Monday, February 14, 2005

English muffins and cottage cheese

You can buy almost anything these days in Damascus - Quaker Oatmeal, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and Ragu spaghetti sauce. But, in keeping with the way Syria does things, it seems like there's always something not quite right. The oatmeal comes in tiny tins that cost as much as a big carton would in America. The peanut butter cups are only available at one store in the whole city. When you can find spaghetti sauce, the price sticker is still in Lebanese Lira, betraying its hasty "importation" by a Beirut-to-Damascus taxi driver with extra trunk space. And so on.

But there are some things that are simply nowhere to be found. Unfortunately, since I've been pregnant, those are the things my tastebuds and tummy have chosen to crave. English muffins lightly toasted and heavily buttered. Creamy pesto salad dressing and mizithra cheese from The Old Spaghetti Factory. Cottage cheese on rusks. Black olives. Pineapple and rice cakes. And most of all: nachos! I almost wept at the thought, especially knowing I wouldn't be able to get them.

Then one afternoon, some friends came over to study with Jeremy. One of them brought over the ingredients to make fattoush, a Syrian/Lebanese salad. I've had fattoush many times since being here, and I've always liked it, but after one taste I couldn't get enough. The next day was Friday - we have church and don't go shopping on Fridays since it's the Sabbath - and I almost died for want of fattoush.

First thing the next morning, we went out and got the ingredients at the produce stand down the street. I made the salad with great care, soaking all the vegetables in bleach solution and tailoring the ratio of ingredients to my taste. And it was absolutely delicious! I ate probably 3/4 of the whole salad bowl (Jeremy got the rest). It was so yummy.

So now I crave fattoush, which is much more convenient for me. There are tons of recipes for it online, but the one I like to make is this one:

a bunch of chopped Romaine lettuce
one medium onion, diced
two or three cucumbers, sliced into semicircles
one tomato, diced
fresh parsley, chopped
fresh mint, chopped
thyme (or za'atar if you can get it)

dressing:
1/3 - 1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1 or 2 cloves garlic, chopped
salt and pepper

Combine the salad stuff; mix the dressing ingredients together and pour over salad. Right before you eat it, toss in toasted pita bread (broken into bite-sized pieces). This soaks up some of the dressing and makes the salad unique.

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