Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sahlab Season

Ira and I went for a quick shuk shop this afternoon after Ulpan. I came into town by car to shop with him and shlep stuff home. Readers of this blog may note that I was not in Ulpan today. Wed and Thursdays are serious dikduk/grammar days, my least favorite subjects. While Ira enjoys the nitty gritty of hif'eel and hoof'al, I find it all a big yawn. That is, I started learning this stuff when in first grade and it's hard to go back to refiguring it all out at this point. I have learned some new finer points of conjugation and am happy about that but 2 days of it and they also spent time in the listening room, another "favorite" activity of mine. So, I left with Ira this morning but after he listened to me bitch and moan for 15 min on the way (we were walking), he encouraged me to go home and take the morning off and so I did. I napped, went for a swim and then came in to meet him.

Our mission - to figure out how to buy fresh fish and from which fish seller. Fresh fish is a big secret in this country. Some say you can only get fresh fish from certain places and only on Mondays and Tuesdays. Any other day, it's not fresh any longer and forget it. This flies in the face of reason. Israel has both fish farms and coastlines from which fish can be fished, not to mention flying in fish from other places. Also, there are good quality hotels and restaurants in this country that serve fish - surely they're getting fresh fish from somewhere.

Everyone agrees that David Dagim (dagim are fish) is the fishmonger of choice but still, I approached with care. We asked, what was fresh? He showed us salmon, butterfish (it looked like bass) and some smaller fish that looked like a flat sort of fish but fuller than trout. We said, really fresh? He said, yes. He said that they always have some fresh and some frozen. I've tried the frozen fish in this country and have not been happy. I miss Fishtales - even their prices. I asked him how fresh? He said, take a taste. I took a sniff and then a nibble. Fresh, delicious salmon and mind you, I am ordinarily a salmon snob in NY as all one ever eats and gets served is, salmon, as it seems the most innocuous to most. Anyway. We ordered 2 kilo of salmon for the princely sum of 100nis for a kilo. It is sitting in the fridge and awaiting its destiny tomorrow.

While our fish was being prepared, we ventured to some of our favorite stalls for a few things, too many things of course. Greens from the greens guy. Fruit from the fruit guy. Green beans are back in, so green beans. Boutique halvah from as my brother Jonathan calls it, the halvah guy. Fresh, squishy pitot and za'atar and paprika bread from the bread guy, altho I've been told that I have to seek out a different pita guy in the Iraqi section of the shuk for ultimate pitot. Next week. We stop to admire a little shul in the shuk - meaning, it was a stall but outfitted for khopping a quick daven. We notice the stall next door. Some mizrachi looking guys eating plates of ful/fava beans, sprinkled with what looks like cumin or hawaij (spice blend). We sniff and are offered a taste. We taste, which means that we picked beans off of this guy's plate (meaning a stranger) and are told to spit out the outer shell. Lovely but time consuming way of eating beans. We investigate what else they serve and notice a pot of steaming sahlab on the right. Sahlab season. Sahlab is a hot, milky drink, thickened with the ground bulb of the orchid, "Orchis mascula." It's also flavored with orange or rose flower water, which gives it it's particular taste, along with the orchid root. I looked it up and found out that it became a popular drink in 17th century England and was is said to be good for stomach irritations and gastrointestinal problems.

Here's a recipe found at the "Egyptian recipes page" of
1.5 tablespoons sahlab powder mix or 2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 cups milk
3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
2 teaspoons rose or orange-blossom water (optional)
2 tablespoons finely chopped pistachios
Ground cinnamon
Mix the powder or cornstarch with a few tablespoons of milk. Bring the remaining milk to a boil. Pour in the starch mixture, stirring vigorously, so that lumps do not form. Cook over very low heat, stirring continuously, until the milk thickens. This will take about 10 minutes. Then stir in the sugar and the rose water or orange blossom water. Serve in cups with the chopped pistachios and cinnamon as garnish. You can also sprinkle grated coconut on top.

Our server ladled it out for us and garnished it with cinnamon and coconut and we shared one cup while walking to the healthy bakery for some fresh bread and cookies. We headed back to the car and Ira said, "We didn't get any treats to eat for lunch," and I said, "No, but we had sahlab." Ah.

Meanwhile, did some Shabbat cooking - veggie, pot pies (new recipe but looks good), green beans, veg minestrone without the beans to make Gabe happy but what's the point really? We even have Shabbat day guests coming - young couple from Ulpan and Ira's cousin Eric with his wife, Liat and their twin 3 year old daughters and Jessica (Daniel is in the states traveling). Should be nice.

Shabbat Shalom.


lisa k said...

You probably already know how you're going to cook your carefully-chosen salmon, but here's a suggestion anyway. At Shabbat dinner in White Plains (we were there for a bar mitzvah), our hostess, an excellent cook, served us this salmon dish: She first covered the salmon with kosher salt ("it concentrates the flavor"), and later washed it off and roasted it sandwiched between handfuls of fresh herbs. It was fabulous.

lisa k said...

And by the way, she served it with a yogurt and herb sauce.