“Oooh,” I breathed as a chef ladled a fluffy white substance into a pan. I watched as the surface bubbled up into an improbable pitted pancake that looked like the surface of the moon.When the man deftly flipped it out of the pan, it flopped onto the counter, seeming almost alive. I reached out a tentative finger; it was soft and pillowy, with a texture unlike any bread I’ve encountered before.You can find the Yemenite bread, lachuch, in every market in Israel. There’s something so hypnotic about watching the bubbles form and break that it’s little wonder there’s usually someone standing mesmerized before the flames.Yemenites eat the bread with soup (they are masters of the form), but young Israeli chefs have been finding all manner of uses for this deliciously yeasty bread. My favorite lachuch recipe iteration is a breakfast dish: covered with cool labneh while it’s still warm, then drizzled with olive oil and slathered with the herbal mixture za’atar.You can buy za’atar in any Middle Eastern spice shop. But it’s a blend, and if you like the flavor you might want to play around with various herbs to come up with one of your very own. The constant ingredients are sumac, salt, and sesame seeds. Dried thyme is usually used (za’atar is actually the Arabic word for thyme), as well as oregano or mint. Cumin is often part of the mix. Personally, I find I like the flavor that fresh oregano adds the mixture. But if you’re in a different mood, you can spread the lachuch with honey, with jam, or fold some cheese, tomatoes, and onions in for a lovely little sandwich.This spongy bread is remarkably versatile—and incredibly easy to make. Aside from allowing the yeast a few hours to work its magic, you’re basically making pancakes, except you don’t have to bother with flipping. Just like with pancakes, pay close attention to the heat of your pan. You’ll likely need to reduce the heat to give the bubbly top time to set before the bottom burns, and be sure to let the pan cool in between batches. But most importantly—don’t sweat it. Making lachuch is like riding a bike; once you get the hang of it, there will be no stopping you.
I didn’t taste my first Taiwanese oyster omelet—a Taiwanese street food classic—in Taipei. Sadly, I’ve never been there. My first encounter with this extraordinary dish occurred in a frantic underground corridor in the New York subway system. Passing a small stall, I watched a chef toss oysters with eggs, add a sweet ketchup sauce, and flip it onto a paper plate. It seemed so incongruous in that setting that I simply had to try it.It was love at first bite. I was enchanted by the way the softness of the eggs danced up against the deliciously briny slipperiness of oysters. But what made the oyster omelet so special was the way the oysters and eggs were swept away by a mysterious and deliciously sticky substance. It was like a musical composition—each note different—and I found myself taking one bite and then another as I tried to tease out the flavors.I couldn’t stop thinking about that dish, and I found myself dredging up excuses to use that particular subway. But one day, as I sat in that frenzied airless space with busy commuters hurtling past me, it hit me that I’d much prefer eating in the quiet of my own kitchen.But what was the mystery substance? It turns out that the secret ingredient is sweet potato starch, one of the staples of the Taiwanese kitchen. It adds a wonderful textural note to the omelet, and I’ve loved playing around with it in this recipe. I also discovered that this wonderful combination of flavors tastes even better made with small, freshly shucked oysters.If you want to save a little time, instead of making your own, you can pick up some sweet chili sauce from your local Asian market; there are dozens of brands. My recipe is really easy and makes more than you need, but it keeps forever in the refrigerator.
"Why are you making fried cardboard?" my first husband asked the first time he watched me make matzo brei. He had never before encountered this classic Jewish dish. Then he tasted it, his eyes went wide, and he asked for more. I have never known anyone who could resist it; even my son, the world's pickiest eater at the age of two, was in love with it. As for me, if I could eat only one food for the rest of my life it would be this remarkably simple dish in which a few basic ingredients are magically transformed into something comforting and compelling. Rumors are floating about that there are people who like their matzo brei sweet. This, of course, is an abomination: Matzo brei should never mix with sugar. While I tend to be a purist — nothing but matzos, eggs, butter, and salt — I occasionally add caramelized onions which, in my opinion, make almost everything taste better. And now, on to my matzo brei rules: 1. Do not use those fancy new handmade matzos. Store-bought is fine. 2. Caramelize the onions slowly and for a very long time. You want them to be on the dark side. 3. Good butter is the secret to great matzo brei. 4. When in doubt, use more. 5. Break the matzos into a strainer set over a bowl so you catch all the tiny crumbs. They make the texture more interesting. 6. Don't get your matzos so wet they go limp. 7. Some people cook their matzo brei in one piece, as if it were an omelet. Don't. One of the great things about this dish is the textural variation: Some bits are fluffy as clouds, others crisp enough to crackle. 8. Do not use a nonstick pan because it will prevent you from achieving the results in rule 7. 9. This recipe serves 4, but the proportions are 1 egg and 1 matzo per person, so adjust to your needs. 10. Say the word right: "brei" rhymes with "fry."
I'm a butter person; a world without butter would be a very dreary place. But my family loves coffee cake for breakfast, and one day it hit me that the butter and sour cream cake I routinely baked for them was a remarkably rich way to start the day. So I decided to come up with a cake that was both light and satisfying.I began with oranges and then added eggs. Instead of butter I used grapeseed oil, which I love for its neutral flavor. You could also use a fruity olive oil, which will give you a cake with a vaguely Spanish accent. I think of this as orange juice and eggs rolled into a single dish and puffed up with hot air. I think it’s a perfect way to start the day.What I like most is its sheer simplicity; this cake is about as basic—and easy— as they come. But one word of warning: don't open the oven too early. This cake will fall if provoked.