Martha Stewart used to be a regular guest at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Dan Barber’s restaurant in New York’s Hudson Valley. “Every time she came, she would bring us crates of apples from her orchard,” recalls Snir Eng-Sela, a chef in the famous restaurant for two years who is now a chef and partner in Gouje & Danielle, in Moshav Bnei Zion.
“She would open the door of her Range Rover and apples would roll out. We’re talking huge amounts of fruit, and she would come to eat twice a week. Everything in America is big, especially when it comes to Martha. I had to think of creative ways to use the fruit, and then came Passover and that was the origin of Martha Stewart's haroset, which I’ve been preparing every year since then at home and in the restaurant.”
Eng-Sela was born in the northern Israeli city of Safed in 1975. He came to the demanding culinary profession almost by chance. “My sister was working as a waitress in the Yarzin brothers’ Birnbaum and Mandelbaum restaurant in Tel Aviv. She told me they were looking for cooks, and I was just looking for something to do after my army service. I remember that I was still trying to decide between that and learning carpentry.”
In 1998 he moved to New York to study at the Culinary Institute of America, and from then on — with the exception of a one-year apprenticeship at a Michelin 3-star restaurant in Spain — he lived and worked in New York City for 13 years. His impressive resume — there aren’t many other chefs active on the Israeli scene who have accumulated such knowledge and experience in one of the capitals of international culinary arts — includes famous restaurants such as Montrachet, Blue Hill, Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Commerce.
He began working at Blue Hill in Greenwich Village and quickly advanced to sous chef. In 2004 he was a member of the team that started Blue Hill at Stone Barns, in the Hudson Valley. From 2006 to 2008 he was the head chef, trying to carry out a futuristic vision of modern-traditional farming and cooperation between food producers and chefs, the right-hand man of the visionary executive chef Dan Barber. In a place that daily reexamines paradigms of cuisine and of producing raw ingredients, he too began to rethink traditional foods such as matza.
“I’m a pretty terrible Jew in everyday life,” admits Eng-Sela breezily, “but I find Judaism fascinating, as an idea and a historical movement, and the work they’re doing at Stone Barns makes you rethink subjects such as bread and why the need to make kosher bread for Passover originated. Today, in the industrial era, people think there really is such as thing as ‘matza meal.’ But ‘matza meal’ is of course made from breadcrumbs, and Jewish law refers to bread that’s prepared in 18 minutes from the moment the dough starts to ferment, in other words from the moment a liquid touches the wheat. There are differences of opinion as to whether it refers to wheat during the harvesting or wheat ground into flour.”
Eng-Sela and Barber, who is also Jewish, began to do research on matza. They adopted a recipe for traditional Mediterranean matza, inspired by Lebanese Jews. Barber’s comprehensive research of the subject included preparing “matza shmura” (matza that is “guarded,” or “watched”) with Orthodox Jews. For matza shmura, the guarding against chametz — fermentation, or leavening — begins not in the bakery but in the field, with rabbis overseeing the grain from harvest to oven. In April 2016, Barber published an op-ed in The New York Times, called “Why is this matzo different from all other matzos?,” proposing an interesting theory about the connection between preparing matza in spring and the traditional harvest cycle.
In 2011 Snir and his wife Vicky, who now have three children, relocated to Israel. For the past five years Eng-Sela has been the executive chef and partner — along with Neta-Lee Yehudai, Nir Pe’er and Ido Feiner — in Gouje & Danielle, in the Sharon region, north of Tel Aviv. In contrast to the trendy fine-dining establishments of Barber, his mentor, Gouje & Danielle calls itself a country bistro. It offers all-day dining at reasonable prices and aims to serve a broad audience. It has become one of the most stable and charming restaurants in Israel. Barber’s influence is evident in the choice of ingredients, the connection with the food producers and the greenhouses in which the partners have begun growing their own herbs and vegetables.
