DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:
TGIF. Thank God it's Friday. In Israel, the weekend has already started.
ADEENA SUSSMAN: I can already say Shabbat shalom because in Israel saying Shabbat shalom, which means have a good Sabbath, is equivalent to saying have a good weekend.
ESTRIN: Adeena Sussman grew up in California and lives in Tel Aviv, and she's a big name in the Jewish food world. She's co-authored over a dozen cookbooks. Her newest is called "Shabbat." It's that time Jews mark around the world from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown when the hectic week comes to a standstill and you pause and rest and eat, which requires some preparation. Adeena Sussman's Shabbat prep starts with a coffee at her favorite spot, Caffe Tamati.
SUSSMAN: This is Miki. Miki's the owner.
ESTRIN: They kiss each other's cheeks. She tells him she's leaving for the U.S. for a few months for her book tour...
MIKI: Ah, OK.
ESTRIN: ...And she wipes away a tear.
SUSSMAN: I think leaving Israel at a really critical time - it feels weird to be leaving now 'cause of all the political situation. Also, I just - I don't want to - even though - it's so hard. I don't want to be away. I want to be here when things happen. Israel's in the middle of a big national conflict.
ESTRIN: The far-right religious coalition is overhauling the judiciary, driving hundreds of thousands of Israelis - and Adeena Sussman - to protest on Saturday nights when Shabbat ends.
SUSSMAN: I don't think that Miki, who's one of my very close friends and I see eye to eye on politics, but we have a lot of things that we have in common that we love and share - a respect and love for hospitality, joy of giving to other people, creating community.
ESTRIN: Which happens anytime people share a meal together. But she says it's especially true of Shabbat.
SUSSMAN: It's a dinner party with depth. It's just the idea of putting a marker down to signify the end of the week and the beginning of the weekend. And I think everyone needs reasons to - you need excuses now to slow down in the world that we live in.
ESTRIN: And marking that sacred time set apart, it helps to have a good meal. We hit the market to shop.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).
SUSSMAN: People ask me, what's the ideal Shabbat menu? And I say it's whatever you can handle that week. Shabbat meets you where you're at. Like, it's not about, I need to make eight fresh salads; I need to make challah from scratch. So, like, we're going to make a chicken soup today, but it's a faster chicken soup that still has a lot of flavor.
ESTRIN: OK. Let's go shopping.
For the soup, we buy two chicken breasts and veggies and, of course, a Shabbat staple - braided loaves of challah. She calls it a unifying bread here.
SUSSMAN: Those who are Jewish have challah on the table - and I suspect a lot who aren't as well - because challah's delicious.
ESTRIN: I've seen Palestinians in East Jerusalem sell and buy challah.
SUSSMAN: I'm not surprised. I have a Palestinian friend who makes schnitzel for her kids all the time. So there's a lot of that cultural and culinary and commercial coexistence that just kind of happens, like, simmering every day that we don't hear about.
ESTRIN: Her cookbook includes Shabbat recipes from around the world and her own family's heritage, Eastern European Ashkenazi cuisine. We walk back to her apartment to make dilly chicken and rice soup.
Dilly meaning lots of dill.
SUSSMAN: I love dill, and, to me, dill is one of the hallmark herbs of Ashkenazi cooking.
ESTRIN: Can you talk about the meaning of chicken soup for Shabbat or really in the Jewish culinary tradition?
SUSSMAN: You know, I think chicken soup is one of those examples of cucina povera. You know, you had a chicken, and you wanted to get the most out of it that you could, so you would create almost a meal out of this pot of soup. You know, broth is so flavorful and nourishing and delicious. We call it the Jewish penicillin. I like my chicken soup to have a lot of body and flavor. You, I like it to be, like, substantial in a way.
ESTRIN: She salts and peppers the skinless, boneless chicken breasts and sears them in a pot with olive oil. She says the trick is not to futz with them. Let the chicken stay there for 10 minutes before you flip it just once.
(SOUNDBITE OF SIZZLING)
ESTRIN: For Jews whose grandparents and great-grandparents came from Eastern Europe, the smell alone - the dill, the browning of the chicken - is a time machine.
SUSSMAN: Now I'm going to flip the chicken.
(SOUNDBITE OF SIZZLING)
SUSSMAN: That looks amazing. It's exactly what I'm going for.
ESTRIN: Oh, yeah - nice and brown and sort of textured.
SUSSMAN: Yeah. And then you see that in the pan there's this golden fond.
ESTRIN: The sticky brown bits that stick to the pot - those come off and coat the chopped leeks you throw in later. You remove the chicken and then make your soup with the leeks, plus carrots, celery, garlic, a little jalapeno and then the flavor secret - the chicken broth you've had stashed in your freezer.
SUSSMAN: And once that's defrosted, I'm going to add the rice.
ESTRIN: There's something so comforting about rice in soup, right?
SUSSMAN: Yeah. Totally. Alexa, play "Chicken Soup With Rice" by Carole King.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHICKEN SOUP WITH RICE")
CAROLE KING: (Singing) In January, it's so nice while slipping on the sliding ice to sip hot chicken soup with rice - sipping once, sipping…
ESTRIN: (Singing) Twice.
SUSSMAN: (Singing) We're soup and chicken soup with rice.
ESTRIN: She shreds the chicken into bite-sized strips. Into the pot they go. The soup is ready in about an hour, start to finish.
SUSSMAN: I wanted to make this on purpose so you could see the love that can go into something that's considered fast but also just has, like, a real old-world and delicious flavor.
ESTRIN: Can you talk about what Shabbat was like growing up for you?
SUSSMAN: Shabbat was this focal point of my family's quality time, social life, food, life. And once we lit candles on Friday, time really did stop. And we would go through a lot of the rituals of making a blessing over the wine and making a blessing over the challah and singing a special song to my mother called "The Woman of Valor," a very traditional song called "Eshet Chayil."
ESTRIN: What was the melody that you guys sang?
SUSSMAN: (Singing in non-English language).
So it's all about all the domestic tasks that a woman does around the house, so sort of, like, praising the woman for being a domestic goddess. And, yeah, we would just have spirited conversations, delicious food, usually a chicken soup. I don't observe a lot of the religious rituals of Shabbat anymore, but I took away from it the idea of carving out a weekly time that is distinguished from the week.
ESTRIN: All right. Dilly chicken soup...
SUSSMAN: And rice.
ESTRIN: And rice. Comforting, kind of light.
SUSSMAN: Flavorful - deeply flavorful. Shabbat in a bowl.
ESTRIN: Shabbat in a bowl.
Adeena Sussman is the author of the new cookbook "Shabbat: Recipes And Rituals From My Table To Yours."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHICKEN SOUP WITH RICE")
KING: (Singing) Eating chicken soup with rice.
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