Many Americans have a narrow knowledge of Israeli cooking. They think it could be halvah and tabbouleh , possibly falafel If they're a bit more sophisticated , they may know of hand rolled bagels and za'atar the mixed bag of spices used in cooking.However it's a bit more than just those . It's one of the most flavorful and varied of Mediterranean cuisines. It has ancient grains and fresh herbs along with much loved meat dishes and cool salads.
Melissa Clark explored this in her Cookbooks column in Wednesday's New York Times Food section.She reviewed and tested some of the recipes in Zahav: A World Of Israeli Cooking (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publishers),written by restaurant owner, Michael Solomonov and Stephen Cook. Both are co-owners in the wildly popular Philadelphia restaurant Zahav.It's much more than just a cookbook,veering into memoir territory. Not many cookbooks have an account of a brother's death by a Lebanese sniper or his feelings about being shipped off to a boarding school. The recipes are perfect for any novice home chef . They are direct, simple and immediate. There is a recipe on the gaining in popularity za'atar, a mix of common and exotic spices and harissa, the fiery red pepper paste from North Africa.Of course there are several recipes dedicated to tabbouleh along with hummus which figures huge in the Israeli diet as it does throughout the Middle Eastern world.The main star, though, is the sesame paste tahini. It's used in so many dishes, from savory to sweet being the backbone of both main courses , sides and desserts.There is a caveat to the book though, Ms. Clark warns, some of the ingredients may be hard to find in an American supermarket. A trip to Amazon.com can solve that.
Ms. Clark includes two recipes in her review. One is a pastel, an Israeli meat pie, similar to the Greek pastitsio.It has spiced ground beef along with carrots and onions along with parsley , dill and sesame seeds. However , instead of using pasta or lasagna as layers as the Italians and Greeks do, puff pastry is used, creating a take on a Cornish pasty,She also includes a simple recipe for halvah that requires - what else - tahini.It's as easy to make as simple fudge and a great end to any of the meals in the book. For those who love hummus , there is a snippet of advice as well. Chef Solomonov recommends using overcooked chickpeas for it. They create a dip with an almost buttercream consistency where it silkily melts on the tongue. His hummus is the star of the restaurant, with all the flavors, including lemon and garlic being equally balanced in a perfect blend.Any of these recipes could work well at a fall dinner party, especially the pastel served with a good red wine. The halvah would be nice to make as a dinner party or holiday gift.
Israeli cooking is so much more than just hummus and tabbouleh .It is a wide variety of meats and vegetables cooked fresh with exotic spices.Chef Solomonov knows this and displays it in both his restaurant and cookbook, Zahav,A World Of Israeli Cooking.