Michael Solomonov can't deny that the United States has its fair share of exceptional chefs. He is, after all, one of them: The Israel-born chef, perhaps best known for his landmark modern Israeli restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia, has won four James Beard Awards, including for Outstanding Chef and Cookbook of the Year. But sporadic trips back to Israel remind him that some of the best undiscovered cooking is happening there.
"You go to Israel, you sit down, and without someone even taking your order, they bring over like a million different salads, all the meat cooked on sticks, fresh laffa bread…," says Solomonov. "The most exciting food happens there without people trying to win awards or even be famous chefs; it's just in its natural habitat."
Though raised in Pittsburgh, Solomonov has remained dedicated to showcasing Israeli cooking. He has published three cookbooks and currently manages six dining concepts in the City of Brotherly Love, including a donut shop and a hummus stall, under the CookNSolo restaurant group, with his business partner and "brother" Steve Cook.
"I'm trying to show the best parts of Israel—the parts that I love, the cultures that I love, and really focus on commonality," says Solomonov.
For Passover, he offers two recipes that fit this bill. The main dish is mina (the Ladino word for “pie”), which incorporates rich flavors like cardamom and coffee. "Being able to take matzo [the crisp, unleavened bread traditional for Passover], soak it and use it as a crust with smoky ground beef is awesome; it is just like a savory meat pie."
The best course of action when handling the matzo is to use a clean towel. After the matzo soaks, it can be wrapped in the towel and placed to rest briefly so that it's pliable later on, suggests Solomonov. "But the biggest tip is just to relax and chill and understand that if it gets screwed up, a sheet of matzo costs like nothing, maybe like 10 cents, so don't sweat it, you know?" he adds.
Beet salad acts as the perfect side or garnish for the mina. "Beets are obviously very vegetal; it's nice to have a little fiber in there," says Solomonov. "A little dollop of that on top is just the best—it's sweet, it's sour and sort of spicy-heavy."
Because Solomonov frequently leans on the extended team he calls "talented, passionate, hardworking and a little bit crazy," it was a no-brainer to call upon Zahav general manager Okan Yazici to help with the wine pairings for this Passover menu.
For the mina, Yazici suggests the 2013 Recanati Merlot Galilee Manara Vineyard Reserve, which the Zahav team calls a great Merlot for Cabernet drinkers (as it's 15 percent Cabernet). "Rich, opulent fruit gives way to hints of black olives, star anise and beautifully structured tannins," Yazici says. "It perfectly matches up with the diverse array of flavors in the mina."
If you're planning to prepare the beet salad by itself or to complement another dish, Yazici recommends pairing it with the 2017 Dalton Viognier Galilee Reserve. "The subtle richness of the wine accentuates the earthy sweetness of the beets, while the acidity and mineral backbone play off the piquancy of the horseradish vinaigrette," says Yazici.
Below, Wine Spectator shares recently rated selections of kosher wines that are similar in weight and flavor profile.
Solomonov isn't through exploring the complexities of Israeli cuisine. He's opening a new Israeli bakery and cafe, called K'Far, in Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square this June. "I think every time we open a restaurant, we always say this will be the last one…a year later we're opening another," he says. We'll be sure to stay tuned.
Reprinted with permission from ZAHAV Copyright © 2015 by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook.
For the charoset (topping)
For the mina
1. For the charoset: Combine the carrots, apple, walnuts, cilantro, horseradish, raisins, vinegar and salt in a medium bowl. Toss to combine. Set aside.
2. For the mina: Preheat the oven to 400° F. Brush the bottom of a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or a baking dish with oil.
3. Heat the 1 tablespoon oil in another large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and cook, stirring to break up the meat, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, garlic and salt, and continue cooking until the vegetables have softened but not browned, 5 to 8 minutes more. Add the coffee and cardamom, and stir to combine.
4. Soak the matzo in warm water until pliable, about 1 minute. Line the bottom of the oiled cast-iron skillet with the matzo, breaking up the pieces as needed to completely cover the bottom and sides of the skillet. Spoon the beef mixture over the bottom and cover the top with more matzo, pressing at the edges to seal. Brush with the beaten egg and bake until the mina is golden-brown and crisp, about 30 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes.
