Sensational strips

To me, no matter how different their ingredients, all these variations are comfort food at its best.

Chilaquiles 311 (photo credit: Nick Koon/Orange County Register/MCT)
Chilaquiles 311
(photo credit: Nick Koon/Orange County Register/MCT)
I was 18 when I first tasted pancake “noodles.” They were made by Rachel Levy, my husband’s Yemen-born mother, in her kitchen in Givatayim. Rachel called her creation fatta maftutah, based on the words fatteh or fatta – Middle Eastern dishes made with pieces of bread. First she made crepe-like pancakes from a batter of flour, water and eggs. Next she cut them in strips and returned them to the skillet with beaten eggs. She heated the mixture in butter while stirring until the eggs were set and coated the noodle-like pancake strips. Yakir and his siblings loved it sprinkled with sugar, but I preferred mine with a bit of salt.
It was a wonderful supper. For me the dish was unique. I had no ideathat I would enjoy its delicious cousins in cuisines from Sri Lankan toMexican.
One of its relatives is called kottu roti and was the highlight of thefood offerings at the Sri Lanka festival in Santa Monica, California.The name means cut-up roti, an Indian flat bread, sauteed with cookedvegetables, beaten eggs, cooked lentils and a peppery sauce. As soon aswe tasted it, we thought of fatta maftutah.
Mexican chilaquiles have the same effect on us. This spicy breakfastdish is based on corn tortillas – flat breads made of cornmeal – thatare fried in strips with a savory chili-based sauce. Often the mixtureis enriched with a little meat, or topped with cheese or sour cream,and might be scrambled with eggs or accompanied by fried eggs.
What these dishes have in common is their form. If you pare them downto basics, they are composed of sauteed strips of flat bread and eggs.These are the main elements, and any additions, whether spicy or sweet,whether an elaborate sauce or a sprinkling of salt or sugar, are theresimply as flavorings.
At a South Indian restaurant we sampled masala paratha, made of flatbread cubes fried with eggs and a light savory sauce spiced withginger, garlic, cumin and chilies. To save time at home, some Indiansmake it from toasted frozen parathas – layered flat breads similar toYemenite melawah.
We savored stir-fried pancakes at a Mandarin restaurant. They are madelike stir-fried noodles, with Chinese pancake strips substituted forthe noodles, sauteed with a bit of meat, eggs and green onions andmoistened lightly with soy-based sauce.
Italians cut crespelle, their version of crepes, into noodles and treatthem like pasta, combining them with spinach and cheese, or heatingthem in a quick sauce of butter, sugar, citrus juice and jam fordessert. German Kaiserschmarren is composed of pancakes made from abatter lightened with whipped egg whites. After being torn in stripswith two forks, the pancakes are browned in butter.
To me, no matter how different their ingredients, all are variations ofour family favorite – comfort food at its best. You could use anypancakes, crepes or flat breads you have to come up with your ownconcoctions. I find the texture of the sauteed pancakes most enjoyablewhen I use the additional elements with a light hand. At Curry Bowl, aSri Lankan restaurant in Tarzana, California, my husband likes thekottu roti enhanced with generous amounts of chicken coconut curry,while I prefer the basic vegetable version. They are now serving akottu roti special, a sort of compose-your-own kottu roti by choosingamong a variety of fish and meats to make into a curry. I can’t wait totry it.
My sister in law, Hedva Cohen, who now makes fatta maftutah for her children and grandchildren, told me that some people make a similar dish, called egg fatout, by thawing frozen jahnun (the rolled version of malawah) as a shortcut.  For a savory touch, some sprinkle grated cheese at the last minute and stir to melt it into the crepe-and-egg mixture.
If you’re not using all the crepes, freeze the extra ones, layered with waxed paper so they won’t stick together.
4 to 8 crepes or blintzes (see recipe below)
3 to 4 eggs
2 to 3 tablespoons milk
salt to taste
2 to 4 tablespoons butter or margarine
salt or sugar (for sprinkling)
Cut crepes in strips like wide noodles.  Beat eggs and milk in a bowl with a pinch of salt.
Melt butter in a large skillet.  Add crepe strips and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until heated through.  Add beaten egg mixture and cook, stirring often, until eggs have set to your taste.  Serve hot, with salt or sugar for sprinkling.
Makes 2 to 4 servings.
Crepes or blintzes: To save time, use a fairly large pan rather than a small, traditional crepe pan.  In a blender combine 3 eggs, 1 1/4 cups milk or water, 3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Blend on high speed about 1 minute or until batter is smooth. Strain batter if it is lumpy. Cover and refrigerate about 1 hour or up to 1 day.
Stir batter. For a richer, more tender batter, whisk in 2 tablespoons melted butter. Heat a 20- to 23-cm (8- to 9-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Brush pan lightly with oil. Remove pan from heat and hold it near bowl of batter. Working quickly, add 3 tablespoons batter; add batter to edge of pan and tilt and swirl pan until base is covered with a thin layer of batter. Immediately pour any excess batter back into bowl. Return pan to medium-high heat. Loosen edges of crepe with a metal spatula, discarding any pieces clinging to sides of pan. Cook crepe until its bottom browns very lightly.  Turn over and cook briefly to brown the other side.  Slide out onto a plate.
Makes about 12 crepes or blintz wrappers.
This recipe is from 1,000 Mexican Recipes by Marge Poore.  She writes that in Mexico this popular dish is made from fried corn tortillas combined with whatever is handy.  She makes a variety of chilaquiles, including one with corn, zucchini and cheese, one with black beans, spinach and tomatoes, one with potatoes, heavy cream and cheddar cheese, and one with chicken in a cilantro-flavored green sauce.  All have chiles (hot peppers) in some form.
You can make this dish with fresh or toasted tortillas (tostadas).  Poore deep-fries fresh tortillas the traditional way but you can saute them instead, or brush them with oil and bake them until crisp.  Toasted tortillas do not need frying.  For a fast version, you can substitute tortilla chips, which come in bags as a snack.  You can also use pita–split it in half to make it thin, cut it in strips and saute or bake them with a little oil.
Poore finishes this dish by baking it with sour cream and shredded cheese.  If you prefer an egg version, add 3 or 4 beaten eggs (instead of the sour cream and cheese) and saute them with the tortilla and tomato mixture in the skillet until scrambled, as if you’re making shakshuka.
Vegetable oil for frying
8 corn tortillas (15- to 18-cm or 6- to 7-inch), cut in 2.5-cm (1-inch) pieces
1/2 onion, chopped
3 medium tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 hot green pepper, chopped with seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup shredded mild yellow cheese
If using fresh tortillas, fry them: Heat about 1 inch of oil in a medium heavy skillet until the oil shimmers.  Fry the tortilla pieces, in batches, until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels, then reserve in a large bowl.
Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the oil from the skillet and saute the onion, stirring, until it begins to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Reserve off heat.
Preheat oven to 190C (375F).  Puree the tomatoes, garlic, chile, thyme and 1/4 cup water in a blender until smooth.  Add to the onions in the skillet and cook 6 to 8 minutes to blend the flavors.  Add to the bowl of tortilla pieces and stir gently to combine.  
Transfer mixture to a 20-cm (8-inch) square baking dish.  Drizzle with the sour cream and scatter the cheese over the top.  Bake until completely heated through and cheese is melted, about 20 minutes. Serve hot.
Makes 4 servings.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.