Saba­ba: Fresh, Sun­ny Fla­vors From My Israeli Kitchen

By – February 10, 2020

Adeena Sussman’s Saba­ba: Fresh, Sun­ny Fla­vors from My Israeli Kitchen is more than just an Israeli cook­book. It’s also a love let­ter to the food and atmos­phere of Israel, in par­tic­u­lar Tel Aviv’s icon­ic out­door mar­ket­place, Shuk HaCarmel. Suss­man uses this loca­tion to explore the ingre­di­ents she uses in her kitchen.

The begin­ning of the book gives us a per­son­al insight into who Suss­man is and where her ingre­di­ents come from. Israeli chef Michael Solomonov had the plea­sure of vis­it­ing Sussman’s apart­ment in Tel Aviv and pro­vides a detailed account in his fore­word of what it’s like to be in her kitchen. Solomonov writes, all the sens­es are engaged” as soon as he steps into her home; from Sussman’s warm embrace, to the smell of fresh­ly baked bread, to her kitchen coun­ter­top laden with a boun­ty of tasty delights.”

Sussman’s intro­duc­tion is an engag­ing nar­ra­tive about her expe­ri­ence shop­ping for ingre­di­ents, which under­pins her love for cook­ing. Shuk HaCarmel is her hap­py place and culi­nary inspi­ra­tion. She relays her cap­ti­va­tion with the shuk through vibrant pho­tos that flood the pages with its pro­duce and ven­dors. Suss­man describes the sounds, aro­mas, sights, and peo­ple she encoun­ters dur­ing her morn­ings — illus­trat­ing how her recipes, no mat­ter how elab­o­rate, are still made from the sim­ple nat­ur­al gro­ceries of the marketplace.

She teach­es us inno­v­a­tive ways to use sta­ple Israeli ingre­di­ents like tahi­ni, date syrup, and za’atar, which are inspired by the mul­ti­cul­tur­al pop­u­la­tion of peo­ple who call Israel their home. We first get a com­pre­hen­sive chap­ter on spice blends and condi­ments, from the Yemenite spice blend Hawai­ij to labaneh (and six ways to use it!). She gives us the option to make them our­selves, but also pro­vides a shop­ping guide at the end of the book that lists store-bought options.

Start­ing with break­fast recipes, which includes two kinds of shak­shu­ka and Lachuh (Yemenite crum­pet pan­cakes), and a brief guide to Israeli cheeses, we’re drawn to the col­or­ful full-page pho­tos that accom­pa­ny almost every recipe.

Suss­man takes us on a culi­nary and cul­tur­al jour­ney through­out sev­er­al chap­ters. She also adds per­son­al anec­dotes and back­ground infor­ma­tion for many of the recipes she intro­duces. In Bread and Savory Snacks” she presents Erez’s Wed­ding Lamb Focac­cia,” which comes with both a mouth-water­ing pho­to and a sto­ry behind the dish and its name. As she explains how the focac­cia was made at her wed­ding by a leg­endary bak­er who lives near the Lebanese bor­der, she describes the dish hav­ing an aro­ma so allur­ing it seduced peo­ple off the dance floor.”

She explores both sim­ple and intri­cate ways of cook­ing veg­eta­bles and soups, from the Lebanese-inspired Mush­room Arayes with Yogurt Sauce,” to Russ­ian Jew­ish Chilled Beet and Cher­ry Borscht.” Suss­man pro­vides an array of Ashke­nazi, Sephar­di, Mizrahi, and Mid­dle East­ern recipes from sala­tim to pas­ta, grains, poul­try, meat, and fish. She adorns ordi­nary foods with Israeli fla­vors, like pap­pardelle pas­ta with roast­ed toma­to and labaneh, and Za’atar Roast­ed Chick­en Over Sumac Pota­toes.” But don’t be alarmed, Suss­man still brings clas­sic Israeli recipes to the table, like Crispy Sesame Schnitzel,” Tahi­ni-Glazed Car­rots,” and falafel and egg­plant steaks.

Along­side flavour­ful morn­ing bev­er­ages, like Car­damom-Cin­na­mon Cold Brew,” she sug­gests fun Israeli cock­tails like Pomegroni” and Water­mel­on Arak Grani­ta.” Before even enter­ing Sussman’s world of Israeli desserts, we’re drawn in by an invit­ing glimpse of pis­ta­chio-crust­ed lemon bars, with bright yel­low and green hues laid on a lus­cious pink back­drop. She pro­vides sweet clas­sics with a Suss­man twist, like Tahi­ni Blondies” and choco­late-orange bab­ka, to sim­ple yet rich recipes like olive oil choco­late spread to Arab-orig­i­nat­ed desserts like knafeh and a labaneh mal­abi pan­na cotta.

The recipes range from quick and easy to more elab­o­rate, but they all remain acces­si­ble, unique, and deli­cious. They’re valu­able not only for their fla­vors but also for their sto­ries and culi­nary his­to­ry, which add a spe­cial and mean­ing­ful lay­er to the cook­ing expe­ri­ence. Suss­man includes recipes from all Israeli walks of life, which gives an addi­tion­al col­or to her already vibrant cookbook.

Michelle Zau­rov is Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s pro­gram asso­ciate. She grad­u­at­ed from Bing­ham­ton Uni­ver­si­ty in New York, where she stud­ied Eng­lish and lit­er­a­ture. She has worked as a jour­nal­ist writ­ing for the Home Reporter, a local Brook­lyn pub­li­ca­tion. She enjoys read­ing real­is­tic fic­tion and fan­ta­sy nov­els, espe­cial­ly with a strong female lead.

Discussion Questions

Adeena Suss­man uses Tel Aviv’s vibrant Shuk HaCarmel as a lens to explore the food tra­di­tions of the many peo­ples who call Israel home. Through entic­ing recipes, infor­ma­tive essays, head­notes, and side­bars, a vivid pic­ture emerges of a var­ied, dis­tinc­tive cui­sine and of what it means to live an Israeli food life. Saba­ba” is Ara­bic and Hebrew slang for every­thing is awe­some,” which per­fect­ly reflects expat Sussman’s enthu­si­asm for her adopt­ed home­land and its ingre­di­ents, cooks, and food pro­duc­ers. Writ­ing from the per­spec­tive of a curi­ous — and very tal­ent­ed — home cook, Suss­man exper­i­ments with icon­ic Israeli fla­vors, turn­ing them into end­less­ly ver­sa­tile dish­es for our every­day cook­ing: five col­or­ful tahi­ni sauces with clever top­pings; Za’atar Roast­ed Chick­en; Six Things to Do with Lab­neh; Hal­vah and Baharat Cof­feecake, and more. Saba­ba is sev­er­al books in one: a mar­ket and city guide; the sto­ry of mod­ern Israeli life; and an excel­lent cook­book that inspires read­ers to head into their kitchens know­ing a good friend is by their side. Ottolenghi gave us Jerusalem; with Saba­ba, Suss­man gives us Tel Aviv, an alto­geth­er dif­fer­ent Israeli food sto­ry that is a beau­ti­ful addi­tion to the grow­ing canon of Israeli cookbooks.