A world of omelets

You'll find the popular egg dish flavored with vegetables on tables from America to Europe to China.

omelet 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
omelet 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Omelets are not hard to find in Washington, where I spent my childhood, but somehow I didn't grow up eating them. Yakir, my husband, on the other hand, who grew up in Givatayim, often had them for supper as a child, and so he is the omelet-maker in our household. Although his favorite omelet enhancements are grated cheese, sauteed onions, mushrooms and diced tomatoes, he knows that just about any ingredient is good with eggs, and might add sauteed cabbage or spinach if they happen to be in the refrigerator. He has even been known to fish cooked vegetables for his omelet out of a pot of soup to saute them in olive oil before adding the eggs. Actually, doing this is not so peculiar. You'll find omelets flavored with vegetables on tables from America to Europe to China. But there are marked differences in how they are made and served. In classic European cuisine, omelets are generally folded. That was how I often had them in Paris cafes, especially when the omelets included such choice ingredients as seafood or asparagus; these were not mixed with the eggs, but rather were enclosed in the plain omelet. Still, French cooks do prepare flat omelets similar to our Israeli ones, often doing so when they want to emphasize the homey character of the ingredients. Virginie Totvanian, author of Les oeufs - des entrees aux desserts (eggs from entrees to desserts) prepares a flat omelet by adding the eggs to sauteed potatoes, smoked meat strips and sorrel, and calls it a peasant omelet, explaining that its name is based on its simple, unpretentious ingredients. She makes another flat omelet with chard leaves, basil and Parmesan cheese, using olive oil and butter to cook the eggs. Flat omelets are popular in Italy, where they are known as frittatas. There they might be made with prized ingredients, like the artichoke and the squash flowers omelets that Edda Servi Machlin, author of Classic Italian Jewish Cooking, cooks in olive oil. For an unusual omelet combining both sweet and savory elements, Machlin makes a rice and cheese omelet of milk-poached rice, raisins and a generous amount of shredded mozzarella cheese. Mediterranean cooks are not the only ones to prepare flat omelets. In Latvia, wrote Siri Lise Doub in Taste of Latvia, a dish called Farmer's Breakfast is essentially a hearty breakfast in an omelet. It contains sauteed onions, sausages and potatoes, as well as cucumbers, tomatoes and pickles. To me it sounds like this recipe originated when someone thought of adding his salad to his sausage omelet. On the other side of the globe, in East Asia, flat omelets are used in a completely different way as part of other dishes. The omelets are cut in strips, then added as a delightful enrichment to Chinese and Thai fried rice and to pasta dishes like curry-flavored Singapore noodles. Using omelets in this matter is a good technique if you are watching your egg consumption, so you can enjoy an omelet's flavor without actually eating much of it. SEPHARDI SPINACH FRITTATA This is a simple omelet flavored only with spinach and garlic. If you like, sprinkle the omelet with grated Parmesan or Kashkaval cheese when the top is nearly set. To make this frittata it's best to use a skillet with an ovenproof handle so you can finish it in the broiler. If you don't have one, you can turn the frittata over to brown the second side, either as one piece or cut in two. Or you can simply cover the pan to continue cooking the omelet. 2 or 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 300 gr. spinach leaves, rinsed thoroughly and cut in thin strips salt and freshly ground pepper 4 eggs 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped Heat oil in a large heavy skillet, if possible with an ovenproof handle so it can go in the broiler. Add spinach and saute over medium-high heat, stirring often, about 3 minutes or until just wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Thoroughly beat eggs with garlic. Add to skillet. Cook without stirring; occasionally lift edge of omelet and tip pan so uncooked part of egg mixture runs to edge of pan. When top of omelet is nearly set, place pan in broiler. Broil until top is set and lightly browned. Serve from pan. (If your pan is not broiler proof, either turn the frittata over to brown the second side; or cover the pan and continue cooking for a few seconds until the omelet sets.) Cut in wedges and serve from the skillet. Makes 2 to 4 servings. WHOLE-WHEAT SPAGHETTI WITH GINGER AND SESAME This pasta dish is modeled on fried rice and is one of my favorites. It combines fresh ginger, sesame oil and sesame seeds with golden omelet strips and colorful vegetables. The tastes and colors are ideal with whole-wheat spaghetti, but regular spaghetti is fine too. Vary the vegetables to your taste, substituting mushrooms or sweet peppers for the ones in the recipe. 225 gr. whole-wheat spaghetti 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds 2 Tbsp. soy sauce 2 Tbsp. mirin (Japanese syrupy rice wine) or sweet sherry 1 Tbsp sesame oil omelet strips (see next recipe) 4 Tbsp. vegetable oil 1 large carrot, peeled and cut in thin, 5-cm. strips 3 large green onions, sliced thin 2 Tbsp. minced peeled gingerroot 2 small zucchini, cut in thin, 5-cm. strips 100 gr. snow peas, ends removed, cut diagonally in thin strips about 6 mm. wide Chili oil or hot pepper sauce to taste (optional) Fresh coriander or parsley sprigs Cook spaghetti uncovered in a large pot of boiling salted water over high heat, separating strands occasionally with fork, 8 to 9 minutes or until tender but firm to the bite. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain well. Toast sesame seeds in a dry small heavy skillet over medium-low heat, stirring, until light brown, 2 to 3 minutes; transfer to a small bowl. Combine soy sauce, mirin and sesame oil in a small bowl and blend well. Set aside. Prepare omelet strips. Heat 3 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add carrot, green onions and gingerroot and saute, stirring, 2 minutes. Add zucchini and snow peas and saute 1 minute. Transfer vegetables to a bowl. Add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet and heat over medium heat. Add spaghetti and saute, tossing lightly with a slotted spatula, until it is hot. Remove from heat, gently stir in soy sauce mixture and transfer to a heated serving dish. Add vegetables and 2⁄3 of omelet strips to spaghetti and toss. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding chili oil or Tabasco if desired. Transfer mixture to a platter and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Garnish with remaining omelet strips and with cilantro or parsley sprigs. Serve hot. Makes 6 first-course or side-dish or 3 main-course servings. OMELET STRIPS Use these also for enriching fried rice. 2 teaspoons vegetable oil 2 large eggs Heat oil in a 25-cm. skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium heat. Tilt pan to coat it with oil. Beat eggs with salt and pepper to taste. Add egg mixture to hot oil and cook it, loosening sides often with a pancake turner to allow the uncooked egg mixture to flow to edge of pan, for 2 minutes, or until it is set. Slide pancake turner carefully underneath to release omelet. Cut omelet in half with pancake turner. Turn each half omelet over and cook it for 1⁄2 minute longer. Transfer omelet halves carefully to a plate and let them cool to room temperature. Cut each omelet half in half lengthwise, then in crosswise strips about 6 mm. wide. Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes and Sensational Pasta.