On today’s show, we’re featuring two new cookbooks that we’re excited about, and the stories of the authors behind them. James Park’s new cookbook Chili Crisp: 50+ Recipes To Satisfy Your Spicy, Crunchy, Garlicky Cravings is a testament to how he’s never really followed the rules — and why that’s his secret weapon. Then we talk with Adeena Sussman, whose new book is Shabbat: Recipes and Rituals From My Table To Yours. Adeena spent years helping to write recipes for other peoples’ best-selling cookbooks, including Chrissy Teigen’s. Only recently did she start putting her own name on the cover — we talk about why.
Sign up for our newsletter by September 29 for a chance to win one of these cookbooks! If you’re already subscribed, you’re automatically entered to win.
The Sporkful production team includes Dan Pashman, Emma Morgenstern, Andres O'Hara, Nora Ritchie, and Jared O'Connell.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "Silver Bucket Seats Instrumental" by Ken Brahmstedt
- "National Waltzing" by Justin Asher
- "Talk To Me Now" by Hayley Briasco and Ken Brahmstedt
- "Soul Good" by Lance Conrad
- "Sweet Summer Love"
- "Secret Handshake" by Hayley Briasco
- "Stacks" by Erick Anderson
Photos courtesy of Lisa Rich and Heami Lee.
Dan Pashman: But first, James, we're in your apartment here?
James Park: Yes.
Dan Pashman: In Brooklyn. Like, just show me around. Some people have books on their bookshelves.
James Park: Yeah
Dan Pashman: You have a couple of shelves [James Park: I have two.] that are packed with a range of cookbooks that cover a range of cuisines, but [James Park: Mm-hmm.] there's a lot of other things on the bookshelves that are not books.
James Park: Yeah. I almost treat these as like my convenience store slash like pantry. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: So what are some of these items on the shelf?
James Park: Yeah, so there is, like, my instant noodle aisle, [DAN PASHMAN LAUGHS] where I just kind of have all different kinds of instant noodles. And on top of that, there is my snack aisle.
Dan Pashman: This is not, like, art. This is, actually, you're gonna eat these.
James Park: Yeah. But it's a little bit of both because I get pleasure of looking at grocery items. So, like, I go to grocery stores to be happy as my hobby?
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
James Park: You know, shopaholics window shop at different stores on Fifth Avenue. I go to Queens and go to five different grocery stores and just walk around the aisle.
Dan Pashman: Right. [LAUGHS]
James Park: That is, like, my hobby. So it's really hard to find friends who will do that with me.
Dan Pashman: James, I will walk around and market with you anytime.
James Park: Thank you.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it's not for foodies it's for eaters. I'm Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. On today’s show, we’re featuring two new cookbooks we’re really excited about, and the stories of the authors behind them. Later on, I’ll talk with Adeena Sussman about her new book, Shabbat. Adeena spent years helping to write recipes for other peoples’ best selling cookbooks, including Crissy Teigen’s. Only recently, did she start putting her own name on the cover. We’ll hear what changed.
Dan Pashman: But first, James Park, who’s just put out his debut cookbook, which has more than 50 recipes, all of them using chili crisp. Now, if one person could pull that off and make it amazing, it’s James — and when you hear his story, I think you’ll understand why.
Dan Pashman: I met James when he interned for The Sporkful years ago, but we kinda lost touch. Then a little while back, I was scrolling through Instagram, and I see this video about how to make a Korean corn cheese dip. And it looked so good, I was mesmerized by the cheese pull.
CLIP (JAMES PARK): How cheesy that is! Oh my God! So good.
Dan Pashman: I shared the video. Then, I watched the second time and I was like, “Wait a second, I know this guy!”. It was James! His Instagram handle is Jamesyworld, and he’s created this really inviting, warm universe of food for his audience. His bookshelves, filled with snacks, treats and ingredients from around the world, feel like an extension of that universe.
James Park: Okay. So my friend from Korea, she brought a bunch of snacks from Korea that I just feel kind of sad to open up and eat. So it’s kind of, like, my treasure thing.
Dan Pashman: You got some baked corn almond snacks.
James Park: Yeah. And there's a garlic bread chocolate that you're supposed to air fry.
Dan Pashman: What?
James Park: I know. So this is a chocolate, but, like, it has a garlic bread flavor. Like, you’re supposed to air fry it. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Have you had that?
