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Arabic Cooking 101: Back to Basics

February 1, 2010

So…it’s Sunday. The day I’ve chosen to get things done. I’ve clearly overlooked the whole ‘day of rest’ business. On this day, I’ve decided to fulfill a long time craving for Mishat – a savory cauliflower pancake/crepe concoction.  My mom’s recipe looked simple enough and the basic ingredients were fairly affordable.Turns out I was kinda wrong on both those fronts.

To be honest, I don’t do much grocery shopping.  I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a head of cauliflower or a bunch of parsley before. They weren’t as inexpensive as I initially thought – but still affordable.

The prepping took a little longer than I suspected. I finally understand now why making tabouli takes so long – chopping parsley takes forever!!I managed not to draw blood this time around – so I claim success. Everything beyond the prep point required patience, understanding and a hungry dog that sat directly beneath the stove waiting optimistically for someone – namely me – to flip a piece of mishat right out of the pan and into his eager mouth. The upside to standing at a stove for an hour pouring batter, waiting patiently and flipping over and over again is that I knew the pieces didn’t need to be perfect. I cared more about flavor than aesthetics. The first few attempts lacked seasoning but after adjusting with more flour, cumin, salt and pepper –  the taste and texture was markedly improved.

Lessons Learned:

1. I realized I don’t remember the taste of Mishat as well as I’d hoped. It’s probably been 20 years since I’ve had it. I hoped I would know just the right combination of flavors when I tasted it – but I think I have a ways to go in getting it to taste anywhere near where I remembered it.

2. Cooking is so subjective. I don’t know why I never got this before. I wonder if chefs with refined palettes cook to their tastes or if they have the ability to create flavors they know will satisfy a range of eaters. I wanted this experience to mirror the way my mom cooked – to get an understanding of her preferences and to get even a small taste of my childhood back – of her back. I’m not sure how feasible that is going to be though. My dad was there with me through this process. I feel like more of the success of the flavor came from his adjustments vs. my attempts and that is where I’m conflicted. While it’s an amazing opportunity to be able to cook alongside him – working in some ways together to recreate her recipes – I sometimes wonder if this is a project that needs to be done alone.I’m open to adjusting the initial blueprint, but I don’t want the original goals to change. I guess that’s to be expected along the way.

3. I also had to adjust my mom’s  recipe. Where she called for 2 cups of water, I used varying amounts of water to milk. I also made a much larger batch – using 11 eggs and a head & a half of cauliflower. In terms of flavoring – this is going to take time to get down. She didn’t have specific measurements for spicing – so that is something that is just going to need perfecting over time as well.

Ah, time. Methinks you are the key to being a decent cook.

All in all, despite the over-emotionality of the evening, this first foray into Arabic Cooking 101 gets two thumbs up. No clue what I’m making next week, but stay tuned!

Look! It's Batter!

...Aaaaand Flip!

Pièce de résistance!

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Kim Cardascia permalink
    February 7, 2010 1:25 am

    Looks delicous, Brig. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on trying to make it taste like your memories. In my experience, cooking a particular dish well or adjusting it to your memory isn’t about time so much as it is repetition. Make these every month for a while, sometimes with your dad, sometimes by yourself. As you do, it’ll become familiar and you’ll just feel how liquid the batter should be or how many flecks of green look right. Good luck!

    • BrigitteZ permalink*
      February 7, 2010 4:04 pm

      Thank you Kim!! And you are absolutely right. It really is going to be something I’ll have to do over and over. Maybe I’ll go through all the recipes first and then revisit each one a second time to see how the experience is different. Hope Hong Kong is treating you well!

  2. Dawn Hurd permalink
    February 24, 2010 10:30 pm

    Wow Brig, I am sooo impressed! I’ll be sure to tune in……… By the way, is that the skillet I bought you for Christmas?

    • BrigitteZ permalink*
      February 25, 2010 12:33 am

      Thank you Dawn!!! It’s actually not the awesome skillet you bought me. We needed to use a smaller pan. But, I can’t wait to use it to make cornbread!

  3. Andrea K permalink
    June 10, 2010 2:56 pm

    I am all over your blog today! I read it from beginning to end because today I am going to my mom’s house so we can make Mikleh or as you call it Mishat. I will be thinking of you and will let you know how it goes.

  4. March 19, 2011 4:54 am

    I grew up eating Mishat, can’t have it now for health reasons but its a great way to use up zucchini’s 🙂

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