When Adeena Sussman, author and expert on Israeli food, planned her tour in celebration of her new cookbook, Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors from My Israeli Kitchen (Avery, $35), Philadelphia had to be on her agenda.
A friend of chef Michael Solomonov, Sussman, along with her book, will be the star attraction during a special breakfast at Solomonov’s restaurant Zahav on Sept. 21. The event sold out in an hour, according to Sussman, but even if you didn’t manage to snap up tickets you can still cook a few recipes from Sababa for a taste of Sussman’s inspired food.
The book’s title translates to “everything is awesome,” a phrase that pretty much sums up the moment for Sussman, fresh off the runaway success of the two cookbooks she wrote with Chrissy Teigen. We caught up with her to find out what Americans still don’t know about Israeli food and what she learned about cooking from a supermodel.
Can you describe Israeli breakfast? How is it different from breakfast in America?
There’s often a very sweet element to American breakfast. Israeli breakfast is much more vegetable-forward. The idea of eating salad for breakfast is totally normal here. It has its roots it kibbutz life, when people had to power through a day of farm work. It tends to be vegetarian, but there’s a lot of protein. Eggs and cheese. And always plenty of bread. It’s a good reflection of Israeli food overall — bright, spicy, lots of condiments, very fresh, unassuming but exciting, unbuttoned and casual.
Zahav chef Michael Solomonov wrote a really lovely tribute to you in the introduction to Sababa. How did you first meet him and how did your friendship develop over time?
Pretty soon after Zahav opened, I wrote about Mike for a magazine, and that’s how we first met. We have the same ideas about how you can tell a different story about Israel through the food. Also, I’ve invited Mike to eat at my house and cooked for him many times. Cooking is an extension of hospitality, and that for me balances out the nervousness of cooking for someone at his incredible level. When I cook for people, it’s about the homemade food, but it’s also about opening my home and showing affection.
You write a lot about how the Carmel Market, aka the Shuk, inspires your cooking. What advice do you have for those of us who love cooking but hate shopping?
If you shop for ingredients you love instead of recipes, it can take a lot of the pressure out of it. If you have purveyors you like, ask them a lot of questions. Say, “What’s a great cut of meat I can put in the pressure cooker?” Ask, “What’s the best tomato right now?” I like to off-load the decision-making to the real experts.
You write that you shop for groceries every day. Most people shop only once a week. Why do you go so often?
We do a lot of entertaining. Later today, we’re having people over. I don’t want to sound too Martha Stewart-y, but after I get off the phone, I’m going to buy some good cheeses, brush some bread with olive oil, and make some toast. I’ll get some grapes. I’m not doing a $200 grocery haul, but I like to say I touch the Shuk every day.
Israeli food has become famous around the world, thanks to cookbook authors like Yotam Ottolenghi and restaurants like Zahav. What are some things most people outside of Israel don’t understand about Israeli food culture?
Interestingly, a lot of what’s trendy is not all that Israeli. There’s a lot of Asian food here, a lot of Spanish food. People like to eat globally. That’s the story of Israeli food. Until 10 years ago, there were a lot of French restaurants. Now people realize that Israeli food is worldly, too. There’s a nice balance between a respect for a tradition and a desire to try new things. Younger people go to grandma’s for Shabbat lunch and then they’ll go out for ramen or Thai food or whatever is happening in the moment.
What is one recipe from Sababa that shows your style especially clearly, and why is it a good example of how you like to cook?
There’s a really delicious recipe for sour lime and pomegranate chicken wings in the book. A lot of the recipes blend my American upbringing and my love of comfort food with an Israeli twist. American wings might use a hot sauce or a sweet soy sauce. I have dried limes around, so I turned them into a powder and cured the wings for 24 hours in it. During the last few minutes of cooking, I brush the wings with pomegranate molasses. It’s sweet, sour, and rich. It’s a good example of how I pull in an ingredient people usually use one way, and I apply it for my pleasure.
What three Israeli ingredients should American home cooks add to their pantries?
One: tahini. It goes savory and sweet. It’s a super food! And it’s like peanut butter, so there’s a familiarity to it. Two: pomegranate molasses. It’s great with red meat, or in long cooking stews. You can mix it with honey and drizzle it over fruit. Three: schug, the Yemenite green hot sauce. I drop it into chicken soup sort of like when you drop chilies into a bowl of pho. You can make my recipe or get it at Trader Joe’s. I’m fully in support of buying condiments.
You have cowritten numerous other cookbooks, most notably with model Chrissy Teigen. What did you learn working with her?
I learned a lot from Chrissy. I learned to really trust your gut and your instincts. If you don’t love it, don’t put it in. Always be curious, be open-minded, stay in a place of humility and learning. It’s as much learning as collaboration.
Sour Lime and Pomegranate Chicken Wings
Serves 6 to 8, as an appetizer
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours (including minimum marinating time)
Dried Persian limes come in two shades — black and a sort of walnut-y tan — and are traditionally dropped whole into Persian stews and soups to add a hint of citrus and the singular funk that only fermentation can. I wanted to spread the love to other preparations, so I crushed the limes into a powder to form the base for a dry rub that perfectly counterbalances the fattiness of chicken wings (you can also find dried lime powder on Amazon and Kalustyans.com). Sprinkling the rub on the wings, then letting it sink in, sends that distinctive pucker all the way down to the bone. I arrange the wings on a rack set over a baking dish and roast them until almost done, then brush them with pomegranate molasses for both high gloss and an extra layer of sour power.
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 pounds chicken wings (10 to 12 wings)
Juice and zest of 1 lime
4 small dried Persian limes,* or 2 tablespoons Persian lime powder (known as Lemon Omani powder)
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
1 teaspoon ground cumin
⅓ cup Pomegranate Molasses
Chopped scallion greens, for serving Pomegranate seeds, for serving
Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil, set a rack on top of the sheet, and grease the rack lightly with vegetable oil. In a large bowl, toss the wings with the lime juice and zest, then arrange them on the sheet, fleshy side down, leaving space between each wing. Using the heel of a large chef’s knife, smash the Persian limes into a couple of pieces to break them up. In a spice grinder, pulverize them into a fine powder, 30 seconds. Add the turmeric, garlic powder, paprika, salt, sugar, onion powder, pepper, and cumin and pulse the grinder a few more times to create a unified mixture. Sprinkle half the mixture evenly over the wings, pressing it in gently with your hands. Flip the wings then sprinkle and press in the other half of the mixture. If you have time, place the wings in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours (if you have room, leave them uncovered; this helps dry out the skin and crisp it up).
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Leaving the wings on the rack over the baking sheet, bake them until they’re sizzling and the meat is cooked, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the wings from the oven, brush both sides with the pomegranate molasses, arrange the wings fleshy side up on the rack, and return to the oven until the wings caramelize slightly, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and season generously with salt and pepper.
To serve, transfer to a plate and sprinkle with the scallions and pomegranate seeds.
*If you can’t find dried Persian limes, using only fresh lime juice and zest works great, too. Simply toss the wings in the juice and zest of 2 limes as your first step, then combine all the other spices and proceed with the recipe.
From Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors From My Israeli Kitchen by Adeena Sussman, published by Avery, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © Adeena Sussman, 2019