Shira Petel started out styling hair just down Nakhman Street from her now-famous eatery, Shaffa Bar. Her salon also served food that, over time, became more popular than the haircuts, and so she turned in her scissors for a chef’s knife.
Today, Shaffa Bar is a casual, open-at-all-hours spot that straddles both sides of the street and offers modern fresh food at reasonable prices. When she tackles a classic local recipe, such as siniya (a Palestinian dish of ground lamb and tahini), Petel upgrades it with roasted kohlrabi, cauliflower, tomatoes and onions. Her lahmajoun, a classic meat pie, looks more Southern California than Tel Aviv, with a sprinkle of purslane and a drizzle of yogurt dressing.
As we sat at one of the outdoor tables that swallow up most of the street, Petel served us a constant supply of cocktails made with arak (an anise-flavored spirit), water, mint, lemon juice and a hint of sweetener. She claims that arak does not result in a hangover, the perfect beverage for hardworking chefs who want something refreshing as well as slightly intoxicating. Put to the test, the arak cocktail was indeed all she claimed, though memories of that afternoon remain vague.
One of Petel’s standout recipes was a salad of watercress with grilled grapes and a dressing that included kishk, a powdery mix made from bulgur fermented with milk and labneh. Back at Milk Street, we switched out watercress for the more widely available arugula (use mature leaves; baby arugula is not peppery enough). We briefly broiled the grapes, smashed them a bit, and let them pickle for 30 minutes in red wine vinegar along with a bit of onion.
This mixture then was tossed with the arugula and olive oil. It was delicious as is, but we also found that an (optional) sprinkle of finely grated pecorino Romano in the dressing captured the flavor of the missing fermented milk and labneh. Now we had a terrific mix of roasted fruit, the bite of vinegar and the peppery tang of arugula. Needless to say, this easy-to-assemble salad goes nicely with an arak cocktail.