Food Chat With Michael Solomonov

Remember a few years back when Americans thought Israeli food meant hummus (which they mistakenly pronounced as hum-mus, as in soil or decayed plant matter)?  Michael Solomonov was amongst the individuals who changed the public’s perception of Israeli cuisine.  On Sunday, Main Point Books in Bryn Mawr welcomed superstar chef Solomonov and his partner, Steve Cook to speak about their new cookbook, Zahav, which has been selling like the proverbial hotcakes.  The cookbook is fine for kosher households, because the recipes do not call for shellfish and do not mix meat and dairy ingredients.  If you cannot get a table at the restaurant, do get the gorgeous book and have fun trying the recipes!

Before Solomonov won the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic in 2011 and he became a national celebrity through the pages of Bon Appetit and Food and Wine, Michael was a youngster who moved between Israel and the United States with his parents.  He was a picky eater and he had no ambition in life.  When he got a job at a bakery in Israel, working 14-hour days for $2.50 an hour, his family was simply relieved that he was not in jail.  However, the pivotal moment for Michael’s life was the death of his younger brother, David, who was killed while on volunteer duty during Yom Kippur of 2003, just days before his release from the Israeli Army service.

The search for meaning eventually led Michael to a sober life, focused on presenting the best of Israeli cuisine, applying Middle Eastern techniques and spices to locally sourced produce.  When it’s not sustainable to import tomatoes in January, he can simulate the taste of Israeli food with local pumpkin and persimmon.  What is particularly inspirational about his journey is that he and his family could not have predicted his career trajectory.  With much hard work and learning on the job — they were on the brink of closing the currently wildly popular restaurant Zahav — Michael can serve as a poster child for the late bloomer, one who was not engaged by school.

Solomonov and his partner will soon launch the Rooster Soup Company, a deli-style place that serves only sandwiches and soup, the latter made from the bones and parts of the 1,000-plus chickens used in their Federal Donuts operation (that serves only donuts in the morning and fried chicken in the afternoon).  All the proceeds from Rooster Soup will benefit the Broad Street Ministry to their work in providing meals and services to vulnerable and homeless Philadelphians.  It is set to open at 1526 Sansom Street (in the former home of Sansom Street Kabob House).

Another exciting project of his of note to foodies is the January release date of his documentary, >The Search for Israeli Cuisine, which will be picked up by PBS in the spring.  Solomonov was followed around Israel by two-time Academy Award nominee and James Beard Award-winning filmmaker Roger Sherman.  They filmed each day at five locations and Michael marveled that each food venue was new to him, who’d lived there.  So imagine the novelty to us Americans, who are merely visitors to the Holy Land.


It may be surprising to learn that a major culinary revolution is taking place in a country so frequently associated with political drama. In just thirty years, Israel has gone from having no fine food to call its own to a cuisine that is world-renowned.

Chef Michael Solomonov, a young, inspiring Israeli born American grew up in Pittsburgh. Solo, as he's known, travels all over Israel, eating and talking about how ethnic traditions from across the diaspora have been incorporated into one diverse Israeli cuisine.
This is the story of cultures coming together, foods that are brought from far and wide and become Israeli cuisine. Our cameras follow Solo as he shows Americans a cuisine whose time has come.

Hummus Chocolate Cake? Yes It Is, And Good For Passover

— by Margo Sugarman

A few months ago, I read a recipe for a flourless chocolate cake on the wonderful Seattle Foodshed blog. I bookmarked it, and decided that Pesach was the perfect time to try it out, as for kitniot eaters, it’s completely Kosher For Passover and pareve to boot. And who would have thought that a cake that’s Kosher for Pesach and made from hummus would originate in the US? So with a few days left of Pesach, I have to share this with you.

Full recipe after the jump.
I just baked it, and it’s a hit. My kids piled into it, and were shocked when I revealed to them that it’s made with chickpeas instead of flour. My husband asked where the matbucha was… I will definitely make this cake again for Pesach. It turns out like a brownie cake, so you can also make it as bars, and serving it with ice cream would not be a tragedy. As I was writing this recipe, I realized I had forgotten to add the baking powder, but it came out fine! So if you can’t find Kosher For Passover baking powder, you can leave it out. Now I will have to bake this again to see what it turns out like with baking powder!

I will share this recipe with you here as well, but do visit the Seattle Foodshed blog, as there are also lots of good, healthy recipes there that are worth checking out, and the pictures are great.

