Monday, January 04, 2016

auld lang syne

a cozy scene, that's all
My first reaction when I heard about Zahav, the glossy new Israeli cookbook, was: Another Israeli cookbook? I already have Jerusalem, so why do I need Zahav

Dumb question, especially coming from me. If you own Julia Child, does that mean that Madeleine Kamman, Richard Olney, Jacques Pepin, Patricia Wells, and Elizabeth David have nothing to add to the conversation?

 As if.

Naturally, there’s some overlap with Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem, but Zahav is far more personal, more casual, more anecdotal. It’s filled with photos of author Michael Solomonov’s family, which I love, and recipes from his mother and grandmother. I’ve always struggled to find my way into Ottolenghi’s books for reasons I can’t put my finger on; I’ve had no such trouble with Zahav

Last night I made my first Zahav recipe, a pumpkin soup with noodles and kale, chosen because It looked easy, healthy, and delicious. (You can see an appetizing picture here.) First you make a spicy stock from the peelings and seeds of a squash, tomatoes, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and a charred onion. Strain. To this broth you add kale, pearl onions, big chunks of roasted squash and angel hair noodles. Cook briefly, serve immediately.

This decidedly exotic soup offered our family a chance to relive the bad old days when I cooked exotic dishes all the time. I am thrilled to report, we have not changed. Owen looked at the soup, groaned, said, “I guess I’ll be having cereal for dinner,” and I mentally gave him the finger while Isabel wanly picked at her portion and said, “How are you supposed to get the noodles without getting all the other stuff?” and Mark said, carefully, “What made you decide to try this recipe?” to which I replied, “I know. It’s weird and lousy. And you’re all unimaginative losers who don’t appreciate me. I’m going to bed.”

I took some artistic license with that dramatization, but flatter myself that it captures the underlying spirit of the meal. 

The soup wasn’t actually lousy. It just wasn’t quite right. The problem was the squash, which Solomonov has you cut into 2-inch chunks -- too big. Then you roast these massive, unseasoned chunks in the oven for 15 minutes until “dark brown but not fully cooked” which seemed and still seems impossible. In my experience, by the time squash is "dark brown" it is always fully cooked, if not burnt. Anyway, after 15 minutes I took out the bright orange, "not fully cooked" squash cubes and added them to the soup, simmering the two together for a scant four minutes, which isn’t long enough. The squash pieces were pleasantly firm, but exceedingly bland, with a flavor reminiscent of underripe melon.

The dish is easily fixed, however. I reheated the soup today and because the broth had permeated the pumpkin by this point, it was quite delicious. Here’s how I would amend the recipe: cut the squash into bite size pieces and season vigorously before roasting. Add to the soup and simmer for fifteen minutes. Cool and let the soup rest overnight. Reheat and serve.

I doubt that this blog post has inspired anyone to rush off to make Michael Solomonov's pumpkin soup, but if you do try it with these amendments, I think you will be pleased.


  1. I think of Ottolenghi & Tamimi's JERUSALEM as both Israeli and Palestinian, as well as speaking to the other regional influences on the food of that city. Is Zahav similarly focused or more narrow?

    1. You are right -- Jerusalem is not just Israeli food and Zahav is, with some Bulgarian elements thrown in. I didn't even think about that, I was thinking more vaguely of the eggplant/pomegranate/hummus/baklava profile of the dishes.

  2. I have to say that the meals like this one, which cause controversy and snarky comments from unappreciative family members and leave you eating delicious leftovers all alone, do make for exciting blog posts. That probably says a lot more about me than it does about you. For what it's worth, my own family dynamic is a lot like this. My spouse doesn't actively prefer processed food, but he only appreciates about four different flavor combinations. Maybe three, now that I think about it. He'd really just like to eat a big slab of greasy meat for every meal, with some spongy white bread or French fries. Okay, I'm depressing myself.

    I have "Zahav" on hold at the library now and may just make the damn soup (with your modifications) for myself, skipping the whole "what IS this?" and the classic "I guess I'm not just hungry now. [ten minutes later, a plaintive cry is heard: 'can you make me some macaroni and cheese from the box?']".

    1. I have a library copy of Zahav as well -- I wonder what it would take to convince me to buy a book after spending time with a library copy.

    2. Nowadays, I won't buy a cookbook until I've given it a test run from the library. If I make at least three recipes I really want to make again and I like the book's voice, then I head for the bookshop.

