Shuk; brings the markets of Tel Aviv to your table.
On Sunday mornings I usually take a walk to my local sourdough bakery to buy a few slices of superb babka. My routine was interrupted this week by the arrival of a delivery box from Shuk; which required that I bake my own. As I rolled out the dough, allowed it to prove, then plaited and baked it, I recalled my childhood Sunday mornings, eating toasted babka with butter for breakfast, a weekly treat baked by my grandmother.
Shuk; (meaning market) is an eaterie at Borough Market selling Tel Aviv market food; filled pitas, salads and an array of babkas with fillings my grandmother would not have recognised.
My Shuk; boxes were full of goodies One was a fish tagine pita kit which was intriguing as I am more accustomed to the ubiquitous pita filled with falafel or shawarma. Shuk; pushes the envelope a little, serving fish tagine, meatballs or aubergines in their pitas, and this is all the more exciting for those fortunate to try them. I loved the back story of their dishes. The fish tagine – in a spicy harissa and chickpea sauce – is the recipe of the father in law of one of the Shuk; founders, Mark. His wife’s father, Avi, regularly prepared the weekly dish for the family’s Friday night dinner. The meatballs are made by Mark’s wife, Limor These are authentic, home-cooked recipes that can now be served up in your home especially since we are in the grip of the second lockdown and can do our bit by supporting restaurants that are fighting for their survival.
As I was having a family member over for lunch for the last time before the lockdown was to be reimposed, it mattered a great deal to me that the food was good. The memory of our meal together might have to last until we are allowed to eat together again which may only be at Christmas for all I know.
I was a little apprehensive about the babka making because I am really not a good baker. In fact, I managed to forget to brush the babka with egg wash as instructed. I have my grandmother’s recipe but have never attempted it as I am all thumbs when it comes to making pastry or dough of any sort. Fortunately, Shuk; has done all the heavy lifting here and on opening the delivery box, I found a lovely wedge of babka dough, wrapped in plastic and all ready for the fridge where it waited patiently overnight. All I had to do was to roll it out – even I can manage that – and spread over a thick layer of rich and sweet date paste. Then I scattered over a large handful of whole pistachios – I would probably chop them roughly next time – and then a layer of cookie crumbs and chocolate drops. Then a quick rollup, slice the roll in half lengthways and then plait and place into the baking carton provided. I know, it sounds complicated but if you watch one of the many Instagram videos of happy customers making this babka you will see how easy it is. I watched quite a few to boost my confidence and it worked out brilliantly. In no time I had a babka to prove in a warm place for an hour. Then it baked (without the egg wash) and when it emerged, I was rather proud of myself. I brushed it generously with vanilla syrup – I was pleased to see vanilla seeds in the liquid – and breathed a sigh of relief. I am not sure what my grandmother would have had to say about ‘cheating’ by using a prepared dough but perhaps she might have appreciated the help back in her day had Shuk; been around a century ago.
Next, I got on with preparing the fish tagine. The tagine itself is presented in a closed box which is put straight into a preheated oven. No washing up is needed. I struggled a bit with this bit as even though I left it in the oven for longer than the suggested cooking time, the contents were far from piping hot. In the end, I emptied the tagine into a pot and heated it up.
Very good advice was given on how to heat the pillowy pita – really top drawer, baked by Arik at Pita Asli – and the method of filling the pita with the various items. First was a layer of amba tahini. Amba is a wonderful condiment, a mango pickle with Iraqi roots, which not only adds flavour but a bright mustardy yellow colour. Next up were herbs – dill and coriander – which were kept quite large which I really like as it adds better flavour. Then came the fish tagine which was hot but not fiery, and so packed with taste. It’s a good recipe. I had expected chunks of fish fillet as that is the way I make fish tagine, but here were halved fish balls which is a clever way to do it. Chickpeas filled out an already filling tagine and the rust coloured sauce added to the colourful array in the pita. Another drizzle of amba tahini and then finally a spoonful of harissa oil and another of schug – a Yemeni hot sauce. ‘This is really good’ opined my lunch guest who is a bit of an aficionado of filled pitas and where the best are in London. Another satisfied customer. I passed on the contact details of Shuk; No doubt a box or two will be on order soon.
The quantities were very generous for two people. Two large pittas and plenty of fish – we couldn’t finish it all. For dessert, we cut slices of babka and there was plenty left for tomorrow. My only comment on the babka is that there is perhaps too much going on inside. Date paste, cookie crumbs and chocolate results in an overly sweet bake for my not very sweet tooth. But I realise I might well be in the minority here as no doubt Shuk; regulars would disagree. But then I was raised on a very traditional babka filled only with cinnamon and remain somewhat of a traditionalist in that respect. Yet at the end of the day who was it who went back for a second slice and another nibble before bedtime?
Although I was sent a Shuk; box to review, I think the test is always would I order this box again? The answer is a resounding yes.
I have tried a number of these home kit meals over the past months and I find them not only tasty but also great fun. Those who do not enjoy cooking may prefer to order takeout but for those who like to potter around the stove, this is a perfect way to have your babka and eat it.
I was sent my dinner via Plateaway, one of a number of websites that support a growing network of eateries providing diners at home with their dinner that requires a bit of finishing off. Shuk; is but one of many restaurants available via the Plateaway website and diners can crisscross the globe on their plates at least.
London SE1 9AG