For two very different North American chefs, the inspiration behind their dishes flows from Israel.
And, thanks to their distinct cookbooks, out this fall, that knowledge and history pour into the kitchens of home cooks — along with the creamiest hummus you’ll ever taste.
Michael Solomonov, the James Beard Award-winning chef-owner of Philadelphia’s Zahav restaurant, wrote, along with business partner Steve Cook, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking.
Across the border, Toronto-based Danielle Oron, chef-owner of Moo Milk Bar and the voice behind the I Will Not Eat Oysters blog, released Modern Israeli Cooking: 100 New Recipes for Traditional Classics.
Both texts are inspired by that 8,019-square-mile country an ocean away, and each shares the story of its chef and the influence that family, history and ancestry have had in their cooking. People don’t just gather around the dining-room table to sit silently, they come together to share experiences over a spread of delicious food.
There is a sense of self-discovery in cooking.
Chef Michael Solomonov
Israeli cuisine is anything but demure — it’s nuanced and fresh, complex and diverse. It’s food assembled from many different cultures, and the result is intoxicating. There is cinnamon in savory dishes, sumac in the slaw, and an array of mezze to whet palates.
“There are so many cultures and so many kinds of people that have migrated to Israel over hundreds of years,” Oron said. “If you look at Israeli cooking, there is Moroccan, there is Yemenite, there is Iraqi. There are so many different cuisines melted into ‘Israeli cuisine.’ ”
A melting-pot environment means that alongside unfamiliar ingredients, there are also the very familiar. Things like chicken sandwiches and soups. Both Zahav and Modern Israeli help push the familiar into the relatively unknown, punching up classics with Middle Eastern herbs and spices.
“There is such a wide range of gastronomies in Israeli food,” Solomonov said. “When you have all these different repertoires of cooking and technique, it’s very successful.”
For Solomonov and Oron, there’s a little something extra in each dish: a story.
The Zahav cookbook is a way for Solomonov to remember and pay tribute to his younger brother, who was killed while serving in the Israeli armed forces. Each time a favorite dish is made or someone cracks open the cookbook, Solomonov said, there is a moment when stories comes to life.
“We’ve all got our story. We’ve all got our ancestry. And we’re all trying to figure out some sort of center,” Solomonov said. “For me, cooking is the way to do that.
“Sharing life stories is important for frame of reference, and it’s something everyone relates to. There is a sense of self-discovery in cooking.”
Nina Lincoff: email@example.com, @nincoff
Stock the Shelves
Both cookbooks are available in stores and through online retailers for about $21.
Catch Solomonov promoting his book in Miami: Nov. 8 at the Broken Shaker in Miami Beach and Nov. 9 at Harry’s Pizzeria in the Design District (sold out).
Basic Tehina Sauce
Recipe from Zahav. Tehina, a ground sesame paste, can also be spelled tahini. Jars of it can be found in most supermarkets.
1 head garlic
3/4 cup lemon juice, from about 3 lemons
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 generous cups tehina
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 cups ice water
Break up the head of garlic with your hands and add unpeeled cloves to a blender with lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Blend on high for a few seconds, then let mixture stand for 10 minutes to mellow. Strain mixture over large mixing bowl, pressing down solids to extract as much garlic-lemon liquid as possible. Discard solids. Add tehina, cumin and remaining salt to the bowl. Whisk together, adding a couple tablespoons of ice water at a time (about 1 1/2 cups in total) to thin out the sauce.
Use immediately, refrigerate for up to a week, or freeze for up to a month.
Yield: About 4 cups
Recipe from Zahav. It turns out the secret to the creamiest hummus around is nearly equal parts tehina sauce to chickpeas. In a pinch, you can substitute about 3 cups canned chickpeas for the dried chickpeas in this recipe.
