Add a pinch of the Promised Land to your summer grilling repertoire – with some help from chef Douglas Katz
Story by Alyssa Schmitt
Photography by Michael C. Butz
The savory smells and small puffs of smoke emanating from backyards across Northeast Ohio are a sure sign that summer has arrived, and as grill masters across the region busily prepare meals in their backyard kitchens, some may find they want to broaden their horizons – perhaps all the way to Israel, so to speak.
Chef Douglas Katz knows a thing or two about both cooking and Israel. In fact, he recently took a trip to Israel and savored the unique combinations of different foods.
“Across from (the market) there was this restaurant,” he says. “It was a grazing-style restaurant where you could eat so many different foods, and when you combine them all, everything eats so well together.”
Katz has a wood-fired stone oven in his Cleveland Heights backyard, not a grill, but says the instruments’ common denominator – an open flame – is perfect for Israeli-style cooking.
“When you think of Israeli culture, you think of how old that is so you think of the element of cooking is fire,” says Katz, whose flagship restaurant is fire food + drink in Cleveland’s Shaker Square neighborhood. “I think of cooking over fire as the most elemental – and the most sort of old-world – way of cooking, and I think of cooking outside on the grill and cooking Israeli food.”
To bring a taste of Israel to one’s Northeast Ohio backyard, other proteins typically enjoyed during the summer can replace standard grill fare like hamburgers and hotdogs. Katz favors chicken or fish.
As for side dishes, Katz suggests replacing run-of-the-mill potato salad with options like Swiss chard, Israeli salad or potatoes with zhug.
For Katz, there’s one essential ingredient that brings a plate to life: spice. Katz has his own line of spices, Fire Spice Co., which includes 12 different blends and can help novice grillers navigate the immense world of spices.
“I think people (can be) overwhelmed by the amount of flavor going on,” he says. “Sometimes people use spices and they don’t know how to use them,” he says.
Katz mixes simple and complex combinations when spicing his meal, sometimes settling on salt and pepper, like in the Swiss chard, but also blends herbs and chilies in his zhug, creating a fresh-from-the-garden taste.
“I think experimenting simply is probably better, even if you use salt and pepper,” he says. “When you want to go simple, I think kosher salt and just freshly cracked pepper is awesome. If you want to expand it a little, adding some dried chilies … really would be great.”
It’s easy to see Katz isn’t afraid of a little heat and encourages others to step up to the grill this summer and enjoy the taste with friends.
“When you cook on an electric burner … it’s just not as fun,” he says. “There’s an element of getting out in the sun and cooking over a wood fire that makes it more fun. … (When) you’re telling people you’re grilling or you’re barbequing, people want to come.” js
Chef Douglas Katz’s recipes for Israeli-style summer grilling
Harissa Roasted Chicken
Fire Spice Harissa packet or 3 tablespoons of your favorite dry harissa
1 tablespoon kosher salt
8 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin-on
3 tablespoons canola oil
1½ cups yellow onions, peeled, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, peeled, minced
3 tablespoons fresh jalapeño, stemmed, minced
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, diced
1 cup water
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1) Make sure grill is extremely hot for best results and reserve 1 tablespoon of Fire Spice Harissa packet.
2) Rub chicken thighs with 2 teaspoons of salt and remaining harissa packet.
3) Rub the chicken with 1 tablespoon of canola oil.
4) Place the chicken skin side down on your clean grill grates and cook for 2 to 5 minutes, adding nice grill marks on the skin. Flip the chicken and continue cooking for 1 minute and remove to a plate.
5) Place a large, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add 2 tablespoons of canola oil.
6) Add the onions and remaining salt. Stir for 1 minute.
7) Add garlic, stir and cook for 2 minutes, then add jalapeño and red peppers, stirring occasionally for 4 minutes.
8) Add reserved contents of Harissa packet and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
9) Add water, bring to a simmer and add chicken, skin side up to the skillet.
10) Place skillet into the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until chicken is fully cooked.
11) Remove chicken from the pan and keep warm on a serving platter.
12) Add sherry vinegar to the pan and scrape mixture into the blender. Blend until smooth. Serve with chicken.
Servings: about 4
1 pound of baby potatoes (fingerlings, peewees or
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly cracked pepper
1) Clean the potatoes and allow to drain.
2) Place the potatoes in a medium stock pot and fill the pot with cold water to cover the potatoes by 2 inches.
3) Add enough kosher salt to the water so it tastes like the sea when completely dissolved.
4) Simmer the potatoes over medium high heat until fork tender, about 30 minutes.
5) Drain the potatoes and allow them to cool, then cut the potatoes in half.
6) Make sure your grill is extremely hot for best results. Place the potatoes flesh side down on your grill and cook until browned and well marked, about 2 to 3 minutes while turning the potatoes, and continue cooking for 2 to 3 minutes or until the potatoes are marked to desired doneness. Remove to a bowl.
7) Toss the potatoes with desired amount of zhug to taste and serve.
Servings: about 1 cup
10 Jalapenos, stems removed
½ cup curly parsley, washed and stemmed
½ cup cilantro, washed and stemmed
1 teaspoon of freshly chopped oregano or mint, depending on preference
2 garlic cloves
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup canola oil
1) Combine all ingredients except the oil in a blender or a small food processor and blend to a paste, about 20 to 30 seconds.
2) Add the canola oil and pulse once or twice to combine. Taste for seasoning, scrape into a jar or bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.
Swiss chard with onions
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 bunches of rainbow Swiss chard, washed, stemmed and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 small yellow onion, peeled and diced
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
1) Heat a large sauté pan, add the oil and allow to heat until the oil starts to shimmer.
2) Add the onions and sauté for 30 seconds, stirring occasionally.
3) Season liberally with salt and pepper and stir for 15 more seconds.
4) Add the Swiss chard, pressing gently to allow it to contact the pan so it cooks quickly.
5) Allow the chard to cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute without stirring. Once the chard moistens and begins to look cooked, toss the chard once or twice to get as much of the onions off of the bottom of your pan. The onions should be golden brown but not burned.
6) Continue cooking for 30 seconds or to desired doneness. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately.