סיר פלא The Wonder Pot

January 19, 2011 § 26 Comments

I grew up hearing stories about my parents’ aliyah (immigration) to Israel, which took place years before I was born. Some were surely true, some slightly exaggerated, and some were just to entertain me, which they always did. Now that Jeff and I are new/returning immigrants to Israel, many of my parents tales of pioneer-hardship echo in my ears. And though it is clear that the Israel of 2011 is a million light years away from that of 1969, there are some universal elements to starting one’s life anew in a (semi) foreign land.

“We were in the trenches, in the rain, with rifles.” (dad)

“Oy the fumes from the Kibbutz factory… I was sick for months.” (mom)

“I was in the fields from morning until night.” (dad)

“We had no oven! I cooked on the space heater.” (mom)

“When we arrived they gave us two straw mattresses and a seer peleh.” (mom)

A what?

Yes folks, the seer peleh, or wonder pot in English, is may have been an Israeli invention (other reports indicate that the pot was brought to Israel from Eastern Eurpope by Jewish immigrants). A standard item in every Israeli kitchen pre-1980, the wonder pot was what people used to cook and bake with in this country when ovens were still a luxury. By the time my parents returned to Israel with my sister and me in 1988 ovens had become a much more standard appliance, and it was not until last week that I ever actually laid eyes on the seer peleh of legend, sitting on the top shelf of a kitchen supply store on Ibn Gvirol Street.
When I asked the shop owner if he had any in stock, he smiled one of those slightly nostalgic, sweet smiles that told me that his mother had made many a pashtida פשטידה (casserole) in her seer peleh when he was growing up, and he gladly pulled a ladder out of the back room to retrieve one for me.

Once I had the thing in my hands, I could not believe that such a flimsy piece of cook-ware could have sustained even a small nation’s cooking needs for so many years. “What the heck?” I thought, “Is this aluminum?”

The seer peleh is the approximate size and shape of a bundt or angel food-cake pan, and might weigh 8 ounces. Unlike a bundt, it comes with a fitted lid that has several vents or holes, all around its circumference, as well as flat metal ring that is meant to be used as a heat-distributer if you are using the pot on a gas flame.

I decided that since I had no heat or cooking-time guidelines (if anyone knows where to get a copy of the now, out of print The Wonder of the Wonder Pot, by Sybil Zimmerman, please let me know!)I would start off with something simple. I made a regular tortilla espanola (Spanish omelette), smilar to a fritatta or a pashtida — a casserole that was often made in the wonder pot — with excellent results.

Wonder Pot Toritilla Espanola

Since I know that it is highly unlikely that any one will require a seer peleh recipe for spanish omelette, I am providing a standard method here, with notes on how I adjusted the process for my little pot.

2 yellow oinons, chopped

3-4  small boiling potatoes, chopped small  (the pieces need to be small enough to cook in saute pan)

salt, pepper

6-7 eggs

1/2 cup milk (optional, I use a little soy milk, just to stretch the recipe, but it certainly isn’t an authentic part of a Spanish omelette)

grated cheese of your choice — I used a hard sheep cheese

olive oil

Heat a tablespoon or two of oil in  a wide (oven-proof) saute pan over medium heat — when I was doing this in the states I used my cast iron pan. Add the onions and potatoes and saute over medium heat. Saute, stirring occasionally and seasoning with salt and pepper. When the onions are soft and starting to get some color and the potatoes are tender, turn off the heat and set this mixture aside in a bowl . In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs together vigorously, add the milk/soy milk if using and some grated cheese (the quantity is up to you). At the point, if you are using your saute pan, you want to have the oven on broil and the stove burner on medium high.

For the tradition preparation:

Grease your pan well (bottom and sides). Pour the egg mixture into the saute/cast iron pan and let it cook so there is a bottom layer that is slightly firm. Add the onions and potatoes (they will sink into the egg) and cook until the side are starting to pull away and are looking nearly done. Then place the whole thing beneath the broiler and cook until the top is lightly browned and bubbling – DO NOT WALK AWAY, it burns quickly!!

