Sunday, January 31, 2010
Shuk Karmel, Tel Aviv. Spice vendor, table of fresh bread, pomegranate juice, and an eye boggling array of candies. The candies, if you look closer, are mostly jellies, ie they are the same thing in a million shapes and colors. The newspaper headline next to the pomegranate guy says 'pomegranates against pigs' but we don't know why. Rimon in Hebrew, it's slang for hand grenade.
Food is not always pretty, so it's just as well this photo is out of focus. I was at a Yemenite wedding reception (a Henna, for those of you who know), and it was pissing rain outside, brutally noisy inside, and the smokers clustered in the doorway. This created three experientialzones, each equally unpleasant. No place for kids, that's for sure.
The pita was same-day fresh, but the caterer had stacked them before they could dry and crust on the outside. The homogenous, claylike texture was perfect for the prophylatics pictured next to (someone else's) energy drink.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Fileting a nine pound cod from the docks, with my current favorite knife. It's a cheap Thai cleaver; notice the four quarters taped to the handle for balance (so I guess it cost me $8.50, not $7.50). A beautiful filet and the knife I used to skin it; a Yanagi from Shinichi Watanabe (watanabeblade.com).
Cooking trick that made me proud: set the oven shelf so high the bottom of a steel roasting pan nearly seals against the roof of the oven, and use the 'high broil' setting. Inside the roasting pan becomes an inferno. I put in cast iron serving platter, wait intil it's smokin' hot (about ready when the wife complains and I have to open doors to the outside), and drop in the fish, covered in mirepoix, 10 min before it's time to eat. Comes out perfect. When cod is this fresh, and cooked just right, it has the taste and texture of scallop.
Leftovers picked over for bones and mixed with mayo tarted up with fresh lemon juice, a touch of zest, and the remaining mirepoix veggies. Classic presentation as seafood salad roll, with grilled (admittedly whole wheat) hotdog bun, lettuce, and steak fries. Mmmmm.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
OK, no more flatbreads after this. But they are a staple and there's a million versions, not overrepresented here. I tell you, I was here for Passover once and it sucked, sucked because breads are where Middle Eastern cuisines really excel. My relatives were eating sandwiches on -- I'm not making this up -- soggy matzah, so that it wouldn't crumble. I really happen to like sandwiches on (dry, crunchy) matzah, but visiting Israel and missing out on these spiced flatbreads, it's like, why bother? The one on the right, also on the hood of my cousin's car with a diet coke, is zatar, a blend of dried herbs, salt, and sesame seeds.
Pecans from a tree on the way to the playground. A couple branches hang low over the sidewalk, and I say those are fair game. So do the neighbors, evidently: they don't last long, and I know it's not the squirrels, any squirrel population being decimated long ago by the feral cats. Use two and crack them against each other in one hand while walking, chuck the shells in the street.
Yemenite pita is big and a little burnt, cooked ideally on concrete over wood flame, but gas flame will do. Israeli pita is the traditional pocket usually seen filled with falafel or shawarma, or anything else that would make good road food. Puffing requires two heat sources, top and bottom, and both sides of the bread simultaneously form a crust that pulls away from the middle.
Get one if you see one: the old woman (always an old woman) flops a tennis ball of dough out on her forearm and all of a sudden it's thin as paper and bigger than a manhole cover. Stretched thinner on a throw pillow sort of thing and transferred briefly on what looks like a smoking hot, upside down wok. After it chars and bubbles, a daughter or husband picks it up and fills it first with labeneh (roughly between sour cream and yogurt) and I added red and green s'chug (chili pastes), a touch of pickled cabbage. Of course, an air filter would probably taste good in that bread.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
I didn't even know there was a native shrimp harvest until I was 25 or so. They are $2 a pound, shell on, at Intershell. Shrimp bake the other night, and five pounds of shell on shrimp, after much labor, gave us maybe a pound and a half of peeled shrimp.
I initially intended a 'peel and eat' sort of thing, but there was too much loose roe around, which gave it kind of a sandy feel, and in the end we decided to cook and peel them all at once. Served with Old Bay, good cocktail sauce (no HFCS, doctored with extra horseradish), lemon, and melted butter. Also some perfectly sweet, gritty steamers, with broth for dipping and sipping.
Two dishes notable in the picnic: the tupperware container is shakshuka, eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce. Good hot or cold, here at ambient temperature, about 70 degrees F. The tupperware container is a chocolate spread reminiscent of frosting. It's a kid's food, which then gets eaten as comfort food in the army, and I've been told many extra pounds are gained by new recruits as a result. The picture, from the edge of Mizpe Ramon crater (not actually a crater) shows the view.
Two details noticeable in the picture: the man in black sitting on the cliff, and the graffito of a naked woman on the picnic table. I swear I didn't notice it until this instant.
The cereal is pronounced 'oogie', where cookie is 'oogiah'. It's the Israeli version of 'Cookie Crisp', but Oogie is cooler because it's shilled by a rapping alligator.
The snack food is 'bisli', which translates to 'my bite'. This is barbecue flavor, and while Kosher Parve (can be eaten with meat or dairy) it has a flavor any American would recognize as artificial bacon. They were first given to me by orthodox, Yeshiva, strictly Kosher relatives, and I laughed until I cried after my first bite. 'Bacon! They taste like Bacon!'. I was dying.
Unrelated to food, but also cracked me up so I have to share: Israelis -- who have very little ice game experience -- call curling the Custodian's Sport, because of all the sweeping.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Between my two brothers in law (whom I love), there are 11 children. Meals are equal parts logistics and manners, and I don't know what they did, but the kids behave and it works like a machine. Food is stick to your ribs and simple: pita with hummous, kebab, and dogs. French fries (hand cut and fried) stuffed in there, too. And yes, that's what a kilogram of hummous looks like.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Whosoever Pulleth This Knife...
A Yemenite flatbread with the unfortunate sounding name of 'galoob'. One of my kids wanted a sandwich, and this was the last piece, so I cut it in half as shown. Culturally, this is roughly the equivalent of laterally bisecting a pancake> I got some funny looks.
My brother in law Yishay, shochet (religious slaughterer), teaching a protege to sharpen the knife for sharpening chickens, running a fingernail up the edge to make sure it's perfectly smooth. He says even a tiny nick prevents a smooth cut, and a novice can expect to spend up to an hour a day sharpening to God's standard. Yishay said that for an upcoming job interview, he has to slaughter 12 chickens in 60 seconds... I can't imagine.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Pan Fried Noodles with Shrimp. A bit of effort, but one of those nights I just hadda have it. Hadda. Noodles fried and waiting for the stir fry, final dish waiting for chili paste, and a portrait of the artist with a mouthful of shrimp tails. Wife: you like wierd comfort food for a Jewish guy.
These are tiny soup croutons made from flour, oil, and salt, and they are yummy. Always the butt of 'have some soup with your soup almonds' or 'why do I bother making soup? You can't even taste it under all those croutons'.
Pictured three ways: out of hand, glommed onto a knife full of hummous (a most unorthodox presentation, result of a late night snack binge), and as nature intended, in my mother-in-law's vegetable soup.
Shk'dei: Almonds. Marak: Soup. Often called 'soup mandel' in English, from the Yiddish 'mandel', almond.
My essential Israeli comfort food: Falafel from Sabino's Steakhouse, and a bottle of coke with real sugar, not HFCS, and that funky Israeli label. Sabino's is a two minute walk from my in-laws, and I refer to Coke as 'America Juice' (mitz Americai) whenever Israelis are in earshot.