Tuesday, September 22, 2020

My mother loved the word “potchka.” She would always tell us how something wasn’t a potchka at all, when clearly it was. At least for any normal person it would be, but then mothers are never regular human beings. They definitely have superpowers, don’t they? So this article is titled, “Why Potchka?” and the answer lies ahead. But, at the same time, I also really want to ask—why potchka, if you don’t really have to? I know I sound confused. I am, but that’s a different story…

You see, it’s my mother’s yahrzeit soon and when I thought of how I could honor her memory, I thought of food. Yes, being in quarantine, I’m actually always thinking of food. But, that’s not why I was thinking of food now. I remembered all the many delicious dishes my mother made and how she would say they were no potchka at all, when they obviously were. I know we all get great pleasure at seeing our own families nourished even when it involves hours in the kitchen. My mother was of a generation that felt her identity, her success, was inseparable from her children’s stomachs. She was never happier than when we cleaned our plates. As a housewife in the 1950s and 1960s she took immense pride in her job. So potchka she definitely did. But, her daughters, well, do we still have to potchka?


Today, after all, matters are usually very different, as we all know. To have the luxury (yes, I think it is one) of preparing a meal is not always so easy. However, now, being home for so long, and even with working from home, many of us probably don’t mind a little “potchking” now and then. In fact, some of us may have actually been giving Betty Crocker a run for her money. Hands up: how many of you have been hoarding flour and yeast? To potchka or not to potchka, I guess that’s the question here.

When I first got married, my mom gave me a whole bunch of “easy” recipes. “Easy” is in the eyes of the beholder. Throughout the years, I’ve kind of amended them to better suit a working woman’s lifestyle, and when I tell my kids that it wasn’t a “potchka,” I’m not just being polite, it’s true.

I thought it would be nice to share some of these recipes.

So, here’s one to try:

Potted Steak:

In a deep frying pan

Brown 2 medium size onions

Put steak slices on top

Brown slices on both sides

Add 2 tablespoons of onion soup mix in a cup filled with water

Pour over steak. It should cover to mid steak, if not add water.

Cover pan, simmer about 1½-2 hours until tender

Optional: Add a can of peeled whole potatoes to the pan about 30 mins before done.

The next recipe I would like to share is from my mother in law, whose yahrzeit is also coming up soon. In fact my mother and mother-in-law’s yahrzeits are only four days apart. My mother-in- law was also “a love to potchka” kind of mom. My husband regales me with stories from his childhood of hearing pots clanging in the kitchen as early as five in the morning when his mother would begin her cooking for the day. Feeding a large family, with most of them growing boys, was well, yikes, no easy task! My mother-in-law, too, took pride in her delicious food and saw it as her worldly mission to feed all those hungry mouths with home cooked meals.

Moroccan Fish: can use tilapia or tuna*

In the bottom of a pan put the following:

  • 5 cloves of diced garlic
  • 5 thin strips of red bell pepper
  • Chopped parsley
  • In a cup put 1½ tablespoon of sweet red paprika
  • ½ teaspoon of salt

And in the same cup about 3 tablespoons of oil—mix well with the paprika and salt

Place fish on top of the vegetables

Drizzle the cup of oil mixture evenly over the fish

Add some water to the pan, about ½ cup to a cup

Cover and bake on 350 degrees for about an hour

Then uncover and continue to bake for 30-40 minutes until fish is mildly browned and there is very little liquid left

*For tuna steaks substitute cilantro for parsley and add 2-3 thin slices of lemon on top of the fish

Both my dear mother and mother-in-law were true nashot chayil. They didn’t only nurture our stomachs, but our hearts and minds as well. When I smell the familiar delicious aromas of the Hungarian and Moroccan dishes I inherited in my kitchen, that were such an integral part of my childhood and early adulthood, I can still see our mothers cooking their hearts out, giving advice, or just lending a compassionate ear.

They had infinite patience to attend to each matter. I honestly don’t know how they did it. But I guess life should always be an uphill climb, right? We try to do our best, live up to our role models and even when we fail, we try not to give up. It’s that, or… just order take out.

By Robin Elbaz