The Little Bakery beneath my apartment located in Tel Aviv has lines out the door every Friday morning when customers queue to purchase freshly baked bread, a sweet treat, and fresh flowers, which are only sold on Fridays. This is the case all over the city’s coast along the Mediterranean, in which the Sabbath, also known as Shabbat in Hebrew, is a major part of the culture. For those who are religious or not, Friday night dinners are a must and is a time to spend with friends, family and plenty of food in the middle.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to an Shabbat evening with my family at the Tel Aviv home of Adeena Sussman, an American-born writer of the latest publication “Shabbat: Recipes and Rituals From My Table to Yours” (Avery). There’s no one more adept in bringing what’s happening in the Tel Aviv aesthetic to the American home cook than Sussman, who has gained an online following by posting regular updates about the shuk, a public market in the vicinity of her home, and a glimpse into the informal dinner parties she hosts on her outdoor terrace.
Shabbat can be described as Shabbat is the Jewish holiday of relaxation, the day when most of its traditional observers aren’t allowed to cook, work or use electricity, in addition to other limitations. It begins shortly before sundown Friday and continues for 25 hours, with its customary conclusion being marked by the sighting of three stars sparkling in the night sky. It can be a bit mysterious, like you’ve left time behind and entered a space in which there is nothing but the time.
Adeena Sussman is in her Tel Aviv kitchen, preparing Chicken Thighs, stuffed with roasted Figs as well as Grapes. Check out the recipe below.
Within the bustling and cosmopolitan mostly non-secular city of Tel Aviv, Shabbat is less of a religious event, and more time for family and friends to relax. Friday mornings are filled with cooking and shopping until late in the afternoon. peace and quiet descends upon the city.
“Shabbat is a state of mind,” said Sussman she hopes that her book will encourage people from all kinds of backgrounds to appreciate the many advantages of Shabbat. “The intimacy, the conversations and the ritual of the meal–that’s what makes it the most memorable. The people are seeking safe landing areas that are soft and secure nowadays.”
The intimacy and the conversation, as well as the meal’s ritual–that’s the main event.’
I walked into her home within the Yemenite Quarter when it had settled down. The public transportation system was not operating, and the Yemeni bakeries and soup joints, which hark back to the past of the neighborhood as a city that was a stomping ground for immigrants, were shut. Sussman set the dinner time at 7 p.m. to allow us to enjoy the outdoors as the sun went down and a slight breeze blew into the area off the coast.
As I did, Sussman grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home. Sussman has since retreated from strict religious practices, but has returned to Shabbat partly because of the enticement of the ways Israelis celebrate Shabbat and also due to the diverse menu of Shabbat food items that span European, Middle Eastern, North African and Persian cuisines.
Karen Lerman brings the Moroccan Carrot Salad to the table. Shani Marom, and Or Marom pour the Cucumber-Gin Cooler drinks. See the recipes below.
Sussman enjoys spending Fridays cooking while family and friends pop into and out. “It’s all very transparent,” she told me. “The best Shabbats are rarely about fancy food.” She made everything for us ahead of time with a cucumber-gin cool cocktail served just as I entered the restaurant and joined a small group of relatives and friends including her husband Jay and their children and grandchildren.
The meal started with some traditional Shabbat rituals to start things off. After everyone was seated at the dining table, Sussman ignited two candles, closed her eyes, and prayed the blessing. After that, she offered a Hebrew ceremony over her wine. The 5-year-old granddaughter of her, Yuval, helped bless the challah sticks with a pull-apart with the same Middle Eastern topping: sumac sesame, za’atar, sesame, and marash chile flakes with a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt on the top. Challah is a type of bread that resembles brioche is a vital ingredient for any Shabbat meal. Sussman makes use of turmeric to give her bread the golden color.
Left to Right: Adeena Sussman hosts Shabbat dinner on the patio of the house she lives located in Tel Aviv; Pull-Apart Challah Sticks. Learn the recipe below.
Chicken with figs and grapes roasted were served in an intense, sweet sauce. The challah was the ideal vehicle to soak it all up. An apricot-spicy Moroccan vegetable salad from Sussman was a spin on a dish served on many Friday night dinner tables in Israel. The heat of the harissa-bathed carrots was tempered by the acidity of lemon and the sweetness from the dates.
My most loved dish during the meal, the bright vegetable called kugel, was a mix between frittata and casserole. I grew up with the potato variety, which is the kind you find in Jewish soul-food that is a hit to the ribs. Sussman also adds zucchini and carrots to create a lighter and fluffier meal. She also slices the vegetables into spirals, which is a impressive feature. To finish, we dipped into a lime-coconut custard tart with a crunchy pecan crust. It was served with huge spoonfuls of whipped cream piled over the top. I enjoyed two slices.
After dinner, it was just as the evening had begun. We gathered in the lounge, where we talked about, drank, and ate leftover challah that was slathered with salty butter until well into the evening. The majority of Western dinner party is over when the meal is finished, Sussman said: “Here the meal is often the launching pad for a smaller, deeper conversation and more relaxation.”