Chef Michael Solomonov
Chef Michael Solomonov

Michael Solomonov

F&W Star Chef » See All F&W Chef Superstars Restaurants: Zahav, Federal Donuts, Percy Street Barbecue (Philadelphia) Experience: Striped Bass, Vetri, Marigold Kitchen, Xochitl (Philadelphia) Education: Florida Culinary Institute (West Palm Beach, FL) What dish are you most famous for? Everyone at Zahav orders hummus; it gets the guests fired up to share food and taste lots of different things. The Israeli version is really all about the tahini, which we make using organic sesame seeds. It makes for a lighter, less pasty hummus, which we season with salt, cumin, garlic and lemon. We serve that at room temperature with laffa bread that we bake to order in a wood-burning oven. What two dishes really tell us your story as a chef? At Marigold Kitchen I did a dish that was a bit of a signature: It was sweetbreads wrapped in chicken skin and seared, served with tahini and sumac. It had a Chicken McNugget thing going on, but it was really refined and tight with that interesting Israeli spicing. And at Zahav we do a smoked and braised lamb shoulder with pomegranate juice. I first made it at a Passover Seder for my family in the restaurant before it opened, while it was still under construction. We serve it with a big pot of Persian rice, which has that nice crust on the bottom. What was the first dish you ever cooked yourself? I remember making French onion soup for myself in college and being shocked that it took so long to caramelize onions. It was such a physical process, so it made the final product that much more gratifying. What is one cooking technique that everyone should know? The ability to salt is the most important thing. A cook needs to understand that one needs a certain amount of salt to make something taste like what it is. It's not just about making something taste zesty—salt draws out the character of the ingredients. Is there a culinary skill or type of dish that you wish you were better at? My ice cream quenelles are pretty terrible, I wish I could form them a little bit better. I lose my patience. Good wrist action is what it takes. The temperature of the product is super-important, as is being careful not to take too much in the spoon. My quenelles are always too big. What is your secret-weapon ingredient? La Boîte á Epice spice blends are used in everything we do. The blender, Lior Lev Sercarz, is a pretty interesting guy. He happens to be Israeli, so I can ask him for things that most people have never heard of. He makes hawaij for us, which is a Yemenite spice blend made with cumin, black pepper and turmeric. We also use his mishmish made with crystallized honey, saffron and lemon, and the shabazi with green chiles, parsley and coriander. What ingredient will people be talking about in five years? I'd like to say carob molasses. It's made with stewed carob pods, it's delicious and it's fun to work with. We use it with things like foie gras and lamb, but it works well with root vegetables and creamy desserts, too. What is the most cherished souvenir you've brought back from a trip? I was eating at a restaurant in Nazareth, and I spotted their meat grinder, which was fitted with this cylindrical attachment that would create a kind of meat shell. So you make kibbe in the grinder and it comes out shaped like a hollow pipe that you can stuff with other ingredients. I bought it right there and then at the restaurant, and back in Philadelphia I had a metal worker refabricate it for us. If you could invest in a dream project, what would it be? I think a falafel shop on the beach would be pretty fun. Good falafel shops are really minimal—there’s not a lot of nonsense. We'd have fresh falafel balls and great breads and salads, and it would only be open a few hours a day so I could surf the rest of the time. What is your current food obsession? Hand-pulled noodles. They are delicious, inexpensive and really consistent. I live 10 blocks from Chinatown so I can walk there. I like this place Nan Zhou in Philly, the noodles are really well made there. What is your favorite snack? Triscuits and cheddar cheese are my numero uno. Have you ever analyzed the shape of a Triscuit? I feel like they are woven by elves, or made by a group of tiny people living in a tree or something. I do not understand how they are made, but they are perfect crackers. What is your favorite cookbook of all time?The Provence of Alain Ducasse. I like it because it is really personal. He discusses individuals—you meet the guy that makes the best pastis or the best olive oil—and you really feel like you are on this trip with him. It's one of those books that actually makes you hungry. What are your talents besides cooking? I like to snowboard a lot. And I am pretty good at origami. I can do a 3D 12-pointed star, using only one square piece of paper and no cuts.
Michael Solomonov, chef at Zahav in Philadelphia, and Reem Kassis, author of The Palestinian Table, formed an unlikely friendship around their shared, though much disputed, food heritage. They both love this knafeh, a sweet, cheese-filled dessert, encased in shredded phyllo pastry (kataifi) and soaked in a fragrant syrup laced with rose and orange blossom.
