A Taste of Israel
A new cookbook showcases Israel's vibrant flavors and classic dishes.
Derived from the Arabic word tzababa, sababa has come to mean “everything is awesome” in modern parlance—and there isn’t a more fitting title for Adeena Sussman’s first solo cookbook. Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors From My Israeli Kitchen is an invitation for everyone to experience her culinary expertise at home. Filled with vibrant photography and intoxicating recipes, this book serves as both a guide and tribute to the robust flavors found in Israeli cuisine. I caught up with her to chat about the life and talents of this cultural ambassador.
You’re no stranger to the culinary industry, serving in different roles before becoming a writer and recipe developer.
It’s true! My career didn’t take a very conventional path. I always loved to write, and always loved to cook—the light bulb went off that I could combine the two, and things moved pretty quickly. After working as a copywriter at Gourmet magazine and going to culinary school, I started developing recipes for Food Network stars such as Ellie Krieger, worked for magazines, and eventually became the restaurant critic for Manhattan magazine.
At this point, you know the publishing process like the back of your hand. Was anything different this time around, and what does it mean to you to have a cookbook that is solely yours?
I was surprised at how much harder it was to channel my own narrative voice than to help someone else do it. Having my own book means my point of view is worth its own stage, an idea I am still getting used to. I’ve always been happy supporting my authors and helping them shine.
Grilled Chicken & Corn Salad with Avocado.
You begin your cookbook with a peek at your routine as an early riser, heading for Israel’s popular Carmel Market, or the shuk. What’s it like to be one of the first people in the market each morning?
It’s magical. Quiet, with a breeze from the ocean. The place has its own routines, customs and traditions, and early in the morning, many of them are wordlessly on display. I love watching people meditatively trim herbs, husk corn, arrange their wares.
Israeli food has skyrocketed in popularity and is lauded for its fresh ingredients and flavorful spices. What are some staples for the home cook eager to explore it?
I would recommend pomegranate molasses, which has a tart-sweet combination that is wonderful with roasted meat, stirred into salad dressings and drizzled on fruit. I also love the versatility of za’atar, a blend of spices containing hyssop (an oregano-type herb), thyme, sesame, sumac and salt. It’s great sprinkled on salads, rubbed into chicken before roasting, and even on grilled pineapple.
Are there one or two iconic Israeli dishes that you feel most connected to?
I love shakshuka, a delicious breakfast dish of eggs suspended in spicy tomato sauce. It’s so good with a crusty heel of bread and strong coffee! It’s really customizable, too. I also love falafel—my mom used to make it from a mix when we were kids. It’s the ultimate portable handheld meal. l stuff my falafel with lots of salt-brined pickles, chopped salad, tahini and hot sauce.
Your mother had a large influence on you and your sister and your relationship with food, specifically in the way it related to your Jewish heritage. Tell us a little bit about the culinary wisdom she bestowed upon you both.
I will take any opportunity to talk about my mother, Steffi Sussman, who was a wonderful cook and host. She taught us that food is important, but secondary to the hosting. Making your guests feel loved, taken care of and comfortable is essential. You do this by making a gathering special but not formal. Let people help! It makes them feel at home. And keep the flavors simple and luscious, so people ask for seconds. My mother’s classic Shabbat dinner was peerless: homemade challah, long-simmering chicken soup and roast chicken. I could eat that meal every day.
Za’atar Roasted Chicken over Sumac Potatoes.
You and your sister started an annual Thanksgiving charity effort to honor your mother. What is the mission of Sharsheret and the Pies for Prevention initiative?
In memory of our mom, who died of ovarian cancer, we started the bake sale Pies for Prevention—now in its 11th year—which raises money for Sharsheret, an organization that supports women living with ovarian cancer. It began on a lark, and has now grown into a worldwide project with volunteer bake sales in 30 locations. To date we’ve raised half a million dollars.
Who are some of the chefs/personalities whom you’ve learned the most from, and what are some of those takeaways?
Working with Candace Nelson of Sprinkles Cupcakes was great—she is a perfectionist and taught me to never skimp on quality. And Chrissy Teigen is a passionate cook, something that comes through on the pages of the books we worked on together. She taught me to trust my culinary gut and stand behind the flavors I love.