I’m not a chef. I know how to cook a few things, but I wouldn’t say that my skills in the kitchen are particularly stunning. So why would I go to a cooking workshop? For the company and the food, of course.
Many hands doing the work. Plenty of spices, plenty of oil, plenty of fresh vegetables, plenty of good company.
I used my talents to do what I do best: I took raw material and massaged it into a relaxed, fluffy work of art.
The bread is baked on river stones in a very hot oven. (Thanks to CB for these 3 photos.)
The truth is that throughout the evening of fun cooking adventures and fabulous dinner companions who chop vegetables better than I could ever hope to, I found myself happily remembering other cooking experiences and other dinners that were very Israeli and very special in their own ways.
Israeli food is flavorful. Each recipe of our excellent dinner involved many “exotic” spices that are not at all exotic in Israel: sumac, turmeric, “spice store blend” – unique to every store and includes things like cardamom, cinnamon, pepper and at least three or four others that I can’t remember – both hot and sweet paprika, coarse cut black pepper, cumin, and who knows what else. It’s also not measured by the teaspoon. Spices in Israel flavor food by the rounded tablespoon. Don’t be shy! Throw that stuff in there!
An ex-boyfriend of mine in Israel once described my cooking as having “delicate flavors” and with a pleading look in his eyes asked if I would mind terribly if he sprinkled half a bottle of chili sauce on it so that he could tolerate eating it. He was (and I imagine still is) a MUCH better cook than I was. But I learned.
As my adventuresome spirit in the kitchen expanded, I made a stir fry for this particular boyfriend and asked if he could recognize the spices I put in. Spoiler alert: I used just about everything on the spice shelf using my nose as a guide. It wasn’t too bad, if I do say so myself. So he took a few bites. Then closed his eyes and listed everything I put in there including stuff that he didn’t know the name of but knew the flavor of. To this day, I can’t even come close to doing that.
The first two pots. One the left is the basis for shakshuka – very spicy! – and on the right is the basis for the meatballs with mangold leaves (something resembling Swiss chard).
The cooking workshop focused on Moroccan, Tunisian and Kurdish food using fresh, seasonal ingredients from the shuk, so as the cooking progressed, I was transported back to my former neighbors’ home for a Shabbat dinner. The mother is Moroccan and a superb cook – and she ensured that both her sons and her daughter followed in her cooking footsteps. She and her whole family are generously hospitable, so I had the pleasure of savoring her food in all seasons.
My neighbors’ kitchen looked a lot like this on Friday afternoons. Plenty of food for as many people as could fit at the table. Everyone was always welcome and there was always enough. Once I had surprise guests on Friday and I already had an invitation to the neighbors’ house. I asked if I could bring a few more people and without thinking twice or batting an eyelash she said that they were welcome. And even then, there was plenty.
The final result: Full plate, happy (and full) tummy, stimulating conversation with new friends, and a pocket full of memories from years past.