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Michael Solomonov, chef at Zahav in Philadelphia, serves this brilliant riff on baba ghanoush at the restaurant, but it is easy enough to recreate at home. After a whirl in the food processor, brussels sprouts and tahini come together to form a creamy dip. Solomonov serves it topped with more roasted brussels sprouts and hazelnuts and with warm pita, for dipping.
Yemenite Short Ribs
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An essential ingredient in Yemenite cooking, hawaij is a blend of spices often used to flavor soups and stews. A variation of the blend, spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger, is used to flavor coffee. Here, star chef Michael Solomonov combines turmeric, black pepper, and cumin for a simple but robust blend that wholly complements lucious beef short ribs.
Bourekas are crisp, savory little parcels filled with anything from vegetables and cheese to ground meat. Inspired by his grandmother’s recipe, Michael Solomonov’s version is stuffed with sweet potato, Bulgarian feta, dill, and olives. At Zahav, Solomonov prepares them with housemade laminated dough, but this recipe calls for prepared puff pastry, which makes it easy to make at home.
This light yet hearty, healthy soup from Philadelphia chef Michael Solomonov gets extra flavor from charred onion and warm, sweet spices like ginger and cinnamon.    Slideshow:  More Warming Soup Recipes 
Rooster Soup Co. Broth
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In spring, Philadelphia star chef Michael Solomonov is launching Rooster Soup Co., where he’ll be making this broth with all of the chicken trimmings from his über-successful fried-chicken-and-doughnuts franchise, Federal Donuts. The broth will be the basis for all the soups the luncheonette will serve, and profits will be turned over to a local organization that helps the homeless. Slideshow:  More Warming Soup Recipes 
Never one to waste a thing, Philadelphia chef Michael Solomonov pickles sliced fingerlings in leftover pickle brine so they’re flavor-packed through and through before frying them. Slideshow: More Potato Recipes 
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Cauliflower-Heart Pickles
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At his Philadelphia restaurant Zahav, chef Michael Solomonov goes through about 250 heads of cauliflower a week. Not one to waste a thing, he pickles the cores (or hearts) and serves them as an appetizer. Slideshow: More Vegetarian Recipes 
Yemenite Flatbreads
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To create the layered flatbread called mahlouach, Michael Solomonov relies on a technique similar to one used to make puff pastry: He brushes the dough with butter and folds it repeatedly before rolling it out into rounds. To bolster the flavor, he sears the dough in his restaurant's superhot taboon, a wood-burning oven. The bread is also delicious grilled.
Never one to waste a thing, Philadelphia chef Michael Solomonov pickles sliced fingerlings in leftover pickle brine so they’re flavor-packed through and through before frying them. Slideshow: More Potato Recipes 
Cauliflower-Heart Pickles
Rating: Unrated
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At his Philadelphia restaurant Zahav, chef Michael Solomonov goes through about 250 heads of cauliflower a week. Not one to waste a thing, he pickles the cores (or hearts) and serves them as an appetizer. Slideshow: More Vegetarian Recipes 
Yemenite Flatbreads
Rating: Unrated
New!
To create the layered flatbread called mahlouach, Michael Solomonov relies on a technique similar to one used to make puff pastry: He brushes the dough with butter and folds it repeatedly before rolling it out into rounds. To bolster the flavor, he sears the dough in his restaurant's superhot taboon, a wood-burning oven. The bread is also delicious grilled.
Called shakshuka, this dish of poached eggs set in a hearty paprika-scented stew is deliciously messy. To give his stew an exotic kick, Michael Solomonov adds harissa, a Tunisian red-chile-pepper paste. More Middle Eastern Recipes
Eggplant is ubiquitous in Israel. In one of Michael Solomonov's favorite dishes, the vegetable is first fried, then pickled in a piquant dressing of both lemon juice and sherry vinegar. The tangy result is an excellent side dish with lamb or veal. More Eggplant Recipes
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Schmaltzy Pâté
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Michael Solomonov follows some kosher guidelines at Zahav and doesn't mix dairy with meat. To make his chopped chicken liver as luxurious as pâté, he adds schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) to chicken livers for richness instead of butter or cream, then passes the result through a sieve to make it ultrasmooth. Slideshow: Chicken Liver Recipes Recipe from Food & Wine America's Greatest New Cooks 
Treating Israeli couscous like risotto, Michael Solomonov simmers the pearl-shaped grains in a tomato sauce until they become rich and creamy. The side is incredibly tasty with the salmon marinated in charmoula, a tangy cilantro-based Moroccan sauce.
