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Israeli Soul: Easy, Essential, Delicious by Michael Solomonov , Steven Cook, Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, US $35.00 , Pp 384, October 2018, ISBN 978-0544970373

There is a common misconception that Israeli food equals Middle Eastern food. Although they overlap, this is a vast oversimplification that obscures the remarkable story of the Israeli cuisine. The soul of Israeli cuisine lies in the journey these foods have taken to the ends of the earth and back, to be woven together in a nascent culture that is both ancient and modern. In Israeli Soul, Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook say that it is not just the food of pre-Mandate Palestine, a cuisine that was already familiar to the Jews of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Nor is it simply the collected recipes of European, Balkan, and North African Jews returning to their ancestral homeland. For two millennia, Jews have been wandering the earth, embracing the cultures and cuisines of their local hosts, adapting them to their religious and dietary need, and transmitting the results at each stop along the way.

The establishment of Israel in 1948 created a repository for all of these traditions — and a place for them to evolve in strange and wonderful ways. Like America, Israel is also a country of immigrants. The vast majority of Israelis are only a few generations removed from a completely different life, in a completely different place. Food is a bridge that connects them to their heritage — and to each other.

Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook say that, for them, Israeli soul is ‘Sabich,’ the now classic sandwich of fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs, and the mango pickle amba that developed in Israel from the Sabbat breakfast traditions of Iraqi Jews. It is rugelach, the Ashkenazi pastry, here treated to the Arabic practice of saturating pastries in syrup. It is borekas. The stuffed savory pastries whose flaky dough made its way from Spain, through the Ottoman Empire to Bulgaria, and finally to Israel, where they are now a national obsession. Falafel, fried balls of ground chickpeas, maybe the unofficial national dish of Israel, but it didn’t originate there. There are several ways to make falafel like ‘Goldie Falafel.’ Pita bread is the popular bread that gives you portability and the epiphany of the perfect bite. There are other breads as well such as Druze Mountain Bread. The beauty of shawarma is that it bastes itself in its own fat and juices as it slowly turns in front of the fire. ‘Lamb Shoulder Shawarma” will bring water to your mouth.

The appeal of the Jerusalem mixed grill sandwich increases as the night wears on. Solomonov and Cook write, “This dish has become a metaphor for every Israeli household, which is a mixed grill of nationalities.” Schnitzel was one of the first foods that Jews brought to Palestine when they began arriving at the turn of the twentieth century, and over time it has become something of a national dish. Veal was their reference point for the early German Jews. However, chicken and turkey are also frequently used. Then there are lots and lots of salads, soups, and hummus.

Israeli Soul is an awe-inspiring cookbook that takes its readers on a culinary journey in search of the origins of Israeli/ Jewish cuisine that is known as the Israeli soul. The recipes are genuine Israeli/ Jewish recipes, evolved over the centuries. Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook give a detailed historical introduction to Israeli/Jewish cuisine and explain step-by-step how to cook these dishes. You are likely to fall in love with the beautiful book as well as the cuisine if you are trying the Israeli/Jewish cuisine for the first time. This is a beautifully-manufactured book that should not only be in your kitchen but also in the living area.

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