After tasting a crisp, flavorful homemade matza, it’s hard to believe it has any connection to the commercially made product that most Jews around the world associate with Passover. There’s no reason not to make matza at home. As long as no more than 18 minutes elapse from the time the dough is made until the matzot are placed in the oven to bake — traditionally, the countdown begins the moment the flour and water meet, but in fact the more lenient time table complies with Jewish law — the matzot are kosher for Passover.
This is a Lebanese recipe, and using a traditional taboun oven or a charcoal grill will improve the final product.
Ingredients (for 6 matzot)
2 1/2 cups (300 grams) bread flour or whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) salt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup (125 milliliters) cold water
1/4 cup (60 ml.) olive oil
You will also need a pizza stone
Preheat the oven, with a baking stone inside, to the maximum temperature (250 degrees Celsius; use the turbo setting if your oven has one)
Place all the ingredients in a mixer bowl. Using a dough hook, mix at low speed (1) for about 2 minutes. Increase to high speed (2) and knead for another 2 minutes. The dough should be uniform and easy to work with, neither sticky nor crumbly. Whole-wheat flour will require slightly more water; begin with a half cup and add as needed.
Place the ball of dough on a work surface and divide into 6 equal parts. Roll each part into as thin a sheet of dough as possible, like a cracker. (You can use a pasta machine). Prick holes in the dough with a fork for a classic matza look. Carefully place the matza directly on the stone and bake for about 2 minutes. When the edges brown and the matza separates from the baking surface, remove it from the oven. If the matza is not uniform in color, turn it in the oven as needed and continue baking for 30 seconds.
Martha Stewart’s haroset
Too tasty to make only for Passover, this is a perfect foil for roast chicken or liver pate.
Ingredients (for 3 cups)
1 cup peeled hazelnuts
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into large cubes
2 Pink Lady apples, peeled and cut into large cubes
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seed
1/2 tsp. Ground cinnamon
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup dry white wine
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Roast the hazelnuts until slightly brown, around 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
While the nuts are roasting, place the remaining ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid reduces and the apples are soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Using a mortar and pestle (if you want to be traditional, and as a symbol of the hard work the Israelites were forced to do in Egypt), or a food processor (in pulses), crush or chop the nuts. Stir them into the apple mixture, taste and add honey if needed (haroset symbolizes the sweetness of freedom). Refrigerate.
Roast chicken in green-garlic butter
My favorite vegetable is green garlic. When the season arrives I hang up garlic braids, to repel vampires and mark the arrival of spring. This dish requires some technical skill, to inserting the butter between the skin and the flesh of the chicken, but it’s worth the minor effort. Use organic chickens, which are raised without antibiotics, weighing between 1,500 and 1,800 grams. Figure on a quarter-chicken for each person.
Ingredients (for 8 servings)
2 whole chickens, rinsed clean
250 grams salted butter, cubed and brought to room temperature
1 whole green garlic (bulb and stalks)
1/4 bunch of parsley, leaves only
1 bunch of chives
1 sage leaf
Garlic butter: Peel the outer layer from the garlic head and the stalks. If the garlic is the size of a scallion, use it whole; if it’s the size of a leek, use only the head and the top part of the stalk.
Chop the herbs and garlic in a food processor for around 30 seconds. Add the butter and process until the mixture is homogeneous. Place in a pastry bag.
Preheat the oven to maximum temperature.
Place the chicken on the work surface, tail facing you. Wet a spoon, and gently, with the bowl side against the skin, create a pocket between the skin and the breast of the chicken. It’s important not to detach the skin completely, but rather to create a pocket, so that in the oven the butter won’t escape and will be absorbed into the meat.
Pipe one-fourth of the butter mixture into the pocket and cover the opening with the skin. Repeat the process on the other side of the breast, and with the second chicken. Refrigerate without covering. Line the oven tray with baking paper or aluminum foil and place on the floor of the oven. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator, salt generously and place it on the tray. Bake for about 45 minutes and serve immediately.
How do you know when the chicken is done? The best way I know is to tip the chicken slightly, so the liquids in the cavity drip out. If they are clear, the chicken is ready. If they’re reddish, bake for a few more minutes.