Please welcome Sarah Melamed of Foodbridge for today’s reader interview. Sarah lives in Ness Ziona, Israel (south of Tel Aviv), with her family of three boys ( twelve, nine, five), a big yellow dog that eats everything (almost everything–see below) and a husband who now works from home on his startup (and steals her kitchen gadgets to build it). By profession she is a research biologist but now is a full time Mom, food blogger (Food Bridge) and family cook.
- What do you remember about family meals and your mother’s cooking style when you were growing up? My father always insisted on traditional 1950-style family meals where everyone sat down to dinner without television or phones. Except the food was far from the usual meat and potatoes and my mother wasn’t the only one cooking.My father, who lived in France for several years and had studied Chinese cooking at night school, introduced us to diverse food specialties. He tried to recreate his dynamic student days by inviting guests from all walks of life who in turn shared their own recipes, adding to the family repertoire.My mother, an Israeli, merged the flavors from her childhood into her cooking and introduced us to Middle Eastern classics such as fresh salads, hummus, shakshuka and kebabs. She also added new recipes she created or borrowed from friends, usually preferring one pot meals to reduce kitchen cleanup. I remember her food as heartwarming and tasty but she never followed a recipe and was unable to reproduce exact results. Baking was also limited to basics.On the other hand, she taught me not to be afraid to experiment in the kitchen, after all if it’s that bad the dog will eat it, right? (Well, it turns out not every time.) More importantly our kitchen was always lively with conversation and warmth and it is what I remember the most about my childhood. That and the fire alarms going off because of some extreme cooking going on.
- How is your cooking style different from that of your parents? I’d like to think that I learned from both my parents, being able to improvise, but using recipes to give structure and consistency to my meals.
- What is your favorite gadget? My vegetable corer and ma’amoul mold (for making Middle Eastern Stuffed Pastries). Both have no replacement and in the case of the ma’amoul mold the prettiest of my gadgets. What I also like about them are the memories searching for these tools and finally finding them in Nazareth (with Miriam of Israeli Kitchen)
- Do you entertain, and in what circumstances? What is the biggest party or meal you have hosted to date? Every two weeks we host Friday night dinner and invite family and/or friends to join us. It is a relaxed and informal get-together where we keep up to date with the events of the week, enjoying each other’s company. The biggest event I ever hosted was for about 45 people, but for my sanity and health the usual number around the dinner table is about 15. I will always be in awe at those who take on the responsibility and burden of hosting large parties and events without having a nervous breakdown. During weekdays friends often come for an informal coffee and my children always seem to bring home a friend (or two) for lunch.
- Can you share a typical daily menu? Weekly menu? I am a bit eclectic when it comes to menu planning. I have a few recipes that are our classic home cooked meals but other than that I am always trying something new. In general breakfast is usually on the run. Lunch, unlike in America, is our main daily meal. I strive to make at least two of our weekly meals vegetarian and/or dairy. On the other days I usually rotate between chicken, beef (ground meat or chunks for stews) and sometimes fish.A few of the recipes that consistently reappear on our daily menu include spaghetti Bolognaise (which we call Pasta Zarifa), lachmacun (Arabic pizza), kubba (Middle Eastern dumplings), chicken with garlic and white wine, meatballs in tomato sauce, pasta with anchovies and parsley, chili con carne and stuffed vegetables. It goes without saying that we always have fresh vegetables, salads and sometimes sliced fruits to round out our meals.
- How has your cooking style evolved over the years? I have always liked to cook but now that I have more experience I am better able to improvise with positive results.
- Can you recommend any cookbooks, TV shows or websites that have inspired you? Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck is a wonderful Syrian cookbook of Jewish cuisine, with beautiful photography. The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden is an encyclopedia of authentic Jewish recipes, both Ashkenazi and Sephardic. Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver chronicles the author’s year of eating local. A few website I especially enjoy: In Mama’s Kitchen, Israeli Kitchen, and Café Liz.
- What is the most unusual dish you’ve ever made? Melouchia was probably the strangest dish I ever cooked, since it was so incredibly slimy and unlike anything I ever had. That said, every one of my children tasted it (I wish I videotaped their reactions). I also tried to make homemade warka (very thin Moroccan pastry sheets) and almost burnt the house down in the attempt.
- What is the oldest item in your kitchen? The newest? I have a couple of 250ml glass coffee cups from university which I use in place of measuring cups. Many Israelis I know use the same exact cup for measuring.The newest item in my kitchen is a melon spoon which I use sometimes to form tiny meatballs
- What would you like to change about your cooking style in the coming year?
Besides cooking healthier food and wasting less, I want to learn how to make a real cappuccino, make ice cream (besides vanilla), learn how to bone a chicken without it looking like slaughter, how to make a couple French sauces and perhaps figure out how to use the food mill (or perhaps I should throw that out).
Last week’s interview: Alaskan blogger Scribbit