Pumpkin Soup with Fideos
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This soup is based on a Sephardic (Spanish-Jewish) recipe. Though the dish is vegetarian, cooking the pumpkin with cinnamon and cloves gives the broth an “implied meatiness,” says Michael Solomonov. Toasted fideos (noodles) help thicken the soup and make it even more substantial. Slideshow: More Vegetarian SoupsRecipe from Food & Wine America's Greatest New Cooks 
“I like to karate-chop diners with something different at the end of the meal,” Michael Solomonov says. He does that with this cool dessert of rose-scented rhubarb and honeydew melon granita topped with creamy lebneh (a soft, yogurt-like fresh cheese) and crunchy candied pistachios. Slideshow: Great Granita RecipesRecipe from Food & Wine America's Greatest New Cooks 
For his twist on the Middle Eastern salad called tabbouleh, Michael Solomonov pickles crunchy green tomatoes instead of using the usual fresh red ones. Also atypical are the walnuts, which add extra crunch and an appealing toasty flavor. Slideshow: Must-Try Middle Eastern RecipesRecipe from Food & Wine America's Greatest New Cooks 
Middle Eastern Lamb Skewers
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Chef Michael Solomonov of Zahav in Philadelphia adds onion juice or pureed onions to his Middle Eastern–style marinades to tenderize and caramelize the meat. The marinade is great on chicken breast as well as lamb.Plus: 20 Smart Tips for Everyday Grilling More Kebab Recipes
Lemony Grilled Chicken Kebabs
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These traditional Israeli shishlik, or chicken shish kebabs, draw their sharp lemony flavors from a few hours' marinating. In Israel, the kebabs are traditionally cooked directly over extremely hot coals, rather than on a grill. According to Michael Solomonov, the open-coal technique makes the meat that much juicier. Amazing Chicken Recipes
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Michael Solomonov was born in Ganei Yehuda, Israel, where this frothy lemon nana, flavored with mint and lemon verbena, is a popular cooler. You don't have to serve it as a slushie; just froth the herb-infused lemonade in the blender before pouring it over ice.
Before opening Zahav restaurant in Philadelphia, chef Michael Solomonov visited hummus parlors all over Israel trying to find the best recipe. "Hummus is the hardest thing to get right," he says. "It has to be rich, creamy and mildly nutty." To make his hummus luxuriously smooth, he soaks the chickpeas overnight with baking soda to soften them. While Americans now flavor hummus with everything from pureed red peppers to fresh herbs, Solomonov says among the fanciest garnishes you can find in Israel are whole chickpeas, paprika and lemon-spiked tahini, used for hummus masabacha. More Party Dips
Michael Solomonov makes his signature hummus at Zahav with an unusually generous amount of tahini—something that distinguishes the hummus of his native Israel from that of other Middle Eastern countries. He tops the dish with warm chickpeas fried with jalapeño, cumin and crushed Aleppo pepper. Slideshow: Terrific Party DipsRecipe from Food & Wine America's Greatest New Cooks 
Michael Solomonov flavors the warm potato-and-egg salad here with a red wine vinaigrette, then spices it with za’atar, a Middle Eastern blend of sesame seeds, herbs and sumac. Slideshow: Incredible Potato SaladsRecipe from Food & Wine America's Greatest New Cooks 
Michael Solomonov marinates smoky, grilled tomatoes in olive oil with mint and red onions. The result is a fabulous make-ahead dish that can be prepared year-round with firm tomatoes. It's wonderful with the crumbled feta over a bed of greens, alongside steak or simply with crusty bread. Recipe from Food & Wine America's Greatest New Cooks 
These white beans here are simmered with whole cloves and cinnamon sticks, two spices that reflect the North African influence on Israeli cuisine. The slightly lemony dish is perfect with rich braised meats like veal shoulder. Delicious, Quick Side Dishes
Michael Solomonov braises lamb shanks with sweet date molasses until the meat is tender, then adds tangy rhubarb to the sauce. The dish can also be prepared with tart fruits like quince or crabapples when rhubarb isn’t in season. Slideshow: Great Braising RecipesRecipe from Food & Wine America's Greatest New Cooks