Before Ronny Joseph Lvovski became an art history professor and food blogger, he had wrestled with obesity, body image, failed diets, and low self-esteem for most of his life. No matter what he did to lose weight, before long he was packing the pounds back on, a vicious cycle Ronny couldn’t claw his way out of.
But on his 27th birthday, he decided things would change. Instead of focusing on what he could do to modify his weight, he wrote down 10 resolutions that centered on the foundations of a healthy life. Soon after, he was introduced to the paleo diet, which was the first portion of his journey that really changed his approach to eating and cooking, one that ultimately had long-term effects on physically transforming his body.
“Shifting my perspective so that I didn’t get caught up in trying to lose ‘x’ pounds by ‘y’ days was instrumental,” Ronny explains. He also carved out time to prioritize exercise he actually enjoyed—playing sports, riding his bike, lifting weights—which not only made him feel good (thanks, endorphins!), but also further encouraged him to eat healthy.
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“I was creating a positive feedback loop, and once I started to see physical and mental changes, I was hooked,” he says.
As he palpably witnessed physical and mental shifts, Ronny decided to start a blog. The result is the Primal Gourmet, Ronny’s space for sharing Whole30 and paleo recipes he cooks for himself and his family. The blog turned into a huge success—not just for Ronny’s own weight loss and healthy eating journey—but from an audience perspective, too. The Primal Gourmet has garnered over one million views and nearly 200K followers on Instagram.
Primal Gourmet Cookbook: Whole30 Endorsed: It's Not a Diet If It's Delicious, $27.49 on Amazon
Now, Ronny has repackaged some of his favorite and brand-new recipes into his first cookbook: “The Primal Gourmet Cookbook.” Here, Ronny shares more than 100 gluten-free, grain-free, and dairy-free recipes that show you can still eat what you love—in a healthy way—and not call it a full-fledged diet. Page through to find recipes like pan-fried salmon with mustard-dill cream sauce, ancho-braised lamb shanks, and caraway cabbage coleslaw. The book includes paleo- and Whole30-approved sauces, dressings, and spice blends, to help buoy you along any program.
Armed with these healthy recipes, Ronny hopes that you can start your own journey. But he doesn’t want to convince people of attempting something they simply aren’t invested or interested in. Instead, he provides the tools and his own life experience, which he hopes can encourage others.
“I think it’s very important to acknowledge that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to health,” Ronny says. “We all start somewhere, everyone has their own physical and mental baggage, and our journeys are all different.”
Ahead, Ronny shares a recipe for a sabich platter, his gluten-free riff on the beloved Israeli street food, which arrived to the country via Iraqi Jews in the 1950s. Sabich is traditionally served with all the ingredients—crispy fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs, chopped salad, tahini, and amba (a tangy mango sauce)—shoved into a warm pita shell. But Ronny’s made a few tweaks that are Whole30- and paleo-approved, namely removing the pita and serving it on a plate instead.
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To make it, Ronny recommends salting and draining the eggplant before frying the strips, otherwise it’ll taste bitter. He also suggests coating the eggplant slices in arrowroot starch, which makes each piece extra crispy. Pair the fried eggplant with hard-boiled eggs and salad, along with a generous drizzle of tahini, amba, and zhug, a Yemeni hot sauce.
“In the book, I suggest serving the sabich on a platter to keep things paleo- and Whole30-compliant,” Ronny says. “Though I’d be remiss if I didn’t say you should try it in a pita at least once.”
Excerpted from THE PRIMAL GOURMET COOKBOOK: Whole30 Endorsed: It’s Not a Diet If It’s Delicious © 2020 by Ronny Joseph Lvovski. Photography © 2020 b yDonna Griffith. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Sabich Platter Recipe
Sabich is a wildly popular Israeli street food that was first introduced by Iraqi immigrants in the 1950s. It usually consists of a warm pita stuffed with slices of perfectly fried eggplant, sliced hard-boiled egg, chopped salad, tahini, sometimes hummus, usually Zhug (page 246), and almost always amba (pureed, quick-pickled mango). Amba can be purchased at most Middle Eastern grocers and even at Trader Joe’s. Just be sure to check the ingredients list—there should be no artificial sweeteners, fillers, or preservatives.
