Milk Street New Israeli Cuisine (Ep 417)



Couscous “Risotto”

Start to finish: 45 minutes | Servings: 4

Traditional risotto is made with starchy medium-grain Italian rice. This “risotto,” modeled on a dish we had in Tel Aviv, uses pearl couscous (which actually is a pasta) and a cooking technique similar to the classic risotto method to produce “grains” with a rich, creamy consistency. The wheaty flavor of pearl couscous (sometimes called Israeli couscous) is nicely complemented by the salty, nutty notes of Parmesan cheese and the grassiness of fresh parsley.

Don’t allow the onion to brown. The assertive bittersweet flavor of caramelized onion will easily overwhelm the other flavors in the dish.


  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) salted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup pearl couscous
  • ⅓ cup dry white wine
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated (½ cup), plus more to serve
  • ½ cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, plus more to serve


In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Add the onion, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper, then cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant. Add the couscous and cook, stirring often, until it begins to brown.

Pour in the wine and cook, stirring, until the pan is almost dry, about 1 minute. Add 3 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until almost all the liquid has been absorbed, 9 to 10 minutes.

Off heat, add the Parmesan, parsley and remaining 1 tablespoon butter, then stir until the butter melts. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with additional Parmesan and parsley.

Couscous “Risotto” with Asparagus

Trim 1 pound pencil-thin asparagus, then cut the spears on the diagonal into ½-inch pieces; reserve the stalks and tips separately. Follow the recipe to add the 3 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt to the pan; after the couscous has simmered for 5 minutes, stir in the asparagus stalks. Cook, stirring, for another 3 minutes, then add the asparagus tips. Cook, stirring, until almost all the liquid has been absorbed and the asparagus is tender, another 2 minutes. Continue with the recipe to add the Parmesan, parsley and remaining butter.


Yogurt Panna Cotta with Sumac Syrup

Start to finish: 3¾ hours (45 minutes active) | Servings: 6

This panna cotta is more nuanced than standard all-cream panna cotta. Just the right amount of yogurt adds a creamy suppleness and a subtle tang, and lemon zest and thyme lend their perfume. Panna cotta is made in individual portions that often are unmolded for serving, but we simply bring the ramekins to the table, each topped with a spoonful of sweet-tart sumac- and lemon-infused syrup. Sumac is a Middle Eastern spice with a brick-red hue and tangy, citrusy flavor; look for it in well-stocked supermarkets and Middle Eastern grocery stores.

Don’t use nonfat or low-fat yogurt. Whole- milk yogurt is essential for smooth, lush richness. And don’t use Greek yogurt, which is too thick.


  • 1½ teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 72 grams (⅓ cup) plus 54 grams (¼ cup) white sugar, divided
  • 2 large thyme sprigs
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground sumac


In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 2 tablespoons water; set aside. Place the yogurt in a medium heatproof bowl or 1-quart liquid measuring cup, then place a fine mesh strainer across the top; set aside. Using a vegetable peeler, remove eight 4-inch-long strips of zest from 1 lemon; grate the zest from the second lemon and reserve separately from the zest strips. Squeeze ¼ cup juice from the lemons.

In a small saucepan, combine the cream, 4 strips lemon zest, the 72 grams (⅓ cup) sugar, thyme and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium, stirring, until the mixture begins to simmer at the edges. Remove from the heat, add the gelatin mixture and stir until fully dissolved. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.

Strain the cream mixture into the yogurt; discard the solids in the strainer. Whisk in the grated lemon zest. Divide the mixture evenly among six 6-ounce ramekins. Refrigerate, uncovered, until cold and set, at least 3 hours. If storing for longer than 3 hours, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine the lemon juice, the remaining 4 zest strips, the 54 grams cup) sugar, ½ cup water and a pinch of salt. Simmer over medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to cup, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the sumac and cool to room temperature.

Pour the syrup into a fine mesh strainer set over a small bowl; discard the solids. Cover and refrigerate until cold or for up to 3 days. To serve, uncover the ramekins and spoon chilled sumac syrup onto each panna cotta, dividing it evenly.



Start to fin active) | Makes two 12-inch flatbreads

Lahmajoun is a meat-topped flatbread common in the Levant, as well as in Turkey and Armenia. Arugula and a drizzle of yogurt are unusual finishes for lahmajoun, but they add fresh, peppery flavor and a creamy coolness that complement the spiced meat topping. For convenience, the dough can be made a day in advance. After dividing the dough in half and forming each piece into a round, place each portion in a quart-size zip-close bag that’s been misted with cooking spray, seal well and refrigerate overnight. Allow the dough to come to room temperature before shaping.

Don’t undermix the dough in the food processor; it needs a full minute of processing to build structure and strength. The dough may be warm to the touch when done; this is normal. But when processing the meat mixture, don’t overdo it or the protein may get tough. Pulse only three or four times, just until combined.


For the dough:

  • 241 grams (1¾ ups) bread flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1½ teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1¾ teaspoons kosher salt
  • ¾ cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon honey

For shaping and topping:

  • 1 small yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped drained roasted red peppers
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • teaspoons ground cumin
  • ¾ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces 80 percent lean ground beef or ground lamb
  • ¼ cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • Semolina flour, for dusting the pizza peel
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 cups (1 ounce) lightly packed baby arugula


To make the dough, in a food processor, combine the flour, yeast and salt; process until combined, about 5 seconds. Add the yogurt, honey and ¼ cup water. Process until the mixture forms a ball, about 30 seconds; the dough should be tacky to the touch and should stick slightly to the sides of the bowl. If it feels too dry, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and process until incorporated. Continue to process until the dough is shiny and elastic, about 1 minute.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured counter. Flour your hands and knead a few times to form a smooth ball. Divide the dough in half and form each half into a taut ball by rolling it against the counter in a circular motion under a cupped hand. Space the balls about 6 inches apart on a lightly floured counter, then cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in volume, 1 to 1½ hours.

Meanwhile, to make the topping, in a food processor, pulse the onion until finely chopped, about 5 pulses. Add the roasted peppers, tomato paste, paprika, cumin, pepper flakes and 1 teaspoon each salt and black pepper. Process until smooth, about 10 seconds, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the beef and pulse just until incorporated, 3 or 4 pulses. Transfer to a medium bowl. In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt and 1 tablespoon water, adding more water as needed to thin to drizzling consistency. Cover both bowls and refrigerate until needed.

About 1 hour before shaping the dough, heat the oven to 500°F with a baking steel or stone on the upper-middle rack. Working one at a time, gently stretch each dough ball on a lightly floured counter to an oval approximately 6 inches wide and 12 inches long.

Dust a baking peel, inverted baking sheet or rimless cookie sheet with semolina. Transfer one shaped dough to the peel and, if needed, reshape into an oval. Brush the entire surface with 1 tablespoon of oil. Using a spatula, spread half the meat mixture on the dough, leaving a ½-inch border around the edge. Slide the dough onto the baking steel and bake until well browned, 9 to 12 minutes.

Using the peel, transfer the flatbread to a wire rack. Repeat with the remaining dough, oil and meat mixture. After the second flatbread has cooled on the rack for a couple minutes, top both with the arugula. Drizzle with yogurt, then serve.

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