The R&D Diaries: Cooking with Chef Einat Admony
A behind-the-scenes look at creating North African Veggies & Couscous with our guest chef Einat Admony at her restaurant, Balaboosta.
This month, we at Mosaic have teamed up with Einat Admony, the award-winning chef behind two beloved New York City restaurants: Balaboosta, a fine-dining Middle Eastern restaurant, and Taïm, a fast-casual falafel chain that’s grown to seven locations between New York and DC. We're incredibly honored to have the chance to team up with Einat — she's a legend in the New York culinary scene and a chef I've personally been following for a long time. Among many other achievements, she's the author of two cookbooks (Shuk and Balaboosta), and is a two-time winner of — and a guest judge on — the Food Network's Chopped.
Einat’s accomplishments are numerous, but she's not all business. If you follow her online, you’ve also seen firsthand just how much warmth and genuine care goes into her cooking. Through how-to videos of her favorite recipes, close-up shots of the restaurant’s dishes, and snaps of her family, Einat possesses a unique ability to draw people close in a way that can only be described as magical. It’s one of the many reasons why I was so excited to work with her.
I met Einat during pre-opening hours at her West Village restaurant, Balaboosta, to talk through our collaboration and decide what combination of ingredients and flavors would work best together in bringing her unique style to a Mosaic meal. She wanted to create a dish that reflected her Persian and Yemenite roots, and to offer a window to the foods she enjoyed growing up in Tel Aviv.
To start, we agreed to build the dish around strong citrus notes. Citrus doesn't appear very often on the Mosaic menu, but it's a staple in Persian cooking and can give savory dishes deeply aromatic flavor. Einat suggested starting with dried Persian limes, an ingredient that I'd never worked with before. Though they don't look the prettiest, it turns out that dried limes are an amazing way to impart intense citrus flavor into any dish once they're crushed into a fine powder and stewed into a meal. We combined the lime powder with orange and lemon juice for a beautifully citrus-y base that served as the foundation for our dish.
Einat then showed me how to braise veggies in the base. We started with parsnips, sweet potatoes, and leeks. Rather than dry-roasting in an oven (like you would at home when cooking sheet-pan veggies), we slow-cooked the veggies in our citrus marinade — combined with spices like cilantro, turmeric, cumin, paprika, and red pepper — until they were tender and juicy.
For our grain, we picked fluffy couscous — perfect for absorbing our citrus-y stew — peppered with green olives and a side of sauteed swiss chard.
Then, Einat introduced me to ja’ala, which we added as a crunchy topping. Ja'ala is a Yemenite snack mixture made of oven-roasted nuts and seeds coated in savory spices. In Einat’s cookbook,Shuk, she writes that her grandmother would serve a big bowl of ja'ala at the end of every meal. And I've got to say, after this cook day, I'm pretty ready to follow suit. It's delightfully crunchy and the perfect topper to an incredibly flavorful dish.
The finishing touch on the bowl is a dollop of chirchi. This half-condiment, half-dip is a well-seasoned blend of carrots and butternut squash that’s creamy and delicious, and adds a great taste and texture to the dish.
Einat works lightning-fast in the kitchen, and she cooks with incredible confidence. It was quite fun to watch her work, pulling disparate flavor elements from her pantry together into a dish that's unique but cohesive.
After a long day cooking together — and a dish we're both quite excited to share with our family and friends — we sat down together to relax for a bit and chat about our day. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
What excited you about working with Mosaic to develop a meal?
Mosaic is such an innovative proposition, especially during these times when the food scene is changing and there is an increased demand for healthy home cooking options. I’m excited to be working with a company that is changing people’s perspectives on what frozen food can be!
What was it like working on a recipe for a frozen format vs. for Balaboosta or Taïm?
While the recipe ideation process starts the same way as it would for a restaurant, the production process was a new challenge for me. I was thinking of how customers would be enjoying this at home and how the flavors would translate in a frozen format.
Would you say the pandemic's effect on restaurants in NYC and beyond has changed the way you think about sharing your food with the world?
Absolutely. Most chefs and restaurateurs have had to evolve to find a new way to share food and keep businesses running during these very challenging times.
What surprised you the most about the development process?
The variety of ingredients that can be cooked and frozen!
What do you love most about cooking with plants? Do you prefer cooking with vegetables than other types of food?
In Israeli cuisine we have a strong emphasis on vegetables, so creating a plant-based meal comes naturally to me. Last spring I built my first vegetable garden and experimented with growing over 65 different vegetables, herbs, and spices so I have a new appreciation for seasonal produce.
What was the inspiration for the North African Veggies & Couscous dish? What ingredients or cooking methods in the dish do you think might be new for Mosaic customers?
For this dish I incorporated ingredients from my Persian heritage and Mizrahi Jewish upbringing. My love of vegetables makes it easy to highlight ingredients that are underrated like parsnips, along with some lesser-known flavors, like dried Persian limes. I love having different tangy and acidic elements with a balance of textures, spices and heat.
Both Balaboosta and Taïm are based in New York, what does it mean to you to have your cuisine in the freezers of thousands of people outside of the city?
I’m thrilled at the possibility of customers finding new and different flavors through our Mosaic meal!
I’m so excited for you to try our newest chef collab and taste for yourself just how wonderful it is! Add it to your box today!