Though sabich refers to the combination of these ingredients, in my mind, the eggplant is the star of the show. It makes or breaks the dish, which is why I spent the better part of a week slicing, frying, and eating my weight in eggplant while testing this recipe.
- For the Fried Eggplant: 1 large Italian eggplant
- Kosher salt
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ⅓ cup arrowroot starch
- For Serving: 2 tablespoons amba (mango sauce)
- 2 cups Chopped Salad (page 6)
- 4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and thinly sliced
- ¼ cup Tahini Sauce
- 2 tablespoons Zhug (page 246)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted sunflower seeds, toasted, for serving
- Slice the eggplant as evenly as possible. Since you’ll be shallow frying it in a very small amount of oil, you want to achieve the most contact with the oil as possible. Any undulation in the eggplant slice will cause it to cook unevenly, albeit slightly. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s worth striving for a perfect slice.
- Salt and drain the eggplant for at least 30 minutes. Lightly rubbing a small amount of kosher salt on each side of the eggplant slices will help draw out their bitter liquid, which will otherwise permeate your sabich. Resting the salted eggplant slices between paper towels proved to be the most effective method; the absorbent fibers help pull out the liquid. (Another popular option for draining eggplant is resting the slices on a wire rack, but since the metal is reactive, it can actually impart bitterness, not draw it out, undoing all your hard work!)
- Dredge the sliced eggplant in arrowroot starch. After you’ve drained the eggplant, give them a light dusting of the starch. Not only does the starch make for a crispy and delicious finished product, it helps prevent the eggplant from absorbing too much oil as it fries. I also strongly urge you to only dredge the eggplant in the arrowroot starch immediately before frying. Otherwise, the arrow-root will turn gummy. When testing this recipe without arrowroot starch, I found that two slices of eggplant absorbed as much as ¼ cup of oil, versus significantly less with the starch. I also tested cassava flour and tapioca starch, both of which resulted in inferior flavor.
- Pat the fried eggplant with paper towels after frying. I like to gently pat each fried slice with a clean paper towel after it comes out of the hot oil. This will absorb excess oil and prevent the egg-plant from tasting greasy.
- Serve immediately. You can absolutely prepare all the other ingredients for your sabich the day before. You can also definitely slice and salt the eggplant ahead of time, up to 3 to 4 hours. However, as mentioned, you do NOT want to dredge or fry the eggplant until immediately before serving. The beauty of this recipe is just how crispy and crunchy the eggplant gets from that light dusting of arrowroot starch.
- MAKE THE FRIED EGGPLANT: Line a baking sheet with paper towels.
- Trim the top of the eggplant and discard. Cut the eggplant length-wise into ½- inch- thick slices, making them as flat as possible so that they fry evenly. Season both sides of each eggplant slice with salt. Arrange the slices in a single layer on the lined baking sheet. Top with another layer of paper towels and press down on the eggplant. Let the eggplant sit for 30 to 45 minutes to drain.
- In a large nonstick skillet or sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until glistening. Line a second baking sheet with paper towels and set it nearby.
- Put the arrowroot starch on a baking sheet or in a deep bowl. Pat the eggplant slices dry with a paper towel and lightly dredge them in the arrowroot starch to coat both sides.
- Carefully transfer the eggplant to the hot oil and cook until golden brown on the bottom, 4 to 5 minutes. Flip and cook until the eggplant is golden brown on the second side, crispy, and tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the eggplant to the paper towels and gently pat them with another paper towel to absorb excess oil.
- TO SERVE: In a small bowl, stir together the amba and 2 table-spoons water until smooth.
- Divide the eggplant slices between two plates. Top with the chopped salad, followed by two eggs each. Drizzle with the tahini sauce, zhug, and amba. Sprinkle the sunflower seeds over the top and serve.
Header image by Donna Griffith.