California Purim cooking

Chef Chen Shamgar thinks hip, fresh, seasonal and local.

Chen Shamgar (photo credit: SARIT GOFEN)
Chen Shamgar
(photo credit: SARIT GOFEN)
Chen Shamgar, 50, grew into cooking by stages. She developed a discriminating palate at home in Hadera, where her grandmother, an excellent home cook, set forth the best of classic Ashkenazi cooking, Polish style. But Shamgar’s mother was less traditional and more adventurous in the kitchen.
“Mom would buy and study every cookbook she could find. She cooked dishes no one else was dreaming of when I was growing up. Chinese food, dishes with shrimp. Some ingredients Mom wanted weren’t available – olive oil, for example. Only Arabs made olive oil back then; you couldn’t find it in the grocery stores. She made do with soy oil. And wine – today there’s such good Israeli wine, but when I was a child, the only wine available was sweet kiddush wine and a sweetish hock produced by Carmel.
“My mother didn’t encourage me to cook,” Shamgar continues. “She didn’t like a mess in the kitchen. But I do tell my kids to cook and not worry about making a mess, or mistakes. To learn cooking, you have to experiment and persist. The worst thing that could happen is that you’ll throw it out and start again.”
Shamgar has a degree in law from the Hebrew University. She met her husband while in school and credits him with inspiring her to start cooking at age 25. He set her an example of gourmet enthusiasm.
“My husband loves the fine details,” she relates. “He and his friends would scour the country to get the exact ingredients they had in mind. Quail eggs; they’d travel for hours to get quail eggs.
I’d be at home thinking, what is all this about quail eggs? But they cooked together and made the best dinner parties.
I started learning from them. I wasn’t very brave in the kitchen then, but now I’ll try anything.”
The new cook took to cooking with the same intensity she put into studying law, watching TV cooking shows for hours, reading recipes and putting in time in the kitchen.
“Those reality shows like MasterChef – I realized that those people aren’t supernatural wonder cooks, they’re just people like everyone else, and that anyone can cook if they put their mind to it.”
Business took the couple to New York for three years, where Shamgar studied at the International Culinary Institute in Manhattan. She learned classic French cooking techniques.
“It was a good starting point,” she says. “If you know the techniques, you can cook anything. In the institute, I learned how a kitchen is run, and I worked in every station: at the bakery, at the bar, cooking for 50, front-of-thehouse management. The final part of the course was an externship in a wellknown restaurant, cooking and serving real customers.”
Shamgar also took a degree in business management during her stay in New York. In 1997 the young family, now including a two-year-old, returned to Israel.
She opened a catering company.
“I really wanted to do something with my skills,” she recounts. “As a caterer, I could combine cooking with being a mother.”
Another two children came, and Shamgar put aside her dream of opening a restaurant until the time her kids would be old enough for her to be away from home for hours every day. Always looking forward, she studied restaurant management.
And last July, Shamgar opened Santa Rosa, a restaurant in the California bistro style.
Shamgar’s great culinary influence is the California chef and food activist Alice Waters, who in the 1970s started the farm-to-table movement at the famous Chez Panisse restaurant. Following the seasons and working with fresh, local produce was a unique idea at a time when Americans were still stuck in the prepared foods stage, and the health dangers of junk food were still unknown.
Waters’s cuisine, broadly defined as Italian- and French-influenced, absorbed touches of California’s Mexican and Asian immigrant cuisines as well.
For Shamgar, the transition to cooking in Israel, with our great range of beautiful produce, came naturally.
“The three tenets of Waters’s philosophy – fresh, local and seasonal – are so easy to follow here,” she declares. “Everything’s fresh and local anyway. The one exception we make at Santa Rosa is the seafood, which is too expensive to afford if we want to keep prices reasonable.
We buy the best quality frozen seafood.
“I created Santa Rosa as a casual dining experience where you’ll enjoy the authentic taste of the food. There will be a sauce, but it’ll be light; you’ll taste the meat, not just a thick sauce covering it.
“I love to create the freshest flavors.
For example, pizza with smoked salmon, crème fraîche and chives that are layered on the hot pizza after it comes out of the oven.”
Shamgar’s advice to new cooks is simply what she’s taught her own children.
“You shouldn’t be afraid of cooking.
Experiment. Read cookbooks, go online and watch videos. Then go to the kitchen and try something out. It’s important to eat food you’ve cooked yourself. It’s not a big drama, it’s just cooking. And it should be fun.”
Santa Rosa
11 Kehilat Saloniki Street
Neot Afeka, Tel Aviv
Reservations: (03) 940-1011
Not kosher
Find Santa Rosa on Facebook.
Cheese and onion hamentashen
Below is Chen Shamgar’s savory hamentashen recipe, which her grandmother taught her. Don’t be alarmed at the quantity of yeast; it’s what master baker Les Seidel, Metro’s In The Grain columnist, calls a “turbo recipe” for quick preparation.
For the dough:
2½ cups (380 gr.) all-purpose flour
1 cup (250 gr.) unsalted butter
1 whole egg
1 yolk
5 tsp. (15 gr.) instant dry yeast
¼ cup hot milk
½ tsp. table salt
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
For the filling:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup (250 gr.) finely sliced button mushrooms
¾ cup (200 gr.) feta cheese, crumbled Handful of fresh rocket, rinsed and shredded
2 Tbsp. sweet (whipping) cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 egg white, beaten
For decoration:
¼ cup sesame seeds
Place the flour and butter in a food processor fitted with a knife and blend until grainy.
Add the rest of the ingredients and process until a dough forms.
Form the dough into a ball, roll it lightly to form a disk, and chill at least one hour.
Fry the onion over medium heat in the olive oil. Add the garlic and fry for 30 seconds.
Add the mushrooms and fry until golden. Add the feta; mix.
Add the cream and cook over low heat until it’s absorbed.
Season to taste.
Roll the dough out to form a circle ½-cm. high. Using a large glass or cookie cutter, cut out dough circles.
Place 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of each dough circle. Pinch the sides of each circle up to form the traditional hamentashen shape.
Heat the oven to 200°.
Brush the hamentashen with the egg white. Optional: Sprinkle sesame seeds on their corners.
Bake 15 minutes or until golden – 20 minutes at the most.