James Park: No, because it's like ... it's .... I don't know.
Dan Pashman: So special.
James Park: Like, once I eat it, it's gonna be gone.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
James Park: And like, I don't want it to be gone at the same time. And I also wanna point out my Ina Garten shrine.
James Park: So here is a candle of her face that says, "How easy is that?", [DAN PASHMAN LAUGHS] and ...
Dan Pashman: You have a — this is a legit Ina Garten shrine. What is it about Ina Garten that you love so much?
James Park: Oh ....
Dan Pashman: I mean, I know many people love her, but for you?
James Park: Yeah, I mean, she just makes so many people happy and that's kind of the same line of, like, what I wanna do.
Dan Pashman: Like Ina, James’s approach to food is full of joy. But he had to go through a lot, and travel very far, to find that joy in the kitchen. He was born in Pohang South Korea, an oceanside city in the southeastern part of the country. He lived with his family in a gated community for employees of the company his dad worked for. All the students at his school were the children of those employees.
James Park: And it was a little strict in a way that everyone had to have a very short hair — just all the uniform. You know, like you have to follow the rules. And I am a very free spirit in a way that I felt like it was just really stressful to be in that kind of environment. I still got good grades and such. But I will never forget, like, all this traumatic experience of being called out by my teachers because my glasses were too fashionable for a student. I got slapped by my home teacher because my hair was too long in front of the entire class. I feel so oppressed in a way.
Dan Pashman: You describe yourself as a free spirit at that time. Did that also play out at that young age with food?
James Park: I think so because my parents were both working and one thing that I really wish I had is just like memories of, you know, cooking with my mom or just seeing someone in the kitchen. I basically took care of myself in a way that. I didn't want to eat Instant Ramen every day. So I watched TV to followe the recipe. And there was a little coin box that my parents added, and I look through it and see what I could get at the supermarket and just kind of figure out, myself, how to cook. Looking back, I think I was always very much interested in cooking appliances or watching other people eat. [LAUGHS] You know, all of that.
Dan Pashman: It sounds to me like that was like, the one time of the day where you — where there were no rules.
James Park: Yeah. Oh, yeah! Now, is this like a therapy session?
James Park: Oh, wait. Yeah. Yeah. I think it was my attempt of trying to recreate the type of a family environment that I wanted to be in. I think I always wished my mom were, like, stay home mom, and just kind of like — sorry, I don't know why I'm getting emotional. Wow.
Dan Pashman: It’s okay. Yeah, that's just intense stuff.
James Park: Yeah, because there's really no one who would like get me afternoon snack or make me food. And I remember, I loved being sick when I was young because that would be, like, the time that my mom would come home early and make like juk and like, you know, actually see her in the kitchen to take care of me. And just, like, hearing her clean the house and stuff like that, it made me so happy knowing that my mom was at home.
Dan Pashman: But as James says, those days when his mom came home early were the exception. As a young teen, he felt lonely at home, and he continued to have a hard time in school, where he felt like he couldn't really be himself. Then he was offered an opportunity, a way for him to get out. His tutor was moving, her husband was going to medical school in Texas. And she offered to take James with her. His parents would pay them.
James Park: So my parents at the time thought, you know, James hates being in school and like, stressed. And my brother was really advocate of like, you know, I think he'll be really great. It was like a perfect situation, because I just wanted to escape.
Dan Pashman: So when James was 13, his parents agreed to let him move to America with this Korean couple that he knew — just to try it out.
James Park: None of us, including myself, imagined that it would — I would still be here. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Right.
James Park: This was never like a long-term thing.
Dan Pashman: Within a year after arriving in Texas, the tutor and her husband ended up having to move again and they couldn't take James with them. But at that point, he didn’t want to go back to Korea. His mom had a childhood friend living in Alabama. She ran a business hosting Korean high school students like James, so he moved there, where he was one of several kids living with her.
James Park: She never came to my award ceremony or any of things that I participated. And I always felt so lonely at those kind of places because, like, those are made for like parents to take pictures and, like, all of that. But I just didn't have anyone who would show up for that. I think she didn't know what type of a person I was. So I wanted to get involved with choir and theater, all this extracurricular because that was kind of my way of somewhat pursuing my forever dream of becoming a K-pop idol, so ... [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Right. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: In this environment, James felt like he had to get out, again. This time he asked for help from his teachers in Alabama.
