Celebrating the holidays with friends and family is only made better with clever dishes and a table filled with wine for sharing, believes chef Zachary Engel. Now one of the U.S.’ leaders for modern Middle Eastern cooking, Engel is the chef and co-owner of Galit, a fine-dining destination in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.
The son of a rabbi, Engel’s winding journey to the Windy City began with frequent trips to Israel as a child, where he soaked in the nation’s distinctive food culture, influenced by the tides of history. “I’m a history person; I like to follow the sociological movements of people around [the Levant]. Food tells that story,” he says.
Professionally, Engel cooked in kitchens from Israel to Sonoma County—including modern Middle Eastern stars Shaya in New Orleans and Zahav in Philadelphia, Catit in Tel Aviv and the historic Madrona Manor in Healdsburg, Calif.—before settling with his family in Chicago, drawn in by how the city cherishes local ingredients. “There’s a lot of diversity in the [city’s schools of cooking]. But Chicago doesn’t get a lot of credit for its very strong affinity towards working with local produce,” explains Engel. Though the northern Midwest’s long winter means that there are “not that many vegetables, just carrots and potatoes” much of the year, he adds, “it’s really encouraged me to find more ways of preservation and stockpiling, keeping that local produce in our repertoire.”
Engel opened Galit in 2016 with co-owner Andrés Clavero and quickly earned critical acclaim for how he applied the produce of the American Midwest to the breadth of Middle Eastern cooking. Think fresh-caught charred walleye spiced with Moroccan ras el hanout, falafel filled with rhubarb, and smoked turkey shawarma served on a soft bed of collard greens. One of his favorite examples of using local produce year-round is a winter offering of late-summer Concord grape jelly spread over a thick slice of challah bread and topped with dollops of foie gras torchon.
Currently, Galit offers a four-course tasting menu with a rotating wine accompaniment, where Engel features as many wines from the Levant and other regions in the Middle East as he can find, along with Sonoma County, in honor of his time cooking in wine country. “[The dearth of Middle Eastern wines in the U.S.] forces us to find producers we want to work with and then also have wines that fit everybody’s palate,” says Engel. “I knew that if we found a niche that we could continue to grow over a long period of time, more people would approach us because it’s such a great fit.”
Every year for Passover, Engel explores ways to honor the six foods on the Seder plate while varying and updating classic Passover dishes. One of his favorites is this riff on deviled eggs—great for serving a crowd and approved by Engel’s young children. This version stands out with the inclusion of gribenes, cracklings of chicken skin that are traditional in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, providing an extra bit of crunch to latkes, kugel, chopped liver and other favorites for holidays throughout the year.
Stumped on where to even find chicken skins? Just ask any butcher worth their salt. “They’re constantly pulling chicken skins for boneless, skinless breasts. They’re readily available. You just have to talk to the guys behind the counter,” notes Engel. “Also, if you’re making a bunch of [chicken] soup for Passover, you can remove the skin from the chicken when you buy it and then use the bones and the carcass to make your stock.”
When it comes to the kosher wines for the Seder rituals and the meal, Engel prefers to keep several bottles on the table, each a different style or variety, to suit guests’ tastes and the different elements of the meal. He tends to stick to easy-drinking wines, ones with lower to moderate alcohol levels that won’t clash with all the different spices in his feasts, such as Gamay. His preferred bottles as of late include a Sémillon-based pét-nat and a Carignan from Daltôn winery in Israel. In keeping with Engel’s approach, Wine Spectator has selected a diverse set of seven highly rated kosher wines, below, to help celebrate Passover.
Deviled Eggs with Horseradish, Chives and Gribenes
- 1/2 pound chicken skins
- 8 large eggs, left at room temperature for at least 1 hour
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 6 tablespoons prepared horseradish
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/4 cup chives, finely sliced
For the gribenes:
1. Preheat the oven to 350℉. Rinse the chicken skins under cold water, drain and pat dry. Cut them into 1/2-inch thick strips and spread them out on a baking sheet.
2. Bake the chicken skins for 40 to 60 minutes until they begin to develop a deep golden-brown color. (Optional: To make more traditional gribenes, you can add sliced onions after about 20 minutes, but it’s not necessary.)
3. Remove from the oven. With a slotted spoon or tongs, place the crispy chicken skins on a plate lined with paper towels. When the baking sheet has cooled, drain the rendered chicken fat through a mesh strainer into a metal or glass container. Once cooled, discard or save for future use.
