Pascale's Kitchen: Culinary memories from Ramle

After my father died, I would accompany my mother to the market, which I remember was filled with beautiful colors and strong aromas. I loved hearing the stall owners shout out their wares.

Culinary memories from Ramle (photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Culinary memories from Ramle
(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
There will always be a special place in my heart for the city of Ramle, where I grew up and lived until I got married.
The focus of my mother’s world was preparing food for her family, and I would spend countless hours with her in our tiny kitchen. She would write out her menu for Shabbat meals already on Wednesday, and my father would go to the outdoor vegetable and fruit market in Ramle on his bicycle, and come home with baskets bursting with fresh and aromatic produce. My siblings and I would help lug everything up to our fourth-floor walk-up.
After my father died, I would accompany my mother to the market, which I remember was filled with beautiful colors and strong aromas. I loved hearing the stall owners shout out their wares and prices to passersby.
My mother lovingly taught me how to check whether fruit is overripe and ascertain which vegetables look the freshest. She would haggle with the fishmonger and butcher to get the best cuts. Last but not least, she would lift up gigantic bundles of fresh herbs and check each one with a magnifying glass.
I learned from an early age to distinguish between cilantro and parsley, by the shape of the leaves but also by taste. My mother would tear off a few leaves and make me chew them so I truly understood their flavor. When I grimaced from the strong flavor, she and the vegetable seller both burst out laughing.
She knew all the stall owners, and they would greet her wholeheartedly every time we arrived. There was a little old lady who would prepare thin filo dough sheets every morning, and then come sell them in the market. Next to her was the man who sold spicy Tunisian harissa. He wore a beret, sat on a low stool, and watched customers walk by as he smoked his cigarette.
One of my favorite treats at the market was going to the man who sold lemonade from a cart he’d fixed up using old bicycle wheels. And if I was really lucky, my mother would buy me a burekas or falafel.
When I was older and no longer lived in Ramle, I would sometimes ask my mother to buy special ingredients for me that I couldn’t find in my local shop. Sometimes, she would find tiny sardines, spicy peppers for making harissa, or hard-to-find spices for cooking and baking.
After my mother died, I was too sad to go back to the Ramle market, since memories of shopping there with my mother would overwhelm me.
My mother has been gone from this world for eight years now, and I finally felt like I could face going back to the Ramle market. I recently went there with chef Shira Ezra Kisos in search of the Indian spice shop where my mother used to purchase spices. I was amazed at how much the market had changed. Every stall now had a roof overhead, and many of the stalls that sold vegetables were now selling clothing, toys and rugs. There was even a group of tourists on a walking tour of the market.
I was sad not to find the old man who sold harissa or the woman who prepared the filo dough sheets, but I did find two shops selling Tunisian fricassee sandwiches. For the bread, though, they were using a regular baguette, and not a fried roll, which really makes the fricassee special. That was bit disappointing. 
Finally, we reached the Indian spice store called Paprika. Shira led me through the shop, explaining what each spice, paste and chutney is used for. When we finished there, we stopped to buy Turkish burekas at Baba-Chaim. All in all, it was a very exciting morning.
Below, you’ll find Shira’s samosa recipe, and following that, my recipe for snail-shaped pastries filled with cheese.
Makes 16 pastries.
2 cups flour, sifted
1 level tsp. salt
¼ tsp. whole cumin seeds, roasted and crushed (optional)
4 Tbsp. oil, plus a little more
½ cup water (or more, according to need – the dough should be hard)
4 Tbsp. oil
1 medium onion, chopped finely
1 spicy green pepper, chopped finely (depending on how spicy you want it)
1 Tbsp. ginger garlic paste
3 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. sweet or spicy paprika, according to taste
¼ tsp. turmeric
¼ cup water
4 cooked potatoes, cut into cubes or wedges
1 heaping tsp. garam masala
2 Tbsp. lemon juice or ½ tsp. mango powder (can be bought in spice shops)
200 gr. petite peas, frozen
1 tsp. coriander
½ tsp. salt
Oil for frying
Add all of the ingredients for the dough to a bowl and knead for 10 minutes until everything is well mixed. The dough should be hard. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for 30 minutes.
To prepare the filling, heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté onions until they’re browned. Add the spicy pepper, the ginger garlic paste and the spices. Mix well and then add the water, potatoes, garam masala and the lemon juice. Stir gently and add the peas, coriander and salt. Mix and let cool.
To prepare the samosas, roll the dough into a log shape and then cut it into 8 sections. Take one section and roll it out on your work surface until it’s ½ cm. thick. Cut it into 2 pieces. Roll each piece into a cone shape. Take a bit of filling and stuff it into the cone. Seal the opening so that the samosa comes out a triangle shape. Use a little water to seal edge. Prepare the rest of the samosas in the same fashion.
Heat oil in a frying pan over a medium flame and sauté the samosas until they’ve turned golden brown. Remove and set on paper towels. Alternatively, you can brush samosas with oil and bake in an oven that has been preheated to 200º until they turn golden brown. Serve with yogurt and green chutney.
Makes 1 large or 2 medium pastries.
1 package (400 gr.) spinach leaves, blanched and water squeezed out
1 package (400 gr.) store-bought filo dough
250 gr. Bulgarian cheese 5% (or higher) fat, crumbled
200 gr. yellow cheese, grated
1 egg, beaten
2 drops of oil
½ cup sesame seeds
Roll out the dough on a floured work surface into a thin rectangle. Place the spinach and cheeses along one edge and then roll up into a log. Wrap the pastry up into a snail or spiral shape and place on a tray lined with baking paper.
Beat an egg with the oil and brush onto the pastry. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake for 35 to 40 minutes in an oven that has been preheated to 200º. Check to make sure pastry doesn’t burn, since some ovens cook faster than others.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.
Learn more about Pascale's Kitchen here.