You know where you have to eat when you go to New York City? Go across the river to Brooklyn, where the cooks are young and trying all kinds of things. Two of them are the Sussman brothers, Eli and Max. Max is a chef at Roberta's in Bushwick and Eli is at Mile End Deli.
They've done a book on how they like to eat at home, and they call it This is a Cookbook: Recipes for Real Life. Eli joined us to talk about it.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: You grew up in Michigan. What was the food like at your house when you were growing up?
Eli Sussman: Our mom was an artist, and her studio was connected to our house. Family dinners were mandatory. She cooked dinner almost every night from scratch. It was ethnically diverse and always used fresh ingredients, which she bought either that day or a couple of days before. There was no microwave in the house, no Chinese food takeout, no pizza dinners.
LRK: It sounds like the kind of thing that everybody dreams about having as their family background.
ES: It was great. We were always pushed to help. We were reluctant at first, but over time we started helping more, and it became kind of a family thing to make dinner and then sit down and eat it together.
LRK: Did your dad cook, too?
ES: Our dad bakes challah pretty regularly. It's sort of his thing. He has a couple of staples that he does for various holidays like Passover, but our mom does most of the cooking in the house.
LRK: Your book is not about professional cooking. It's not a chef's book.
ES: It's the opposite end of the spectrum. It's an everyone-can-get-involved type of book.
LRK: Exactly. I liked your chapter on midnight snacks.
ES: It's fun to come back with a bunch of people after you've been out for the night and just throw a couple of things together. Popcorn is something that we highlight in the book, and it's so great because it's a blank slate. You can add anything to it. You can make it sweet. You can make it savory. You can add chocolate. You can add various garlic powders and spices, and that's something that we love to do. You get a bunch of people standing around in the kitchen and you can just stuff your face with all these delicious flavors of popcorn.
LRK: You guys seem to have a real thing about an egg. It seems to be a pivotal.
ES: The egg is quite possibly the greatest ingredient to have in your house. It's incredibly versatile and really, really cheap, so you should always have a dozen in your fridge. We've got a fried egg sandwich (pictured, above) and there's fried rice with egg in it. You can always make an omelet. We make a late-night frittata, which is really whatever you have in your fridge thrown into a pan and mixed with eggs.
LRK: You put a fried egg on top of almost anything: a plate of spinach, a salad, a piece of bread.
ES: It's something that we say at the deli all the time. "Throw an egg on it." It's just one of those things that greatly improves any type of dish.
The Sussman brothers' recipe: Thin-Cut Fries For One
LRK: What about the thin-cut fries for one? Fried potatoes for one person seems like a pain in the neck.
ES: No, it's really not. It's super easy. You just use a baking sheet. Put a little bit of oil down, then throw the thinly sliced potatoes in the oven and let them dry out. Certain parts stay a little bit moist like a french fry and other parts are very brittle like a potato chip. I get every single type of sauce that I have in the fridge and then go crazy dipping the fries in all of them.
It's the perfect drunk snack.
LRK: I didn't want to say that.
ES: I didn't know if I was allowed to say it.
LRK: You and your brother both cook. You live together. You've cooked professionally. What are one or two techniques that generally improve any dish you're cooking?
ES: I think that salt is something a lot of people are scared of. It's an obvious tool, but salt greatly improves anything that you're working with. You don't have to go crazy; you just have to find the level at which you're comfortable. We say salt to taste, which means add a very, very little bit at a time and get it to the point where the dish is incredibly delicious.
The other thing I would say is that everyone should have a really nice pan, and they should know how to saute something in olive oil. It's a skill that is fairly introductory but that we really encourage. Because if you're making an omelet, for example, or if you're making a pasta dish, it's just a great way to get a lot of flavor out of the vegetables. Just give them a little bit of color and let them break down a little bit, so you've got a variety of textures in the dish.