Ever since Steven Peljovich took over famed Coolidge Corner eatery Michael’s Deli in 2012, his work has been all about balance: balancing the deli’s storied reputation with his new ownership, and balancing its classic Jewish deli fare with his new, modern takes.
He’s found there’s room for all of the above. He’s managed to honor the original owner, Michael Sobelman, by maintaining the same quality of food—and its status as “The Corned Beef King”—while adding some familial touches that make the restaurant a warm, welcoming place. A native of Florida, Steven recalls his favorite delis were family businesses that were run like homes. He’s tried to recreate that atmosphere in Michael’s. (And, with days where his kids cook alongside him in the restaurant’s kitchen, he’s indisputably succeeding.)
When it comes to balancing classic deli fare with more creative dishes, Steven combines the two with his well-liked “Krazy Knishes.” He tries to create three each week, all linked by a common theme. By now, he guesses he’s created more than 300 flavors, including a fried chicken knish, Fluffernutter knish and, for his youngest son’s birthday, a birthday-cake knish.
On Sunday, March 1, Steven will bring one of these popular knish creations to Beyond Bubbie’s Kitchen, New Center NOW’s annual not-to-be-missed event featuring modern takes on traditional Jewish dishes. (Tickets are still available.) This is Michael’s Deli’s third year participating in the illustrious lineup of some of Boston’s best chefs and restaurants. Last year, Steven served up a dish inspired by his Cuban roots: a guava-challah bread pudding knish. His parents were born and raised in Cuba, so his upbringing was a melding of Jewish and Cuban cultures. Guava wrapped in cheese has been one of his favorite snack foods since he was young.
“Beyond Bubbie’s Kitchen has become a way for mainstream chefs to explore the great flavors in Jewish culture and expose folks to the richness of our culture,” Steven says. “For me, it’s the perfect event to celebrate what I try and do every day: bring back the great memories and smells that our parents and grandparents exposed us to as children.”
Guava-Challah Bread Pudding Knish
You can find guava paste at Latin grocery stores or any supermarket with a large Latin section.
Makes 16 knishes
1 loaf challah bread, cut into ¾-inch cubes
1½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
2 cups half-and-half or milk
8 ounces guava paste
16 puff pastry dough squares, thawed
Egg Wash and Topping
1 egg plus one egg yolk
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon sugar
Whipped cream, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 9×13 rimmed baking pan with parchment paper. Transfer challah cubes to baking pan.
2. Combine sugar, brown sugar, eggs, half-and-half or milk and guava paste in blender and blend until smooth. Pour mixture over challah and stir until evenly coated. Cover pan with aluminum foil and cook until liquid does not run when you tilt pan, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Increase oven temperature to 350 degrees.
3. Scoop about ½-cup portion challah mixture into center of puff pastry square. Fold each corner of dough into center so corners touch and make an “X.” Repeat fold with resulting four edges so dough takes on circular shape. Flip over so seams are on bottom and use hands to round off knish. Place knishes on parchment-lined baking sheet.
4. In small bowl, whisk remaining egg and yolk. In second small bowl, stir together cinnamon and remaining tablespoon sugar. Using pastry brush, brush egg wash on tops of knishes. Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mixture over tops. Bake on middle rack for 20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Remove from oven and top with whipped cream to serve.
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