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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

Learning to be a Sephardic mother

I got to my friend’s apartment in the shuk in Jerusalem, dropped by bag, got a quick hug and then we were off for shabbat shopping. Two hours later and we were standing in another friends beautiful kitchen. Bags of tomatos, peppers, lasagne noodles, eggs, parsley, milk, cheeses, fruits and some tofu stir fry. I didn’t know it when I got to Jerusalem, but David had it in his head that I needed to learn to cook like a good Jewish mother.

A good, Sephardic Jewish mother.

My task? To make Matbuchah…. a tomato dish that becomes shakshuka on Sunday mornings.

First things first, David turned on all the burners on the stove, gave me a dozen peppers. They looked like banana peppers, but were spicy like jalepenos. My job? It char the skin off the peppers by roasting on the open flames. So on a hot Jerusalem afternoon, I stood over 4 open flames turning a dozen peppers until they charred. Then we wrapped them in paper towels to let them steam and finish cooking. The paper towels were a substitute for a paper bag, which works best.

Next up? Blanching and peeling 40 tomatos. You know what that means, right? Drop the tomatos into boiling water for a few seconds and then plunge them into cold water and peel them. In a perfect world, the skin slides off… in my world I stood over the sink for an hour or more peeling and scraping the peels off the little red devils.

At this point, my hands were shriveled like raisins and it was time to squeeze the guts from the tomatos into a large pot. Not as easy as it sounds – I squirted tomato innards onto the floor, the walls, my clothes… but mostly into the pot. The goal? Rustic.

I went outside to try and cool off and relax, but it didn’t last long before David dragged me back into the kitchen to peel the hot peppers. Take a knife, scrap off the charred skin, slice it open and scrape out the seeds. Touch the pepper, the skin and the seeds as little as possible, otherwise your hands will burn for the next 12 hours like mine did. Seriously, I burnt my hands on hot pepper oil.

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