4. Crumble the gribenes with your hands and season with salt, to taste. Set aside.
For the deviled eggs
1. In a 4-quart sauce pot, bring water to a boil.
2. Gently place the eggs in the boiling water using a slotted spoon. Once the eggs are in, adjust the heat on the sauce pot to a low, rolling boil (not too rapid or the eggs are more likely to crack).
3. Cook the eggs for 12 minutes. While the eggs are cooking, make an ice bath by filling a medium mixing bowl with ice and water.
4. When 12 minutes are up, use a slotted spoon to remove the eggs from the sauce pot and place them into the ice water. Make sure they are fully submerged in the ice bath with a gentle stir of the slotted spoon. Let sit for 15 minutes.
5. Peel the eggs and slice them in half lengthwise using a sharp knife on a cutting board. Use a slightly damp paper towel to wipe your knife between slices to avoid smudging yolks on each new egg you slice.
6. Remove the yolks from the whites with a small spoon and set the whites aside in a refrigerator. To make the deviled egg filling, place the yolks in a 2-quart food processor with the mayonnaise, prepared horseradish, salt and turmeric. Puree for 2 to 3 minutes until fully combined. You may need to scrape the sides of the food processor a few times to ensure all the ingredients combine fully.
7. Put the deviled egg filling in a piping bag, if available, or simply in a container until you’re ready to serve.
8. Fill each egg white half with about 2 tablespoons of deviled egg filling by either spooning it in or using the piping bag. Top with the chopped chives and then the gribenes.
Seven Israeli Kosher Wines to Fill Your Cup
Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More kosher options can be found in our Wine Ratings Search, as well as from recent tastings on Israel and a Tasting Highlight on kosher wines from Israel.
WHITE AND ROSÉ
Viognier Israel Blue C 2021
Score: 90 | $28
WS Review: A bright, juicy white, with citrus blossom and light apricot mingling with flinty minerals. Creamy and smooth, with white tea highlights and a pithy grapefruit acidity carrying the sneaky long finish. Kosher. Drink now through 2026. 500 cases made, 350 cases imported. From Israel.—Bruce Sanderson
Chenin Blanc Negev 2019
Score: 90 | $30
WS Review: A creamy, full-bodied white, offering honeyed apple compote, peach compote and custard flavors that show nice density, with dried herbs and salted buttercream adding depth. Boasts a beam of citrusy acidity that maintains tension and energy. Kosher. Drink now through 2027. 1,300 cases made, 126 cases imported. From Israel.—B.S.
Judean Hills White 2021
Score: 90 | $38
WS Review: A generous style, with lush sweet apple and pear highlighted by candied pineapple and warm toast. Salty minerals beautifully offset the richly textured palate of this well-knit white. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Kosher. Drink now through 2031. 900 cases made, 360 cases imported. From Israel. –B.S.
Bloom Rosé Judean Hills 2021
Score: 88 | $30
WS Review: An expressive, well-built rosé, with some nice weight and structure to the watermelon, white cherry and raspberry flavors, which are highlighted by fine-grained minerals and dried garrigue. Cabernet Franc, Grenache and Barbera. Kosher. Drink now. 1,050 cases made, 700 cases imported. From Israel.—Kristen Bieler
GOLAN HEIGHTS WINERY
Cabernet Sauvignon Galilee Yarden 2018
Score: 91 | $39
WS Review: An elegant, refined red, with silky tannins encasing layers of wild berries and plum, sweet and savory spices. Fresh and balanced, thanks to tangy acidity, pencil shavings and chalky tannins that carry the medium-long finish. Kosher. Drink now through 2028. 22,000 cases made, 6,000 cases imported. From Israel.—B.S.
Meron Galilee 2018
Score: 90 | $33
WS Review:A plush and inviting wine, with warm plum compote and grilled herbs that firm up on the fresh, dry finish, which is marked by iron shavings and notes of char. Though modern-styled, this has balance and refinement, offering a cool gravelly note that defines the harmonious palate. Syrah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Kosher. Drink now. 1,000 cases made, 300 cases imported. From Israel.—B.S.
Amichai Solomon Judean Hills 2020
Score: 90 | $40
WS Review: Sappy red currant and black licorice notes meld with violet, wet earth, wild herbs, fresh eucalyptus and milk chocolate on the nose of this chewy red. A nice freshness emerges, while fresh cracked pepper kicks in at the end. Syrah and Petit Verdot. Kosher. Best from 2024 through 2028. 490 cases made, 350 cases imported. From Israel.—Alison Napjus