5. Invert the mina onto a serving platter. Slice into wedges and serve topped with the charoset. Serves 6.
Reprinted with permission from Israeli Soul Copyright © 2018 by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook.
1. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Scrub beets; remove the greens. Layer kosher salt in a small baking dish. Place the beets on the salt and cover the dish tightly with foil. Bake until fork-tender, about 1 hour. Remove the beets from the oven, let cool, peel with paper towels and shred on the coarse holes of a box grater. Transfer to a bowl.
2. Process peeled, chopped fresh horseradish, white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, salt and sugar in a food processor until smooth. Add this mixture to the beets, cover and marinate overnight at room temperature.
3. The next day, drain the beets in a colander set over a bowl. Reserve the horseradish-beet vinegar to pickle turnips or use in vinaigrette. Toss the marinated beets with olive oil, Dijon mustard, minced shallot, and chopped fresh dill and parsley. Scatter more grated horseradish on top. Serves 4.
Note: The following lists are selections of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More options can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.
GOLAN HEIGHTS WINERY Chardonnay Galilee Yarden Katzrin 2016
Spicy aromatics yield to rich but fresh flavors of apple compote, honey cream and poached pear in the medium-to full-bodied white. Hints of vanilla, clove, mineral and floral dovetail onto the lengthy finish. Kosher. Drink now through 2020. 1,693 cases made.
COVENANT Chardonnay Sonoma Mountain Lavan 2015
Well-structured, with concentrated apple, pear and melon flavors that are long and rich-tasting. Plush and spicy on the juicy finish. Kosher. Drink now through 2022. 250 cases made.
COVENANT Roussanne Lodi Mensch 2017
Succulent mango, apricot and peach flavors are restrained by a firm and juicy frame. An appealing whiff of dried pineapple lingers on the finish. Kosher. Drink now. 250 cases made.
GOLAN HEIGHTS WINERY Chardonnay Galilee Yarden 2016
A broad, medium-bodied white, boasting glazed pear, citronella, and honey cream flavors, edged with mineral elements. Almond paste, floral and baking spice details mark the finish. Kosher. Drink now through 2020. 10,930 cases made.
GOLAN HEIGHTS WINERY Chardonnay Galilee Yarden Odem Vineyard 2015
Supple and aromatic in profile, with lemon oil, peach cream and floral notes cast together with baking spice and buttery undertones. The finish is spicy. Kosher. Drink now through 2019. 3,728 cases made.
GOLAN HEIGHTS WINERY Cabernet Sauvignon Galilee Yarden 2014
A sinewy, full-bodied red, with balsamic acidity gliding through the black olive, currant and eucalyptus flavors. Spice, mineral and leather details gain traction into the long finish. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Kosher. Drink now through 2023. 23,486 cases made.
GALIL MOUNTAIN Yiron Galilee 2014
Plush tannins structure this plump, full-bodied red, filled with cherry compote, plum pudding, Kalamata olive and licorice flavors. Details of currant, loamy earth and herb echo on the spicy finish. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot. Kosher. Drink now through 2021. 12,031 cases made.
GOLAN HEIGHTS WINERY Syrah Galilee Yarden 2014
Ripe cherry and raspberry coulis flavors have a floral edge in this supple, full-bodied red, infused with spice, licorice and hints of mineral on the plush finish. Moderate tannins. Kosher. Drink now through 2023. 4,196 cases made.
RECANATI Cabernet Sauvignon Galilee 2017
A peppery, supple red, with earthy undertones to the currant and black cherry fruit. Spice and charred herb elements mark the moderately tannic finish. Kosher. Drink now through 2020. 12,500 cases made.
RECANATI Merlot Galilee 2017
A toasty red, featuring a smoky spine that lingers through the dried cherry, brown bread and espresso flavors. Solid acidity and moderate tannins offer good structure, with herb and mineral notes detailing the finish. Kosher. Drink now through 2022. 8,000 cases made.