All the Good Bites: An Interview with Adeena Sussman

Elianna Bar-El
Written by
Elianna Bar-El

The American-born recipe writer and cookbook author has been crafting inspired recipes for years. Now based in Tel Aviv, Sussman’s latest endeavor, a comprehensive and market-fresh cookbook called Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors From My Israeli Kitchen, shines a massive spotlight on regional fare. The beautiful must-have hits shelves this month. 

With solid 130 recipes from grilled sweet corn smothered in labaneh, feta, sea salt and cilantro to schug-marinated baby lamb chops, a smattering of colorful Israeli salads and more, Sababa is a true ode to the flavors and fun of Israeli cooking. Having co-authored eleven cookbooks, including the New York Times #1 bestseller Cravings - and its New York Times bestselling follow-up, Hungry for More - with Chrissy Teigen, Sababa is Adeena’s first solo cookbook adventure. With her amicable disposition, all-encompassing welcoming nature, and undeniably delicious cooking, she has swiftly won over everyone from local Israeli shuk merchants to landing on Bon Appétit’s coveted list of top fall 2019 cookbooks.

How has your childhood and upbringing, and especially your mother’s influence, played a role in your career and generous way of feeding people with your recipes (both in heart and hunger)?

My mother was a super talented entertainer. She made you feel very cosseted, cared for, and spoiled without feeling smothered. She made very simple, elemental food that always hit the spot. She managed to be the entertainer but also enjoy the guests, something I strive towards for myself. I grew up in a traditional Jewish home where we observed Shabbat and Kashrut, so those weekend meals and rituals were really sacrosanct.

You have co-written many books with other chefs and personalities. How does it feel to take off on your own with Sababa?

It feels great to assume my own voice; also a little scary to step out from behind the shadows of my wonderful co-authors, whose projects I get to shepherd into the world.

How often do you go to the shuk?

At least 3 to 4 times a week to shop... but I like to say I “touch the shuk” almost every day...I walk through it on my way to and from destinations and back to my house, which is 50 meters away.

Any shopping tips?

Sundays are a slow day and there’s a good chance people are still trying to offload end-of-week stock from the previous Friday, so unless you see someone removing it from a box or crate, wait. Many butchers and fishmongers aren’t even open on Sunday! Know your vendors and ask them what’s fresh in the protein department.

Which fruits or veggies do you see that fill you with inspiration when the season arrives?

Pomegranates, the rubies of the produce world, send me off on a magic carpet of imagination. I want to put them in everything. Figs evoke my childhood in California fused with my Israeli life!

How is food shopping and cooking different in NYC versus Tel Aviv?

Though the seasonal “movement” was codified first in the United States, Israelis have always lived it. No limes, mangoes, avocadoes, and pomegranates whenever you want them. More daily shopping for produce, simpler meals with more of a focus on chopping and prepping raw ingredients, because they’re so damned good!

You have some great friendships with local chefs in Israel and abroad. How did it come to be that Michael Solomonov wrote the foreward for Sababa? What do you like to cook most when you are together?

Since I've worked as a food writer for a long time, I know people from “the industry,” but moving to Israel put me on the ground here and in the path of the many chefs and food world people who pass through Israel every year. With Michael specifically, we bonded very fast over our love of Israel and how to share that love with the world. We also share similar political views, which is nice. At this point he is like family and I am very lucky. We generally buy a lot of ingredients and then riff on them together. Though he is incredibly deferential to my cooking, I obviously defer to him when we cook and I am happy to just absorb and learn. After all he is currently the owner of the reigning Best Restaurant in the United States according to the James Beard Foundation! All of us plying the trade in this field owe Mike a huge debt of gratitude. And he simply is a great person.

Freekah Vegetable Soup

What are the humblest, yet most generous, ingredients to cook with?

Onions and garlic - a million applications, indispensable, cheap, and friggin’ delicious.

Where do you go eat in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem when you are looking for comfort food? Fancy food? Always reliably delicious food?

Tel Aviv comfort: Elad Falafel in the Carmel Market, Sisi Brothers soups in the Yemenite Quarter, Hakosem, Osher Falafel, Dileks Bourekas. Tel Aviv fancy: Habasta, Abraxas North, Topolopompo Jerusalem comfort: Azura, Ish Tabakh, Pinati, Rachmo, Hummus Arafat and Jafar Sweets (both in Muslim Quarter). Jerusalem fancy: Mona, Anna, Summer Garden at the American Colony for drinks. Jerusalem reliably delicious: Yudaleh, Chakra.

You are very active on social media and sharing stories of your adventures in Israel, trips to the shuk, and cooking in your kitchen and others’ kitchens. How has social media complemented your work?

I love Instagram as an expressive art form. I see it as something that supports my job, but it isn’t my job. I don’t make any direct money on social media sponsoring products, pr, anything like that, so I feel free to share what I like and dislike. I have always loved art, but I am the most terrible sketcher/painter/drawer! Photography has always been a way for me to share how I see the world from a unique angle. I love Instagram stories because I can take people alongside my footsteps as I shop in the shuk, or bring them in on how I put together a recipe (complete with my own hip hop soundtrack).

Israeli food is having a prime time moment in America right now. What do you think spurred it all? Do you think it is merely a trend...or something that can last for the long haul?

I think you are seeing certain dishes (shakshuka, hummus) and condiments (schug, tahini) really settling into permanent rotation in both restaurant and home kitchens, so I’d say Isreali food has moved beyond trend-status and elements have become staples, like Southeast Asian sriracha or Italian balsamic vinegar have (those were once exotic too!). Israeli food is perceived as healthy because of all the olive oil, fresh produce, herbs, and bright lemony acidic spicy flavors. It’s exciting and light on the palate and stomach while still packing a lot of flavor. Israelis are also good at taking their ideas out into the world (exhibit A: startups!) so it’s not surprising that you’re seeing ambitious Israelis opening restaurants all over the world.

Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors From My Israeli Kitchen  

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