grilled oyster mushroom skewers with lovage purée
FOR 4 PEOPLE
When I was twenty-one, I spent six months traveling with friends across South America. We snowboarded all day, partied all night, and I cooked meals for everyone in between. I loved it, and it was one of the first times I remember thinking I wanted to be a chef. While in Argentina, I befriended locals, who sometimes took us for Argentinian barbecues. It would take forever to cook the meat because they kept it away from the fire, but in the end the meat was super smoky and juicy, really different from the quick and hot grills I was used to.
The first time I tasted this mushroom dish while creating recipes for Bavel, it actually reminded me a lot of the meaty smoke of Argentinian barbecue. I season the mushrooms with a little sumac and raise them to almost 6 inches from the heat to cook slowly, soaking up all that great charcoal flavor, and at the end, they’re also juicy, smoky, and almost as meaty. than the tender costillas. I serve them over a brilliant puree of lovage, a mineral green, almost salty that tastes of a mixture between overgrown parsley and celery leaves – or in cold weather, on nettles – with a little crème fraîche, for a complex and satisfying vegetarian dish.
Menasche created his mushroom skewer to avoid wasting the ingredient in other dishes. The smoke of the mushroom transmitted by the grill made his cooks dance, a sign for Menashe to put it on Bavel’s menu. Photo by Nicole Franzen.
- 1 pound of oyster mushrooms
- Grapeseed oil for coating
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 teaspoon ground sumac, plus more for sprinkling
- 2 tablespoons of lovage purée (recipe follows)
-Cut off the mushrooms from the cluster, leaving a very small amount of stems intact. Using a soaked metal or wooden skewer, thread the mushrooms into the stem, gill side down, alternating the top of the mushrooms from left to right, so that they cook evenly. You should end up with two full skewers with about fourteen mushrooms each.
– Brush the mushrooms with a generous amount of oil to coat them, making sure to oil the gills. Then season lightly with salt, pepper and 1⁄2 teaspoon sumac per skewer.
-Preheat a charcoal grill over medium heat.
-Place the mushrooms directly on the grill and cook, turning the skewers every 2 minutes, for a total of 8 to 14 minutes, until the edges begin to curl and brown, the mushrooms have shrunk considerably and that the stems are soft to the touch. The water will drip from the mushrooms onto the coals to create the smoke that gives them that smoky flavor.
-When ready to serve, distribute the lovage purée evenly in the center of a plate. Sprinkle the sumac puree lightly and place the mushroom skewers on top.
To note: Be sure to season the mushrooms lightly with salt; they shrink a lot during cooking, concentrating the salty flavor. You can always add a little finishing salt at the end.
Makes about ½ cup
- 8 cups plus 3 tablespoons of water
- 2 cups loosely packed lovage, leaves picked
- 4 cups of wrapped spinach
- Fresh turmeric in 2 inch pieces, peeled, grated with a Microplane
- 1 garlic clove grated with Microplane
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
- 1⁄3 cup sour cream
- 1⁄2 cup yogurt whey
- 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom
-Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a large pot and fill a large bowl with ice water. Blanch the lovage in boiling water for 2 minutes, then add the spinach and blanch for another 2 minutes. Using tongs, remove the greens from the pot and place them in the ice water to shock them for 2 to 3 minutes, until they are cool enough to handle. Using a colander or fine mesh sieve, drain the greens, removing the ice. Using your hands, shape the greens into a ball, squeezing out as much water as possible. Then place the squeezed green vegetables in a tea towel. Wring out the kitchen towel until you remove as much liquid as possible and the vegetables are almost completely dry.
-Place the greens in a blender and add the turmeric, garlic, salt, sour cream, whey, cardamom and the remaining 3 tablespoons of water. Mix on high speed, stopping to scrape the sides if necessary, until the mixture is smooth. If the mixture does not mix completely, add a little more water.