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.

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