In the grocery store the other day, I finally splurged and bought a canister of Israeli couscous.
I’d wanted to try it for a while. My family and I love couscous and I thought it would be fun to try something new.
But the truth is Israeli couscous, also known as ptitim, is not really couscous. It’s a toasted pasta that was created at the request of Israel’s first Prime Minister.
Now I don’t know if George Washington ever concocted a new recipe, or if Franklin Roosevelt felt compelled to find a substitute for a much-loved food during the Great Depression, but this is exactly what Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion did.
Between the years of 1949-1959, Israel practiced austerity and rationed food and other goods in order to ensure there was a sufficient supply.
Rice, which was a staple of many Israelis’ diets, was scarce so Ben-Gurion approached the Osem food company and asked them to create an alternative. The result was ptitim, which is now also known as “Ben-Gurion’s rice.”
Ptitim is considered a children’s food in Israel but outside that country – and particularly in the United States – it appears on menus as a special item.
You can purchase ptitim in grocery stores. Prepare according to the instructions on the container and pair it with sauteed onions, garlic, and vegetables for a traditional Israeli dish.
I found this recipe in Cooking the Israeli Way, part of a great cookbook series geared toward children.
This recipe stood out for me because I love soup (clearly) and I like that this is a fast, vegetarian dish that still packs a lot of protein and fiber.
Israeli Bean Soup
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 can beans (navy or kidney)
1 small can tomato puree
2 cans beef broth
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
3 c. water
Heat over over medium-high heat in a pot. Add onion and sauté until brown. Add beans, tomato puree, broth, garlic, salt, pepper, and parsley. Boil soup, stir occasionally, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
You must remember this, couscous is just couscous . . .
OK, those aren’t the words to the song, but that was the sentiment of the cooking class I took at my community college this week. It was a class on Moroccan food – and it was awesome!
As usual, I took a lot of pictures of the food and I had a great time meeting new people, tasting new cuisine, sharing ideas, recipes, insider foodie information (don’t tell the feds!). But what I really loved learning about is our interconnectedness. Food really is a tie that binds.
In between sauteing chicken or braising lamb or marinating shrimp, the chef talked about how food is our common denominator.
It’s the thing that was left behind when countries were invaded.
It’s the common language of troubled areas of the world who seemingly have nothing on which they can agree.
It’s a map of where and how people lived – and shared their knowledge – centuries ago.
Like a lot of people, I have a busy life, and it takes something really important to convince me to break up my son’s routine and take an evening away from him.
But when I can come home and tell him about how and why people in Spain and North Africa both love pastillas and why people in Morocco, Lebanon, and Israel all love couscous, I feel like I’m not just doing something for me. I’m also giving him just a little more knowledge or insight that will help him go where he needs to in life.
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