Mona Restaurant's Cold "Arabian Salad" Consomme

 

By Danielle Frum

First up in our series of recipes from Israel's hottest new chefs is this consomme based on a deconstructed Arabian salad by chefs Moshe Gamlieli and Itamar Navon, of Mona restaurant in Jerusalem. There is a reason Kim and Kanye stopped by to dine here on their visit to the Holy Land in April, where they baptized their daughter North. 

Located in what was a 19-th century Ottoman mansion-turned-art-school (Bazelel, the first art school in Israel), for 40 years Mona served mainly as a non-Kosher bar to the city’s political activists and intellectuals, being one of the few places to drink on a Friday night. in subsequent decades,  it became a more formal, intimate restaurant serving French-based cuisine.

Four years ago, Mona was bought by the owners of a popular restaurant based in the famous Mahane Yehuda market, where Gamlieli, now 28, worked as a chef. The menu changed to a more seasonally-based one. Then, five months ago Gamlieli and Navon, 30, were able to able to secure financing to buy the restaurant.

They completely upended its menu. “We were unleashed,” the two young chefs told me, smiling. To do what? As they say themselves, “it’s hard to refine our cuisine to one style.” Gamlieli has cooked in the United States, France and London; Navon for his part has worked in London and Australia. “We are always trying to learn,” Navon said. “Sometimes our dishes are classic. Sometimes they are very young.”

The menu itself appears simple: Printed in basic Courier font, the descriptions are terse. 

Tomato Consomme. Pickled Cucumber. Chervil.

Fish Carpaccio. Chili oil. Tomato Seeds. Oregano. Labne.Buttered Chicken. Gratin. Mustard Hollandaise. Tagliatelle. Clams. Lemon Butter. Soft Egg. Botargo.

 There is a little bit of everything here — French, Italian, even Indian — but what makes the dishes special is that they are always brought home with some original element of local spices or ingredients. And, staying true to Mona’s heritage, this is not the place to come to if you are avoiding traif. 

I asked the chefs what was their most innovative dish. To my surprise, Gamlieli replied, “The tomato consommé. It is outstanding.” What could be so outstanding about a consommé? Not wishing to leave me in doubt, he disappeared to the kitchen. He returned with a small glass bowl. empty except for a little pile of chopped garnish — tomatoes, oregano, some fennel leaf. On the side was an equally small glass pitcher filled with a clear, cold liquid. Gamlieli poured the liquid over the garnish, offered me a spoon and invited me to taste it.

“Where is the tomato?” I asked. He nodded at me again to taste. 

What I tasted was indeed outstanding. The soup, while completely colorless, was rich with the flavor of the freshest tomatoes, cucumbers and other elements of an Arabic salad — which in fact was what the chefs had based it upon. The secret lay in blending the vegetables all together, and leaving the mixture to drain overnight through cheesecloth. It makes for the perfect starter to a Shabbat lunch, not least because it is made the previous night and served chilled. Plus, there is that WOW factor from the very first sip. 

Serves 6.

6 ripe tomatoes 
1 small cucumber 
3 whole cloves of garlic, peeled 
6 sprigs fresh oregano leaves 
2 sprigs fresh mint 
6 sprigs fresh basil 
1/4 of a small Spanish onion, peeled 
1 stalk celery 
1 tbs sherry vinegar  
5 tbs olive oil 
1/2 cup water 
Salt, freshly ground pepper to taste. 
  
Garnish: 

1-2 radishes thinly sliced
Fresh oregano leaves 
Small cucumber thinly sliced and soaked in the cosumme untill soft 
6 cherry tomatoes cut into quarters 
Fennel fronds (optional) 
  
Roughly chop all the vegtables and herbs,and put all of the ingredients into a blender. Blend well for 3-5 minutes, in batches if necessary. 

Line a strainer with damp cheesecloth and place over a large bowl. Pour in the blended vegetables and let strain overnight in the refrigerator. Discard with all the leftover pulp. Soak the cucumber slices for garnish in the consomme until ready to serve. 

To serve: Taste the consomme and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Distribute the garnish ingredients among six clear glasses or small bowls. Fill a small jug with the consomme and pour over the garnish in each glass or bowl.

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