Ottolenghi was just the first sign. Google the name Yotam Ottolenghi or his London restaurant Nopi or his four eponymous delis and you also get eight cookbooks, three television shows and more articles in the food press than you can shake a pita bread at. Collectively, this empire gives a glimpse on what could be the Next Big Thing in global cuisine: Israeli food.
Now comes news that another big name in the field, Michael Solomonov, is set to move beyond his eight-year-old Philadelphia restaurant Zahav, with a variety of new Israeli-cuisine projects. There is already a cookbook, and a “hummusiya,” called Disengoff, that serves a rotating array of Israeli-style hummus ranging from traditional tehina to mushroom, black eyed pea, carrot, chicken, and even lamb pistachio, along with housemade pita and Israeli pickles and salads. Sundays see the addition of shakshuka, which amounts to the Israeli national breakfast.
Along with business partner Steven Cook, Solomonov will bring Disengoff to and its many kinds of hummus to Manhattan’s Chelsea Market food hall, introducing a much broader audience to this versatile and widely popular food. (The two men also operate the more mainstream Federal Donuts, with five units in the City of Brotherly Love, under the CookNSolo restaurant umbrella.)
It’s not hard to see why Israeli cuisine is poised for takeoff. Like Mediterranean food, the cooking of Israel is healthy, vegetable-forward, and bright with the flavors of a sunny, warm climate. It’s also multicultural and getting more so, as settlers of different ethnicities continue to arrive in Israel, adding to a mix that already reflects its German, Russian, Balkan and North African heritage.
And despite its exoticism, the cuisine is relatively simple and approachable, emphasizing items like the “small plates” called mezze (many of them salads and dips), grilled meats, rice dishes, savory pastries, and both Ashkenazi and Sephardic specialties such as gefilte fish, couscous and stuffed vegetables.
In addition to the hummus, falafel, kebabs and kibbeh (ground meat mixed with bulgur wheat and mint) that are popular throughout the Middle East, there are several Israeli dishes that seem especially appropriate to today’s global food trends.
Baba ghanoush – smoky grilled eggplant, mixed into a spread with lemon juice, garlic and tahini (sesame paste)
Borekas (a.k.a. burekas, bourekas) – a family of baked, triangular phyllo pastries stuffed with any number of fillings
Israeli Salad – chopped cucumbers, onions, tomatoes and parsley dressed with lemon juice, olive oil garlic and mint
Labneh – thickened yogurt that can be eaten as is, with olive oil and the spice mix known as za’atar, or mixed with other ingredients, such as crushed almonds or dukkah (coriander, cumin, and sesame seeds with hazelnuts)
Majadara – rice and lentil pilaf
Malawach – Yemenite fried bread similar to a thick pancake
The real excitement, however, is the kind of creative and elevated fare that chefs like Ottolenghi and Solomonov are doing, showcasing the delicious ingredients of Israel and other Middle Eastern areas. These include fruits and vegetables like figs, pomegranates, citrus, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes; beans and legumes; chicken and lamb; bulgur and other grains as well as couscous; and flavorings such as olives and olive oil, honey, ginger, sumac, garlic, saffron, fresh herbs, exotic spice blends and more. With a pantry like this, there’s no end to what could happen next.
For more information on Israeli ingredients, check out this article by Michael Solomonov.
Blog, food trends, restaurant trends