James Park: And my theater teacher, basically, posted, "There’s this Korean boy who needs home [LAUGHS] on Facebook. And the family that I stay — who unofficially adopted me, basically responded, and I moved in on Christmas Eve. And from then I just kind of became a part of the family there.
Dan Pashman: This new family wasn't Korean — they were white, from the South. And they were very different from the other hosts James had lived with in America. He came up with nicknames for his host parents. He called the dad Lurch, and the mom Princess.
Dan Pashman: Joining this family required some adjustments. James had essentially been raising himself for so long. For instance, he was used to coming and going whenever he wanted, without telling anyone where he was going or when he’d be back.
James Park: She had to sit me down, like, "James, like, if you are a part of the family, you have to act one," and like, I always felt like I have to look out for myself. So I never had this mindset of like, I'm a part of their family. You know, I'm just on my own, but they're here to just host me. But she was the one who was like, "You are a part of my family. I'm your mom. You're my son. You have to act accordingly." And that was kind of, like, my wake up call of, wow. Like really is my mom and I have to act like that.
Dan Pashman: That family bond showed up in the kitchen, too, where Princess invited James to cook with her.
James Park: She's the one who really opened the door of, like, the joy of cooking. And she was the one who provided me the scene of, like, cooking together in the kitchen and like walking me through. And she was the first person who showed me how to make Caesar salad, how to make good roast chicken. Just a very good American food that I wasn't exposed to and good southern food as well. When she was making roast chicken — Julia Child way — and she was just kind of walking me through, like, her technique of, like, why she always like cooked the bird thigh up first, so that like the fat from thigh would, like, go down to the breast. And then, when that part of the skin gets crisp, she would call all the boys — so, like, it's me and one older brother and one younger brother. So there are three boys and, like, we would literally line up and she would cut little corners of crispy chicken skin and like dangle in front of our front.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
James Park: Like, "What do you say?", and like, "I love you."
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
James Park: And then she'll, like, feed all of us.
Dan Pashman: Like a mama bird.
James Park: Yeah. And I just love that I have that kind of memories. I have so many like food memories that I always wanted to have when I grew up in Korea, but like now the fact that I have that with my American family is just, like, I'm just so happy that that exists in my memory.
Dan Pashman: James decided to stay in the U.S. for college, but he left Alabama for New York City. If Alabama had given him an education on American Southern food, New York gave him an education on world cuisines. He didn't have a kitchen his freshman year, so he sampled all the restaurants he could, including Korean places. And then the following year, when he did have a kitchen ...
James Park: That's when I really started cooking to explore what I liked. And I think that really gave me a sense of purpose of, like, wow, I wanna feel like this all the time. Just kind of the tendency of no rules in the kitchen. I think that's when I knew that, like, okay, I'm going to have a life dedicated to this.
Dan Pashman: James did a joint program at Pace University and the International Culinary Center, basically getting a culinary school degree while completing his Bachelor’s. He had promised his Korean parents that he wouldn’t become a chef. They were worried about his future if he cooked in restaurants. So he focused instead on food media. And in 2017, he interned at the food site Eater. In this world of reporters and writers and editors, he found his place on the social media team, telling stories through videos …
CLIP (JAMES PARK): Oh my God. Do you see this? I did now know that was gonna come out this beautiful, but I'm a proud dad of my adorable gimbap babies. Look at all their layers, colorful ingredients, and it's a perfect ...
James Park: I make recipe videos. I make, just like food videos that make people happy. And I think that kind of became my tagline in a way, because so many people have told me that just watching me eat and being myself made them happy.
Dan Pashman: I'm not surprised to hear this. James's energy and enthusiasm are infectious. He eats with abandon, to the point that he keeps a small handheld fan at his dining table, because he’s often so delighted with what he’s eating that he breaks into a sweat. Early on, a lot of the food he was eating on social media was Korean food. But when the pandemic hit, he found a new obsession.
James Park: I started collecting, like, so many different chili crisps that it was a collection of 10 to 15 different chili crisps.
Dan Pashman: He started diving deep into chili crisp, learning more about it. And while the best known varieties are Chinese, chili crisp is a general term for a condiment made of three components:
James Park: There's a oil, there's a chili, and there's flavoring agent. So depending on what you are using into these three categories, you are creating this endless amount of option.
