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Shuk up your menu!

Cookbooks offer taste of Israeli food markets

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"I guess you could say I came to Israel for love - but stayed for the shuk" explains Adeena Sussman in Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors from My Israeli Kitchen (Avery: 2019). A transplant from New York, Ms. Sussman moved to Israel a few years ago when she met her Israeli husband Ilan, and now lives just steps from Tel Aviv's vibrant Carmel shuk (food market). 

The co-author of eleven cookbooks, Sussman has finally found her home, allowing the shuk's seasonal produce to dictate her daily meals. Sababa , which means "fabulous" in Hebrew, lets us share in this flavorful culinary world.

A chapter called "Before you start" opens the book, giving step-by-step instructions for several spice blends that give Israeli foods a distinctive zing. The spice blend Baharat , featuring cardamom, cinnamon, pepper and cloves, is sprinkled on salads and soups, and mixed into dishes such as Lentils with Crispy Leeks and Fennel, a dish Ms. Sussman first tasted in a Druze home in Israel's Galilee region. Sababa also contains instructions for Dukkah , a crunchy condiment made of hazelnuts, cumin seeds, and coriander: added to plain yogurt, sprinkled on salads, or mixed with the coating on chicken schnitzel, it adds an unexpectedly deep flavor and crunch.

With these delightful spice blends in our pantries, Sababa then takes us on a culinary tour of Israel, giving step-by-step instructions to recreating classic dishes at home. Shawarma Pargiyot (made with chicken thighs instead of the traditional lamb) with Pickled Red Onions and Cabbage Salad seems like it came straight from Sussman's beloved shuk. 

One of my favorite dishes in Sababa is Mushroom Arayes with Yogurt Sauce, Sussman's vegetarian adaptation of a dish she first tasted in M25, a steak-house inside the Carmel shuk. A meat-like mixture of ground mushrooms, onions, herbs and sweet potatoes is stuffed into mini-rounds of pita bread, which are then fried whole in olive oil. The pita forms a crispy outer layer while the vegetarian filling remains moist and flavorful. Served with cooling herbed yogurt, it's Sababa indeed.

Arayes are also featured in another cookbook inspired by Israeli produce: Shuk: From Market to Table, the Heart of Israeli Home Cooking by Einat Admony and Janna Gur (Artisan: 2019). Here, arayes are filled with a mixture of beef and lamb, stuffed into pita and grilled, resulting in a sandwich that's crispy on the outside, moist inside, and oozes with flavor. Try them and you might never want to go back to traditional hamburgers again.

Shuk is full of dishes like this that reflect Israeli home cooking at its best. Einat Admony grew up in a Sephardi family in Tel Aviv and remembers accompanying her father to the Carmel shuk, watching him select glossy eggplants, fresh herbs, and seasonal fruits. Her father was Yemenite and her mother was Persian: many of the delectable recipes in this wonderful book reflect these lesser known Mizrachi (Middle Eastern) Jewish culinary traditions.

Janna Gur was born in Latvia and moved to Israel as a teen; she vividly describes falling in love with the beauty and aroma of stacks of perfectly ripe fruits and vegetables on her first visit to an Israeli shuk. In Shuk , she encourages American cooks to try recreating the Israeli way of cooking by adapting recipes to reflect seasonal foods. Shuk's beautiful illustrations and descriptions of markets across Israel help readers visualize what it's like to wander through the stalls, sampling fresh foods and putting seasonal ingredients together.

Many of Shuk's recipes are simple, but pack a lot of flavor. Fresh Herb Salad features fresh bunches of mint, dill, cilantro and parsley, with a spicy lemon dressing. It's visually dazzling and bursting with freshness. Roasted Cauliflower with Parsley, Garlic, and Lemon Juice results in a tangy, vibrant dish that's easy to assemble and is deeply satisfying.

Both of these new cookbooks are full of fun facts, stunning pictures of Israel and Israeli food, and personal reminiscences, conveying the sheer vibrancy and fun of shopping in Israeli shuks and cooking with fresh, flavorful produce. For anyone who loves Israeli cuisine, these gems are essential reading. 

Yvette Alt Miller, Ph.D. lives with her family in the northern suburbs of Chicago.


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