In writing Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) with Steven Cook, Michael Solomonov hopes to share with other cooks “some of the magic” found in Israel.
Israeli-born Solomonov grew up from the age of 2 to 15 in Pittsburgh, then the family returned to Israel. After awhile, when his Bulgarian father and American mother divorced, he returned to the United States, eventually learning to be a chef, graduating from culinary school in 2001. He returned to Israel, where his brother had grown up and was on leave from the army; sadly, his brother was killed soon after, and Solomonov once again left the country.
Returning to Pittsburgh, Solomonov met Cook and, in 2005, became chef of their first restaurant, Marigold Kitchen. In 2008, Solomonov and Cook opened the restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia. They also co-own restaurants Percy Street Barbeque, Federal Donuts, Dizengoff and Abe Fisher, all in Philadelphia. In 2011, Solomonov was awarded the James Beard Award for best chef mid-Atlantic.
After the death of his brother, as he and Cook worked together at Marigold Kitchen, Solomonov writes, “I began to see cooking as a powerful way to honor David’s memory. I could expose people to a side of Israel that had nothing to do with politics and didn’t ever make the evening papers.”
This was the inspiration for Zahav, which opened in May 2008, as well as the cookbook Zahav, whose style is unique.
The nine chapters include one on tahini, which has 34 recipes, including seared chicken livers with caramelized onion tahini and tahini shortbread cookies. There are 20 salad recipes, showing that vegetables are everything, including Israeli pickles and spicy fennel salad. There is a chapter on smaller dishes, with recipes for items like fried cauliflower with herbed labneh. The soup chapter has 16 recipes from around the world, such as celery root soup. The next chapter – “Grandmother’s Borekas, Tradition Was My Teacher” – has 20 recipes, such as fried leek patties. “Live Fire, As Close to Magic as I’ll Come” has 16 recipes, like Bulgarian kebabs and pomegranate-glazed salmon, including mujadara. Then there’s the chapter called “Ben-Gurion’s Rice,” with 11 different recipes. “Mesibah, It’s Party Time” has seven recipes, such as whole fish in grape leaves, and “Milk & Honey is a Glimpse of the Divine” has 17 recipes, including konafi and carrot basboosa.
After an introductory essay in each chapter, there are the recipes, and each is also introduced, with casual (and fun-to-read) remarks and easy-to-follow instructions. There are also sidebars with fascinating information about such things as sumac, date molasses, freekah and rose water.
There is no doubt that this book has “a world of Israeli cooking,” and the recipes below reflect that idea.
makes three cups
2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, rinsed
1 tbsp canola oil
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Toss the chickpeas with the oil, transfer to another baking sheet, and roast until crisp, 25 to 30 minutes.
Combine the brown sugar, butter and cream in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until the mixture darkens in color slightly and large, lava-like bubbles cover the surface, about 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and stir to combine.
Working quickly and using a rubber spatula, spread the mixture out in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet. Let cool to room temperature. Break into two-inch pieces to serve. The brittle will keep a week in a sealed container.
6 cups small whole okra
5 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup basic tomato sauce
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp grated dried lime
1/2 tsp kosher salt
handful cilantro leaves, chopped
Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Toss the okra with two tablespoons olive oil and arrange on a baking sheet. Bake until the okra turns brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss the okra with the remaining three tablespoons of olive oil and the tomato sauce, lemon juice, dried lime and salt. Top with the cilantro. Serve hot or chilled.
GLUTEN-FREE CHOCOLATE ALMOND SITUATION
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
big pinch salt
2 scant cups chopped dark chocolate (at least 60% cacao), melted and cooled slightly
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup almond flour
Preheat the oven to 375˚F, with a rack in the middle. Oil a nine-inch round or square cake pan. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper, and oil the parchment.
Combine the butter, sugar and salt in a mixer or other bowl. Beat on medium high until pale and fluffy, about two minutes. Add melted chocolate and mix just until combined. Scrape down the sides and mix for another few seconds. With the mixer on low speed, add eggs, one at a time, beating until each one is incorporated before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add almond flour. Mix on low until just incorporated, about 10 seconds.
Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top with spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, foreign correspondent, lecturer, food writer and book reviewer who lives in Jerusalem. She also does the restaurant features for janglo.net and leads walks in English in Jerusalem’s market.