For the High Holidays, for Every Day, ‘Sababa’

For the High Holidays, for Every Day, ‘Sababa’

Adeena Sussman (Dan Perez)
Adeena Sussman (Dan Perez)

Is it possible to write as deliciously as you cook, and cook as deliciously as you write?

For Adeena Sussman, who is on tour with her highly acclaimed solo debut cookbook, “Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors From My Israeli Kitchen” (Penguin/Avery), it is. 

The beautifully written and photographed book is having a moment hotter than her harissa and schug recipes. “Sababa,” which has been named a best Fall 2019 cookbook by the New York Times, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Eater, & Epicurious, is much more than its scrumptious looking 130 dishes that meld Ms. Sussman’s Israeli and American culinary sensibilities. 

The cookbook is Ms. Sussman’s own love story. It’s her love story of Israeli cuisine; a love story of her husband of two years, Jay Shofet, for whom she moved to Israel in 2015; a love story of creating and serving delicious, bright, sunny dishes as a home cook in her own kitchen, and a love story of Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market, known as the Shuk HaCarmel or simply the shuk. She and Mr. Shofet, who is the director of partnerships and development at The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, live a mere a 2 ½-minute walk from the shuk. 

The shuk, Ms. Sussman writes, “became my constant companion, the organizing principle of my days, a comforting routine that has evolved into a way of life.” 

The shuk is where Sussman shops every morning and chooses from among the riot of the freshest produce, be verbena for her tea, fistfuls of chives, or perfect jewel-like figs. And of course, she stops to schmooze with the vendors, who have become like family.

Ms. Sussman, who was in Bergen County recently for a cooking demonstration and book sale, and her sister, Sharon Wieder of Teaneck, are gearing up for their 11th year of Pies for Prevention, the Thanksgiving pie-baking and sales program that spans 30 cities, including the U.S., Israel and Canada, and whose proceeds are donated to Sharsheret, the Teaneck-based organization for young women with breast and ovarian cancer. Since they launched Pies for Prevention in 2009, Ms. Wieder said they have raised more than $500,000 for Sharsheret. It’s an organization close to the sisters’ hearts. Their mother and grandmother died of ovarian cancer. (Check out for this year’s Pies for Prevention.)

 “Sababa,” a term originally from the Arabic “tzababa” in its present colloquialism means “everything is awesome,” came about for the formal culinary-trained Ms. Sussman “organically.” 

Ms. Sussman grew up in a Sabbath-observant, kosher, “food-loving family” in Palo Alto, California and was a frequent visitor to Israel. Her parents spent a year in Israel while her father did graduate work in Jerusalem. She said she “missed being born in Israel by two months.” When she was 9 years old, her family came back for a month. There were many more trips to Israel in her teens and after college – Boston University – she spent five years living in Jerusalem and making frequent trips to Tel Aviv.

She found her professional passion at the intersection of publishing and the culinary arts and had worked as a special project manager at Gourmet Magazine. For the last 15 years, she worked as a recipe developer behind the scenes for some famous chefs, and published articles, many on Israeli food and wine, under her own name. She began co-authoring cookbooks with celebrity chefs, and to date has written 11 cookbooks, including the bestselling Chrissy Tiegen’s “Cravings” books, and “Sprinkles Baking Book” with Candace Nelson.

She met Mr. Shofet though a friend’s introduction, fittingly at a food and wine event in New York, and they hit it off. She moved to Israel in 2015 but was commuting between Israel and her home in New York. The couple married in 2017, and Ms. Sussman officially made aliyah.

Ms. Sussman said she had thought about writing an Israeli cookbook but put the idea aside because she “didn’t want to be an interloper. But everything made sense when I moved.”

In the book, Ms. Sussman shows readers how to use border-crossing ingredients to delicious effect. The recipes for the home-cook are accessible and exotic at once, and include dishes as Freekeh and Roasted Grape Salad, Za’atar Roasted Chicken over Sumac Potatoes, Tahini Smoothies and Pistachio-Crusted Lemon Bars, among other delicious recipes. 

