Like all parents during the pandemic, I’m running on fumes. And like all parents, I have to make sure my kids are fed — that’s three meals a day and snacks, so many snacks. Truly, it’s unreasonable. And my husband and I are so tired of it.
There’s also only so much takeout I can order before my bank account, like my brain, will attain a fume-like state. In case you haven’t heard, kids are expensive? Also, for some reason, really picky about takeout? I’m done with mac and cheese, and I don’t want to fry anything or have space for an air fryer to make Israeli-style schnitzel, my child’s favorite. By the time I was charged with making Shabbat dinner last week, I was truly at my wits’ end.
Enter my favorite childhood comfort food: ptitim (literally “flakes”), or Israeli couscous, as you may know it (but you should call it ptitim, if only because it’s an adorable name). I grew up eating the orzo-like pasta, which, to be fair, has nothing to do with actual couscous, and making it was very much the food equivalent of the warm hug I need right now.
Israeli couscous is one of few foods that are actually purely Israeli. Ptitim were created in the 50s during the austerity period in Israel as a cheap wheat-based substitute for rice by the Israeli food company Osem. Since then, they’ve become an Israeli household staple, and they come in a lot of fun shapes like stars and letters (though they only come in one tiny and adorable size).
Of course, ptitim in themselves do not a meal make. But I had promised my son his favorite, hot dog Shabbat, and so, I decided to make one-pot hot dog ptitim, a comfort food beloved by many Israelis and one that is definitely deserving of a place in your weekly rotation.
Hot dog ptitim were not something I had growing up. My mom has a vendetta against everything she calls “junk food,” and hot dogs were, to her, the prime example of that: the pinnacle of sodium-filled, processed food. But in my house, we don’t call any food junk unless it’s gone bad, and we acknowledge that hot dogs are a valid source of nutrition — they have protein and fat and other things that bodies need. Also, they taste delicious, and my kid has never once refused to eat a hot dog (the same can be said about my 30-plus-year-old self).
We love having hot dog Shabbat, when I roast some vegetables, and perhaps some pre-packaged tater tots, on a sheet pan and then fry up some hot dogs and sauerkraut, and everyone assembles their bun the way that they like it. But sometimes, you only want to clean one pot. Also, I’m a bit of a paranoid mom, and hot dogs are considered a choking hazard, so I do prefer this one-pot dish, in which I chop up the hot dogs to a non-choke-able size (length-wise!) with a side of salad.
You don’t really need a recipe to make hot dog ptitim, and I certainly don’t use one, though I have tried to approximate one below, inspired by one from Israeli food guru Daniel Amit. Amit actually has two recipes on her website; one uses tomato paste and one uses instant coffee to add color and flavoring — it seems weird, but it actually tastes really delicious.
The gist of the dish is that you fry up your cut-up hot dogs, you fry your ptitim, you add water and bring it to a boil, and the dish is ready once the water has evaporated and the pasta is fully cooked. You can change up the spices (I use paprika because I’m a paprika fiend) and add ketchup or tomato paste depending on what your family loves. You fry up chopped garlic and/or onion too, and even add some grated carrots and peas if you want to get your veggies in there. Yeah, the world is your (kosher?) ptitim oyster.
The dish has a delicious starchy texture which makes it perfect to eat with a spoon from a bowl, the way all comfort foods need to be eaten. I like to serve it with a side of Israeli chopped salad or even a plate of chopped veggies (heck, even a pre-made salad mix or a bowl of baby carrots will do).
The dish makes delicious leftovers and is great for packed school lunches if your school is still open. But more often than not, my family will happily scarf down the full meal on the same night I cook it. I can’t complain because it takes so little time to make and prep. After I’ve cleaned up the one (1!) pot, I still feel energized enough (it’s all relative) to continue with my parenting duties for the night. And that’s really all I can ask for right now.
1 tbsp of oil (I like the flavor of olive oil but you can use grapeseed or canola if you prefer)
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon of sweet paprika
1 package of hot dogs of your choice (vegan dogs also work)
1 cup of Israeli couscous
1/2 a teaspoon of salt
3-4 cloves of garlic (fry after the onion)
1 tablespoon of tomato paste (add with water)
Peas and grated carrots (add with the water)
1. In a medium-size saucepan, fry up the onion until soft. (If using garlic, add it for the last 30 seconds or so of frying.)
2. Chop up your hot dogs width-wise into about 1/4 inch slices (and length-wise if you have younger kids) and fry them along with the onions until fully cooked, about 3 – 4 minutes.
3. Add paprika and Israeli couscous and fry up for a minute or two while mixing.
4. Add water and salt until it’s a little above the couscous, which should be completely covered. (At this point, if you want to add carrots and peas, tomato paste, or any other spices, this is the time!)
5. Bring to a boil, then cook on medium. Keep mixing and add water as needed. Cook until the pasta is fully cooked and the water has mostly evaporated, creating a risotto-like consistency.