MY FAVORITE PEOPLE, MY FAVORITE RECIPES: Michael Solomonov
My Favorite People, My Favorite Recipes proudly welcomes Michael Solomonov, winner of this year’s James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef. At the Miami opening of Dizengoff, despite exhaustion, he shared his famous hummus recipe and why he’s so passionate about Israeli cuisine (which, btw, honey, is about sooooo much more than hummus).
If a tub of supermarket hummus is your baseline, Michael Solomonov, James Beard Foundation’s 2017 Outstanding Chef wants a word with you. “Um, that’s not hummus,” he says, face pinched with pity. Or horror.
The Wynwood outpost of Philly fave Federal Donuts deliciously delivers Solomonov’s give-the-people-what-they-want winning concept of fried chicken and donuts. With Dizengoff just next door, he and restauranteur partner Steve Cook give you what you didn’t even know you wanted but do — desperately — real hummus and heart Israeli-style.
Dizengoff hummus is a game-changer not because it’s made with black beans or red pepper or — God help us — chocolate, but because it’s made traditionally, with creamy sesame tahini (or tehina, as they say it across the Middle East), garlic, lemons and (doh) chickpeas. “Hummus means chickpea,” says Cook with the gentle weariness of a teacher trying yet again to get a student to understand. Solomonov even gives you Dizengoff’s iconic recipe, that’s what kind of guy he is.
As easy as Solomonov’s hummus sounds, the purity of ingredients, the bold authenticity of flavors is alchemical. It’s simple, elemental, age-old and yet exciting and vital, a fusion of many cultures, especially in the hands of Solomonov and Cook, advocates of Israeli cuisine. Solomonov serves as guide in the documentary In Search of Israeli Cuisine, but he and director Roger Sherman make sure the food steals the show.
If the cuisine’s cultural nuances and fusion escape your average eater, the food itself has ignited Israeli fever across America, thanks in no small part to Zahav, their Philadelphia restaurant and their book Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking. Both won awards and both feature Israel’s produce like olives, eggplant, tomatoes and oranges, zesty, classic Mediterranean flavors like zhug and za’atar, primal cooking techniques like fire roasting and fresh salatim — the Israeli equivalent of mezze, an array of vegetable-forward little plates that start— or comprise — a meal. But ask people who’ve dined at Zahav what they love best and it’s the hummus and pita.
So Cook and Solomonov (the partnership goes by CooknSolo, get it?) launched Dizengoff, a hummusiya (hummus shop) like the ones you see in Israel, first in Philadelphia, then in New York, now in Miami.
“Dizengoff is an exciting and vibrant concept that is also deeply rooted in tradition. And to me, this is Miami,” says Solomonov, a graduate of Florida Culinary Academy. “It’s an international city in the same ways as Tel Aviv. There are a lot of synergies between the Miami culture and Dizengoff that I think will shine.”
He and Cook came for the July opening of Miami Dizengoff, which is named for the Tel Aviv street people flock to with its cool cafes, galleries and wine bars. The Wynwood street Dizengoff and Federal Donuts occupy, however, wasn’t bustling, it was busted up by construction. The two looked glazed with fatigue and shock. But it didn’t stop them from being gracious and candid when we spoke that afternoon And the mess hasn’t stopped people from crowding into the cozy space for the goods. On Sundays, the line is out the door and down the street, rubble be damned.
Tiny space, tiny kitchen, tiny menu, big flavors, Dizengoff is Zahav’s sexy street-smart kid sister. Its casual vibe suits both Solomonov and Cook, who made their names in more formal high-end restaurants. “That instinct to impress never goes away,” though, says Cook. Dizengoff and Federal Donuts challenges them to deliver artisanal and authentic flavors ramped up for a volume market. Jacques Pepin did the same thing, by the way, when he went from Le Pavillion to Howard Johnson’s. And like Pepin, the accolades and awards are nice but don’t get in their way. “The Beard Award doesn’t make the food taste better,” Cook says.
Better-tasting food is what they’re after. “Food is a way to understand a place in a positive way,” says Solomonov. Especially at a time when a resurgence of racism and antisemitism threatens to overshadow not just Israel but America, “food takes us from the political to the personal. “It transforms the story of the people.”