Dan Pashman: One of the first and most popular brands of chili crisp out there is Lao Gan Ma.
James Park: I would say the godmother of the chili crisp that really got me into the whole exploring of chili crisps.
Dan Pashman: Right. It’s like the Heinz ketchup of chili crisp.
James Park: Honestly, yes.
Dan Pashman: Lao Gan Ma has been around for about 40 years and for many people it’s the gateway chili crisp. But in the last decade, the number of chili crisp options out there has exploded, which is how James was able to find 10 or 15 different kinds on the market during the pandemic — including two of my favorites, Fly By Jing and Kari Kari. Each one is distinctive. They vary in their flavorings, their spice level, and the ratio of crispy bits to oil. James quickly developed his own preferences.
James Park: Most of the chili crisp oil is neutral oil. But nowadays, like even Trader Joe's version of chili crisp, that is, like, not spicy, but more of a crisp — it's made with olive oil. But if you are using peanut oil versus mustard oil, like it's a different base and the pepper flakes are also adding a different layer of like — are you using gochugaru? Are you using Sichuan peppercorn? Are you using Aleppo pepper? there's so many pepper flakes that create a different blend. So it's like 70/30 of this and like, you know, so much room to experiment. So that alone can be chili crisp But the exciting part also comes in the flavoring. So are you adding soy sauce? Are you not adding soy sauce? Are you adding MSG? Are you adding fried garlic? Are you adding fresh shallot? So if you think of it at the formula of these three thing, there are just infinite number of chili crisps that you can create depending on your liking.
Dan Pashman: Wow.
James Park: I sound like a nerd.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
James Park: Oh my God. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: James was getting in really deep. He was trying dozens of different chili crisps, and eventually, he wrote a piece about chili crisp for Eater. A publisher saw it and approached him — would he like to do a whole cookbook on chili crisp? At first he felt a little uneasy with the idea.
James Park: I always thought chili crisp was Chinese condiment. I thought all Chinese family had a version of that. They grew up with it. So that's why I partially felt like that's, as a Korean immigrant, it's not something that I could somewhat touch. But as I started learning more and more, there's a Moroccan chili crisp, there's a Filipino chili crisps — so many chefs are — and brands and companies are really infusing different kind of ingredients to create a new blend of flavor. And I think that's when I somewhat felt the confirmation that I could make my version that really had the "Koreanness", my preferred crispness …
Dan Pashman: James signed the book deal, and now his book with more than 50 recipes using chili crisp is out. He has three different recipes for actual chili crisps in the book. There's Everyday Savory chili crisp, Very Nutty, and Garlicky Onion Crunch. And he uses these in all his recipes, although he also tested each one with Lao Gan Ma.
James Park: For me personally, I love the crisp, so I — my chili crisp doesn't have that much oil. It's super, super savory. And it also uses, like, Korean red pepper flakes — gochugaru. So like, it's very optimal for cooking Korean cuisine compared to Lao Gan Ma or a Fly by Jing that may have more of a Chinese taste. People have right to shop around, just like how people can date around other people until they found the perfect match.
Dan Pashman: And so are you committed to your chili crisp for life, James?
James Park: I feel like you should taste it right now.
Dan Pashman: But, I — yes.
James Park: Yes?
Dan Pashman: Yes, I will be happy to taste it, but I'm not asking if it's the right chili crisp for me to marry.
James Park: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: I'm asking it's the right chili crisp for you to marry.
James Park: I think so. So that's why I kind of stopped buying so many different kinds. But I do buy it as a part of a research because I don't believe in one forever love. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Okay. [LAUGHS]
James Park: So, I could try ...
Dan Pashman: James loves his chili crisp recipes, but he tweaks them from time to time and uses others on occasion. And as he set out to work on his cookbook, in addition to coming up with a different type of chili crisp, he also wanted to use it in different ways.
James Park: I don't like that chili crisp has become this afterthought. Everyone just kind of created and put it at the end, which is a great way, but I can't write a book about — make all this thing and finish with chili crisps.
Dan Pashman: Right. [LAUGHS]
James Park: You know, like, I can't do that.
Dan Pashman: Right. That’s not gonna fill the whole book.
