Explore Modern Israeli Cooking in ‘Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking’
“I want to get you as close as a book can get you to the true experience of cooking this food,” says Michael Solomonov, chef and author of the Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking cookbook, which he wrote with business partner Steven Cook.
This mission statement is brought to life through the recipes and stories he weaves together in this book. He includes the expected Matzo Ball Soup, but with the surprising fermented, sweetness of black garlic and a witty anecdote about a failed foie gras-stuffed matzo ball misstep.
In 2008, Solomonov and Cook opened their restaurant, Zahav, in Philadelphia. People loved it. The vibrant spices, the modern spin on traditional Israeli food, and sampling of mezze — it was one of a kind.
In his book, much like the restaurant, Solomonov guides his guests through the complexities of Israeli food and embraces the many cultural influences that are expressed through the flavors from North African to European to Persian.
But then Solomonov does something different, something he can’t do for every restaurant patron. He introduces us to his purveyors, like Lior Lev Sercarz who owns the spice shop La Boîte, in New York City. Then, he invites us into the homes of his friends and family, and shows us how to make Yemenite soup through large, beautiful images.
Solomonov wants us to fall in love with not only the recipes, but the words, too.
We had the opportunity to catch up with Solomonov to find out more about him and his food:
The Daily Meal: What is your general philosophy on cooking?
Michael Solomonov: Generally my philosophy is to make food taste really good.
You essentially put Modern Israeli cooking on the map in the United States. How is the food you serve in your restaurant and depict in this book different from the limited view Americans previously had of Israeli food?
Most people think of Israeli food as hummus, shawarma, and falafel, but we recognize Israeli food as cuisine coming from North Africa, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, all of these influences coming together.
Were there any recipes you knew from the moment you started the project that they just had to be included in this book? Why those recipes?
The recipes that I knew had to be in the book were hummus, lamb shoulder, laffa bread, crispy haloumi, and fried cauliflower. They are the most popular dishes in the restaurant, and the ones that guests have been asking us about for years.
How do you hope readers will use this book?
I want readers to crawl up in bed with it and fall in love the pictures and enjoy the stories and then take it into the kitchen and get it really dirty.
Want to try a recipe?
These torpedo-shaped bites are made with a lamb and bulgar wheat shell and then stuffed with a spiced ground lamb filling. Finally these sort of-meatballs are deep- or pan-fried.
By now, you’ll not be surprised to learn that the secret to great Israeli-style hummus is an obscene amount of tehina, as much as half of the recipe by weight, so it’s especially important to use the best quality you can find. Unlike Greek-style hummus, which is heavy on garlic and lemon, Israeli hummus is about the marriage of chickpeas and tehina. In fact, there are no other ingredients, just a dash of cumin. The only lemon and garlic involved is in my Basic Tehina Sauce. There are countless variations, but I’m not talking about black bean, white bean, or edamame hummus. Those might be perfectly nice dips, but since hummus is the Arabic word for chickpeas, that’s what we use. Remember to leave time for dried chickpeas peas to soak overnight.
Matzo Ball Soup
There are a lot of theories on how to produce fluffy matzo balls, from folding in whipped egg whites to lightening the mix with seltzer. For my money, a little bit of baking powder does the trick nicely. Matzo balls are comfort food, and there is something warm and comforting about black garlic. Like soy sauce, its fermented taste both elevates and deepens the broth. Like tamarind, it has a rich sweetness balanced by enough acidity to keep it in the savory realm. Fortified with the black garlic, this soup is how I always imagine Passover in Southeast Asia would taste.
Mom’s Honey Cake
Honey cake is traditionally eaten for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year — the honey’s sweetness symbolizes our wishes for a sweet year. This is my mother's recipe, which she makes in Israel, freezes, and sends to me in the mail. I’ve stopped reminding her that I’m a chef and accept the package gratefully. The cake holds up really well and is very easy to make. I love a slice with coffee in the afternoon, but this cake also works in savory applications—think goat cheese spread on top, beneath a piece of seared foie gras, or — don’t tell your grandma — with chopped liver. For dessert, we serve the cake with apple confit; apples that have been cooked very slowly in syrup until they are a beautiful, translucent amber color with an incredible jelly-like texture. Treated this way, the apples keep well in the fridge and I love to have them around during the fall.
The Zahav Lamb Shoulder
Next to our hummus, this is the dish that put Zahav on the map. We brine a whole lamb shoulder and smoke it over hardwood for a couple of hours. Then we braise it in pomegranate molasses until the meat is tender enough to eat with a spoon. Finally, the lamb shoulder is finished in a hot oven to crisp up the exterior. This dish is the best of all possible worlds — smoky and crispy, soft and tender, sweet and savory — and it’s a celebration all by itself. The use of pomegranate in this dish (and the crispy rice we serve with it) is very Persian, which is a cuisine with tradition so rich it always makes me think of palaces and royal banquets. The chickpeas recall the humble chamin, a traditional Sabbath stew that’s slow-baked overnight. — Michael Solomonov
Angela Carlos is the Cook Editor at The Daily Meal. Find her on Twitter and tweet @angelaccarlos.