Learning to be a Sephardic Mother

Step One: Drop your luggage and hit the shuk at 1PM on a Friday afternoon. Then ditch shopping for a nice lunch, while someone else does your shopping* for you. At the end of lunch, pick up the last few items on the list and head to the kitchen you’ve borrowed to cook a shabbat meal.

Step Two: Stare at all of the bags of fresh produce and cheeses. Wonder how you’ll ever manage to cook lasagne, a soy stir fry, salads, dessert and the mysterious Matbuchah.

Step Three: Wash you hands for the first of 100 times.

Step Four: Turn all of the burners on the gas stove on. All of them. No really, you don’t have any pots or pans out, but turn on the burners. Take that bag of peppers that look like banana peppers but are more like jalepenos. Put them directly on the burners and char the skins. Flip them occasionally, using a fork, but do not pierce the skin. When the peppers are as charred as your hands, put the peppers into a paper bag to allow them to steam.

Step Five: Boil water and begin blanching 40 tomatoes. Drop 4-5 tomatoes in at a time for a few seconds, then take them out of the boiling water. With your freshly charred hands, take the fucking hot tomatoes and plunge them into cold water and peel the skin off. If you kept them in the boiling water long enough, this will be easy. If you didn’t, then you’ll spend two hours with your hands alternating between boiling and cold, trying to peel the skin off the tomatoes and eventually picking up a knife to scrap the stubborn bits off. When your hands are as wrinkled as the denuded tomatoes, you are ready. Go ahead and forget the last stubborn tomato, there isn’t room for it in step six.

Step Six: Turn the fire on under an empty pot, grab the cooling tomatoes and squeeze them into the pot. Squirt the seeds onto your face, the wall, the floor and your shirt in the effort to get the guts into the pot. Eventually you’ll learn to pierce the tomato with your thumb and pull the tomato apart from there. Fill the pot with the squeezed tomato guts and ripped apart flesh. Let them come to a boil.

Step Seven: Get the peppers from the paper bag, a cutting board and a sharp knife. Scrape the charred skin from the outside with the dull side of the knife, slice it open long ways and scrape the seeds out from top to bottom. Do not take your bare hands to the pepper to pull the left behind seeds and bits of charred skin. It will be tempting, but your hands will burn for the next 12 hours. Your hands will burn so much that you’ll wash them 6 times, soak them in milk, rub yogurt on like lotion, cut the aloe plant, use cortisone 10, use more aloe and finally settle on doing shots of Arak. The alcohol will move the burn from your hands to your chest. Do not rub your eyes.

Step Eight: Dice the peppers and add to the boiling tomatoes. Become so distracted by your burning hands that you miss the rest of the directions. It includes adding some olive oil for shine, salt, and a lot of paprika for color. Cook the mixture as long as you can.

Step Nine: Move from the Matbuchah, which has taken all of your afternoon, left your hands shrivled and burning and made your knees sweat, and turn your attention to the lasagne, two quiche, steamed zuchinni, salad and other odds and ends.

Step Ten: Give up and run across Jerusalem as the shabbat sirens are blaring. Hop in the shower, being careful not to rub the soap out of your eyes (and other sensitive parts) with your burning hands. Change into shabbat clothes and run back across Jerusalem to the dinner. Find the kitchen completely clean. The Matbuchah in a bowl on the counter, the lasagne and quiche warming on the stove, and the table set.

Step Eleven: Sit on the couch for a minute while you wait for everyone else to return from shul.

Step Twelve: Fall asleep and wake up when everyone else returns from shul. Be careful not to rub the sleep from your eyes with your burning hands. Accept the aloe from a guest.

Step Thirteen: Shabbat shalom. Curse the man that taught you how to cook Matbuchah and didn’t warn you about the peppers. Bless his mother for being able to make this every week for shabbat. Raise a glass of Arak to make the first toast. Settle in for shabbat dinner and enjoy the Matbuchah, lasagne, quiche, challah, tahini and wine. Thank the fellow cooks, because nobody could prepare that dinner alone. Enjoy shabbat.

*I’m sure in real life, I’d have to do my own shopping. But in “Jerusalem vacation life,” my shopping is done for me while I enjoy lunch.

**Thanks to David Abitbol, aka CK, for the cooking lesson, I doubt I’ll be repeating the recipe anytime soon. Thank you for Sarah and Talia for hosting us for such a wonderful shabbat dinner and letting us destroy the kitchen for the cooking lesson.

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