James Park: Right. So that's when I start to think of like, what if I do this? Like, what if I use this as a main seasoning? What if I use this as a part of dessert?
Dan Pashman: So James has recipes that use chili crisp at the beginning, so it gets cooked, which infuses its flavors into a dish differently than if you put it on top at the end. Dishes like Skillet Roasted Chili Crisp Chicken and Vegetables, or Whipped Ricotta Toast with Spicy Tomato Confit. And yes, he has chili crisp desserts! The condiment is already well known as a topping on vanilla soft serve, but James also does Sesame Crusted Gochugaru Shortbread Cookies and a Spicy Citrus Pound Cake, among others. When he hit on all these new and different uses for chili crisp …
James Park: That's when I felt like I personally unlocked this like, world of chili crisp that I didn't know that exists. And I'm not honestly sure that people will be happy to hear about it, but I ...
Dan Pashman: I think they're gonna be happy, James.
James Park: I wanna like push that boundary of like, have you thought about this? Like, have you thought about this?
Dan Pashman: You want to break the rules.
James Park: Exactly. That is me. I just wanna break the rules. That's ...
Dan Pashman: That's right.
James Park: That's what I wanna do with my chili crisp.
Dan Pashman: That Korean school couldn't contain you.
James Park: Wow.
Dan Pashman: Chili crisp couldn't contain you — the tradition.
James Park: I feel like I have to pay you for this therapy session [DAN PASHMAN LAUGHS] because I — see, this all gave me even more reason of why I am writing this chili crisp book. Because I am here to break the rules of what chili crisp can do, and I feel like I am the person who will always break the rules.
Dan Pashman: That my friends is James Park, his new cookbook is Chili Crisp: 50+ Recipes To Satisfy Your Spicy, Crunchy, Garlicky Cravings. It’s out now wherever books are sold. And James dedicated it to Lurch and Princess.
Dan Pashman: One more note, I’m excited to tell you that James and I collaborated on several recipes in my cookbook. More on that coming soon! Coming up, I talk with Adeena Sussman about her new cookbook, and her journey to becoming more comfortable writing about Israeli food. Stick around.
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I'm Dan Pashman. And if you'd like the chance to win either one of the two cookbooks that we are featuring in this week's episode, here's your chance. All you got to do is sign up for our newsletter, which I think is kind of it's own gift. We just email once a week to say what everyone who works on The Sporkful is eating and reading, tell you about that week's episode. It's delicious. It's fun. You're gonna like it and you'll be entered to win each of these two cookbooks — James Park's and Adeena Sissman's. If you're already one our mailing list, you're automatically entered. So just get on the list, then you'll be automatically entered into our next giveaway. Sign up by September 29th for this give way. Go to Sporkful.com/newsletter. Do it right now while you're listening. Sporkful.com/newletter.
Dan Pashman: One last thing: school has just started up again, and we want to hear from parents who pack lunch for their kids. What are the biggest lunch packing victories and biggest defeats. You got any stories to share? You got any hot tips about making school lunches or things to avoids? We want to hear it all of it. Send us an email with your first name, your location, and your school lunch packing story to email@example.com. Thanks.
Dan Pashman: Okay, back to the show. Adeena Sussman has co-authored 14 cookbooks, including multiple bestsellers. That means that she worked alongside authors, like Chrissy Teigen, to conceive and develop recipes. It’s a very important role, but not one that gets a lot of credit. A few years back, Adeena started writing her own cookbooks. She lives in Tel-Aviv, and in 2019, she published Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors From My Israeli Kitchen.
Dan Pashman: Her latest cookbook is Shabbat: Recipes and Rituals from My Table to Yours. Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest, and it starts on Friday evening with some prayers and, most important in my house at least, a big family meal. Adeena grew up in northern California, in a modern Orthodox family. That means they were pretty religious, although not with the black hats and black coats. Shabbat dinner in her home was a cherished ritual, and a major event.
Adeena Sussman: We lived in a small community and, you know, sometimes people will find in thrift stores sort of like Jewish travel guides from the 1980s and our phone number is in all of them. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Are you serious? [LAUGHS]
Adeena Sussman: 493-1639, like the Sussman family. Like if you need a place for Shabbat, just give a call. And so, you know, oftentimes my dad would bring someone home from synagogue on Friday night, or my mom would get a call about someone who had come to Stanford for a medical treatment, or there was someone in town for a convention or a sabbatical at Stanford, and we — yeah, there was always — it was an expanding table. We had three leaves to our table and you know, it was a weekly sort of calculation of how many leaves we had to add to the table in order to accommodate all of our guests.
