Chef Mike Solomonov garners rave reviews (and James Beard Awards) for the vibrant, spice-laden Israeli cuisine at his flagship Philadelphia restaurant, Zahav. But at home, he’s just a dad dealing with two kids who want to eat only brown food. “They’re very conservative about what they like,” Mike says of seven-year-old David and four-year-old Lucas. Still, the Israeli-born chef loves to coax the boys into exploring the melting-pot cooking of their heritage—and encourages other parents to do the same. “All those bright, fresh, crisp, hyperacidic, hyperspiced flavors shouldn’t be limited to a restaurant meal or an Instagram post,” Mike says. “They can happen for real in your house, with your family, in your kitchen.”
Today he’s taking his spice lessons outside for a Father’s Day cookout with his chef buddies and their kids at Philly’s Fairmount Park. While the kids zip around on bikes and play tag, Mike fires up the grill for Sirloin Shishlik, a crowd-favorite beef kebab from his latest cookbook, Israeli Soul. You’d think the Technicolor green of the herby marinade would freak out fussy eaters, but the kebabs are a big hit with Mike’s kids because they get to season the meat themselves and build the skewers with him. “Letting the kids do productive things and create with their hands worked for me,” he says of his tactic to inspire more adventurous eating. “They feel like they’ve accomplished something.” Their curiosity even extends to spice blends like baharat—a Middle Eastern mix made of cumin, coriander, black pepper, allspice, and cloves. At today’s cookout, Mike adds a little baharat to brown butter–drizzled chickpeas and tomatoes for a superdelicious side. Everybody digs in.
The boys need less convincing when it comes to drinks and desserts. Taking a cue from pushcart vendors in Israel, Mike makes pomegranate-mint syrup so the kids can mix up their own sodas. Then there are the fruity ice pops that remind Mike of the ones he and the boys devoured at the beach during family trips to Israel. “The bonus is that they learn about where they come from and who they are,” Mike says. “It’s frickin’ awesome.”
Chickpeas with Baharat, Tomatoes & Brown Butter
Recipe: Try Mike Solomonov's Chickpeas with Baharat, Tomatoes & Brown Butter
Recipe: Try Mike Solomonov's Dill Tabbouleh
Recipe: Try Mike Solomonov's Sirloin Shishlik
DIY Pomegranate-Mint Sodas
Recipe: Try Mike Solomonov's DIY Pomegranate-Mint Sodas
Recipe: Try Mike Solomonov's Watermelon Pops
"Popsicles in the summer evoke beaches, boardwalk kiosks in Israel, and 102 degrees at the playground." says Mike. "And ice pops dripping all over the kids immediately."