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Describe an early food experience that has influenced the way you think about food and/or cooking.
I lived in Israel for a couple of years when I was around 10, and returned again at 16. My food psyche was forever altered there. I loved exploring the souks (food markets), with their colorful mounds of spices, pillars of halvah, and piles of fresh pitas and produce. Everything smelled and tasted so fresh and exotic!
The Israeli falafel from the street vendors was a revelation; I’ve yet to find its match anywhere in the U.S. Freshly fried balls of spiced ground chickpeas, perfectly crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside, were stuffed into a warm pita and loaded with one’s choice of bright vegetables, pickles, and condiments -- a handheld salad. Falafel was probably my first favorite food. I often return to the flavors of the souks, and regularly incorporate them into my non-Middle Eastern recipes as well.
What's your least favorite kitchen task?
Cleaning the hood over my range is a serious drag because it involves finding the big stepstool, climbing up on the counter, and the elbow grease required to get rid of the mess -- and no one appreciates the result.
More: Learn how to pair wine with Middle Eastern food.
Your favorite kitchen tool?
I have lots, but my pressure cooker has to be on the top of my list. It produces the most amazing brown rice and black beans, both of which I make weekly for my family. I also love using my bench scraper to scoop up chopped ingredients from the cutting board.
What is your idea of comfort food?
Matzoth brei with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of Maldon sea salt.
What is your greatest kitchen disaster?
It has to be when I worked as a cook on a sailing yacht and was roasting whole eggplants for a dip. I didn’t know that you had to poke a few holes in the eggplant or it could burst. Kaboom! The sound of the exploding vegetables was so loud that we thought the boat had blown up. And oh, what a mess to clean up!
Dukkah photo by Mark Weinberg; headshot by Eva Katz; Matzo Brei photo by fiveandspice; falafal photo by Sarah Shatz; all others by James Ransom