Einat Admony has earned a reputation as NYC’s reigning queen of falafel, but the Tel Aviv-born chef didn’t always care for the the classic Israeli street food. “As a child, I just didn’t love falafel,” she says. “[My father] would bring it home from this one specific place, and it was always a little cold and gave me heartburn.”
Her initial aversion turned out to be a competitive advantage when she began to experiment with her own rendition of the dish. “I was determined to make my own falafel, one that didn’t leave me feeling bad,” Admony says of the fried chickpea balls—including a parsley- and mint-laced “green” version, and a “red” option kicked up with roasted red peppers and harissa—that now anchor her wildly successful Taïm restaurants. “At the time, I thought opening a falafel place was a tiny stepping stone on the way to something bigger, but it was so much more after all.”
When Bar Bolonat is closed, I’ll have 10 people over and cook for them. I can’t stop.
New Yorkers clamored for her gussied-up falafel, just as they would when Admony followed up Taïm with Balaboosta, where she turned took a Middle East-meets-Mediterranean approach, serving dishes like Turkish-style eggplant bruschetta and chicken under a brick. “I was bored and I had the urge to cook again. How many falafel specials can you do?” she says. Her recently released cookbook, Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to Feed the People You Love (Artisan, 2013), is a celebration of both the restaurant and the region.
Admony’s fascination with homestyle cooking started early on, when she sat down to the Shabbat table with her Persian mother and Yemeni father. Food was the center of her religious family, and she started tinkering in the kitchen by her mother’s side when she was young. After bouncing around Germany and the Netherlands in her mid-20s, Admony knew she needed to settle on a career. Cooking, she realized, was the only thing that kept her enthralled. “Every other option bored me,” she says.
Moving to New York allowed her to work in well-known kitchens like Tabla, Patria, and Danube, priming her for what might now be her most ambitious boredom-staving move yet. At the newly opened Bar Bolonat in the West Village, she dreams up dishes like cauliflower laced with peanut tahini, and lamb belly and shoulder accompanied by pickled chickpeas. Flitting between her different restaurants has only heightened Admony’s passion for cooking. “I can work six days a week for 80 or 90 hours,” she says. “I close Bar Bolonat on Sunday only because if I didn’t, I’d go to the restaurant—but instead I’ll have 10 people over and cook for them. I can’t stop.”
From pita stuffed with sweetbreads to pomegranate chicken served on Rosh Hashana, here are the 10 dishes that keep the energetic, globe-trotting Admony inspired.
Falafel is the dish that made my career. When I opened Taïm I wanted the concept to be a little different—something that felt gourmet because of interesting flavors like harissa. I worked on the falafel recipe for a few months; the harissa, which we now sell on its own, took a bit longer to get right. The harissa falafel is a little bit spicy and my favorite of our three. I now incorporate that same harissa recipe into many of my other dishes, too. (Photo courtesy Taïm)
Before there was Taïm I worked at Odea, a downtown lounge that AvroKO designed. One of the first dishes I created there was the fried olives coated with panko that I served on homemade labne and drizzled with harissa oil. It has followed me. It’s something we can’t take off the Balaboosta menu, and even now, when I opened Bar Bolonat, I thought it was a perfect snack for the bar. I just can’t let it go. (Photo courtesy Balaboosta)
Mom’s pomegranate chicken with walnuts
My mother mostly made her pomegranate chicken with walnuts on Rosh Hashanah, because that’s when the pomegranates are in season. Every time I go home she still makes it. She would have me break open two or three cases of them and it was very annoying because it took forever. She made marmalade with the pomegranates and kept it in the fridge for months, using a little at a time. For her chicken, she added water to it and made this beautiful dark, reddish sauce. I make a version of it with pomegranate juice and molasses for a dish at Bar Bolonat with poussin, Persian rice, and potatoes served in a cast-iron pot. (Photo: Quentin Bacon/Artisan Books)
Aunt Hannah’s couscous with mafrum
This is totally childhood food. My aunt made couscous with the North African dish mafrum, a potato stuffed with ground beef and slightly fried on its side to seal it, then cooked in spicy tomato sauce. This is what I want to eat as my last meal. I served it for family meal once and it took hours to make because it’s labor-intensive and messy, but I wanted my cooks to try it because I’m always talking about it. Because of this dish, I was insistent that the couscous for the beef-cheek tagine at Bar Bolonat (pictured) be homemade. It takes me three hours. (Photo: Yelp)
Tom yum goong
I’ve been to Thailand nine times. I used to live in Germany, where I had months off for a season, and every time I time I knew I needed a vacation I’d say I was going to go to Brazil or somewhere, but would choose Thailand over and over because I knew it so well. It was there I tried tom yum goong, the traditional shrimp and lemongrass soup, and I didn’t specifically ask for it to be mild. My mouth was [puffed up] and red—it looked like I had lip surgery. I was crying and I looked like a duck, but all those flavors and heat were unbelievably delicious. (Photo: eatingthaifood.com)
One of the most important things on the menu at Balaboosta is our chamusta, which is a Persian dish. I worked on it with my executive chef Guy (pictured) and it’s nothing we will ever let go. He really understands my food. We have the same palate and background and it just makes life easier. Traditionally, chamusta is served with semolina dumplings, but instead we stuff our meatballs with semolina. It’s a lemon broth, sour and a little bit sweet, with a few herbs, Swiss chard, and fava beans. It’s one of my favorite things in the whole world when you’re sick or it’s cold outside. (Photo: Foodspotting)
Vidalia onion at Tabla (New York, NY)
I used to work at Tabla with Floyd Cardoz, and on the vegetarian tasting menu there was a Vidalia onion stuffed with a mixture of things, like caramelized and pickled onions. The spice was kind of a curry with coconut. I still dream about that dish. I tried to recreate it and I did it similarly, but it wasn’t amazing. It takes a long time to prepare. You cut the onion on both sides before cooking it, then break it apart. You reduce the sauce for what feels like forever and foam coconut milk in an immersion blender. Every time I see Floyd I say, “When are you going to make this again?” (Photo: cheffloydcardoz.com)
Japanese eggplant at Yamazato (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Every time I try food in Amsterdam I’m disappointed. But this time when I visited, my friend took me to this Japanese restaurant, Yamazato, at the Okura Hotel. They served a grilled Japanese eggplant with Dengaku-miso sauce. It had textural and flavor complexities I’d never tasted before. I crave it. (Photo: cnseed.com)
Sweetbread pita at Machneyuda (Jerusalem, Israel)
Machneyuda is a restaurant in Jerusalem, in the market, that everyone talks about. It’s my favorite so I go at least once every visit. One of the dishes is sweetbreads inside pita with labne and chutney—they serve it with pickles and fries. I always try to be original in my cooking and am against being a copycat, but this was the first time in my life I took a dish and its presentation and made it my own. When I called the chef to tell him I wanted to do this, he made fun of me. At Balaboosta, we do a dish called Israel Street Fair (pictured), with chicken and merguez in pita with caramelized onions and yogurt, and we serve it with sweet potato fries and pickles. Right now it’s my favorite dish. It’s not very fancy, just rustic-looking and delicious. (Photo: Foodspotting)
Foie gras at Recette (New York, NY)
Right after Jesse Schenker opened Recette, he served a roasted foie gras with pumpkin espuma. It’s not usually my style. Another thing I don’t like is pork jus, and this had a bacon consommé. So here is a dish that represents what I’m totally against, yet it was insanely [delicious], with a mix of sweetness, saltiness, and smokiness. It changed my mind about giving a chance to foods I would normally never eat. (Photo: Facebook/Recette)