Hummus Chocolate Cake for Passover (Kitniyot)
Adapted from Seattle Foodshed blog

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips or 200g dark chocolate pieces
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans) drained
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

How to do it

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F)
  2. In a food processor, mix the chick peas and eggs until smooth. Add the vanilla, sugar and baking powder (if you can’t find baking powder that’s KFP, leave it out) and pulse till combined.
  3. Melt the chocolate over boiling water (double boiler). Add the melted chocolate to the cake mix and combine.
  4. Line a 22cm (9 inch) baking tin with baking paper and grease. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 35-40 minutes.

Margo Sugarman is the creator of The Kosher Blogger, a celebration of keeping kosher and loving good food.

Zahav: A Golden Culinary Adventure!

Zahav Restaurant— Ronit Treatman

How can I pay a five star price to eat some hummus?” I asked myself when friends invited me to join them at Zahav, a posh new Israeli restaurant in Society Hill. After all, I can eat Israeli food for free every time I have dinner at my parents’ home! One of our companions had never tried Israeli food, however, so I decided to join them.

Entering the large, airy restaurant was like stepping into the Levant.

 

There were posters of Israeli markets on the wall and intricately designed metal Moroccan lamps. The expertly trained bilingual (Hebrew and English) wait staff greeted us warmly. An attractive crowd of people was enjoying drinks and conversation while sitting at the well stocked bar, which contained some very interesting wines from Israel, Lebanon and Morocco.

Our table was right in front of the tabun, or wood-fired brick oven. Chef Solomonov was baking Lafah, an Iraqi flatbread. On the menu are two choices of prix fixe dinners. The first one is called Ta’yim (delicious in Hebrew) and the second is Mesibah (which means party). For the uninitiated, this is the best way to sample an Israeli menu. We ordered the Mesibah. Our meal began with an assortment of eight different Israeli salads. Everything was fresh and meticulously prepared. These were crunchy, colorful vegetable combinations, each seasoned differently. Especially good were the Moroccan carrot salad and the Israeli vegetable salad. Perfectly seasoned, creamy hummus and finger-singeing lafah, straight out of the tabun, arrived at our table as well. A plate of Israeli pickles and olives was also brought out.

Mezze, or appetizers, were served next. This was an opportunity to explore the diversity of cultures that make up modern Israel. We began in Cyprus, with grilled Haloumi cheese. This sheep’s milk cheese was grilled over hardwood charcoal on a grill next to the tabun. Haloumi does not melt when grilled; it arrived in crispy cubes served with dates and pine nuts. Next, we went to Turkey, and tried the feta, ricotta, and olive borekas, or turnovers. From the Mediterranean, we sampled fried cauliflower with a labaneh (sheep’s milk yogurt) and chive dip. Egypt brought us kibbeh, a deep fried bulgur wheat and lamb croquette, and stuffed grape leaves.

Chef Solomonov pays homage to his Bukharian heritage when cooking the whole roasted lamb shoulder, our main course. Bukhara is a city on the Silk Road, in modern day Uzbekistan. It is famous for its pomegranates and black walnuts, which traditionally were used for both dyeing silk and cooking. Zahav’s lamb is cooked in a pomegranate sauce with chickpeas. It melted in our mouths, and the flavor was deliciously unique. I highly recommend reserving this dish in advance, as it sells out early.

For a glorious ending, Zahav brought out a sampling of all its desserts. From Italy, we tried a chocolate-almond semifreddo (half cold) ice cream cake. Cashew baklava brought us the flavors of the Ottoman Empire as this phyllo dough, nut, and honey concoction was perfected in the Topkapi Palace, the home of the Ottoman sultans for four hundred years. Basboosa, a semolina cake soaked in orange water and honey syrup, represented the Eastern Mediterranean; it was served with peanuts and labaneh. A pistachio cake was served with one of the most exotic ingredients in the restaurant, frozen salep, made from the ground tubers of an orchid. A new twist on a Persian favorite is the halvah mousse, made with sesame seeds and honey. In order to be able to heave ourselves off our chairs, we needed to drink some of Zahav’s deliciously sweet fresh mint tea.

Zahav provides a fair value for the excellence of the food, the ambience, and the quality of the service. Israelis – whether Ashkenazi, Sephardi, or a combination – will find that the food at Zahav is definitely not your mother’s cooking! For those who have never sampled Israeli food before, this is a polite, civilized sort of introduction, where you delicately put your hummus on some lafah with a knife. It is not a wiping the hummus off the plate with your pita kind of place! I need to go back soon!

  • Address: 237 Saint James Place, Philadelphia, PA 19106-3936
  • Hours: Sunday – Thursday: 5:00pm – 10:00pm, Friday & Saturday:
    5:00pm – 11:00pm
  • Website: http://www.zahavrestaurant.com
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Phone: (215) 625-8800
  • Kosher: No