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Cooking Tagine with a Twist with Einat Admony

In the kitchen with the chef, who’s cooking meals as part of the new chef collective, CookUnity. 

Chef Einat Admony’s Chicken Tagine
| Courtesy of CookUnity
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In her blue paisley apron, thick-framed glasses, and her french-braided plaits swinging, Chef Einat Admony lays out bowls overflowing with green olives and amber preserved lemons, slivered fresh lemon rounds, and dried and crushed black Persian limes, for “another layer of acid,” she says. Next comes an array of warm spices such as turmeric, paprika and cumin, and olive oil, salt, honey, garlic, cilantro, and a whole, waxy green jalapeno — a deviation from tagine tradition. “I always have a twist,” she smiles.

Preparing her chicken tagine is relatively simple — it’s the ingredients that can be hard to source. Even though harissa has become trendy in recent years, certain spices, like true za’atar, are still hard to find. Until recently, she made her own preserved lemons, a 90-day endeavor, and sourced za’atar from her garden in upstate New York. Her clear round tubs of spices, a palette of mustard yellows and rust reds, are on display in the heart of the kitchen.

Chef Einat Admony
Photo by Arron Brown

Admony is the owner of Balaboosta, a fine dining Israeli and Middle Eastern restaurant in the West Village, and the popular falafel chain, Taïm which has outposts in New York, New Jersey, and Washington D.C. But today, she’s not preparing for service at Balaboosta. She’s cooking her recipe for chicken tagine, which customers across the country have delivered to their homes thanks to the meal delivery service, CookUnity. They can order as few as four or as many as 16 meals a week from hundreds of options, and they arrive freshly prepared, not frozen, in compostable, recyclable, or reusable packaging, with expiration dates, heating instructions, and nutrition information.

Through the meal delivery service, well-known and awarded chefs like Admony are working to expand their reach and support themselves and their businesses. The CookUnity chefs call themselves a collective, and are using CookUnity to share their food with a greater audience than ever before. In a few years, CookUnity’s offerings have grown to hundreds of dishes made by dozens of chefs, ranging from guanciale bee sprout pizza by Marc Forgione to gochujang baby back ribs by Esther Choi.

“It’s such a great opportunity for chefs, especially after the pandemic,” Admony says. “People lost their restaurants. People struggled very, very much. It’s given them the opportunity to strike back, and do something they enjoy. It’s another opportunity to create some revenue.”

CookUnity is a partnership, she says, between the service and the chefs it works with. It doesn’t run away with a recipe and divorce it from the creative who developed it. Admony takes pride in the fact that her dishes aren’t made by some unknown cooks across the country: Admony has her own team of cooks in New York and Los Angeles on her payroll who she trains and keeps tabs on to ensure each CookUnity meal is executed the way she and her customers expect.

Right now, she has more than a dozen dishes available for delivery on the CookUnity website, with upwards of five thousand reviews. Everyone has a favorite. But for Admony, her chicken tagine brings to mind memories of growing up just outside of Tel Aviv, learning how to cook hand-rolled couscous with her mother and Moroccan neighbor, who’s now 91. “In Israel it’s a little different,” she says. “They’re not your neighbors like here, where you barely ever talk to them… [they’re] family.” As a child, the doors were always open, and she was so curious about her neighbor’s cooking that one day, she was given a stool to join in. The tagine is, of course, also delicious, even without the childhood memories. “It’s very addictive, when you eat it for the first time,” she says. “It’s very craveable. You always want more.”

She slowly massages bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs with each of the ingredients, leaving nothing left on the tray. “You have a lot of ingredients, as you see, but it’s all one,” she says, as she ensures everything’s combined. From there, in a deep hotel pan — at home, she’ll use a dutch oven — she spoons out half of the mixture, then carefully nestles each chicken thigh skin-side down on top, and then covers them with what’s left of the mix.

Einat Admony’s Chicken Shawarma
Courtesy of CookUnity
and Brisket with Pomegranate
Courtesy of CookUnity

The tagine is then shielded with tinfoil and placed in the oven for 40 minutes at 375 degrees. Once she’s satisfied everything has broken down a bit and the chicken fat has rendered into a gleaming gravy at the bottom of the pan, she removes the foil, flips the thighs so the skin is right-side up, and finishes the tagine in the oven uncovered, ensuring a mix of textures and flavors — the exposed chicken skin blisters, and every little onion and olive bit poking out of the sauce gets painted with strokes of black from the heat. As she pulls it from the oven, out comes a cloud of rich-scented steam.

For CookUnity, Admony serves the tagine with a dollop of burnt orange chirchi — a tangy, spicy paste made of pumpkin, carrots, and harissa — to dip into, and couscous that’s been steamed with a cinnamon stick and tossed with slivered almonds and currants.

Her tagine recipe can be found in her cookbook, Shuk: From Market to Table, the Heart of Israeli Home Cooking, but her dishes available on CookUnity’s site range from lamb sabzi with fenugreek leaves, dill and cumin rice, to salmon cakes with braised cabbage and brisket with pomegranate and yogurt sauce. She believes in CookUnity’s mission, and even uses it herself. “My kids love it,” she says. “My daughter is a pescatarian and my son loves meat, so we all have our own stuff. I don’t think there is any platform like that, that is so worth it. You choose your delivery days, the window of hours that you’re home. It comes in ice, you put it in the fridge, and you have food for the week,” she adds. She regularly orders a range of dishes so that when she’s busy working, she knows her kids will be well fed. “They have so many upcharges as a customer when I do delivery at home. It’s just an enormous amount of money. [With CookUnity,] you don’t have all of that. It’s a no-brainer.”

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