Dan Pashman: Right, like this one's a big one! it's a three-leafer!
Adeena Sussman: A three-leafer, exactly.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] Why were people coming to your house so much?
Adeena Sussman: My father was a physicist, and after he got his Ph.D. at Stanford, my parents stayed in California. And it was a very small Orthodox Jewish community. And, you know, because our house had a high level of kashrut or kosher observance, we had a lot of visitors who kept strictly kosher, including Nobel laureates and, you know, authors and artists. People knew that it was a place that everyone could eat, so everyone found their way to our house. [LAUGHS] It was really fun, I mean, I met all kinds of people. You know, I would come home sometimes from summer camp and my father would drag my suitcase into my room and point at my bed and say, the chief rabbi of France slept in your bed. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Adeena went to college in Boston, then spent five years in Jerusalem. She found work in TV production, and spent her free time, as she put it, playing cards, drinking iced coffee, and eating french fries with friends. In 2000, she moved to New York, and got a job as a copywriter for Gourmet magazine, right at the time when food media was on the rise. She decided this was the field for her.
Adeena Sussman: The lexicon of food and food people and food world was just a place that I always felt really at home. And I liked the idea of sort of shared values and interests over something that we were all passionate about that could take me all over the world in traveling. I think, also, just suits my creative, but nonlinear personality. And also like, I do consider myself creative and artistic, but food is my only medium.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Adeena Sussman: Like I'm a horrible, horrible drawer, painter, sculptor. Like ...
Dan Pashman: Right. You’re not a polymath.
Adeena Sussman: No. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: You’re a one medium artist. [LAUGHS]
Adeena Sussman: I can’t do felting. I can barely put an origami together. Like I just — there's — like, you know, there — I can't do a lot.
Dan Pashman: Right. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Soon, Adeena started developing recipes for magazines. And she got into the world of cookbooks, as a co-author.
Adeena Sussman: And I really liked the collaborative process of, you know, being someone else's conduit to help their recipes, sort of dreams, [LAUGHS] hopes and dreams come true. The idea that I could help other people and make a good living at the same time was really something that appealed to me and excited to me. And I got to the point where, you know, recipe developing for other people was really something that I didn't envision a career beyond that.
Dan Pashman: And during this time Adeena was also visiting Israel a lot, and writing stories about the Israeli food scene for magazines and newspapers.
Adeena Sussman: What I loved about discovering Israel was that so much of the country and its food is instilled with, you know, Jewish history and culture, and heritage — in addition to, obviously, Palestinian, Arab, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and many other cultures that influenced the cuisine here. But you know, that was also the time that I was becoming less ritually observant as a Jew. And for me, food was just a huge door opener, a way to break down cultural barriers and get to know people really fast. And I — and you know, I did eventually stop keeping kosher.
Dan Pashman: Well, it's interesting that you say, you know, that you're diving deeper into food seem to happen around the same time that you moved away from religious observance.
Adeena Sussman: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: You know, because I think — and and this is probably true with other groups. This is how I think about sort of Jewish identity. To me, it's like there's sort of two parts. There's the religious part and there's the cultural part. You can be like, not at all religious, but still be very culturally Jewish.
Adeena Sussman: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: It makes sense to me that maybe while moving away from the religious part, you would gravitate to the cultural part, because you don't want to lose your connection to it entirely.
Adeena Sussman: Yeah. Yeah, I know. I never rebelled against the way I was raised, I — actually, it was a very positive experience for me, and it wasn't — it wasn't imbued with any extremism or, you know, any of the -isms that I find distasteful often with people who are fundamentalist in any way. My family around me is still, observant, keeps Shabbat, keeps kosher, and, you know, I take — I took a lot from that.
Dan Pashman: So you're humming along, your career is growing, you're writing cookbooks for other people, you're doing occasional articles and recipes on your own, and [Adeena Sussman: Yeah.] things all seem to be going well, you weren't necessarily looking for a new path, and yet it seems you found one.
