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)
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)
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
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!!
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.