    3. I'm with Rita, and it takes a lot for me to find three repeatable recipes, as demonstrated by the fact that the last cookbook I actually bought after having it out from the library was Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table.

  3. I must say that my idea of heaven is on pp 80-81 of his book: a table laid with many and varied salads and dips. I could eat that way daily. I am really excited to try his Beets with Tahina. And Boreka! I see that the challenge of his recipes might be their extreme simplicity -- the details will really matter, as will salt. Did you hear the interview with him on Fresh Air? It's worth a listen.

  4. I was pleased as punch to get Zahav for my birthday. We made laffa, pita, charred eggplant salad, and Bulgarian kebabs to celebrate the end of winter break. There were a few hiccups, like having to switch out the dough hook for the paddle and then back again. I had to Macgyver a last minute za'atar using sumac and zhoug (thanks Trader Joe's Spice Route tower). My husband couldn't keep the kebab torpedoes on our metal skewers so we ended up running them under the broiler. Best meal we've had in weeks! So much fun to make. Whenever I have a library cookbook with numerous holds that I don't want to buy but still want to cook from, I color photocopy the cover and all of the recipes that I've sticky-noted and gather them all together with a big old binder clip. No stress. No hassle.

  5. I got both Honey & Co. books from the library .. one is a baking book. It's Israeli/Arab, authors from Israel, have a restaurant, Honey & Co. in London. I loved reading through these books; take a look.

    1. I'm reading NOPI and see that one of their head chefs left to start Honey & co

  6. I am sorry you had a fail, Jennifer, but I am glad you turned it into a save. You really should learn to listen to your gut while in the kitchen. Goodness knows, you certainly have enough experience to do so! I often do the same thing, and I usually regret it.

  7. I'd rather spend my $$$ buying obscure ingredients (like stupid fermented garlic) that take forever to locate (I hate buying online) that I prob will never remember to use again in anything else. There are lots of ways to save the recipies if you can't find it on Google... I just keep getting books from library. It's the story I prefer to the recipie anyway. The thing your making hardly ever turns out anyway...too many factors to ever really duplicate

  8. here's my current hold list at the library...just to warn you, it's kinda long
    *Make ahead meals, Michael Smith
    *The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook, Rosanna Pansino (my 8 yr old gdaughter is crazy about this girl and watches her videos and tries to duplicate the videos and the crazy stuff she cooks...if you could call it cooking) You should really get this book and watch her videos.
    *The perfect egg, Teri Lyn Fisher
    *The sprouted kitchen bowl + spoon, Sara Forte (for my hippie daughter)
    *The vitamix cookbook, Jodi Berg (again, for my hippie daughter)
    *Food52 genius recipes, Kristen Miglore (2nd time reserved,didn't get chance to read it before due)
    *The fire of peru, Ricardo Zarate
    *My first french bakery, Barbara Beery
    *Saveur italian comford food,
    *The space hero cookbook, Barbara Beery..this one sounds interesting
    *The indian family kitchen, Anjali Pathak
    *My kitchen in rome. Rachel Roddy....I had to request they purchase this one. Hope it's good
    *Phoenix Claws and jade trees, Kian Lam Kho
    *The nourished kitchen, Jennifer McGruther,
    *A taste of haida gwaii, Susan Musgrave...this one promised to be good from radio interview and I love the author life story anyway. So it's bound to be a good read.
    *Everyone is Italian on sunday, rachel ray...I don't know why it's an interesting title that got me. Dont hold any hope for this one really.I might have to cover it in plain brown paper to read it in public
    *Ferment your vegetables, Amanda Feifer.
    *Zahav, you already know about
    *The violet bakery cookbook, you already know about too
    *The hands-on home, Erica Strauss, for my hippie daughter
    *The food lab, J, Kenji Lopez
    *3 times a day, Marilou
    *Good and Cheap, Leanne Brown, for my hippie daughter (thats too lazy to go to the libary)
    ....and there are 18 cookbooks sitting on the shelf next to me and prob three more in a bag in the van that I picked up from library since before xmas. I need a good murder mystery I think instead.

    1. My library only has six of those titles. Lucky you!

  9. So I'm late to the party, as usual, but as a Jew, feel it perfectly okay for you cook these foods. We should be happy you want to! Re: Ottologenhi...much as I appreciate the man, his recipes are so incredibly busy that they've never truly grabbed me. Maybe his truly is "boyfood", if such a thing can be said to exist.

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