1 cup dried chickpeas
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 cups Basic Tehina Sauce, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Optional: Paprika, fresh parsley, olive oil
Add chickpeas and 1 teaspoon baking soda to a large bowl and cover with at least twice as much water. Soak chickpeas at room temperature overnight. The next day, drain and rinse.
Add chickpeas and remaining baking soda to large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium. Cook for 1 hour, or until very soft.
Drain chickpeas and puree with tehina sauce, salt and cumin in a food processor or blender until smooth and uber-creamy, about 3 minutes. Serve in a shallow bowl, topped with extra tehina sauce, paprika, parsley, olive oil, etc.
Yield: About 3 1/2 cups
Fried Cauliflower with Herbed Labneh
Recipe from Zahav. To make labneh, season full-fat Greek yogurt with salt, pour in a cheesecloth set over a bowl in refrigerator and let strain overnight.
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped dill
1/4 cup chopped mint
1/4 cup chopped chives
1/2 garlic clove, grated
1 cup labneh
Canola oil, for frying
1 head cauliflower, washed and broken into florets
Blend the herbs, garlic and labneh in a food processor until smooth. Season with salt to taste.
Heat 2 inches of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium high-heat. Fry cauliflower until dark golden brown and crisp, about 5 to 8 minutes. Drain and season with salt. Serve over herbed labneh.
Yield: 4 servings
Schnitzel and Sumac Slaw Sandwiches
From Modern Israeli Cooking (Page Street, $28).
1/4 cup full-fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon sumac
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups finely shredded cabbage
1 cup finely shredded purple cabbage
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
2 skinless boneless chicken breasts
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2/3 cup plain bread crumbs
2/3 cup panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil for frying
Ciabatta or other bread
Kosher pickles, sliced
Make slaw: Whisk mayonnaise, vinegar, honey, sumac, salt and pepper in small bowl. Combine the cabbages, carrots and cilantro in a large bowl and pour the dressing over the vegetables. Toss and refrigerate until ready to use.
Make schnitzel: Slice each chicken breast in two lengthwise and pound between 2 pieces of parchment paper using the heel of your hand until 1/2 inch thick. Season both sides with salt.
To bread the chicken, put flour in a shallow bowl, whisk the eggs with the dijon in a second shallow bowl, and combine the breadcrumbs, panko, sesame seeds, salt and pepper in a third shallow bowl.
Heat a large skillet with 1/3 inch canola oil over medium heat. Once the oil is heated, dredge chicken in flour, then egg wash, then breadcrumbs. Fry for 3 minutes a side or until golden brown. Season with salt and let drain.
Construct the sandwiches by smearing mayonnaise on both pieces of bread and then layer on the schnitzel, slaw and sliced pickles.
Yield: 4 servings
Recipe from Zahav (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35).
1/2 cup olive oil
2 onions, chopped (about 3 cups)
4 red or green bell peppers, chopped
6 garlic cloves, sliced
2 tablespoons grated dried lime, optional
6 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 cups tomato puree
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
16 large eggs
Serrano chiles, thinly sliced
Fresh cilantro, chopped
Heat 1/4 cup of the oil over medium heat in a cast iron skillet large enough to accommodate 16 poached eggs. (If you don’t have a skillet that large, use two pans, dividing the ingredients evenly between them.) Add the onions, bell peppers, garlic, dried lime (if using), paprika, cumin, coriander, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened but not browned, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato puree and sugar and simmer until reduced by about one-third, 10 to 12 minutes. Whisk in the remaining 1/4 cup oil.
Crack the eggs into the skillet, spacing them evenly in the sauce. Lower the heat, cover, and cook until the egg whites are set but the yolks remain runny, about 5 minutes. Top with serrano chiles and cilantro and serve immediately right from the pan.
Per serving: 485 calories (44 percent from fat), 23.8 g fat (5.1 g saturated, 13.6 g monounsaturated), 372 mg cholesterol, 22.6 g protein, 46.6 g carbohydrates, 15 g fiber, 774 mg sodium
Yield: 8 servings