Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ptitim - easier done than said

Callie's on the move, so I get to post our first separate entry.

Deciding on a recipe to share here is a challenge, since i don't really use recipes. Tending towards functionalism, my cooking habits are very much influenced by my mother. She'd come back from work and whip up a three course meal within 20 minutes flat. No recipes used, each meal a unique combination of flavors tossed together never to be relived.

For most of my cooking life I used 20 minutes as a standard for the amount of time I'm willing to put into a meal. Not coming close to my mom's efficiency, I seem to be able to produce only one dish - maybe two.

Today I'll share Ptitim with you. A quick staple that will go well with anything. Choosing how to call this item presented itself as more of a challenge than making it. Thing is, my family calls Ptitim Farfalah. That's a cutzified form of Farfel. Coming from Eastern European decent, I guess my folks recognized the Israeli product as a stand in for another less available product.

Odd thing is, Ptitim are widely known as a replacement for Couscous of some sort. Not quite eastern Europe, huh. The common tale here is that Ptitim are a unique Israeli invention, created during the austerity in the early 1950's. It is told that they were invented to serve as a replacement for rice, which was scarce and widely sought after by Jewish immigrants from Arab countries.

Nowadays, Ptitim are internationally known as Israeli Couscous or Pearl Couscous. Though I suspect this is more of a marketing triumph than anything else. As far as I can tell, Fregula is pretty much the same thing. Ptitim are baked pasta, and Fregula is roasted...

Other regional food items, Lebanese and Palestinian, reported to be similar to Ptitim are mugrabiyeh or maftoul. Regretably, I don't think I've ever had them.

I think that the fact that Ptitim are a baked pasta gives it its unique chewy texture. It probably has to do with its ingredients too, but i don't want to get into that. It's an industrial product, I don't expect much of it.

Call it what you may, it's easy, quick, and filling.

My mother makes Ptitim in a very special way, that I've never been able to reproduce. In fact, when my friend Eli taught me his recipe for Ptitim I was truly surprised with the result. When I told him how my mom's end product looks like he was... shall we say "perplexed"? I'll get back to you with my mother's recipe, since I really do like it. I never saved it, since I was never able to reproduce it.

But Eli's recipe is good too. Here it is:

-Pour a tbs of oil in a pot - high flame
-Fry thinly sliced onion in a pot until it is transperant
-Add minced garlic to the pot, and fry some more
-Stir once in a while, as you add the rest of the ingrediants
-Add the Ptitim
-Spice the mix with turmeric, cumin, salt and pepper
-Add two tbs of tomatoe paste
-Add a smooshed tomatoe, preferably smooshed by hand over the pot. It's just the most fun that way
-Cover the mix with water and put a lid on the pot
-Lower the flame

By the time you set the table, your food will be ready - arround 6 minutes.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A long disastrous story and a salad

We decided to start a blog. A cooking blog, because that's how we spent our summer: cooking. And now, Callie's leaving, and Goor's hungry, and predicting an endless array of... majudra. And so, from 10 time zones apart, we'll keep cooking together. If you're lucky, you can cook with us, too!

Last night, determined to have a special dinner-for-two on the balcony before Callie sets off for the US, we decided to do a greatest-hits sampling of the best dishes of our summer together. Mushroom bourguignon, that deep, dark, and surprisingly vegetarian simmering of mushrooms in a red wine reduction that we first made for our "weekaversary." Mustard potatoes, celebrated by our fellow potluckers. Greek-ish salad, because we found the most delightfully tangy and smooth feta just blocks away at the Levinsky shuk. Homemade cactus-fruit ginger ale kicked up with arak. And finally, pie, which had always been a favorite dessert of Callie's, but which she'd never dared to make on her own, but which she and Goor made over and over this summer: fresh apples, picked from the Tel Aviv University campus, cherry pie for Fourth of July, and last night, plum.

It was... well, a bit of a disaster. From the beginning, Callie forgot some key things from the market -- butter, a pie pan, sugar, soda water, tomato paste -- her mother's voice echoing in her head that any decent dinner requires a minimum of 5 trips to the grocery store.

And then... it was hot. Tel Aviv hot. Hot-two-cold-showers-in-the-midst-of-cooking hot. Sweat pouring down your forehead and your neck and your shoulders hot. And we were misterable. Cooking together -- our favorite thing! -- and we were miserable. Terrible.

(Goor says we're going to be "the bitter cooks." Callie is more optimistic.)

Whether it was the heat or the stress over Callie's upcoming departure, our timing was... off. Despite the fact that we were boiling, the water just wouldn't. And by the time the water did boil for the pasta, the rest of the food became inexplicably cold. All that, and of course the beer -- a dark Czech beer we'd enjoyed so much in Prague that Callie happened upon at the store -- the beer was warm. Cold food, warm beer... it felt a lot like we were eating leftovers.

Goor remarked that cooking is a performance art, that it's fun to do for someone else, but when we do it together, just for ourselves, it's hard to switch from the performance to being the audience, that it's always just a little hard to truly enjoy something that you've slaved over -- nay, sweated over -- for literally hours in the kitchen. Callie thought of her father, his plate nearly empty on Thanksgiving, tired of crouching over a turkey.

Nonetheless, despite some of the disasters that ensued (and you'll probably hear more about these later), the recipes we started with were gold, for the most part, and that's why we'll share them here.

You just have to cook in season. You know, winter.

In the interest of getting as many posts out of this meal as possible -- and holding your apt attention, we're sure -- we'll tease you with just one of these recipes this morning. Ok, yeah, quite a tease, after we've told you it was such a failure. But really! You should cook these recipes! In... December. Or... air-conditioning! We will.

This morning's recipe is the most boring of them, but it was also the most successful. With good ingredients, you can't go wrong. So, here it is:

Callie's I'm-Sorry-But-I-Hate-Olives Greek-ish Salad

1 head Romaine lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into small pieces
4 tomatoes, chopped
2-4 cucumbers (2 American or 4 Israeli)
1 small red onion, diced finely
225 grams or 8 ounces of feta, cut into small cubes
1/2 c olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbs dried thyme
cracked black pepper, to taste

Combine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and feta in a bowl. Pour liquids on top. Add thyme, rubbing roughly against your palm as you drop it in. Add black pepper. Toss and taste. Add more lemon or pepper as needed.

There it is. Embarrassingly easy. Which may be why it turned out. Sigh. Soon, the rest of the meal! (Some of which also turned out, really. We promise.)