love of kubeh laid the foundation for her beloved Greenwich Village eatery named after the Middle Eastern delicacy. The self-taught chef first tasted the dumplings as a teen when her Iraqi boyfriend’s mother prepared a ground beef and beet broth version. Later, in her 20s, she lived in Israel and came to know kubeh once again when she rediscovered the dish on restaurant menus.
“I fell in love with kubeh because of the compactness of flavor in a small bite, especially the variation served in a soup,” Shurka says. “The soup has one flavor, the kubeh has another, and once the kubeh is open inside the soup, together they take on another flavor.”
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Great Neck, New York, Shurka, 39, graduated from NYU and obtained her law degree from New York Law School, so a foray into the culinary world wasn’t exactly the expected. But her colorful heritage—her mother is Ashkenazi Jewish and from Long Island, and her father was born in Israel to Iranian parents—planted the seed.
“I grew up with a Persian background, and eating Israeli-Persian food,” Shurka says. In her youth, she didn’t distinguish any difference between Israeli and Persian culture because both were the very fabric of her upbringing. “I didn’t know there was a difference between Farsi and Hebrew,” she adds.
But it was her lifelong affinity for Israel—both the country and cuisine—that influenced her to build a business around kubeh and other classic Middle Eastern favorites such as chicken shawarma, muhammara, and lamb baharat. “I wanted to bring those flavors to New York.”
Post law school, Shurka spent time in home kitchens cooking with Kurdish and Syrian women in Israel. “It was really magical,” she muses. “I ate kubeh three times a day and came home with all that I learned.”
Shurka took the best components of various recipes she tried in those kitchens, ultimately creating her own interpretations of the savory dumplings, including Kurdish slow-cooked beef and Iraqi mushroom, both available in a selection of delicious broths at her restaurant.
In August 2020, Shurka competed on the Food Network hit reality show Chopped. As a Middle Eastern cook, she wasn’t sure if her pantry of spices would be available (she loves whipping up dishes seasoned with sumac, cumin, and cardamom). Despite the required ingredients, she stuck with the techniques and flavors she knows well, introducing Middle Eastern nuances into each of the three courses, ultimately winning Chopped and donating the $10,000 prize to Syrian refugees.
During spring 2020, when New York was first battling the wrath of Covid-19, Shurka and her team accepted donations and prepared and delivered over 1,000 meals to nearby hospitals. Doing so enabled her to feed frontline workers, hire more help, and keep her business afloat during the most challenging period. More recently, she and her husband David (also her business partner) invested in an outdoor setup at Kubeh—banquettes with roofs, gutters, and high-powered heaters since outdoor dining in New York City is now permanent. She says business has been picking up recently, despite the chilly weather.
Since running a restaurant leaves little free time, Shurka infrequently cooked at home before the pandemic. That’s changed in recent months. She’s been spending more hours in her kitchen, preparing wholesome meals focusing on lots of vegetables and smaller portions of meat and seafood while avoiding dairy, gluten, grains, and sugar. Below is a selection of fresh, healthy dishes that the Kubeh chef is making from her home kitchen in Brooklyn.
Persian Shakshuka. “In a large pan with a glass cover, sauté onion until translucent, adding garlic, spinach, and mushrooms, mixing constantly. Once spinach has wilted, add chopped dill, parsley, salt, pepper, and mix until tender. Add more salt and pepper as needed to taste. Move all veggies to the edges in a circle (clearing the pan’s center) and sprinkle feta on top.
“Add a touch of grapeseed oil to the center of the pan and drop two to four eggs in the middle, keeping yolks intact. Sprinkle salt and pepper on eggs and cover the pan, letting the eggs cook on low until the white is set and yolks are still runny. I make a dish like this every day for lunch using whatever vegetables and herbs I have on hand.”
Zucchini Pasta Bolognese. “Using a spiralizer, spiralize fresh zucchini without skin into a fettuccine shape. Sauté zucchini with garlic and fresh basil in a touch of oil until pasta is translucent, adding sea salt for flavor.
“Serve the zucchini pasta with beef Bolognese (a sauce of ground meat, pureed tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, bay leaves, nutmeg, and white wine) on top.”
Cauliflower Rice with Sumac Shrimp and Sautéed Chickpeas. “Marinate shrimp with sumac, paprika, olive oil, lemon juice, and minced garlic. Cut a cauliflower head into four and process in a food processor until diced.
“In a small pot, sauté onion and garlic with grapeseed oil. Once the onion is translucent, add a rinsed can of chickpeas, parsley, and spices, then a touch of lemon juice and water and simmer on medium for about 10-15 minutes.
“In a separate pan, sauté onion and garlic in oil. Once the onion is translucent, add the cauliflower, mix it well, then add salt and pepper. Cover pan and let the cauliflower rice steam for about 10 minutes.
“Pan-sear shrimp in a Teflon pan until cooked through, then serve with cauliflower rice with chickpea stew. Garnish with fresh parsley, olive oil, and pine nuts.”
Shirazi Salad & Dill Tahini. “Mix halved grape tomatoes, chopped radish, Persian cucumber, and fresh parsley. Then add lemon and salt to taste with a touch of olive oil.
“For dill tahini, hand mix tahini paste with water and lemon juice until the flavor is nutty like sesame. Add that mixture, fresh dill leaves, garlic, salt, pepper, and a touch of water to a blender. Blend until smooth and thin enough to drizzle over the
Turmeric Turkey Patties. “Mix ground turkey, chopped onion, minced garlic, fresh mint, parsley, sea salt, black pepper, ground turmeric, and cumin with egg. Form the mixture into balls and pan sear in oil until cooked through.
“I like to make a meatball size and eat them in a pita, over rice or salad. These are so delicious and healthy. My Persian grandmother always had a variation of these in the fridge, ready to be warmed up.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.