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Brad Mahlof: The Great American Recipe, Chraime with Salmon and Easy Couscous

Taste Buds with Deb - Episode 13
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July 12, 2023
Brad Mahlof

When Brad Mahlof started sharing his love of cooking – and his heritage – via Instagram, he had no expectations of where it would lead. The New York-based real-estate developer is currently appearing – and crushing it! – on the second season of “The Great American Recipe” on PBS.

“I’m not a food creator by profession, so to have this opportunity to come on a TV show and share my stories, share my food, is so surreal,” Mahlof told the Journal. “It’s been such a cool experience.”

On the show, talented home cooks from around the country showcase their signature dishes and, of course, compete to win. Unlike other programs of this type, and unlike its first season, on “The Great American Recipe,” they do not eliminate a chef each week.

“The first season of the show … every single week, the bottom person was kicked off,” Mahlof said. “I think that the producers changed the formatting this year because … they want everyone to have the full course of the season to tell their story.”

The show keeps track of their scored dishes on each episode. Then the three chefs with the highest scores will make it to the finale; one will be crowned the winner.

Mahlof says he always loved eating – “I think that’s inherent in Jewish culture” – and from a young age, started picking up the skill set to cook.

“My mom is such a good role model,” he said. “She’s always worked a full time job, and regardless of that, she’s somehow managed to have these amazing Shabbat dinners every single week. [These were] multi-course meals with 10 different entrees.”

When Mahlof was in college he started cooking big Shabbat dinners for his friends. Then, after college, he moved to the city and would do a huge, weekly Shabbat dinner with 10, 15, 20 people.

During the pandemic, Mahlof decided to create an Instagram account, to document his cooking experiences. People started following his account and, eventually, a casting person from the show reached out.

“I literally thought it was a joke, when I got a DM on Instagram, saying, ‘We think you’d be such a good fit for this show,’” he said.

Mahlof ignored it; they kept messaging him, until he finally responded.

“It was just so off my radar to ever do something like this,” Mahlof said. “But the opportunity came about, and I said, ‘Why not?’ If this is what the universe is saying, let’s go for it.”

On “The Great American Recipe” Mahlof has been able to share his Jewish culture and love of cooking. He is of Libyan Jewish descent on his father’s side; his mother’s side is Ashkenazi.

“My dad’s family moved [from Libya] to Israel, so we saw our family once a year,” Mahloff said. “There’s a little bit of a language barrier [but] there was always a bonding experience with food.”

As he has gotten older, Mahlof realized that Libyan culture is relatively unknown.

“There’s no Jews left in Libya,” he said. “All that we have left to pass down is our food. I took it upon myself to make it a passion project to record and cook these recipes, and hopefully memorialize them, so they get passed down to the next generation, and beyond.”

On the first episode of the season, Mahlof won both challenges. The recipe for his first dish, Chraime (a Libyan fish stew) with Couscous, is below.

“It’s easy to make, so it’s perfect for a weeknight dinner,” he said. “It has a lot of the flavor profiles of Libyan cuisine, so you can get a taste for it. And it’s super delicious. Once you make it, you’ll be hooked.”

Mahlof said the most surprising thing about being on the show is seeing how well he and the other contestants are able to push themselves to their limits. They’ve created a special bond; the kind of community that can only come from this kind of shared experience.

“I can go to the grocery store and get excited about some random piece of lettuce, and these are the friends that I could text about it,” he said. “This niche group of friends care about [my] little quirky behaviors of spending six hours at a grocery store, going aisle by aisle.”

Mahlof believes a cook’s journey is a constant evolution. No one starts off as an amazing cook; it takes practice, so don’t get discouraged.

“Even these recipes that now I do with my eyes closed,” he said. “I remember when I was much younger I’d call my mom every single week. ‘Mom, how do you do this?’ She had to walk me through everything, and it still didn’t come out right.”

Remember, he added, “Your food is only as good as the ingredients that you use. Definitely spend the time, spend the money, if you can, to source the best ingredients possible. And that’s going to yield the best food results.”

Learn more about Brad Mahlof and “The Great American Recipe.” Follow @CookwithBrad on Instagram.

For the full conversation, and to hear more about his cooking show experience, listen to the podcast:

Watch the interview:

Chraime with Salmon and Easy Couscous

Fish

  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 3 pounds skin-on or skinless salmon filets, cut into equal-size portions. (Find salmon that has nice fat content)
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon ground caraway, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1 head garlic, cloves separated, peeled, and crushed
  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 2 tablespoons hot paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
  • Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnis

Couscous

  • 1 (2.2-pound) bag coarse semolina, such as Stybel
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1½ tablespoons kosher salt
  • 6 cups boiling water

Directions

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Season both sides of the salmon with salt, pepper and a pinch of caraway. Sear the fish for a minute or two on each side, until the skin is golden. Transfer the fish to a plate and wipe the skillet clean.

Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, both paprikas, cumin, caraway and cayenne and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly so that the spices don’t burn. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the water and lemon juice and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Return the fish to the skillet, reduce the heat, and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for about 7 minutes, until the fish is cooked through (145 degrees F).

Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool slightly. Sprinkle a little caraway on the fish. Serve with the pan sauce and couscous (recipe follows), garnished with cilantro and with lemon wedges for squeezing.

For the Couscous: In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine the semolina, oil, and salt. Pour the boiling water over the semolina and rake with a fork.

Cover the semolina with a clean kitchen towel and microwave for 4 minutes. Rake again, cover again, and microwave for an additional 4 minutes. Rake again, then transfer the couscous to a food processor and pulse to break apart until small and fluffy.


Debra Eckerling is a writer for the Jewish Journal and the host of “Taste Buds with Deb.Subscribe on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform. Email Debra: tastebuds@jewishjournal.com.

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