Zahav - The Gold Standard in Cookbooks
Welcome back, EAF fans! We recently reviewed Zahav, by Michael Solomonov. When I was initially given this book I thought, oh man, I know nothing about Isreali cooking but I bet it's full of legumes and it'll be really hard to give it an allergy makeover. Thoughts of chickpea-free hummus danced sadly in my head. But then I opened it and began flipping through. There were so many possibilities, so much colour, so much STORYTELLING. I wanted to create all of it, and surprisingly much of it was already suited to my allergies. At that point I knew this book was special and that this review was going to be a lot of fun.
Madiha (right) was the guest cook working with Joella (left) and myself (behind camera) on this review. We made green tahina, Moroccan carrot salad, roasted okra, and shakshuka. So let's dive in...
There's a whole section of the book devoted to this magical dip made of sesame seeds, olive oil, garlic, and other seasonings. Recipes for several variations are provided and he enforces how central this is to Israeli cuisine and many other recipes in the book. So I felt that in order to do the book justice we had to test it out. Otherwise Micheal would be sitting at his computer, reading this review, and thinking umm, did they not get it?
The recipe didn't have to be changed to suit my allergies so that was an unexpected score. 9 times out of 10 everyone's favorite cultural dishes are comprised of ingredients that I'm deathly allergic to. So how nice to be able to just enjoy something as it was intended to be.
I made the green tehina ahead of time for snacking while we cooked and served it with green and wax string beans and spicy radishes. I'm sure Michael Solomonov intended for it to be eaten with fresh seasonal veggies from a local farm but here's our little secret... We realized that it tastes frigging amazing with potato chips. Honestly, make a big bowl of it, get a bag of chips, and go to town. Either that or put out enough veggies to feed your guests so they don't go roaming through your cupboards. You know, whatever.
Moroccan Carrot Salad
Nothing about this recipe had to be changed either! We steamed carrots and tossed them in a dressing made from the boiled down carrot water reduced with orange juice, olive oil, lemon juice, cilantro, and spices. I like to have an abundance of veggies with my meal and this was a great dish that I will definitely make again. A little sweet, very flavorful, and with a fresh hint of cilantro. It was easy to prepare and can be made ahead of time.
And can you believe it, a third recipe that didn't have to be changed? This book is seriously awesome. And it's not a boring run-of-the-mill allergy-friendly recipe like chicken and salad either. For this dish we roasted a pan of okra until they were deep brown and crispy, then tossed with fresh tomato sauce, olive oil, lime, and cilantro. I often get pushback when I make okra for others because people tend to think of it as slimy and stringy. But I always tell them they obviously don't know how to cook it. Okra is rich and creamy inside and firm on the outside when roasted. The tomato sauce is tangy and sweet while cilantro and lemon add complexity.
If you want to hear me stumble and mumble, just ask me to say shakshuka. We were all excited for the shakshuka because we came to realize that all our cultures (Pakistani, Indian, and Italian) have a version of eggs poached in tomato sauce. Very often when I was growing up my dad would make what we referred to as a farmer's meal. He would stir fry chopped zucchini and potatoes, add fresh herbs from the backyard, top it off with our homemade tomato sauce, and then drop in eggs at the last minute to poach. It's a dish I make all the time and one that's really close to my heart.
This version was fantastic and the flavorings were different than the ones I typically use. Instead of basil and rosemary this recipe called for paprika, cumin, coriander, and lime. I liked the change of pace and it felt like a totally new dish while still reminding me of home.
What we loved about this book
There was so much storytelling. We loved that as a reader you could feel his passion for Israeli cuisine and got a sense of his personality (I'm looking at you, page 283) and personal story. This isn't just a collection of recipes; it's an experience. There is so much to take in from the recipes, ample photographs, and great double-page spreads, to the cultural and social info on nearly every page.
The next item on my list to make is challah!
You can pick up your hardcover copy of Zahav here for $35 (regular price is $50)
Another successful review by your EAF team. Cheers!