Thursday , October 21 2021

"The Israeli Soul" offers a taste of the street foods of the country


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Ari Shapira, Host:

Michael Solomonov was famous for his commentary on Israeli cuisine.

Michael Solomonov: I am the chef and owner of the ZAHAV restaurant in Philadelphia.

SHAPIRO: He and Gold have won a bunch of prizes. So is the Gold Cookbook. Now chef Solomonov has a new cookbook called "The Israeli Soul".

Solomonov: "With the Israeli soul," we want you in an apartment, a small apartment in New York, to get pleasure as you walk around the streets of Jerusalem.

SHAPIRO: These are not style-style recipes. These are the types of food on the street that Solomonov likes to eat when he visits Israel – falafel, shawarma, sweet and salty pies called bourekas.

Solomonov: These spinach are spiral.

SHAPIRO: Yes. Unnamed: Yes.

Solomonov: These triangles are triangles. The mushrooms are triangles. The potatoes are a rectangle (laughter), you know? But that's what I get, like, when I get off the plane. And they – and the bags are, like, greasy, and they're just amazing.

Solomonov grew up between the United States and Israel, and the Israeli boarding school had many Russian and Ethiopian children, many of whom lived in the Middle East for several generations, and Solomonov explains that Israeli cuisine is really a lot of different foods. Shows us how to make a clear Israeli dish in the kitchen of a company in Washington, California.

Solomonov: So we're going to make a sandwich and a schnitzel, it's like a very iconic Israeli dish in the sense that Schnitzel, who comes from Europe. And we name Hawaii there, which is the generic word, the Yemenite word, for Carrie. Then we're going to put on that amoeba.

SHAPIRO: What kind of mango …?

Solomonov: It's just like a pickle that comes from Iraqi Jews, but from India. And then we're going to serve him in a pita, which is completely Arabic, you know?

SHAPIRO: So when you talk about Israeli cuisine, you make a dish that has elements of Eastern Europe, Yemen, Iraq, India …

Solonov: Right.

Shapira: The Arab world. It sounds like (Laughter) Everything is thrown into a pot of soup.

SOLOMONOV: Exactly. Stuffed chicken schnitzel in a pita so she can drive a car, talk on the phone, smoke a cigarette while eating a sandwich is what makes her Israeli.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

(The sound of sound)

SHAPIRO: It's a pound of thin chicken breast. You can use other types of meat or even vegetables, like zucchini. He dips the chicken in beaten eggs with the taste of Yemenite spices, Hawaii. Then, the coating of a matzah meal, not breadcrumbs.

Solomonov: And it produces this thin, thin membrane. And the egg wash behaves like this kind of, like, salt or a kind of marinara, and it's amazing. Then you do not multiply, such as flour, bread crumbs.

SHAPIRO: Especially if you're going to eat it pita.


SHAPIRO: Another Middle Eastern touch? As the chicken stirred in the skillet, he sped on the green grass, hyssop.

Solomonov: We put it on everything. It's a bit like salt and pepper.

SHAPIRO: So that's something your parents would do, you'd eat as a child.

Solomonov: It's a part, like, like yours, I think, like, like an American American. That's what you do. When my mother is out of town and my father packs up my lunch, he goes to Wonder's place, butter, cold schnitzel sandwiches for lunch, which at the time embarrassed me. Now, the best thing ever.

Solomonov's book came from Bulgaria, so Schnitzel was part of their family repertoire long before they immigrated to Israel after World War II. The hot brown schnitzel came into a warm, warm pita. Then he gets some decorations.

Solomonov: You do not need, like, a bedazzle with tons of stuff.

SHAPIRO: All right.

Solomonov: You just need some good ingredients.

Shapira: Tomato, cucumber, sesame sauce, sesame sauce, tahini.

It's beautiful.

Solomonov: Lemon Press.

SHAPIRO: Your dad has a history with sandwiches. He owns the subway franchises, right?

Solomonov: Yes. So my father owned the Pittsburgh sandwich shop. Then, when we came to Israel, he had two of them in Haifa.

SHAPIRO: How does he feel about the fact that you are now famous and successful for, among other things, making sandwiches?

Solomonov: He likes it. You know, I was, like, a sandwich artist for him as a child.

SHAPIRO: Were you assembling subway sandwiches?

Solomonov: Yes. I was the worst too. He certainly-maybe he fired me.

SHAPIRO: No hyssop, no amoeba …

Solomov: (Laughter) No.

SHAPIRO: … not tehina …

Solomonov: No, not on the subway.

SHAPIRO: … not hawaij.

Family History and World History. Michael Solomonov's new cookbook, with the author, Stephen Cook, is called "An Israeli Soul."

(Contradictory sounds of "Yair" by Wilder and Child) Text provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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