Adeena Sussman lives in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market (Shuk HaCarmel in Hebrew). OK, maybe not in the market, but just about as close as you can get. That’s the first thing you need to know about the author behind the new cookbook Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors from My Israeli Kitchen, which was released in September and quickly catapulted to the top of many fall lists. (The word “sababa” comes from Arabic, but has become a light, catchall term in Hebrew that means “cool” or “good” and can be used in many different ways, including as an adjective—“The food was really sababa”—and as a question—“I’ll call you later, sababa?”).
Sababa is the first solo cookbook (besides the pocket-sized Tahini Short Stacks Editions book) from Sussman, who previously co-authored 11 cookbooks, including model Chrissy Teigen’s two bestsellers and The Sprinkles Baking Book by Candace Nelson, and has written for a variety of food publications. Readers of Hadassah Magazine will recognize her from her regular column.
A California native, Sussman spent some time living in Israel in the 1990s before landing in New York to pursue a 20-plus-year food career. Five years ago, she made Tel Aviv her part-time home (a move which was solidified to full-time last year) after meeting her now-husband, Jay.
Despite having written about Jewish and Israeli food, she worried how the move to Israel would affect her career. When an opportunity to write an Israeli cookbook presented itself, she was hesitant, unsure of how a cookbook written by an “outsider” would be received.
Good thing she pressed on.
The result is Sababa, a colorful celebration of the market, which Sussman dove into and embraced after settling nearby. Flipping through the book, it’s hard not to smile. True to its subtitle, the pages are bright and sunny, featuring photos of Israeli produce and vibrant salads, all shot entirely in natural light by acclaimed Israeli photographer Dan Perez and styled by food stylist Nurit Kariv. Interspersed among the recipes are short stories about Sussman’s own acclimation in Israel and vignettes on the Carmel Market vendors and Tel Aviv restaurateurs who have become her trusty suppliers, neighbors and friends.
What I find most exciting about Sababa is the way it marries “traditional” Israeli dishes—staples like labaneh and hummus, schnitzel, knafeh (an Arab sweet made of noodle-like pastry and filled with cheese)—with dishes that seem right at home in the repertoire of Israeli food, yet distinctly reflect Sussman’s California/New York background: Ptitim (Israeli couscous) are an Israeli childhood staple, but certainly nothing like Sussman’s Cinnamony Smoky Eggplant Ptitim, and while tahini makes its way into every corner of the Israeli kitchen, few Israelis would think to put it in granola or blondies or use it to make a “magic shell” for popsicles. Pitaquiles (chilaquiles made with pita), Amba Tofu Curry and Pomegroni are additional examples of the Sussman touch.
At first glance, Sababa may not seem “authentically” Israeli, but a second look reveals otherwise: The seasonality, the market- and produce-first approach and the resourcefulness and creativity characteristic of immigrants—in this case, Sussman herself—are a perfect reflection of what is beloved about Israel and Israeli food.
The timing seems right, too. After Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem and Solomonov’s Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking and Israeli Soul (along with their, and other, Israeli or Israeli-inspired restaurants) introduced “classical” Israeli cuisine to the world, Sababa shows that Israeli food is ripe for play—and is here to stay. And that, if you ask me, is pretty sababa.
And what happens when Sussman’s Sababa and DC’s Sababa (restaurant) come together? Read here for a recap of a recent event moderated by DC’s very own Joan Nathan.
All photos: Dan Perez