Capturing Shabbat in a cookbook from a secular publisher is no simple task. For starters, naming a book after the cornerstone of the Jewish week requires some explanation of the Jewish legal code governing the day. And even when discussing the most basic principles of Shabbat, it is nearly impossible to avoid one critical law in the traditional observance of Shabbat: cooking, and many kinds of food preparation, are strictly forbidden during the twenty-five-hour Shabbat period. Assuming you can successfully navigate the halachic bounds of Shabbat, your next task will be to provide a framework for readers to understand the extremely diverse spectrum of Jewish observance and Shabbat practice. If that seems doable, good luck coming up with fresh takes on Middle Eastern flavors in a world deeply oversaturated with tahini and eggplant (beloved though they may be). It is a daunting assignment, no doubt. Luckily for us, we have the exceedingly deft and thoughtful Adeena Sussman — who lives in Tel Aviv but writes primarily for a North American audience — to take on the job as she welcomes us into her newest cookbook, Shabbat: Recipes and Rituals from my Table to Yours.
Shabbat is largely made up of recipes from Sussman’s own Shabbat table, interspersed with flavors and dishes that grace the Shabbat tables of those closest to her. She explains early on that, for her, Shabbat observance is less about adhering strictly to Jewish law and more about spending time with family and friends and opening up her home. The chapter on breads includes a whopping five recipes for challah, one of which is vegan. This chapter also includes a recipe for dabo—a traditional Ethiopian bread eaten on Shabbat — brought to Sussman by her friend Fanta Prada, owner of the popular Tel Aviv restaurant Balinjera. The cookbook is divided into sections that guide readers through a Sussman-style Shabbat: begin the morning with a lie-in followed by a simply prepared yet extravagant eggplant-and-goat cheese tart; perhaps after that, enjoy a course of dips and salads (pickled, creamy, and piquant, cartwheeling through a vast range of bright and sunny flavors); then try grains bejeweled with nuts and pomegranate seeds, main course options, and a selection of Shabbat stews. Finally, Sussman’s section on desserts features a range of sweets, the majority of which are pareve (dairy-free) by nature.
Like Sussman’s first cookbook, Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors from My Israeli Kitchen, Shabbat brims with the punchy citrus finishes, unctuous drizzles of olive oil, and verdant piles of herbs that have become synonymous with Israeli cuisine. In a single dish, Sussman often pairs ingredients that grow together — and thus appear at the same time in the shuk (market) — effectively bringing the seasonality of Israeli harvesting to the plate. Her ability to enable the cook living outside of Israel to capture the neshama (soul) of Israeli food, by whatever means available to him or her, is continually, mouth-wateringly rewarding. This is what propelled Sababa into multiple Best of 2020 lists, and it is sure to launch Shabbat there as well.
Hannah Kressel is a current fellow at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. She holds a Masters in Art History from the University of Oxford and a Bachelors in Art History and Studio Art from Brandeis University. Her research examines the intersection of contemporary art, food, and religion. She is an avid baker and cook.