Editor's note: This summer, we followed the stories of several vendors at Brooklyn's popular—and competitive—outdoor market Smorgasburg. As the market draws to a close we're catching up with some of those vendors to learn about their next steps. Now up: Israeli couscous stand NYShuk.
Since we last wrote about couscous enthusiasts NYShuk, Ron and Leetal Arazi have been hard at work perfecting their debut line of jarred products for home kitchens: tanzeya, a dried fruit chutney ($18 for 8 oz); le'kama ($11 for 4 oz.), a prodigious mix of 14 Middle Eastern spices steeped in oil; and harissa ($13 for 4 oz), the famous North African chili paste.
"For me, they represent exactly what this cooking is all about," chef and co-owner Ron Arazi told us. "I'm trying to give people the feeling that in this cuisine there is so much more than food."
For the time being, they'll be shifting the focus of their business away from their excellent, hand-rolled couscous and towards these products.
NYShuk's harissa is the outcome of months of sending sample after sample to a Cornell lab for pH testing. The lengthy process was necessary to achieve the right acidity for shelf stability and flavor. One early sample passed the first test but lacked the freshness that Arazis wanted to deliver. Their top priority was selling a product that actually tasted homemade; the final product is deep red, thick, and fragrant with toasted cumin and sun-dried chilies. The texture is just slightly, and delightfully, coarse, not blitzed to the homogenous smoothness that so many harissa sold in America are.
"I could take cheaper ingredients, dilute the harissa and make it runnier, and I would cut my food cost in half, maybe more. But, what's the point of that? If I don't believe this is the best product, if I wouldn't use it, why should I sell it to you?" Ron said.
The chili paste has a sublte heat, but spiciness isn't the only goal. The flavor is much more dynamic, with a mild acidity from the vinegar and chilies and a natural sweetness that brings a smile to your face. It is not meant to be eaten by the spoon, but you will not regret doing so.
The second of their products, l'ekama ("spice mixture"), was inspired by c'homa, a mix of toasted spices in oil that Ron's mother taught him to make after the Arazis moved to New York. But while c'homa has just four spices, NYShuk's l'ekema is composed of 14 toasted spices submerged in oil infused with garlic and chilies. It can be used both for cooking and as a raw finishing oil over crusty bread, pizza, or morning eggs.
Their third product, the tanzeya, is a medley of dried apricots, raisins, prunes, and dried figs that have been slowly stewed with spices and sugar. The fruits are sticky and chewy, and sweet without being cloying. Their tanzeya is equally at home in savory and sweet preparations; as delicious paired with a roast of leg's lamb as it is in tahini cookies. You can try mixing it with jam in yogurt, or serve it with caramelized onions and pistachios over white rice.
For now, the Arazis are currently only selling their products through their online store, as well as at demos held at Williams & Sonoma on 59th Street. But you should expect to find their goods on speciality grocery store shelves soon, and the Arazis will be shifting the focus of their Smorgasburg stand to their pantry products when the market moves indoors.
As for what's next? "First we need to spread the word about us being here, start selling products, get good feedback, and see that people are interested in these products," Ron said. "And once we feel that there is a hunger for more—we have tons of plans."
About the author: Chris Crowley is the author of the Bronx Eats and Anatomy of A Smorgasburg Pop Up columns. Follow him on Twitter, if you'd like. In person, your best bet is the window seat at Neerob, or waiting in line at the Lechonera La Piranha trailer.