Before he became the unofficial godfather of Israeli cuisine in the U.S., Michael Solomonov was a twenty-something bachelor, fresh out of culinary school, beleaguered by a lack of focus and direction. But after his life was turned upside down in 2003 by the passing of his brother, David, something clicked: He had to find a way to pursue his dream of owning a restaurant while simultaneously honoring his brother and the country of his birth.
That’s the origin story of Zahav, Solomonov’s flagship Philadelphia eatery, where people wait months to get a table, and where the now-40-year-old chef’s signature hummus is the stuff of legends. That, and the four other restaurants Solomonov and co-owner Steven Cook went on to launch, have earned him international acclaim– he’s a multiple winning James Beard awardee.
Solomonov’s follow up to his highly regarded 2015 cookbook, “Zahav,” with “Israeli Soul: Easy, Essential, Delicious,” a nod to the tiny eateries, hole-in-the-wall cafes and market stalls that dole out some of the best street food in Israel.
The book, released in 2018, features hand-held meals like falafel and shawarma adapted for the home cook. And that’s where you, Foodie Gift Giver Extraordinaire, come in.
“Israeli Soul” is not just Solomonov’s ode to his beloved homeland; it’s also a must-have for anyone who appreciates Israeli food. And just as we’re scouring the ‘net for gifts, we suggest you make this one a top pick for the Israeli cuisine enthusiast in your life.
And while we’re at it, here are our three runners-up for Israeli-inspired cookbooks:
‘Shaya,’ by Alon Shaya
Israeli-American Alon Shaya planted roots in New Orleans for good reason: to shake up the Cajun food scene. And shake up he did. His cookbook includes recipes from his James Beard Award-winning restaurant (with which he’s no longer affiliated after a falling out with partner John Besh).
But it’s so much more than that: “Shaya,” as written in its Amazon review, also contains “stories of place, of people, and of the food that connects them, a memoir of one man’s culinary sensibility, with food as the continuum throughout his journey – guiding his personal and professional decisions, punctuating every memory, choice, every turning point in his life.”
Recipes include: Roasted Cast-Iron Ribeye; Marinated Soft Cheese with Herbs and Spices; Buttermilk Biscuits; and Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Whipped Feta.
‘Ottolenghi: Simple,’ by Yotam Ottolenghi
In “Ottolenghi: Simple,” famed British-Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi breaks it down in the simplest terms possible to bring his beloved dishes to the masses: they can all be made in 30 minutes or less, with 10 or fewer ingredients, in a single pot, using pantry staples, or prepared ahead of time. The book is also a photographic masterpiece, which the chef’s fans have come to expect; it contains more than 130 photos of his brilliant dishes, so if you’re not going to cook them, at the very least, you won’t be able to resist staring at them – for hours.
Recipes include: Braised Eggs with Leeks and Za’atar; Cauliflower, Pomegranate Salad; Lamb Meatballs; and Fig and Thyme Clafoutis.
‘Breaking Breads,’ by Uri Scheft
Israeli-born Uri Scheft, long a respected member of the breadmaking zeitgeist with his Lehamim Bakery in Tel Aviv, decided to open a New York City shop, simply called Breads Bakery, in 2013. From there, his chocolate babka went from hometown favorite to undisputed legend. In “Breaking Breads,” Scheft delivers a love letter to fresh-baked bread and all it evokes: a sense of warmth, comfort, tranquility, love, family.
It’s not always easy to capture those feelings on paper. But in his new cookbook, “Breaking Breads: A New World of Israeli Baking,” Uri Scheft has managed to do so, with the kind of familiarity that transports you to that same cozy space, breathing in those same scents, tearing off your own crusty little piece of home.
Recipes include: Babka, Krembo, Sufganiyot and rugelach; Scheft’s specialty hummus (Pro tip: Use Bulgarian chickpeas because they’re smaller and have thinner skin!); and the many ways to stuff bourekas.