Said Michael Solomonov, the James Beard-award winning chef and owner of the acclaimed restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia, who penned the introduction to her book, “Adeena’s romance with Israel comes through brilliantly. She tells her story as part of the larger conversation surrounding Israeli cooking in such a beautiful, detailed way. It embodies her personal journey with Israel, through the land and its cuisine. She puts so much of her soul into the kitchen, and this book showcases just that. Her dishes are gorgeous, colorful, and delicious, which makes it easy to fall in love with her recipes.”

Of her own book Ms. Sussman said: “It’s not a tour of Israel, but of my life in Tel Aviv, the Carmel Market, and how I cook, how I truly cook”.

As for the name of her book, Ms. Sussman said, “I loved the way the word rolls off the tongue. I think life in Tel Aviv has a ‘sababa’ vibe. It’s vibrant, fresh, laid-back, more relaxed. Even when I’m busy, it feels more relaxed. There’s a looseness to life here that revolves around your friends and family. I want people to feel that. I want people to feel relaxed and excited about cooking my food.”

Sounds totally sababa.

Za’atar Roasted Chicken over Sumac Potatoes

4 to 5 medium red potatoes (1 1⁄2 pounds), scrubbed
4 medium shallots, quartered
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sumac
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 small roasting chicken (about 3 1⁄2 to 4 pounds), patted dry
1 small lemon
5 tablespoons Za’atar Spice Blend
1⁄4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves
6 thyme sprigs

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Cut each potato into 6 wedges. In a 9 x 13-inch metal or glass baking dish, toss the potatoes and shallots with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the sumac, salt, and black pepper. Season the cavity and exterior of the chicken well with salt and pepper. Zest the lemon into a small bowl, halve the lemon and set aside. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil to the bowl along with 4 tablespoons of the za’atar and the red pepper flakes and gently stir. Stuff the lemon halves, garlic, and thyme sprigs inside the chicken, then rub the chicken all over with the za’atar mixture. (If you want to, you can tie the legs of the chicken together; it’s easier than doing a full chicken trussing, which is impressive but not necessary for a dish like this.) Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of za’atar. Place the chicken, breast-side up, on top of the potatoes. Roast the chicken for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F and continue to roast the chicken until a chicken leg jiggles when pulled, the juices run clear, and the potatoes underneath the chicken are soft and the ones on the edges are crisp and golden, about another hour and 20 minutes (the rule is 23 to 25 minutes per pound of chicken, but the high roasting temperature at the beginning of the recipe shaves off a little time). Remove the chicken from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes. Remove the lemon, garlic, and thyme springs from the cavity, discarding the garlic and thyme. Carve the chicken right on top of the potatoes, letting the juice coat the potatoes, then squeeze one or both halves of the reserved lemon on the chicken and potatoes.

Serves 4
Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 5 minutes (including resting time)

Chewy Tahini Blondies

1⁄2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, or 1⁄2 cup olive oil or vegetable oil, plus more for buttering the pan
1 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
3⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cardamom (or more to taste if you really like this flavor)
1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons lightly toasted black sesame seeds
2 tablespoons lightly toasted white sesame seeds
1 1⁄4 cups lightly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1⁄2 cup pure tahini paste

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan, then line the pan with 2 crisscrossing strips of parchment paper, buttering between each layer and leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides. Butter the top and sides of the parchment.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cardamom, salt, pepper, and the black and white sesame seeds. In another medium bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, 1⁄2 cup melted butter, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just incorporated, then fold in the tahini until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until golden on the outside and the center doesn’t jiggle but is still soft, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, cool in the pan, and cut into 16 equal squares.

Makes 16 squares
Active Time:10 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes

From “Sababa” by Adeena Sussman, Published By Avery, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2019
by Adeena Sussman



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