Fried Olives With Labne by Einat Admony

Photo by Quentin Bacon
Photo by Quentin Bacon

Israeli-born, Persian/Yemenite chef Einat Admony started a mini Israeli food empire six years ago in New York City with a modest falafel stand, Taim. Her signature falafel quickly took the city by storm, and now Admony runs three restaurants, and is soon opening Bar Bolonat, which promises to take an even more irreverent approach to Israeli cuisine than her other joints. Her cook's journey has taken her around the world, from to India and Thailand to six years as a street-seller peddling South American jewelry in Europe from an RV. Today she lives in Brooklyn with her family and still cooks at home several nights a week (a rarity in the restaurant business). That's what makes her a true "Balaboosta," the ultimate do-it-all woman in Jewish culture who juggles kids and business while always tending to a pot (or two) on the stove.

To mark the arrival of her first cookbook, "Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes," Admony is running two cooking workshops in Los Angeles on Saturday, October 26, first at Surfas in Culver City, and the second at The Gourmandise School in Santa Monica. Recipes include Chicken Littles, Salmon Ceviche with Beet and Fennel, and Malabi, the creamy, milk-based pudding perfumed with rose water. Meantime, here's an exclusive recipe from the cookbook to try out.

"This is one of my signature dishes that I just can't let go of -- it's been with me from the time I created my first menu in New York. I serve it as an appetizer at Balaboosta, but it's also a great snack with cold beer," says Admony.

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See her recipe for falafel here.

Photo by Quentin Bacon
Photo by Quentin Bacon

Fried Olives with Labne
Serves 2 to 4
Excerpt from "Balaboosta" by Einat Admony (Artisan Books.) Copyright 2013.

Canola oil for deep frying
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, beaten
3 cups fine panko
2 cups pitted Kalamata olives
Labne (below)
Harissa Oil (below)

Heat enough oil in a skillet or medium pot to deep-fry the olives.

Line up three large bowls on your counter and fill the first one with the flour, the second one with the eggs, and the third with the panko.

Working in small batches (no more than 8 to 10 olives at a time) with the help of your trusty slotted spoon, throw a handful of olives into the flour and shake off any excess flour. Quickly dip the olives in the egg, then into the panko. Shake off the excess panko, then put the olives back into the egg mixture one last time.

Transfer from the egg mixture back to the panko and shake them around to coat evenly. Shake off any excess crumbs with the slotted spoon and place in an airtight container until ready to use. This can be done up to a day in advance as long as it is stored in the refrigerator.

When the oil reaches about 375°F, carefully place a handful of olives in the oil using the slotted spoon. Fry until golden brown, about 1 minute. Transfer the fried olives to paper towels to absorb any excess oil.

To serve, dollop the labne evenly across the bottom of a shallow serving bowl. Add the piping-hot fried olives in the middle. Carefully pour the harissa oil around the circumference of the bowl.

Makes about 3 cups

Labne is hard to describe, but it's essentially Arabic soft cheese that is made out of yogurt. Typically it's made with goat's milk, but here I use cow's. And to make it even easier, I suggest starting with simple yogurt that you then drain through cheesecloth overnight. If you want your labne harder, in round balls, allow it to drain even longer, so it toughens and becomes malleable. In other words, the longer you drain it, the harder it gets -- anywhere from a soft cream-cheese-like spread to solid.

4 cups plain yogurt
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Olive oil
Za'atar seasoning

Mix together the yogurt and salt in a large bowl. Line a large-mesh sieve with 3 layers of cheesecloth and rest the sieve over a medium bowl. Scrape the yogurt onto the cheesecloth and allow the mixture to drain overnight in the refrigerator.

Store the labne in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Garnish with olive oil and za'atar before serving.

Harissa Oil
Makes about 1 cup

3/4 cup World's Best Harissa (see below)
1 cup canola oil

Combine the harissa and oil in a small saucepan and bring to a very low simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the oil to cool completely.

Strain the harissa oil through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth. And don't even think about throwing away the harissa! Use it in a Spicy Chicken Tagine (page 29) or Casablanca Catch (page 23) to double its use. Stored in a fine-tip squeeze bottle, it can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.

World's Best Harissa
Makes about 2 1/2 cups

Think of harissa as a modern-day gourmet hot sauce--or, if you prefer, as an update to Tabasco: it can be used on anything, in anything, and with anything, and will always make it better. My harissa can be used as a sauce, a paste, or a broth for slow cooking. The main ingredients are garlic and an array of spices, most notably red pepper (cayenne).

10 garlic cloves
1 large roasted red bell pepper, peeled, cored, and seeded
11/4 cups canola oil
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup ground cumin
1/3 cup cayenne
1/3 cup sweet Hungarian paprika
1/4 cup ground caraway
2 tablespoons kosher salt

Combine the garlic, bell pepper, 1 cup of the oil, and the tomato paste in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is almost pureed.

Add the cumin, cayenne, paprika, caraway, and salt. Slowly drizzle in the remaining 1/4 cup oil while the machine is running. Keep processing until the harissa is completely pureed and all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Store the harissa in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

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