“In Israel, hummus basically comes out of the faucets,” Philadelphia chef Michael Solomonov writes in his new book.
Yet in Israel, the chickpea dip would never double as a blank canvas on which to dollop chicken salad, lamb meatballs, roasted butternut squash or any of the 24 toppings that America’s most celebrated practitioner of modern-Israeli cuisine puts forth in his dazzling new cookbook.
Clocking in at nearly 400 pages and packed like a pita pocket with tips for Israel-bound food lovers, “Israeli Soul” is a large-format, coffee-table-worthy celebration of the food of the 70-year-old motherland.
From familiar falafel and pita to lesser-known sabich (eggplant sandwich) and kubbe (semolina-dumpling soup), Solomonov, in town Friday for the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta Book Festival, lays it all out in this collection of 167 recipes and photographs.
But “Israeli Soul” is more than just another pretty face.
Solomonov, a three-time James Beard Award winner, and co-writer Cook, who happens to be his business partner, do their homework, giving context and history for each dish and filtering the material through the lens of their Philadelphia restaurant empire, which includes the much-ballyhooed Zahav; falafel shop Goldie; hummus restaurant Dizengoff; and several other restaurants.
At the same time, the impeccably researched cookbook doubles as a guide to the restaurants and markets of Israel, where Solomonov was born and where he returned at 18. Having grown up in Pittsburgh and with no Hebrew-language skills, he found work in a baker. Thus was born his career.
If Michael Persico’s fabulous photographs of Jerusalem’s iconic spots for hummus, Haifa’s beer halls, Jaffa’s grills, and the magnificent, time-swept landscape of Israel remind you of Saveur magazine in its prime, it’s not a coincidence. “Israeli Soul” was produced by Saveur founding editor Dorothy Kalins, and it is visually stunning.
One day I’m going to eat my way through Israel, and when I do, this book will be my guide. For now, the recipes beckon. No doubt hummus will be gushing out of my faucet before you know it.
“Israeli Soul: Easy, Essential, Delicious” by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook (Rux Martin Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35.00)
AUTHOR APPEARANCE: Nov. 16 at noon. Solomonov will be in conversation with Ligaya Figueras, AJC senior editor for food and dining, at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody. A kosher lunch will be served featuring recipes from the book. $25.
Wendell Brock is an Atlanta-based food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).