Remove from oven and turn upside down onto a plate or
serve from the pan, in wedges.

For the Wonder Pot:

Mix the potato/onion mixture into the eggs and pour everything into the well-greased (make sure you really grease it!) seer peleh. Cover the pot and set it on the burner on medium heat, check after 10 or 15 minutes, it will puff up and look firm. Wait a few minutes for it to cook before turning it out.

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§ 26 Responses to סיר פלא The Wonder Pot

  • Yaelian says:

    What a nostalgic item! I remember seeing those in the 80′s at a friend’s house,but never used one myself. Your wonder pot tortilla looks yummy!

  • Yosefa says:

    That’s so cool you posted about this. Hannah K. just showed me one in a kitchen store. So, should I buy one? I canceled the get together. We’ll have to try again sometime!

  • I also heard lots of stories about the wonder pot from my cousins here. They made multi-course dinners in the wonder pot. I should buy one and try that. I made a Chinese banquet with my Taiwanese roomate in a rice cooker. I mean we made everything from fried egg rolls to Tibetan Momos to soup to a kind of stir-fry, stewed vegetables, and of course rice.

  • Aaron Darsa says:

    Hi Ariella,
    I love this blog. Brings back great memories. Also, I found a copy The Wonder of the Wonder Pot and if it arrives in time will send it to you with Alissa. Love and hugs,
    Dad

  • Jan says:

    What memories of my miracle wonder pot. Don’t try the space heater however. It didn’t do a very good job on anything but toast. By the way, that was me with the rifle. Lots of love

  • Ita says:

    I bought one this summer ! I wanted it to make pareve cakes etc.. You inspired me to try it.

  • dalia carmmel says:

    Hello,
    The wonder pot was not invented in Israel. it was invented probably in German or Austria, and was brought to Israel by the immigrants from Europe.
    It was and probably is still used by both Israelis and Palestinians when there are no ovens, or where electricity cannot be relied on.
    I found the Wunder Tops (as it was called in German) both in Portugal’s markets and in Montecattini, Italy backk in the 90-s.
    Dalia

    • kitchen girl says:

      Thanks for the info Dalia. You may want to send a correction to wikipedia as well (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonder_Pot), although I am sure, like many things, credit for the invention of the wonder pot is up for debate. At any rate, I have finally managed to get hold of a copy of the out-of-print ‘Wonders of a Wonder Pot’ and will be posting more wonder pot recipes soon!

      • Sharon says:

        This is so long after the post, hope you see it. Where did you get a copy of the book – in Israel or elsewhere? For now I am in CA and looking online without any luck. Suggestions?
        Thanks,
        Sharon

      • kitchen girl says:

        Hi Sharon,
        my father found a used copy on Amazon. I actually would have to say that I don’t really recommend the book on the whole. It’s filled with a lot of non-wonder pot recipes and the sorts of eats that one found in Israel during the time of attrition. The bigger thing is actually getting your hands on the wonder pot itself, if you can do that you adapt almost any casserole and many a cake and torte to cook/bake in there. If you still really would like a copy, you can sign up for janglo.net, which the anglo listserve here in Jerusalem and post about it. The author herself is on that listserve and most likely she, or someone else has a spare copy kickin’ around.
        Good Luck, Ariella

    • Sybil Kaplan says:

      Hi Dalia,
      It’s Sybil in Israel, still lecturing about Wonder Pot!

    • Joseph Nixon says:

      Actually the German is Wundertopf – “topf” is German for pan. They still have some following also in the Netherlands as “de Wonderpan” – that may be a trademark or specific brand, I am not sure!

      It could very well be the case that the idea was developed simultaneously in more than one place… Maybe someone back in the day sent a letter to a cousin “you wouldn’t believe what I’ve been working on!”

