A Motherly Food Intervention

I was pretty young when I started to realize that my family didn’t eat quite like everybody else’s. I was 10 years old and we were spending the summer in upstate New York traveling with Circus Flora (I’ll save that story for another blog post) when we happened on an Italian restaurant. Hurray! I’d be able to have my favorite meal at the time, fried calamari on top of Caesar salad. But when I ordered it, the blond waitress cocked her head and looked at me real confused. “Sorry Sweetie, we’ve only got red and white house wine here.” Bummer.

My childhood consisted of a lot of moments like these. Requests to my parents for popular snacks foods, like Cup of Noodle soup, were met with good intentions but somehow I always ended up with Knorr Bacon and Corn instead of the chicken flavor everyone else had. And hell hath no fury like a scorned 5th grader. Sitting at my desk, tears in my eyes, I was wishing death upon my father for the inedible Genoa salami, tapenade and sriracha sandwich I had to force down. Couldn’t he have just made pb & j? But the way my parents saw it, being ordinary when it came to food was the worst sin one could commit.

My saving grace was my mother, and while my peers mocked the avocado sandwiches she packed in my lunch, “eww, your sandwich has boogers in it,” she was able to be original while keeping in mind what kids actually like to eat. Being from Israel, my mom never prepared a meal without by a very fresh salad.

Every Sunday, when you could roll a penny from our house at Bathurst and St.Clair and hear it plop in the lake because everyone else in Toronto was at church, we had a super loud and Jewy brunch complete with pickled herring, lox, bagels and her perfectly cooked scrambled eggs.

And my mom always made up for it when my dad was off on one of his crazy food kicks, like a full week of cholent (and gas) or that time he started putting stale microwave popcorn in with green salad, which promoted me and my brother to storm away from the table.

While I hated what I thought was my parent’s eccentric and embarrassing tastes, I of course now cherish these memories and love retelling the stories. And I know I wouldn’t be a food writer without them.

Here is my (mom’s) recipe for fattoush salad–an Arabic style bread salad.

  • 2 large pita’s, cut into squares
  • 3 ripe tomatoes, cut into cubes
  • 3 Lebanese cucumbers, cut into cubes
  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • A handful of fresh Italian parsley, coarsley chopped
  • A handful of fresh mint, coarsley chopped
  • 1 tbs sumac (available at Arabic grocers)
  • 2 Tbs spoons good quality olive oil
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • Salt, pepper and zaatar to taste

Preheat the over to 350. Toss the pita in olive oil and kosher salt. Scatter the pita onto a baking pan. You can do two or three rounds in the oven, just make sure the bread is spread out and not overlapping. Toast until one side is done, toss and keep toasting until they are crisp like croutons, a total of 3 to 5 minutes.
Take them out and let them cool.
Toss together tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and fresh herbs in a serving bowl. Add oil, lemon juice and sumac and give it one last toss along with some kosher salt.
Top with crouton and sprinkle with zaatar.

To watch Maia prepare her mom’s famous fattoush salad check out this awesome video

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