January 18, 2020

Jewish Bucket List Item No. 4: Kosher Cooking

As a child, I remember sitting on a stool in my grandmother’s kitchen, watching her prepare Jewish delicacies ranging from kishka (made from matzo meal, shmaltz and spices) to kichel (a sweet treat that resembles a scone). We were always sent home with a “packala” (large grocery bag) full of leftovers.

These memories came flooding back as I prepared to take on my Jewish bucket list kosher cooking adventure. Over the last few years, I have really gotten into cooking. I particularly enjoy making soups as well as chicken and meat dishes, but my palate was ready for some new flavors, so chef Lenny Nour of Charcoal Grill & Bar on Beverly Boulevard invited me into his fleishig kitchen to prepare some tasty kosher food. 

Billed as a “Mediterranean restaurant with a taste of Jerusalem,” the restaurant opened last summer and plays Israeli music. 

“Every dish that I make is a microcosm of my life,” said Nour, whose mother is from Italy and father is from Iran. “I was born [in Los Angeles], raised in Israel and Italy, and brought all of my experiences into my menu. Every dish mimics this pattern of where I have been and the memories I created and my love for food.” 

The first dish we made was one of Nour’s specialties: Charcoal Eggplant. This hearty vegetarian offering is one of his most iconic at this wood-burning steakhouse. 

“It’s literally fire and vegetables,” he said. “This is the one I am most proud of, because I took something like an eggplant and made it more popular than some of the meat that I have.”

We started by charring and peeling the classic Israeli vegetable before smashing it into a dish. After sprinkling it with a little bit of sea salt to bring out the flavor, we covered it in tahini (ground sesame seeds). 

“This is the classic [Israeli dish], eggplant and tahini,” Nour said. 

“A lot of chefs say, ‘How do you cook without butter?’ For us, it’s not an issue. Because Israeli food was designed without ever having to use milk in its meat.” — Lenny Nour

I then decorated the eggplant with a drizzle of silan (Israeli honey made from dates), then added garlic confit (garlic melted in oil), the house chimichurri (a mixture of cilantro, parsley, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and dried red chiles), and roasted and crushed candied pecans. We topped it off with freshly cut cilantro before adding deep-fried pita chips for scooping.

“This is where we take it to the next creative level,” Nour said. “I actually woke up one morning, had this idea, and it just flowed and kept evolving until I got this.” And this particular dish, he added, is the culmination of his upbringing and travels. 

“For me, it’s important to have a connection to my heritage, to my religion, to my people, to my culture, but also express that through the creativity in my food,” he said. “I think for a long time in America kosher cooking was looked at as a limitation. But in Israel, everything is pretty much based on kosher cooking. A lot of chefs say, ‘How do you cook without butter?’ For us, it’s not an issue. Because Israeli food was designed without ever having to use milk in its meat.”

It was the most beautiful and yummy eggplant I have ever tasted. Simple and delicious. I think these are important elements not just in kosher cooking, but also in any cooking. I can’t wait to try this — or my version of this — at home.

I am still seeking items for my 2019 Jewish bucket list. Please send your ideas to deckerling@gmail.com.