This roasted duck hummus will have you re-thinking Jewish cuisine

April 8, 2015 at 11:49 AM ET

The Passover menu at Chef Alon Shaya’s eponymous New Orleans restaurant takes a decidedly modern twist on traditional dishes that date back centuries. His maror — the bitter herb, usually horseradish, meant to recall the bitterness of enslaved Jews — is made with escarole, chicory, endive and arugula. The matzo, cooked in the requisite 18 minutes, is made in a wood-fired oven. His version of karpas, usually plain parsley meant to symbolize spring, is served with zhoug (green chili paste) and grilled asparagus.

Chef Alon Shaya
Besh Restaurant Group
Chef Alon Shaya is among those raising the profile of Jewish cuisine.

“We’re calling it Israeli cuisine, but even people in Israel don’t know what that is,” said Shaya, 36. “Israeli cuisine is Bulgarian food, Polish food, Moroccan, Yemenite. There’s this country that’s very small but represents so many different cultures. The food being cooked there today is unlike anywhere else in the world.”

While some may still stereotype Jewish cuisine as the stuff of delis — a mile-high pastrami sandwiches on rye and bagels with lox — a new generation of cooks is showing the world how versatile it is. “Jewish Soul Food” and “Modern Jewish Cooking,” cookbooks released within the last year, are best sellers. While restaurants have long created menus to suit Christian holidays like Easter, more are creating Jewish menus.

Shaya also believes the acceptance of cooking as a career has fueled the movement for more creative, modern Jewish cuisine.

“A lot of really creative people that could have been doctors or lawyers or scientists or astronauts are becoming chefs and it’s so inspiring,” he said.

“So many chefs are deciding to get their hands dirty with it and experiment. That’s going to change it all.”

Shaya was born in Israel and lived in a mostly Bulgarian neighborhood until he immigrated to the U.S. with his family at age 4. Growing up in Philadelphia, he spent hours in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother. (His grandmother’s recipe for the sweet salad known as charoset is on this year’s Passover menu.)

He trained in the U.S. and Italy, landing in New Orleans in 2001 to work with chef John Besh. The pair opened their first restaurant together in 2009, adding a second restaurant last year. While those eateries featured mainly Italian-inspired dishes, their third, the restaurant Shaya, is Israeli.

Here, the menu goes beyond latkes and falafel, although Shaya has a Hannukah meal that includes latkes and always has falafel on the menu. The difference is the twist. Take the matzo ball soup: “The stereotype is all matzo balls are alike,” Shaya said. “Tie one to your leg and it will sink you to the bottom of a lake.”

Not his, he promises. This year, the light dumplings swim in duck broth. A few years ago, Shaya offered a Passover meal with Italian influences, including cannellini beans, tomatoes and escarole.

This year’s Passover menu is a tribute to some of the many countries that have influenced Israeli cuisine. Green chili zhoug, for example, is a popular Yemeni sauce. Beet-cured eggs are a nod to Russian influences.

“I’m trying to dig into those roots where all these things come from,” he said.

Inspired? Take your hummus to the next level and try chef Shaya’s recipe for Hummus with Roasted Duck, Buttered Leeks and Olives.

Chef Alon Shaya's Hummus with roasted duck, buttered leeks and olives

Yields 5 cups

Hummus with roasted duck, buttered leeks and olives
Besh Restaurant Group

For hummus:

  • 1 lb. garbanzo beans, dried 
  • 3 tsp baking soda
  • 16 cups water
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 5 Tbsp lemon juice
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 4 tsp kosher salt
  • 8 Tbsp tahini, mixed well
  • 1 ¼ cup reserved cooking liquid
  • 5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  1. Combine the beans, 2 tsp baking soda and 6 cups water in a large bowl and refrigerate for 12 hours.  
  2. For creamier hummus you'll want to skin the garbanzo beans. After the beans have soaked overnight, drain the liquid and place them in a stand-mixer with a whip attachment. Mix on low to medium speed for 10 minutes being careful the beans do not spill out as they mix. This will loosen up the skins so they come off easier during the cooking process.
  3. Place the beans into a large sauce pot that has a lid.
  4. Add 10 cups water, garlic cloves and 1 tsp baking soda and turn heat to medium. Bring the water to a simmer, cover with the lid and cook for 1 ½ hours stirring approximately every 20 minutes. Each time you stir, try to skim out as many of the skins as you can. The beans should be just splitting apart and have a very creamy texture when finished. 
  5. Drain the excess cooking liquid from the pot into a bowl and reserve. 
  6. Place the beans with the cooked garlic, lemon juice, cumin, salt and tahini into a food processor while still warm and puree for 10 minutes.
  7. While the food processor is still on, slowly drizzle in the reserved cooking liquid and then the olive oil. The hummus should be light and airy. It’s best served warm that day but can be refrigerated for up to two days.

Buttered leeks

  • 1 whole leek, washed and sliced thin
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 small pinch crushed red chilies
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • Salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the leeks are tender, about 10 minutes. Do not allow the butter to begin browning.

Olive tapenade

  • 10 salt-cured black olives, pitted
  • 4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 anchovy fillet
  • 1 tsp capers, rinsed
Finely chop the olives, anchovies and capers. Place in a bowl and whisk in the olive oil.


  • 2 duck breasts
  • 2 tsp kosher salt

  1. Season the duck breasts with salt. Heat a heavy bottomed sauté pan or cast iron skillet over medium heat. 
  2. Place the duck breasts fat side down in the pan and allow to cook until the fat has become a deep golden color and crispy. It should take approximately 8-10 minutes. 
  3. Flip over and cook for another 2 minutes on the flesh side. This will result in a medium rare duck breast. Allow to rest for 2 minutes then slice thin.

To serve

  1. Place the hummus on a large platter and make a well in the middle.
  2. Place the buttered leeks in the middle, then top with sliced duck. 
  3. Drizzle on the olive tapenade and eat with pita bread.

More ideas:

You can pretty much get away with putting anything on hummus and make it taste good. Other favorite toppings include:

  • Pan seared Brussels sprouts with toasted almond and lemon
  • Curried heirloom carrots and onions
  • Fried eggplant and oven roasted tomatoes with za’atar
  • Charred romanesco with pomegranate, dates and cilantro