Salad. For most of us, it's a midday ritual to eat one quietly at our desks. Sometimes it's part of a luxurious dinner like the great wedge salads of steakhouse lore.
But bowls of raw veggies rarely grace our tables at breakfast—even for the most die-hard salad fans among us. That's not the case in Israel, where salad has long been the main breakfast event, explains acclaimed Israeli American chef Michael Solomonov of Philadelphia's Zahav.
Michael Solomonov and his new cookbook | Photo: Michael Persico
The tradition started in British Palestine, when pioneers living on communal farms, or kibbutzim, woke early to work in the fields, breaking for a large midmorning meal of salads made from the vegetables they harvested: tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, eggplant and peppers. "Everyone was in agriculture, and vegetables were cheap, so why not?" Solomonov says.
Today a typical breakfast in Israel is more likely to be a quick bowl of cereal, but the salad recipes have lived on, becoming the hallmark of Israeli brunch. Tables at Tel Aviv's coolest outdoor cafés are lined on Friday morning—when the weekend starts there—with bowls of chopped fresh tomato and cucumber dressed with zippy lemon and za'atar dressing, spicy Moroccan carrot salad, shredded green and purple cabbage tossed with tahini, and bowls of fresh hummus and pita.
Solomonov dedicates an entire chapter to salads in his excellent new book, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking ($35), in which he generously shares his restaurant's most beloved dishes (there are seven hummus recipes) and his knowledge of Israeli food with solid explainers on tehina, mezze traditions and more. Solomonov's narrative is deeply personal, recalling, among other stories, his grandmother's cooking and a feast of salads eaten with his father at Busi, a restaurant in Tel Aviv.
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The book's recipes—like the dishes at Zahav—also reflect where Solomonov lives and bend to highlight produce grown on the East Coast. "It doesn't pay for us to serve tomatoes and cucumbers other than in the summer," he writes. So he swaps tomatoes for mango in a traditional Israeli salad and makes a few other creative accommodations. Perhaps the best is in his crunchy and fruity kale, walnut, pomegranate and apple tabbouleh (see the recipe), where the walnuts stand in for bulgur. Though it would be delicious for dinner, we, like Solomonov, prefer it for breakfast, served with fresh feta sprinkled with za'atar and pita or a hunk of good bread.
"You'd never find [the salad] in Israel, but it still seems authentic. We do what the Israelis do—adapt to our surroundings using tradition as our guide," Solomonov explains.
"You won't find all of the dishes in this book at a single restaurant in Israel," the chef explains. "Together, though, they make an impression of cuisine that is evolving even as I write this."
Just like we're about to evolve our breakfast spread.
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