"A mother understands what a child does not say." So says the Jewish proverb that two-time James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov and restaurateur Steven Cook include on the dedication page of their second cookbook, Israeli Soul: Easy, Essential, Delicious . Released this fall, Israeli Soul is dedicated to Solomonov's mother and Cook's mother and mother-in-law.
The cookbook pays homage to the duo's upbringings. "Memories around taste, around family, and around heritage are part of the reasons that we do what we do," said the Israeli-born Solomonov.
As co-founders of the Philadelphia restaurant group CookNSolo, which includes Federal Donuts, Abe Fisher, Dizengoff, Goldie, The Rooster, and the acclaimed Zahav, the team are enjoying their professional success.
While their first cookbook, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking was recognized as the James Beard Award winner for Best International Cookbook and Book of the Year in 2016, their latest release highlights an epic eight-day trip through Israel. From remote towns to Tel Aviv, they noshed on an estimated 82 meals at markets stalls, bakeries, restaurants, street carts, and beaches -- all in the name of research, of course.
After coming home, the duo decided their cookbook would focus on their own Israeli cuisine discoveries as well as show how anyone can easily make these dishes even in the smallest of kitchens.
"All the food that we decided to put in the book was shot in my one-bedroom apartment in the kitchen because we wanted it to be totally accessible to even our friends who have minuscule kitchens," Solomonov said.
Though every dish is a must-try, like the famed 5-minute hummus, Solomonov is a fan of the borekas (page 312), which are simpler than the version featured in "Zahav." Solomonov also says the chicken schnitzel with rice (page 134) is pretty sensational, as well.
Another delightful dish is what's referred to as "Israel stuffed into a pita," or sabich. A fun history lesson on sabich can be found on page 64. But, all in all, we can thank Iraqi Jews for bringing to Israel an essential component of sabich, crispy baked eggplant. Take the crispy eggplant plus tehina, slow-roasted eggs, cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, and parsley and then drizzle spicy sauce atop the dish, and you'll find yourself in a sanctuary of sabich.
Solomonov and Cook will share even more mouth-watering details about their cookbook with local Chicago food legend Ina Pinkney at Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership on Thursday, Nov. 29. (Get tickets) After the tasty talk, attendees will be able to have their Israeli Soul cookbooks signed by the pair.
Most recently, rumor has it that Solomonov and Cook might be opening a bakery in the city of brotherly love. Though Solomonov wouldn't confirm, or deny, this scrumptious speculation, it's clear that he and Cook have a special bond that will prove continued success.
Solomonov says about Cook, "He's my best friend and my brother. I love him. I think that we've been through so much together. I think that we have extremely different personalities and that has allowed us to work together. As we grow, I think we sort of look out for one another."
Carly Gerber is a freelance writer who writes about Jewish life, fashion, arts, and culture in Chicago.