02:31 AM 07:31 PM EST JUN 7, 2023 JLM 63°F
Let the seasons guide your cooking, Israeli-style

Cookbook author Adeena Sussman and food writer Sybil Kaplan let their dishes be inspired by the seasonal produce available in Israel’s open markets.

When cookbook author Adeena Sussman hosted a camera crew from Food & Wine in August, she searched in vain for a single blood orange in Tel Aviv.

“We had to make our own by dyeing regular orange segments with beet juice

“Unlike in the United States, where the entire manuscript for a cookbook is written and photographed in one 10-day photoshoot, in Israel you can’t do that because things are so seasonal,” says Sussman.

“For my upcoming book on the foods of Shabbat, we’re doing a series of two-day shoots each season of the year because we can’t miss mangos, avocados, limes, pomegranates or any other fruit that you can’t get when they’re not in season,” she says.

Folks like Sussman, raised in the United States or other countries where any fruit or vegetable is available year-round, must adjust their menu planning and their expectations when living in Israel.

Here, most produce is locally grown. And although you can get staples like root veggies and basic salad fixings any time, other items appear only at specific times of the year.

“I try to be inspired by the seasons and use my weekly CSA [community supported agriculture] farm box and the shuk [open-air market] as my guide for what I’m making,” says Sussman.

Not that the bestselling author of Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors from My Israeli Kitchen is complaining. Since relocating to Israel permanently five years ago, Sussman has come to appreciate the seasonal nature of food preparation.

“I give a seasonal accent to whatever I’m making. Depending on the time of year, I’ll sprinkle my chicken with apples instead of pomegranate seeds, or garnish my roast with plums instead of figs,” Sussman says.

“It only gets frustrating when I’m developing recipes for clients in the US and they take for granted that you can get an avocado any time of the year. Sometimes I have to improvise,” she says.

“In general, I find it a privilege as opposed to frustration. When you let the seasons guide your cooking, it gives a natural framework to what you are making and forces you to focus on the produce and the ingredients. In a way it’s a relief because it gives you some filters and constraints,” Sussman says.

“Of course, I’m aware not everyone has access to the seasonal produce, and if you can’t cook with things in season you should still cook freely with joy.”

According to recent reports, more than half the fresh fruit and almost a third of the fresh vegetables in American supermarkets come from abroad. The United Kingdom imports 42% of its vegetables and 89% of its fruit.

That takes a huge environmental toll if you factor in both the energy involved in long-distance transportation and the water stress put on exporting countries to supply overseas markets.

According to TrendEconomy, in 2020 Israel exported about $600 million worth of fruits, nuts, and edible fruit peels, while importing about $362 million of those items.

Imports could rise under a new government plan to lower fruit and vegetable costs by cutting import fees and permitting more foreign competition.

Israeli farmers vehemently oppose this plan, and many Israeli cooks would be sad to lose the seasonal, local aspect of menu planning.

Sussman says seasonality heightens her awareness of the Jewish holiday cycle.

“In the US, the connection between the Jewish calendar and the produce calendar is abstract. But the moment you move to Israel it all comes into sharp relief,” she says.

“Pomegranates are at their peak exactly at Rosh Hashana. On Tu B’Shvat, in the US it’s still winter but in Israel it’s the beginning of spring and I can get asparagus. Living here, I understand the way people filter fruits and vegetables through the lens of the Jewish calendar.”

Photos: israel21c.org

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