Adeena Sussman: Yeah. You know, I had become increasingly enamored with Tel Aviv, and around the same time, I met my now husband, Jay, who's an American Israeli, who's been living in Israel for decades, and I ended up moving here about eight years ago. And at the time, my main work was — I was still co-authoring books and I was working with Chrissy Teigen and I was really enjoying that path and that collaboration. You know, through my work with Chrissy, I had gained more of a public following on social media and I decided to really test that and really just post about my life in the market and my life, you know, immersing myself in Israeli food and to see whether that would be of interest to people. People loved seeing the market through my eyes every day, loved when I talked to the vendors, loved when I went to cook with someone in their home, loved when I took a road trip to a winery or an olive oil press or just all the different things that I get to do living in such a small and culturally and culinarily dynamic place. And I did realize that I had a lot to share and that I might be able to do it in a unique way,
Dan Pashman: Adeena pitched her own cookbook based on her life in Israel, shopping in the market, or shuk. But while writing the book, she struggled to figure out what exactly she wanted to say.
Adeena Sussman: It was definitely a challenging personal moment for me because I, once I sold the book, I did have to stop myself and say, okay, like there are incredible people already in this space. We have Yotam Otelenghi and Michael Solomonov and Einat Admoni and Alon Shaya and many other people who were writing Israeli cookbooks or Israeli influenced cookbooks and what what did I have to say that was new? What was I going to bring that was going to deepen or advance this conversation? And so, I had to really dig deep and realize that going personal and telling my personal story and sharing my own journey through the Shuk was the way to go. And also, that all of those amazing chefs were people with Israeli heritage, but that were living in the United States. And I'm actually a hundred percent American and was living in Israel. So I had like a different perspective and it was sort of flipping the script a little bit. So, of being sort of a culinary and insider outsider in a culture and like that that can actually be an advantage as long as you don't deign to be more of an expert than the locals.
Dan Pashman: As I said to Adeena, that can be a challenge in Israel …
Dan Pashman: Israelis aren't alone in this, but they have very strong opinions about [ADEENA LAUGHS] how every single food is supposed to be made.
Adeena Sussman: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: My running joke when we were in Israel last summer was that the one thing you'll never hear an Israeli say is, "Oh, that's interesting. I don't know much about that."
Adeena Sussman: [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHING]
Adeena Sussman: Oh my gosh. That is so true. My way into Israeli kitchens is by playing dumb and just, you know, I defer to the home cook and I let them tell me exactly how it is that they think it should be made. And then if I wanna make adjustments, I mean, you know, it's shocking to some Israeli home cooks [DAN PASHMAN LAUGHS] to learn that there might be ways that they could improve upon their recipes. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Adeena forged ahead, sharing her experience of Israeli food in her first solo cookbook, Sababa. It was named a Best New Cookbook of Fall 2019 by The New York Times, Bon Appetit, and many others. Adeena was able to give her audience a taste of modern Tel Aviv, which is a rapidly evolving city.
Adeena Sussman: I mean, there are more cranes in Tel Aviv, like per capita, I think, than like in many cities in the world right now. There's just so much building going on, so much development. So many people want to live in this part of Israel. There's luxury hotels and tons of beautiful apartment buildings, but there's also still that crumbling feeling, which I love so much. There are Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers who have made their home in Tel Aviv. It's a very multicultural place.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, and Tel Aviv is on the Mediterranean, so it’s a beach city. In some ways it feels like Spain or the South of France. And then you have Jews there who came to Israel from all over the place after being in those places for generations, so they've brought Syrian and Persian and North African cuisine and so many others.
Adeena Sussman: There's a cafe culture, incredible coffee, wonderful bakeries, food 24/7, people hanging out. It's very casual. You could wear a t-shirt or a tuxedo to a wedding in Tel Aviv and feel totally at home. There's very little formality in the culture, it’s a very progressive city.
Dan Pashman: Adeena says that you can drive 45 minutes from Tel Aviv and be in an ultra orthodox town, a transition she says can make your head spin. But Tel Aviv is where she feels at home. And even there, where people tend to be less religious, Shabbat is an integral part of the culture. So it fits with her own approach to her Jewish identity.
Adeena Sussman: Shabbat is the weekend. Shabbat is a weekly national holiday. [LAUGHS] It's the time that the country takes a collective sigh of relief and kind of relaxes. And people are pretty ... pretty strict about not using their phone for work purposes. I actually sort of had to sort of adjust my New York personality to my Tel Aviv personality when I first moved here. I just took a while for me to even just stop writing emails or sending messages, not even if I expected people to respond on Shabbat.