And as I always say, it brings people together. Solomonov beams. “Exactly,” he says. “Everybody eats.”
Hummus and Foul Topping Recipes by Michael Solomonov/DizengoffSome of what makes Dizengoff hummus tremendous is technique. Much of it, though, is ingredients. You don’t need to sell me on the creamy quality of dried chickpeas over the canned stuff. And then there’s the secret sauce. Lemon and garlic combine and sit together to temper each other. Add plenty of good quality tehina. Dizengoff uses Soom from the three Sisters Zitelman. So do I. I have become a Soom addict. Dizengoff hummus comes with a variety of seasonal toppings to choose from, including corn masebacha and spring onions with zhug. But my absolute favorite is foul — or ful — beans (what a surprise). I double-checked about the quantity of green beans in the topping. Yes, it’s 16 cups. You’ll be grateful for every last one.
- 1 cup dried chickpeas
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 1/2 cups Basic Tehina Sauce plus a bit more for the topping
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- chopped fresh parsley
- olive oil for drizzling
Basic Tehina Sauce
- 1 head garlic
- 3/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 generous cups tehina
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumim
- 2 tablespoon Kosher Salt
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion diced small
- 3 garlic cloves peeled, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper
- 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1/4 tablespoon ground fennel seed
- 1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 2 cups of parsley chopped
- 2 cups of cilantro chopped
- 3 cups crushed tomatoes
- 16 cups green beans ends snipped and cut into thirds
- Place the chickpeas in a large bowl with 1 teaspoon of the baking soda and cover with water. (The chickpeas will double in volume, so use more water than you think you need.) Soak the chickpeas overnight at room temperature. The next day, drain the chickpeas and rinse under cold water
- Place the chickpeas in a large pot with the remaining 1 teaspoon baking soda and add cold water to cover by at least 4 inches. Bring the chickpeas to a boil over high heat, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface. Lower the heat to medium, cover the pot, and continue to simmer for about 1 hour, until the chickpeas are completely tender. Then simmer them a little more. (The secret to creamy hummus is overcooked chickpeas; don't worry if they are mushy and falling apart a little.) Drain.
- Combine the chickpeas, tehina sauce, salt, and cumin in a food processor. Purse the hummus for several minutes, until it is smooth and Auber-creamy. Then puree it some more!
- To serve, spread the hummus in a shallow bowl, dust with paprika, top with parsley and more tehina sauce if you like, and drizzle generously with oil.
Basic Tehina Sauce
- Break up the head of garlic with your hands, letting the unpeeled cloves fall into a blender. Add the lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Blend on high for a few seconds until you have a coarse puree. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes to let the garlic mellow.
- Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large mixing bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids. Add the tehina to the strained lemon juice in the bowl, along with the cumin and 1 teaspoon of the salt.
- Whisk the mixture together until smooth (or use a food processor), adding ice water, a few tablespoons at a time, to thin it out. The sauce will lighten in color as you whisk. When the tehina seizes up or tightens, keep adding ice water, bit by bit (about 1 1/2 cups in total), whisking energetically until you have a perfectly smooth, creamy, thick sauce.
- Taste and add up to 1 1/2 teaspoons more salt and cumin if you like. If you're not using the sauce immediately, whisk in a few tablespoons of ice water to loosen it before refrigerating. The tehina sauce will keep a week refrigerated, or it can be frozen for up to a month.
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until tender and translucent – about 5-10 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt.
- Add the Aleppo pepper, cumin, coriander, fennel seed and paprika to the pot and continue to cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and simmer on low heat for 15-20 minutes or until most of the water from the tomatoes has cooked out.
- Let the tomato sauce cool completely, then add the chopped cilantro and parsley.
- Meanwhile, bring another large pot of water to a roaring boil. Fill a large bowl with ice and set to the side. Once the water has come to a boil, drop the green beans into the water in small batches. Let them cook for 3 minutes, then drain in a colander. Immediately transfer the green beans from the colander to the ice bath and let sit for 3 minutes. Remove the beans from the water and set aside.
- To serve, dress the blanched beans in the tomato sauce. Add extra chopped herbs before serving.