From Tuna Surprise to Persian Chicken: Interview with Ariela

For today’s reader interview please welcome Ariela.

Dinner with the Cousins

Name, location, family: Ariela Gordon-Shaag, 42, Yishuv Alon, Israel. My husband is DH (dear hubby), a 7th generation Jerusalemite and we have 5 kids: N (boy -15), R (girl -14), A (boy – 12), N (girl – 7) and E (boy 2.5)

What do you remember about family meals when you were growing up? What was your mother’s cooking style? Dinners were made using canned soup as a main ingredient. My mother’s specialty was Tuna Surprise – the surprise being that it does not have tuna in it. The recipe: Boil pasta in water until it gets mushy – do not drain the water. Add a can of cream of mushroom soup and a can of cream of tomato soup. Add half a pound of American cheese (which is not actually cheese).  My mother also made lots of vegetables. There was always fruit at our house.

How is your cooking style different from that of your mother? My husband loves to cook (and is fantastic at it) and I don’t. He makes most of the meals at our house. My specialty is burnt rice. I do know how to cook, and I make dinner about 2 nights a week and cook about 20% of the Shabbat food. DH does the rest. Eating healthy food is very important to me: only whole grains, lots of fruit and vegetables and no sugar.

How old were you when you started cooking? How did you learn? When I was at college I lived in a Jewish commune. We took turns making food. I had never cooked before and had to make dinner for 40 people. I made chicken and almond rice. The chicken practically ran around the table when I served it. My idea for almond rice was cooking it with almond tea bags. After that, a really nice guy at the commune took me under his wing and taught me how to cook. My specialty became lasagna – either dairy or meet.

Do you entertain, and in what circumstances? What is the biggest party or meal you have hosted to date? We do entertain a lot. We often have 15 people for a Shabbat meal. We hosted and catered our son’s hanachat teffelin (pre-Bar Mitzvah party) for about 70 people.

Can you share a typical daily menu? Weekly menu? Tonight we had Indian food: majadra, curried cauliflower, curried potatoes and 70% whole grain rice (made in the pressure cooker and not burnt). To get my kids and DH to eat whole grain rice, I have to “dilute it” with white rice.

How has your cooking style evolved over the years? I used to make complicated fancy things. Now my goal is to spend as little time as possible cooking. Also, it is now MUCH more important to me to make healthy food. I would never make lasagna (my former specialty) and do not consider pasta “food.”

What is your biggest cooking challenge now? Not burning rice. I literally discovered today that you can cook it in a pressure cooker and it is less likely to burn. Also, finding healthy things that most of the family will eat. I am gluten intolerant, which adds a whole new level of complexity to meal planning. Everyone else eats gluten, we just try to make sure that the main courses are all gluten free. Gluten hides in surprising places. Did you know that most soy sauce contains gluten? We don’t buy processed foods like soy patties and such, so we don’t have many quick snacks in the house.

What posts on CM have you enjoyed? Do you have suggestions for future posts? I really like the posts where you describe how to save on things like electricity or water. [CM: Thank you for saying that!]

Please share a recipe or cooking tips.

I don’t really do amounts.

  • Chicken Breasts (from 2-3 chickens)
  • 2 onions
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • A nice sized chunk of a fresh ginger root (this freezes well)
  • Lots of cilantro
  • Olive oil – the only oil at our house

Use a pot with a wide bottom. Chop up the onion, ginger and garlic and fry in the olive oil until the onions become translucent. Cut the chicken into strips and place them in the pan on top of the onion mix. When the chicken becomes white on the bottom, flip it to the other side. Add turmeric and the cilantro (chopped). Cover the pot and cook for a while.

Serve over whole grain rice.

Tip: Try to use fresh herbs. You can buy basil, clean it and put it in the freezer and cook with it.

Thank you, Ariela, for your entertaining account of your mother’s cooking. I am inspired by your family’s commitment to healthy foods.

You can find more reader interviews here:

Tikva Sasson: Healthy Borekas

Chana Rogow-Futch: Gefilte Fish

You may also enjoy:

Cooking with Our Mothers, Cooking with Our Children

Avoid the Emergency Run to the Store

Is that Avocado Ripe Enough to Eat?


  1. I loved this….and I’m going to try the chicken recipe! Thanks.

  2. Ginger root and garlic, yum!

    I make brown rice in a crockpot. Takes two hours. Even if you forget about it, it doesn’t burn, just gets crunchy sides after about four hours.

    I wish my kids would eat Indian food. Sigh.

  3. Thanks for the idea of diluting rice. I dilute pttitim for my kids (toasted pasta) half white and half wheat, but I’ll have to try the “diluting” rice.

    I loved your mother tuna surprise as well. Reminds me of my father’s Gahactafuey on Toast- mushroom soup with tuna and cheese served on toast triangles- YUM!

  4. Leora- I was wishing the same thing! Roasted chicken and rice is as exotic as my kids will get. Although my oldest has tried and claims she likes sushi.

  5. Chana – thank you!
    Leora – crock pot is a great idea! I have a kid who won’t eat anything so I know what you mean.
    Abbi – the ptitim idea is great as well. Tuna surprise was yummy your father’s g thing sounds yummy as well.

  6. Rita Zaslavsky says

    I grew up eating that Tuna Surprise at Ariela’s house!! Her other staple was cheese sandwiches with mayo. I am a slightly better cook, but not by much. I will try making the chicken dish tonite!!!

  7. My best friend from childhood saw this post (via facebook) and made the following comment:

    As someone growing up eating that tuna surprise, and cheese sandwiches with mayo(toasted so the bread calories don’t count) youhave come a long way baby!!!

  8. A ricecooker is great for rice if you eat it fairly often. Once the rice is cooked, the cooker stops and keeps the rice warm. This way it doesn’t get burnt and since all the water is absorbed by the rice you don’t throw away the nutritients.

  9. I-D, do you like in Israel? If so, can you please recommend a brand and store where I can buy one?

  10. No, I don’t. Sorry Ariela. Hopefully an Israeli will read this post and suggest a brand or store.

  11. fun! we love indian here. how can i do rice in my pressure cooker?

  12. Tikva, I use apressure cooker for brown rice. Two cups water per cup of rice, ten minutes on full pressure. Then let it cool off without releasing the steam, which can be foamy.


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