Like most of us, award-winning chef Michael Solomonov has been cooking at home a lot over the past year, much more than he would normally find himself doing as an owner of multiple restaurants.
And unlike most years, he was not able to travel to Israel (from his current home in Philadelphia, USA) to visit the people, places and land that he loves. “It’s that thing we all have when we get off the airplane. That visceral relationship to a place. More than the food, my friends, or my family there, I am missing that feeling like you are in the right place.”
As a result of this time at home cooking, and missing Israel, Solomonov decided to launch a new web series, which features pre-recorded interviews with prominent Israeli chefs and personalities, and showcases Solomonov cooking in his home kitchen.
Solomonov shared: “It’s my mission in life to explore and advocate for Israel through food. This program was something I had to do. It’s the positive result of quarantine – having to be creative and resilient. And it wouldn’t have happened under any other circumstances than finding yourself at home and needing different ways to connect. I can introduce these Israelis to a new audience in the US.”
What has Solomonov been cooking at home? While the rest of us whip up banana bread, sourdough, and scallion pancakes, Solomonov has focused on some of his own favourites like his mother’s honey cake, schnitzel (because it goes with everything!), plov (or pilaf), and big batches of chopped salad with homemade tahini dressing made with lots of garlic, avocado, parsley, dill and chives.
The biggest mistake most home cooks make? Not seasoning food enough. Solomonov explained: “It’s not just about adding salt at the end. Add seasoning – salt, pepper and acid – all the way throughout the cooking process. Add seasoning in stages to develop the flavour, not just at the end.” He has also been cooking for his two kids a ton, just like the rest of us. He adds truffles to tomato sauce and pasta for a sneaky upgrade, and puts grated carrot into rice pilaf to get in some extra veggies.
Four crucial tips for the best homemade pita bread
- Make sure your oven is SUPER hot.
- Stop opening your oven, which cools down the temperature and slows baking.
- Taking a cue from his friend and food writer Adeena Sussman, he suggests baking the pita on top of an upside down cast iron pan.
- Allow your pita to do three rises: make the dough, rise; divide into balls, rise; roll out the pita and allow to rest and rise for 10 minutes one last time before popping into the oven.
Michael Solomonov’s carrot pilaf
Instead of stock or water, the rice in this pilaf is cooked in carrot juice for amped-up carrot flavour. This, in addition to a pinch of saffron, is responsible for the pilaf’s golden hue.
2 cups jasmine rice
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1⁄2 cup sliced onion
1⁄2 cup grated carrot
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups carrot juice
pinch of saffron
pinch of cayenne
Make ahead: Cover the rice with water by several inches in a bowl and add a pinch of salt. Let soak for at least 1 hour or up to overnight. Drain well.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Warm the oil in a large ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and garlic.
Season with a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften but not brown, about 8 minutes.
Add the rice and cook, stirring, until the rice is evenly coated and begins to lightly
toast, about 3 minutes more. Add the carrot juice, saffron, and cayenne.
Raise the heat to high, then lower to a simmer. Stir with a fork once or twice, add 1 tsp salt, cover, and transfer to the oven.
Bake until the rice is cooked through, 15-20 minutes. Let it stand off the heat, covered, for 20 minutes before fluffing with a fork and serving.
Michael Solomonov’s web series, Bringing Israel Home, is now available on demand. Visit vimeo.com/showcase/bringingisraelhome
Shannon Sarna is the editor of The Nosher, www.myjewishlearning.com/the-nosher