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Chef Michael Solomonov shares the food of his much acclaimed flagship Philadelphia restaurant in his first cookbook, Zahav. Though the book and the restaurant share the same name, this is not a glossy tome of “tackle this if you dare” cuisine. Zahav is an exploration of what Solomonov grew up eating and what he loves. Images include an overflowing dining room table (Israeli food is inherently family-style), an outdoor spice market, and old family photos—no sterile plated creations here.

Just defining Israeli food is a considerable challenge: the influences on this New Jersey-sized country are so many and so varied, from Eastern European matzo balls to Persian rice to Bulgarian Burekas. Solomonov is a passionate teacher and guide. An entire chapter is devoted to tahina (the Hebrew pronunciation of the ground sesame paste). Yes, you’ll find a recipe for the hummus that will change your life. You’ll also learn how sesame seeds grow, the story of his favorite suppliers, and more ways to top the stuff than you could ever imagine.

Chapters are divided by dish type, each set off by a full-page spread of the dishes to come: a visual index of sorts that’s both gorgeous and user friendly. The hummus was complex, but easy to do with Solomonov’s careful yet high-spirited instruction. The result? Almost impossibly smooth, and so delicious.

To understand this food—intensely colorful, bright salads, deeply char-grilled vegetables and meats, and the tahina, oh the tahina—you have to read, and you have to cook. Then share with friends and family. It’s the Israeli way.

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