3 cookbooks offer approaches to experimenting in the kitchen

Kim Kushner, Yotam Ottolenghi and Michael Solomonov have all published new books designed to get you in the kitchen.

Hot, charred cherry tomatoes with cold yogurt. (photo credit: JONATHAN LOVEKIN)
Hot, charred cherry tomatoes with cold yogurt.
(photo credit: JONATHAN LOVEKIN)
Kim Kushner
The Canadian-American cooking instructor and writer Kim Kushner has just penned her third cookbook, I Heart Kosher (stylized on the cover with a heart image, of course).
In the introduction to the book, Kushner says that this work is her most personal, straight “out of my own kitchen,” and features “my dependable standbys, my staples, the kitchen essentials that never disappoint.”
She begins with listing her “essential” tools and ingredients for the kitchen, which include a pizza stone, a julienne peeler, udon noodles, pomegranate syrup, kataif and smoked salmon. Thankfully, you’ll be able to create most of the recipes in this book even if you don’t have all – or any – of those handy.
To her credit, Kushner makes a clear and appreciated effort throughout the book to reassure and help the home cook make her recipes a success. The extra tips, the calm tone and the clear instructions make every recipe fairly approachable.
There are almost more photos of Kushner featured in the book than there are of food. While it boosts the personal feel of this cookbook, it also makes it seem like a vanity project, or as if Kushner is a celebrity chef on par with Ina Garten or Jamie Oliver.
Regardless, Kushner excels at offering the one thing most home cooks are looking for: simple, straightforward dinner ideas for those on the go. These include chicken thighs with roasted carrots and cherry tomatoes; lemony whole branzino and potatoes; veggie chicken and barley soup; sticky chicken thighs in fig-wine sauce; and pasta bowl with charred broccoli and baked ricotta.
But she should know better than to casually refer to bone broth (i.e., stock) as a “genuine healer” that is “filled with rich nutrients that are good for you on so many levels” – a pseudoscientific claim that has no place in a book like this.
One of the most irksome things throughout the book are the recipes that really aren’t recipes at all: heirloom tomatoes with basil and drizzled with olive oil; sweet onion halves baked on parchment; or using store-bought babka to make French toast. And it continues in the dessert section, with honey-drizzled watermelon and chocolate-dipped figs – items one hardly needs a recipe to conquer. Still, the apple and olive oil cake and the tehina chocolate chunk cookies both look worth trying out.
Despite its flaws, there’s plenty in the book to interest the average home cook, and care is taken to ensure you’ll feel confident taking on a new dish.
Michael Solomonov
He may have grown up in Pennsylvania, but Michael Solomonov knows his way around Israeli street food. The Israeli-born chef and restaurateur has teamed up again with his partner Steven Cook for a sequel to 2015’s Zahav, this time titled Israeli Soul. This book, a love letter to casual Israeli dining, focuses more on street food than did Zahav, although there’s certainly still some overlap between the two.
Like Zahav, Israeli Soul – subtitled “Easy, Essential, Delicious” – is more than just a cookbook. While Zahav was a deeply personal work, Israeli Soul serves as a tourist guide and snapshot of Solomonov and Cook’s favorite places to eat around the country. The book even opens with a map of Israel accompanying a guide to their favorite spots to grab food – from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Haifa or Safed (as well as a plug for their seven eateries in Philadelphia – just 9,265 km. from Tel Aviv, according to the map).
“We have developed recipes that help tell the story of Israel,” they write in the introduction. “And we have taken special care to make them accessible and delicious. This is food that’s meant to be cooked and meant to be shared.”
Many of the chapters reflect iconic Israeli dishes, explored in depth and broken down into their components, including sabih, falafel and shwarma. In the chapter on falafel, they showcase various spots around Israel with their various recipes and techniques, before sharing their own take.
The authors are not afraid to explore the sometimes contested origins of many of the foods eaten in modern Israel. “Is falafel Israeli? Yes. And no. And does it matter?”
There are as many – or even more – photos of dishes and street food from around Israel as there are images of the recipes. Quite a few recipes are treated to step-by-step snapshots, walking the reader through the process, including falafel, pita, hummus and 16 photos on making burekas – plus four different filling options.
The chapter on hummus, which opens with a promise of perfect “5-minute hummus,” offers 24 different topping ideas, ranging from lima beans with tomato and cinnamon, to salt-roasted kohlrabi with garlic chips, to pan-roasted green beans, to saffron-braised chicken.
Solomonov and Cook aren’t afraid to go sacrilegious, with English pea falafel, strawberry amba or hummus topped with grapes and pistachios – though I’m grateful at least that there is no sign of pumpkin spice or chocolate chip “dessert” hummus.
There’s also a chapter on Ashkenazi food, including chicken liver mousse and smoked white fish dip, though Solomonov admits items like those are a rare sighting at the vast majority of Israeli restaurants.
There’s also an extensive chapter on savory baked goods with just about every carb imaginable, including khachapuri, kubaneh, jahnun, malawah and more. The authors have also trimmed down the burekas recipe in Zahav, offering a version that takes two hours instead of three days.
The book isn’t perfect – the instructions for some of the variations on the recipes are not particularly clear or easy to follow. And fans of Zahav will certainly feel a sense of repetition with some of the recipes. You probably don’t need to own both Zahav and Israeli Soul. But if you can afford to, they will both be a delight to read.
Just beware, Israeli Soul is a book that might make you want to travel to Israel more than it makes you want to cook.
Yotam Ottolenghi
Yotam Ottolenghi already knows you won’t believe the title of his new cookbook. The Israeli chef and restaurateur – who has lived in London for more than 20 years – became known worldwide for his series of cookbooks, including 2008’s Ottolenghi and 2012’s Jerusalem (both co-written with Sami Tamimi).
And the chef and author’s recipes are often known for their long ingredient lists and their multistep instructions. But with his eighth book, Ottolenghi Simple, the chef and author promises to scale things back. Sort of.
“I know, I know: I’ve seen the raised eyebrows, I’ve heard the jokes,” he writes in the introduction. “The one about the reader who thought there was part of a recipe missing as they already had all the ingredients they needed in their cupboard. Or the one that goes ‘Just popping out to the local shop to buy the papers, milk, black garlic, and sumac!’”
So what can you expect inside the pages of this new book? Ottolenghi says the recipes can all be marked with at least one of the following: S – short on time; I – ingredients: 10 or fewer; M – make ahead; P – pantry-led; L – lazy-day dishes; E – easier than you think.
But that still gives Ottolenghi plenty of wiggle room to offer recipes that follow just one or two of those classifications, and even those with three or four will daunt those who picked up this book looking for simple fare. Harissa and manchego omelettes call for harissa, nigella seeds, manchego cheese and limes, as well as three steps including finishing the dish off under a broiler.
A basic side dish that is essentially kale and asparagus calls for sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, maple syrup, frozen edamame and tarragon leaves among its other ingredients. And you’ll find recipes calling for seaweed spaghetti, dolcelatte (cheese), cavolo nero (leafy green) and samphire (sea vegetable). There are only three recipes in the entire book that Ottolenghi marks with all of the S I M P L E criteria.
Nevertheless, there are still a number of intriguing recipes that caught my eye, including Brussels sprouts with browned butter and black garlic; curried lentil, tomato and coconut soup; broccolini with soy sauce, garlic and peanuts; slow-cooked chicken with a crisp corn crust; and honey, yogurt and white-chocolate no-bake cheesecake.
Ottolenghi Simple includes everything that makes a great Ottolenghi book: inspired flavors, inventive recipes, an emphasis on fresh vegetables and beautiful photographs. Just don’t expect simplicity. 