NEW YORK — There is only one way to eat couscous, according to chef Einat Admony.
“Once you taste the homemade kind, you can never go back to eating it any other way,” she says.
Admony was just 8 years old when she first experienced the art of making couscous by hand in her neighbor’s home, just outside Tel Aviv.
“I had a Moroccan neighbor whose mom would make couscous, the real authentic kind, and I would spend hours with her in the kitchen,” says the chef.
Don’t be fooled by the 10-minute recipe found on your store-bought package. Admony explains that preparing couscous is a two-hour process and involves a great deal of labor.
“It’s made from solet [Hebrew for semolina.] Do you know what that is?” she says.
Admony brings over a plastic container filled with semolina and lets the fine grains slide through her fingers like white sand. The semolina, she explains, must be hand-rolled and broken down with a little bit of salt and olive oil, then strained and steamed twice. This process requires a sieve (kish-kash, in a Jewish dialect of Moroccan Arabic), a specific utensil used for straining and the very tool that Admony named her new restaurant after.
Couscous with mafroum — a meat-stuffed potato with tomato sauce that melts in your mouth — is one of Admony’s favorite dishes. Like most homemade couscous dishes, the preparation time is extensive, so she always makes sure to freeze several portions ahead of time.
“I never know when one of my kids will ask for some,” says Admony, grinning proudly.
Admony is also the owner of Taim, Bar Bolonat, and the recently closed Balaboosta restaurant. So what exactly drove her to open these new culinary doors? The answer is simple: Admony believes that New Yorkers are ready to taste something entirely different.
“People will be surprised. It’s not something that they are familiar with. I want them to feel like they walked into a North African Jewish mother’s kitchen — just a modern one,” she says.
And that’s exactly what Kish-Kash feels like — an open concept modern kitchen that you could find in the trendy streets of Morocco. Upon entering, diners are met with high ceilings, mixed colored tiles, a long wooden island, wooden stools, hand-woven Marrakech pillows, scattered jars of pickled lemons, and a bright atmosphere where the past meets the present.
The menu is based on six couscous variations: chicken, mafrum, short-rib, lamb, spicy fish and vegetables. There are three appetizers, three side dishes, one Moroccan dessert, and a gluten-free option that replaces couscous with rice.
From the moment Admony decided to open Kish-Kash it was clear to her that the menu would be simple and couscous-driven, a dish that when made right, is “fluffy like clouds.”
In Sephardic Jewish homes, food is an expression of love, generosity and hospitality. Couscous is the kind of dish that feels both communal and plentiful — and can easily feed entire families.
“I want everyone to know the kind of cuisine and beautiful flavors North Africa has to offer,” says Admony. “I want my restaurant to be accessible to everyone.”
The menu is reasonably priced, with starters beginning at $9, and main courses ranging from $15-$21. Kish-Kash will offer a casual restaurant experience during lunch, a more intimate atmosphere at dinnertime, and will focus widely on large-party deliveries throughout the city.
Although working tirelessly on several fronts of her business, Admony does not give up her time in the kitchen doing what she loves most — cooking.
“I am probably the only chef you will meet who still enjoys cooking at home. I host friends over every Friday night for Shabbat dinner and love feeding others. It’s my therapy,” she says.
Aside from Kish-Kash, Admony is currently working on expanding the Taim chain while focusing on a new television production that she cannot yet reveal. It seems Admony is always two steps ahead, planning her next big project and constantly evolving, just like her recipes.
When asked if she would share one of her recipes, Admony doesn’t hesitate.
“When it comes to food, I have no secrets. I don’t see the point in hiding my recipes, and I am constantly trying new things,” she says.
For the full couscous experience, New Yorkers will have to wait until June 18 to visit Kish-Kash in the West Village. For those who can’t travel that far for a taste of Jewish North Africa, here is a recipe for chreime, the famous Sephardic spicy fish.
Chreime (Spicy Fish)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
10 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons harissa
¼ cup paprika
1 teaspoon caraway
1 ½ teaspoon cumin
2 pints cherry tomatoes, cut into halves
½ cup water
4 fish fillets, 7-9 oz. each, skin-on (grouper, bass, snapper)
Juice of one lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cilantro for garnish
Heat oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat. Add garlic and saute until soft, about 10 minutes. If the garlic starts to brown, turn the heat down slightly. Stir in jalapeno, harissa, tomato paste, paprika, caraway, and cumin. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Add cherry tomatoes and a pinch of salt and cook until tomatoes are soft. Add water and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
While tomatoes are cooking, squeeze the juice of one lemon over the fish and let it sit for 5 minutes. Give the fish a rinse and add directly to the pan, tucking them into the sauce. Add a handful of cilantro and cook for another 7-10 minutes until fish is cooked through.
Top with fresh cilantro and serve right out of the pan with fresh challah.
Kish-Kash is located at 455 Hudson, in Manhattan’s West Village.