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Old memories, new dishes: malawach reinvented

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Sometimes spontaneity in the kitchen makes for the best experiences. When an accident or an unexpected idea leads you to a dish you never quite imagined, magic happens. Or at least, a little giddiness.

Such was the case earlier this month when I was hired by a bright, warm woman named Kerri to cook a birthday dinner for her sweet family. I was rummaging through their freezer for ice and found a frozen package of malawach (phlegmatically pronounced mah-low-achhhh).

A Yemenite dish often eaten as a snack or simple lunch, Malawach is a multi-layered disc comprised of delicate, paper-thin sheets of dough. It’s cooked from frozen in margarine (I prefer butter) until golden brown on the outside and feathery on the inside. If a quesadilla and a croissant had a baby, it’d be malawach.

A typical way to enjoy it is to tear off piping hot pieces with your hands and eat it with a sliced hard boiled egg and a freshly prepared sauce made of grated raw tomatoes, salt and a spicy condiment called zhug. If you aren’t privy to the wonderful world of tearing, dipping, and mopping that so often occurs when eating Middle Eastern foods, hummus and pita is the gateway drug and malawach the crack pipe.

When I held up the package excitedly and asked Kerri whom the malawach belonged to, her face lit up and she exclaimed, “Funny story. It’s mine but I don’t know what do with it!”

Turns out, when Kerri was in Israel years ago, a Jerusalem shop served up crisp malawach drizzled with honey. The combination of sweet syrup and crisp dough was etched into her gastronomic memory. Hoping to recreate it at home, she bought a package but then avoided frying one up, never believing it would meet her expectations.

So together we decided to free the malawah from chilly hibernation. I melted some butter over medium high heat, threw a frozen malawah in and waited for one side to get dark and crisp before flipping it over and finishing off side B. I cut it into six wedges, drizzled them with honey and we both dove for the plate, closing our eyes and waiting for our taste buds to tell us the news.

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