Book review: Zahav

You might think that we’ve had enough Israeli and Middle Eastern restaurateurs releasing recipe books in the past few years, but once in a while, we can still be pleasantly surprised. Michael Solomonov’s Zahav is one example of this.

An American-Israeli, Solomonov is a classically trained chef who worked his way up the staff of various restaurants in the US before setting his own up in 2008. Called Zahav, it celebrated the melting pot of Israeli culinary heritage and has since gone on to become one of Philadelphia’s most popular ethnic restaurants.

Like my other favourite recipe books, Zahav is more than a set of instructions. It tells a story; that of Solomonov’s immigrant family’s journey to Israel, and his own road to coming to love that country’s formidable cuisine in all its diversity. Full of colourful stories and characters, Solomonov writes with a familiar tone that draws the reader into his and his families’ kitchens and histories.

The recipes themselves are wonderful. Everyone seems to love hummus, and Solomonov distils making it into a fine science based on really really good techina. A whole chapter is devoted to how to make perfect techina, which is well worth the time and effort to get just right.

Zahav also contains the obligatory starters, mains and dessert section, but his personal touch and experiences cooking around the world run deep throughout all of them. Ashkenazi, Yemenite, Kurdish and Bulgarian recipes all feature. Although it’s very easy to over-innovate classics (think hummus using celeriac instead of chickpeas), Solomonov tends not to push his dishes too far, though, and uses his creativity sparingly and to great effect.

I liked Zahav a lot. It was a refreshing break from the more standard Middle Eastern recipe books, with an unapologetic sustained focus on the beauty that is the Israeli kitchen. Highly recommended.

About the Author
Daniel J. Levy is currently researching Iranian proxies in the Israeli-Arab Conflict at the University of Oxford's St Antony's College, and graduated from the University of Leeds with a First Class joint honours degree in Middle Eastern Studies and Politics in July 2017. His main interests and hobbies are reading, cooking, running and international politics. He can be followed on Twitter @DanielHaLevy.