As promised, here’s the second part of the review on Chef Michael Solomonov’s “Zahav”, where we get to the real meat and potatoes (or pita and hummus) on how this book functions as an actual cookbook in a home kitchen.
Step 1: Choose Recipes
I needed to feed 2 adults and 1 young child, using my reasonably well-equipped kosher kitchen. None of these people are picky eaters, but meat, especially lamb, tends to be a special-occasion food in our house, so I limited our choices to the dairy and pareve options. With a limited amount of cooking time, I also chose to stick with the more basic recipes. The final menu included:
– fresh pita
– hummus musbacha
– Israeli salad
– chocolate babka
Step 2: Start Cooking!
I started with the bread dough for my pita. The ingredients and instructions were clearly printed, including some helpful alternatives for those (like myself) lacking such specialty equipment as a pizza stone. Starting with this recipe highlighted that while serving sizes are clearly noted at the top of each recipe, the approximate cooking times, both active and waiting around times, are not. Also, I needed a more precise measurement than waiting to rise from “a baseball” to “a softball” size. Still, this was a very user-friendly recipe, and one I can see using again, especially as a baking activity with my 3 year old.
Moving on to the hummus, I faced my biggest pet peeve in cookbooks – a recipe that requires me to make another recipe first. But Solomonov presents tehina as the beating heart of Israeli cuisine, so I took out my blender, and spent 20 minutes preparing the tehina to use in the hummus. Being a tehina-skeptic, I did not invest in the gourmet tehina Solomonov talks about in Zahav. I was just happy to find it available in my local grocery storye. Nevertheless, it turns out, that the 20 minutes I spent preparing the tehina were possibly the best 20 minutes I could have invested in my Zahav cooking extravaganza. I’ve never gotten excited about tehina before – it always seemed kind of bland and oily. In contrast, Solomonov’s tehina came out rich, nutty, and creamy. An excellent stand-alone condiment, rather than just another sauce to add to the crudites platter. I almost threw in the towel right then, wondering why I would bother adding the chickpeas to something already so great?
I persevered with the hummus, preparing the base and then the additional chickpea topping. The payoff was fabulous. The hummus really is that good. I could continue to give tribute to the tehina, but I don’t think we can go back to mass produced hummus again. I’m actually excited to try the multiple variations in the cookbook. The only thing that’s stopping me, is the amount of dishes. At around this point of my cooking, it started to be clear to me that the person who wrote this book might be used to having someone else wash and dry the pile of bowls, utensils, and appliances that were starting to fill up my sink.
Salad time. The time when I ask myself if I really need a recipe from a famous chef to tell me how to chop vegetables. The answer was no. Solomonov’s Israeli salad is just that – basic. Anyone would still have to season to taste. I’ll be sticking to my tried and true recipe that is not a recipe on this one.
Shakshouka. Just the name of the dish calls to mind lazy mornings, hot coffee, and a good book. Having made shakshouka before, I was curious to find out if this version would hit me with something new. It certainly did. Number one, I’m glad that I checked the number of servings ahead of time, because I didn’t need to use 16 eggs to feed 8 people. Happily, the recipe makes it clear that it’s easy to halve, which turned out to be plenty. We’ll have leftovers for at least 2 days. Which is just fine, because number two, this shakshouka smells amazing. Between the fresh pita and the shakshouka simmering on the stove, I actually walked in and out of my house 3 times, just to be greeted by the kitchen smell. Solomonov’s shakshouka is well spiced, and the balance between the vegetables and eggs is excellent. Grab some extra pita to scoop up the sauce, and life is just about perfect.
Unfortunately, step 6, also known as dessert, never quite happened. I ran out of time to make the chocolate babka, and we were all pretty stuffed anyway.
So the final verdict is in. The hummus really is that delicious. The cookbook can be used in a home kitchen, with some realistic nods to a family’s budget and schedule. While staying true to some of the more humble roots of Israeli cuisine, this is a book for someone who wants to push their culinary limits beyond the offerings of the kibbutz dining hall.