      These are also marketed today to campers, boaters & the RV crowd as “Omnia stovetop bakers” – I’ve seen them on eBay… Pricier than used WonderPots from Israel that start around $49+ shipping!

      I’m interested in trying my hand with such a pot, but thinking I might try to cobble together my own with an anodized bundt pan – anodized aluminum is non-reactive offering greater versatility.

      Great post!

  • Chava says:

    I have been using the “wonder baker” (as I’ve grown up calling it) on Pesach for kugels, cakes, you name it. I’ve been looking all over to get a few more (for my married children, etc.). I was wondering if you knew where I can buy them. I live in New York. I would even be interested if a store/website in israel would be willing to ship to the United States.
    Thank you.

    • shulamis says:

      I just unpacked two wonder bakers that I have from years ago but can’t find anyone that uses it today. Any recipes for some simple, non gebrucks, cakes. Any hints on how to use it-how high a flame and how long do you “bake” it on the top of the stove.

      Thank You
      shulamis@sbcglobal.net

  • Rebecca says:

    Hi,
    I had never heard of a wonder pot, until today. I was visiting with a new friend in Nachla’ot and she brought out a book, The Wonders of a Wonder Pot (or cooking in Israel without an oven).
    by Sybil Kaufman. I was reading recipes and still wondering what the “wonder pot” was. So I decided to google it, whereupon I came to you. It is filled with many recipes and information. Now I want a wonder pot…… guess I need to add that to my massively overflowing collection of Dru Holland, Descoware, and all items cast iron.

  • Hello,
    I would really love to find a copy of the “Wonders of the Wonderpot ” cookbook. Can any tell me where I can get one?
    Hope someone can help me!!
    Charlotte

  • Lawrence Yanover says:

    I was living in Israel in 1978 through 1979 and bought a wonder pot, then dragged it back to Canada, where we have lots of ovens. It was a nostalgia thing and I haven’t used it since. I also brought back Sybil Zimmerman’s second book, Israeli Cooking on a Budget. It is my favourite cookbook and I have plenty others. It is in many pieces, but still has the best chocolate cake recipe in the world. Our family makes it for every birthday and celebration. The hummus recipe is the best as well as chicken curry. My daughter, back from university in Israel for a week, asked about the wonder pot mentioned in the cook book and we found this lovely site to explain about it. Thank you.

    • kitchen girl says:

      You are more than welcome! I must admit that I’ve been surprised at how many people have responded to this post. The wonderpot has great nostalgia value, so fun! If you ever need another copy of her books and cannot find them, Sybil has contacted me and given me her e-mail to pass out to fans: syb1023@aol.com
      Thanks for dropping by and for commenting. Ari

  • marseamodest says:

    I never thought of using the wonderpot for pesach and now I will. My pesach stuff from Chu’l was stolen from our Keter shed, so i had to buy new things. I have a wonderpot that I’ve never used but will pull it out for next pesach. BTw, Wonderpots can be found at the Malcha shuk on Mondays (“Ramla shuk?). To make a sponge cake, does one require a special recipie or do you just put any recipie into the wonder pot? Does anyone have a spongecake recipie for the WonderPot? You can reach me at marci@bezeqint.net or http://www.MarSeaModest.com.

  • George White says:

    WOW……..I don’t use a wonder pot, but I purchased a swedish version called an Omnia Oven. I use it to bake breads and casseroles while doing canoe camping trips in the Boundary Waters. Here is a Youtube link to me “bench” testing it……

  • Marcy Garb says:

    Not only did we use a Wonder Pot in Israel as our oven in 1972-74, but our 4 year old daughter had a little toy one for her doll. We kept it for years…I sure wish I knew where it was.

  • DaeRae says:

    How neat! Our Israeli friends were trying to explain the wonder pot to me and now I can visualize it! I want one sooo bad now!

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