Celebrity Chef and Cookbook Author Talks Middle Eastern Cuisine- Interview with Adeena Sussman
By: Mussy Raitman, Lubicom Staff
Adeena, a cookbook author, food writer, recipe and product developer, lives in sunny Tel Aviv and is the author of 11 cookbooks. Not only has she really explored the Israeli cooking scene and food culture for Food and Wine, but in her latest collaboration she has paired up with celebrity Chrissy Teigen to create their second co-authorship, Cravings: Hungry For More, a New York Times bestseller.
So you’re currently living in Israel, I’m assuming you’re a fan of Middle Eastern cuisine…
Of course. From the basics, like falafel and shawarma, to new Israeli innovations like the whole roasted cauliflower, there’s always something delicious here. Middle Eastern and Israeli food take cues from so many immigrant cultures – Israeli food is the ultimate melting pot.
Israel is known for its incredible breakfast spread. I know all I crave is a good Shakshuka with fresh bread.
Yeh, there is nothing like a good Israeli breakfast. My go to is definitely roasted cherry tomatoes, scrambled eggs, a good hunk of feta, and an iced coffee.
But, anyone who follows me on Instagram knows I practically pay rent in the Carmel Market – I live 50 meters away and pop in daily to see what’s fresh and in season.
I’m assuming that means you use a lot of local products…
I use about a gallon of local olive oil a week, a similar amount of tahini, and I am obsessed with local feta cheeses like Ha’Meiri, which has been made by the same family in Z’fat for more than 150 years.
Right now I am loving the smooth-skinned Ettinger avocados, which I’ve grown to prefer over bumpy Haas avocados from Mexico. Also, kumquats have just popped into the market and I love to eat them fresh, preserve them like preserved lemons, or slice them thin and throw them into chicken, salads – everything!
Living in Israel, you’re surrounded by Jewish heritage. Does this influence your cooking?
The great emphasis on hospitality that I learned from my parents in our home informs everything I do. Food is made to nourish, to share, to comfort, to please. Shabbat in our home was sacred – the time around the family table that we all needed to connect ad a family. It taught me the power of food and to always make sure there’s enough for an extra guest – or 20.
It wouldn’t be a Jewish home without those last-minute guests…
Growing up in a kosher home teaches you to be organized, considerate of others’ dietary needs, and to be creative and resourceful when trying to achieve maximum flavor when sometimes every ingredient isn’t at your disposal. It helped me a lot when I wrote a cookbook for people with MS, where many ingredients were off limits. Also, my late mom, Stephanie Sussman, z”l’s heimishe-style cooking inspires every dish I make – I want it to be delicious but never feel off limits.
I’ve got to ask, what was it like working with celebrity Chrissy Teigen?
It was fun, exciting, and I learned a lot. I interviewed for the job along with several other writers/recipe developers, so it was great to get chosen.
That’s a big compliment…
The first day I worked with her, the paparazzi stalked her at the supermarket and my sandal appeared in an online gossip magazine. But otherwise, we would just hang out at her house riffing on recipe ideas. Sometimes I’d be at the grocery store and we’d flurry-text concepts until we came to an idea of what we wanted to cook. Then we’d embark on marathon 12-hour cooking sessions where we were simultaneously developing, tasting, and tweaking along the way.
Sounds like the perfect mixture of business and fun...
The variety of every day as a cookbook author is astounding – the chance to discover new tastes, learn from others, flex my own creativity, and be inspired by the sights, sounds, and smells all around me. Food is truly an expression of one’s self and I feel honored that people are interested in what I have to say.
Photo: Evan Sung
Any favorites from the book?
Maybe the chicken and dumpling soup from the second book because the dumpling is sort of a matzo-ball ripoff.
So I hear you’re already onto your next cookbook adventure, Sababa.
The subtitle is, “The fresh, sunny flavors of Israel Home Cooking.”
I live in Tel Aviv and the food here is vegetable-forward, filled with lemon and spice, and just plain delicious. I want to teach people how to use all of the staples of the Israeli kitchen, from silan to schug, in a lot of creative, do-able ways. There’s a coffee cake with a halvah crumble and a schug-marinated lamb chop, to name two recipes.
Sounds very hands-on and delicious. Coming from Australia, I love a good lamb chop…
Other than my Tahini cookbook, which came out in 2016 and was a small hand-illustrated work, this is my first major solo book release.
So it’s a different project than most of your other work.
I’ve co-authored 11 books on behalf of others, and let me tell you – it’s exciting and a little scary to stand out there all on your own. This is the first book 100 percent informed by my point of view and way I like to cook.
Wow!! Good luck with it all. I can’t wait to buy a copy.