On the Plate: Cross-Cultural Eggplant at Shaya

By Lisa Elbert | Will Blunt

By

Lisa Elbert
Will Blunt
Charcoal-cooked Eggplant, Yellow Squash, Local Beans, and Muhammara
Charcoal-cooked Eggplant, Yellow Squash, Local Beans, and Muhammara

Israeli food has more in common with American cuisine than the average diner might realize. It represents a blending of cultures and ideas that are all on full display at Alon Shaya’s eponymous restaurant on Magazine Street. “In 1948 Israel had 1.2 million people. Now they have 7 million, within two generations,” says Shaya. “With that there are Yemenis, Greeks, Moroccans, Turks, and Germans. My father was Hungarian. My grandparents were Bulgarian. With all that growth, food is a way to connect the cultures.”

At his third restaurant, following Domenica and Pizza Domenica, Shaya is cooking intuitively from his Israeli roots—albeit roots that have been grafted onto the Crescent City, where he’s cooked for more than a decade. “We’re working on doing very traditional foods, but showing the modern side of what’s happening in Israel today,” he says. His striking, self-contained roasted eggplant dish—complete with black-eyed peas and muhammara—is warm, inviting, and soulful. And like Shaya, it’s comfortable in its own complex skin. 

Black-Eyed Peas:
Shaya incorporates black-eyed peas that are cooked in a milieu of garlic, red onions, olive oil, and salt. They add a pop of texture and tie in a Southern staple.  

Yellow Squash:
Sautéed and caramelized summer squash boosts the dish’s sweetness and further highlights produce from local farms.

Roasted Eggplant:
Roasted in a wood-burning oven, the eggplant’s skin is charred, and the inside has the consistency of a luscious, smoky pudding. Split on top and opened like a bowl, Shaya stirs in salt and olive oil to season the interior and caramelizes the flesh for 3 to 5 minutes under the broiler. It looks something like a fat hedgehog stuffed to the brim with freshness.

Muhammara:
Spicy, smoky, and the color of a Mediterranean sunset in summer, Shaya’s muhammara is a mélange of Aleppo pepper, cumin, coriander, paprika, tomatoes, toasted hazelnuts, and bright pomegranate molasses.

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