Europe - Adriana Weiss

Europe - Adriana Weiss

By
Gaye Weeden, Hayley Smorgon
Contains
5 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742702865
Photographer
Mark Roper

France

Adriana Weiss lives a busy and full life in Sydney, working as an interior designer and looking after her growing family. But her own family history and the journey she took to get to Australian shores are, both literally and gastronomically, a little more complicated than they first appear.

Adriana was born in Los Angeles growing up in a fast food–ridden, sugar-hyped culture. Adriana’s French–Moroccan mother was a point of difference, creating elaborate and decidedly more grown-up meals for her two children to enjoy.

‘I don’t think we were ever, ever given a sandwich as a meal,’ Adriana recalls. ‘She would make us meatloaf, or she would make us sandwiches but she never put in peanut butter or jelly, she’d put meatballs in there, or roast chicken or roast turkey and put homemade things inside.’

‘I think it turned me into an extremely good eater, for better or for worse,’ Adriana laughs. ‘I think it just taught me that part of your heritage is also about food, and a happy home is also about the love that goes into the kitchen.’

Adriana remembers spending lots of time with her mother in the kitchen, assisting her whenever she could and finding inspiration from her mother’s creative cooking escapades.

And because her mother was living away from her family, who all still lived in France, she went out of her way to re-enact her Parisian–Moroccan experiences at the dinner table.

It wasn’t until Adriana’s parents divorced when she was seven years old, and she and her brother moved with their mother to France, that she got to experience first-hand the real colour, chaos and sense of community that being part of a Sephardic Moroccan family provides.

Her Algerian-born grandmother became another source of culinary inspiration, and dishes Adriana enjoyed during her teenage years in Paris still remain her firm favourites today.

One such recipe is the omelette dish known as meginah, which Adriana always remembers as being beautifully presented despite it being considered the Moroccan version of fast food.

‘My grandmother doesn’t make it all the time but as a child I always loved it … she generally puts leftover meatballs or bits of chicken or something in it, just to make it hold its shape. It’s just something that’s so simple but tastes so good.’

Another dish was her grandmother’s famous beef meatballs, cooked slowly in a mixture of water, oil, salt, pepper and paprika. It’s a recipe that has been handed down through the generations and was the first dish Adriana attempted when she moved out of home, with not-so-successful results.

As Adriana explains it, it’s a good example of the pitfalls of cooking any meal that resonates so strongly in your memory — often, the memory tastes a lot better than the reality. Also, recipes that have been handed down for generations are often shared orally, running the risk of important details being forgotten.

‘Before, when my grandmother said to me to put some paprika in the water so that it gets some flavour, I put a teaspoon. And I kept complaining to her that my meatballs looked horrible and didn’t have the flavour … but to her, when she said put some paprika in the water, it’s three tablespoons.’

‘It’s all about tasting and learning how to develop an eye. The more you do it the more you get that and I think as I’m cooking more and more for my family, I’m going back to exactly what my grandmother does, because it’s exactly how I want it to taste and I want my family to be tasting that as well,’ Adriana says.

Yet despite the heavy influence cooking had on her childhood, it wasn’t until Adriana moved out of home to London to study that she started to try her hand in the kitchen. And it wasn’t until she met her husband Daniel that she first attempted to re-create her own favourite family dishes so he could enjoy what she loved so dearly.

An unexpected complication, however, was the discovery that she and Daniel had very different visions of a typical Friday night dinner. A New Zealander by birth, Daniel’s family is Eastern European and for him, his perfect Sabbath meal always included schnitzel. The problem was, Adriana didn’t even know what that particular dish was.

‘I’d never had a schnitzel in my life, nor had I heard of one,’ she laughs. ‘It was a bit of a clash of cultures when we started dating, but I think I’ve got him over to the dark side.’

As Adriana believes it, the main difference between Eastern European and Sephardic cooking is the depth and combination of flavour.

While Eastern European food relies a lot on frying to enhance its dishes, ‘a lot of our things are very slow cooked or there are a lot of processes, a lot of steps involved for our tagines or roasts’.

‘They’re easy to make but you have to develop a hand for it, your hand will automatically know how to measure this, how to do that, how to cut this and how to cook that because it’s all about your experience and your tastebuds.’

The inclusion of a multitude of spices is also another standout of Moroccan food, with Adriana explaining that the dishes she cooks are even more specialised as they feature Jewish techniques too.

‘We don’t use the same types of fats or the different mixes [as Arab Moroccan cooking] and we use a lot less garlic,’ she says.

A Jewish–Moroccan Friday night dinner will also always start with salad and cold dishes and then progress to hot meals. The recipe that Adriana includes here for the red and green capsicum salad is one such typical Jewish–Moroccan Sabbath starter.

‘As soon as you do the blessing over the bread, the best thing is cutting the bread and piling that on top of it and eating it,’ Adriana says.

Starting with a roasted capsicum that is peeled and then cooked slowly with canned tomatoes, the capsicum begins to caramelise and becomes sweet and smoky, thanks to the touch of paprika. It is the quintessential Moroccan Sabbath dish and has also become Adriana’s husband’s favourite.

‘I think that’s why he decided he wanted to marry me,’ Adriana laughs. ‘It’s also probably one of the first things that I learnt how to make because it’s so easy … and with most Moroccan dishes, they taste great the first day, and they taste even better the next.’

Today, as Adriana re-creates the dishes from her French-Moroccan-American childhood for her Australian family in Sydney, she reconnects to those moments from her childhood that made her happy and hopes her children are inspired to re-create them in their future too.

‘When you live far away from your family or when you have a family of your own, you want that connection to your roots. And you want to pass on the love and the flavours and everything that you were given as a child to your family and the people around you. It’s something you’re very proud of, ultimately.’

‘Especially now that I’m here and far away, I think that it’s something that connects me even more to my grandmother and my mother and my aunts … It’s something that I love sharing with the women in my family and we’re all so close in the first place that it’s something that really matters to me.’

‘It makes the distance a little less difficult to deal with,’ she says.

Recipes in this Chapter

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