If there’s one recipe in the Sussman brothers’ This is a Cookbook that sums it up, it’s the cauliflower dish that Max Sussman has made for years. “It’s easy to make, incredibly beautiful on the plate and whenever we make it for people, it just blows them away,” says his brother Eli. “It embodies what our book is about.”
Peppered with cheeky commentary, the book–available at retail stores or for download on the iPad–demonstrates the Brooklyn-based brothers’ knack for cooking (Max is chef de cuisine at Roberta’s and Eli a line cook at Mile End Deli) and love for no-frills food. The brothers talked to The Manual about the book, strolled down memory lane and even provided the recipe for that winning cauliflower dish.
Who did you have in mind when crafting the cookbook?
ELI SUSSMAN: It’s meant for a novice cook, someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience in the kitchen. We wanted to appeal to people who have never cooked anything before and eat frozen dinners every single night.
MAX SUSSMAN: Everything about our cookbook is designed to make it easy to use in the kitchen. The recipes are very simple and very quick to make.
Did you collaborate on all of the recipes?
ES: While we worked on every single dish together, there are ones that are one hundred percent Max’s recipes. The cauliflower dish with tahini and caramelized onions is through and through Max.
MS: We each have dishes in the book that the other one initiated. The tomato and corn soup in the book is Eli’s recipe. He was just testing it out one day and nailed it on his first try. All of the recipes have both of us in them and I think that comes through in the book.
How does this book compare to your first one, Freshman in the Kitchen?
ES: We wrote the first when we were both in college. I was not cooking professionally so we did a “home cook meets professional cook” type of book. At the time of making the second one, we were both working in professional kitchens. We had a greater knowledge of food and took the opportunity to improve on the first one.
If you’re in a time crunch, what’s an easy dish to put together?
MS: I would probably make a frittata, which we have a recipe for in the book. You stir fry pretty much anything from your fridge, pour in the egg mix, and bake it with some cheese in the oven. If you have last minute guests and you want to feed at least three people, it’s perfect for that.
Any tried-and-true cookbooks you would recommend?
ES: I think Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything is an essential for anyone to have in their home. There are so many recipes in it, all quite stripped down and simplistic so it allows you to alter them and make additions.
MS: Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking is a classic–something to count on time and time again. If you want to make pretty much anything, it’s a good starting point.
Can you share your earliest memories of food?
MS: A lot of my food memories are associated with my family–eating together at gatherings or holidays and licking the bowl of brownie batter that I helped my mom make.
ES: Mine is exactly opposite of that. Growing up, all of our friends had pantries stocked with Entenmann’s cookies, Fruit by the Foot and Dunk-a-Roos. I remember going wild over their cupboards. We were never much of a junk food family. But that shaped my love of food later. Back then, I didn’t appreciate all of the scratch cooking we did in the house. As I got older, I realized that our parents did us a great service.
What are some kitchen essentials for a newbie who wants to start cooking?
ES: You need to have kosher salt, a big bottle of good olive oil, a pepper grinder and a good 8-inch chef’s knife. You don’t need a $300 knife but don’t buy something crappy. A good one costing $80 or $100 will last you a long time.
MS: Those are the basics. If you’re going to get serious about cooking, spend your money wisely. Let’s say you’re buying a frying pan–make sure it’s a decent one that has a heavy bottom. And like Eli said, don’t buy the most expensive thing on the market. Just spend a little bit of money on something that’s going to work for a year or two, or even longer.
TM: Let’s pretend you’re about to kick the bucket–what’s your last bite of food?
ES: That is a nearly impossible question to answer. But I love red meat so for me, it would have to be a dry-aged steak.
MS: My last bite would probably be dessert. The pastry chef at Roberta’s makes the most amazing gelato ever. Right now, she has a celery root ginger gelato on the menu that’s incredible so I would go with a few scoops of that.
Straight from the cookbook: Roasted Cauliflower with Caramelized Onions
4 Tbsp (3 fl oz/90 ml) Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
2 Yellow onions, thinly sliced
½ cup (5 oz/155 g) Tahini
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Garlic clove, minced
1 Head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) florets
1 Cup (1 oz/30 g) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Preheat the oven to 450F (230C). In a sauté pan over medium heat, heat 2 Tbsp of the olive oil. Add the onions and stir to coat with the oil. Stir in 1 tsp salt. Cook, stirring constantly, and reducing the heat if necessary to prevent burning, until the onions are softened and a deep golden brown all over, 30-45 minutes.
In a bowl, whisk together the tahini, ¾ cup (6 fl oz/180 ml) water, 1tsp salt, the lemon juice, and the garlic and set aside.
Use the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil to grease a large, heavy-duty baking sheet. Put the cauliflower florets on the pan and turn to coat well with the oil. Arrange them so they have as much space between them as possible and season with salt. Roast until nicely browned but not burned on the bottoms, about 15 minutes. Turn the cauliflower and continue to roast until browned on the second sides and tender, about 10 minutes longer.
Arrange the cauliflower on a platter. Garnish with the caramelized onions and parsley leaves, and drizzle with the tahini sauce. Serve right away, passing any remaining tahini sauce at the table.
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