ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Michael Solomonov became famous for his interpretation of Israeli cuisine.
MICHAEL SOLOMONOV: And I am the chef and co-owner of Zahav Restaurant in Philly.
SHAPIRO: He and Zahav have won many awards. So is Zahav's cookbook. Now Chef Solomonov has a new cookbook called "The Soul of Israel."
SOLOMONOV: With "the Soul of Israel," we want you to be in an apartment, a small apartment in New York, to get the same pleasure as if you were wandering the streets of Jerusalem.
SHAPIRO: This is not a restaurant-style recipe. They are the kind of street food that Solomon likes to eat when he visits Israel – falafel, shawarma, pie, savory pie called bourekas.
SOLOMONOV: The spinach is spiral.
SHAPIRO: Yes. Yes.
SOLOMONOV: The feta is a triangle. The mushroom is a triangle. Which potato is rectangular (laughter), you know? But that's what I got, like, when I got off the plane. And they – and the bag, like, oily, and they're amazing.
SHAPIRO: Solomonov grew up between the US and Israel. The Israeli boarding school he was headed to had children from Russia and Ethiopia. Many Israelis have only lived in the Middle East for generations. So Solomonov explained that Israeli cuisine is really many different dishes mashed together in one small patch of soil. To show, he showed us how to make Israeli dishes in a friend's kitchen in Washington, D.C.
SOLOMONOV: So we will make a sandwich and pita schnitzel, which is like – it is a very iconic Israeli dish in the sense that it is a schnitzel, which comes from Europe. And we put hawaij there, which is a common word, Yemen said, for curry. Then we will put the amba on it.
SHAPIRO: Which is the type of mango …?
SOLOMONOV: Which – exactly, is like pickled mango, which comes from Iraqi Jews, but from India. Then we will present it in the ribbon, which is really Arabic, you know?
SHAPIRO: So when you talk about Israeli cuisine, you make dishes that have elements of Eastern Europe, Yemen, Iraq, India …
SHAPIRO: … the Arab world. This sounds like (laughter) all thrown into the soup pot.
SOLOMONOV: Exactly. A chicken schnitzel filled in a ribbon so that you can drive a car, talk on the phone, suck a cigarette while eating a sandwich is what really makes it Israel.
(SOUNDBITE OF POUNDING)
SHAPIRO: He pounded thin chicken breast. You can use other types of meat or even vegetables, such as zucchini. He dipped the chicken in a beaten egg seasoned with a mixture of Yemeni spices, hawaij. Then, a layer of matzo food, not breadcrumbs.
SOLOMONOV: And this produces super thin skin, really kind of not mixed. And washing eggs acts like this, such as salt water or some kind of marinade, which is extraordinary. And then you don't double, like, bread crumb flour.
SHAPIRO: Especially if you will eat it on the ribbon.
SHAPIRO: Other Middle East Touches? When the chicken hisses in the pan, he sprinkles a mixture of green ingredients, za & atar.
SOLOMONOV: We put it on everything. It's like salt and pepper.
SHAPIRO: So this is something your parents will make, you will eat as children.
SOLOMONOV: This is part of, like, your birthright, I think, like, like, an Israeli American. This is what you do. When my mom gets out of town, and my dad will pack lunch, he will go to Wonder Bread, butter, cold schnitzel sandwich for lunch, which at that time will embarrass me. Now, the best thing ever.
SHAPIRO: Solomonov's grandparents were from Bulgaria, so schnitzel has been a part of their family's repertoire long before they moved to Israel after World War II. The sizzling and brown Schnitzel goes into a warm, soft ribbon. Then get some decorations.
SOLOMONOV: You don't need, like, to be different with many things.
SOLOMONOV: You only need some good ingredients.
SHAPIRO: Tomatoes, cucumbers, mango commonly called amba and sesame sauce, tehina.
That's so beautiful.
SOLOMONOV: Squeeze the lemon.
SHAPIRO: Your father has history with sandwiches. He owns a Subway franchise, right?
SOLOMONOV: Yes. So my dad owns a Subway sandwich shop in Pittsburgh. And then, when we moved to Israel, he had two in Haifa.
SHAPIRO: How do you feel about the fact that you are now famous and successful because, for example, making sandwiches?
SOLOMONOV: He likes it. You know, I, like, a sandwich artist for him as a child.
SHAPIRO: Do you assemble Subway sandwiches?
SOLOMONOV: Yes. I am the worst employee too. He must be – he might have fired me.
SHAPIRO: There are no questions, no …
SOLOMONOV: (Laughs) No.
SHAPIRO: … There is no tea …
SOLOMONOV: No, not at Subway.
SHAPIRO: … There is no interview.
Family history and world history in hand-held bites. Michael Solomonov's new cookbook, with co-author Steven Cook, is called "the Soul of Israel."
(SOUNDBITE OF WILD YAKS & # 39; "PARADISE") Transcripts provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.