Dan Pashman: Adeena’s latest cookbook embraces this culture of Shabbat, while bringing in recipes and stories of the Shabbat that she grew up with. There are stews and kugels, the more Eastern European dishes she ate on Shabbat as a kid, and ones that reflect how she celebrates Shabbat now, with Middle Eastern influenced dips, snacks, and cocktails.
Dan Pashman: Not surprisingly, an ingredient that gets a starring role is sesame.
Adeena Sussman: Uh-huh.
Dan Pashman: In all of its forms, halva, tahini, [Adeena Sussman: Yeah.] all kinds of things. I love sesame. I love savory sesame dishes. I love sesame desserts. Tell me about this sesame pavlova challah bread.
Adeena Sussman: In Orthodox Jewish circles, there's a trend to do sweet toppings on challah. So you'll see challahs that are topped with like cinnamon streusel or crumble or all kinds of things. And I just kind of had this idea, like wondered what it would be like to put a meringue on top of a challah. I had never seen it before and I liked the idea of like a crisp kind of a sweet element on top of the challah. So I played around with the recipe a lot and then once I added sesame seeds to the top, it, like, really grounded the sweetness and added even another layer of crunch to the recipe and just thought it was kind of surprising. And you know, I do like to create recipes that cause people to take a step back and think about something that they're familiar with in a new way. And it's like soft and squidgy underneath and crisp on the top and it’ a really fun recipe.
Dan Pashman: But it's also, it seems to me like it's gonna add that — it's gonna add texture in a really interesting way. That sort of like fluffy but crispy egg white, texture on top of bread is gonna — like, I need to eat that.
Adeena Sussman: Yeah, it's a fun, challenging and cool recipe. And it's honestly, if you like eat it with really good salted French butter, like you don't really [Dan Pashman: Ohh.] need much more. You know?
Dan Pashman: Oh, my god. [LAUGHS]
Adeena Sussman: It's just so good. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] And then I also saw Halva bread pudding with tahini drizzle — that's another sesame dish.
Adeena Sussman: Uh-huh.
Dan Pashman: Sweet potatoes with miso tahini butter. So you just — I mean, like an Israeli, you're drizzling tahini on just about everything.
Adeena Sussman: Yeah, there's even a shaken tahini iced coffee recipe in the book. You know, I had never seen that before, I just — you know, it's incredible what you can do with tahina. Its really so versatile and it enriches things. It grounds recipes. It plays well with sweet things and savory things.
Dan Pashman: The cookbook also reflects Israel’s place as a hub for immigrants, with Libyan risotto, Ethiopian swiss chard, and a Moroccan eggplant dish. To Adeena, this makes sense in a place where the food scene is constantly evolving, whether that means new influences coming in, or revisiting the classics.
Adeena Sussman: Shawarma, which is, you know, sort of a street food staple is definitely undergoing a renaissance. And there are so many new shawarma places where there's a kind of a quality revolution in the meat that's used, attention paid to the condiments, the greens that are in there, the pita itself. Like it's kind of all come together and they're — people are sort of re-celebrating shawarma, like in my opinion, very successfully here.
Dan Pashman: That — I mean, when I'm in Israel, that's my priority. My priority is on shawarma.
Adeena Sussman: [LAUGHS] Yeah.
Dan Pashman: And so, I'm here for the renaissance.
Dan Pashman: That’s Adeena Sussman. Her cookbook, Shabbat: Recipes and Rituals from My Table to Yours. It's available wherever books are sold.
Dan Pashman: And if you want to win Adeena's book or James Park's books, you got to be on our mailing list. If you're already on our list, then you're already entered into this and all of our giveaways. Sign up by September 29 for this one. Go to Sporkful.com/newsletter.
Dan Pashman: Next week’s show, French colonialism helped spread France’s culinary influence across the globe. So what does it mean for a food to be considered French? And how do people in these colonized countries feel about the French influence on their cuisines today? We try to answer these questions with the stories of two dishes: banh mi and couscous. That’s next week.
Dan Pashman: In the meantime, check out last week’s episode, about the invention of a brand new kind of apple, the Cosmic Crisp.