Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Great Tomato Paste Debacle


I made pasta and tomato sauce for dinner today, and it reminded me of something that happened when I first got to Egypt...

I've never been the best cook, but in the US, I did okay.  I could even cook some French and Mexican things and had a wok to stir-fry Chinese food when I felt like it.  When I got married over here, I figured pasta was the quickest and easiest to whip out, so I went to a corner store to buy the makings.  There was plenty of macaroni -- but no tomato sauce.  They only had jars of tomato paste.  Lots and lots of 'em.  So ... um ... I bought the paste.  I could make sauce out of that, right? 

Not so much.  It was thick and awful and bitter -- even when I added sugar to it.  (Yeah, I was that desperate.)

I discovered that I was really spoiled.  My idea of tomato sauce was that it came in jars marked "mushroom flavored" or "with cheese."  I was actually surprised when my Egyptian husband suggested I make sauce the way his mom did -- with fresh tomatoes.  But how do you do that?  I've grown up in a culture where grocery shelves are stocked with so many ready-made, great tasting, quick-n-easy choices, you can think you're really a cook when you're not.

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Since you can only buy vegetables that are in season here, I now plan meals around what's available.  I don't buy jars of things with preservatives, chemicals, and additives in them.  Everything's fresh and natural.  Yeah, cooking from scratch is a little harder, but I'm sure I'm better off for it. 

And I've learned how to make a mean tomato sauce! :-)


34 comments:

Ink in the Book said...

Mmm... I loove tomato sauce and homemade can't be beat!

D.V. Sheppard said...

I can feel for ya. Between my husband's dietary restrictions and the nature of my work environment, I've had to completely re-think the way I cook. Quite a crash course, but I've come out the better for it health wise. You get introduced to a lot of great foods and recipes and scratch-cooking skills too.

Medeia Sharif said...

I love homemade food, when someone else makes it. :) I'm not much of a cook.

Suze said...

I am impressed. Seriously, I feel good about myself when I make a lasagna with tomato sauce from a jar.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Sigh. I used to make my own spaghetti sauce in large batches and freeze it for use all year.
Then I had children and started writing.
Hello, jarred sauce.

Kelly Hashway said...

I've never claimed to be a good cook. My husband was a chef for years. Yes, I know I'm lucky. LOL. But when he is working during the school year, I'm in charge of meals. I've gotten pretty good. He never complains, and when I first started I made some awful things that had me hysterical laughing. I now have a bunch of meals I can make well, so I'm kind of proud of myself. It sounds like you are doing better than I am though, so kudos!

marysuehobika said...

It sounds like you are eating healthy;I'm jealous. I try to stay away from as many processed foods as I can, but it is challenging. Do you remember when grocery stores contained half the amount of items that they carry now?

Christine Rains said...

I've never been a great cook either. Yet I do respect those that can make food from scratch. It really does taste that much better.

michelle said...

The most important thing here, is that you seem to be eating healthy. There's nothing to beat wholesome and nutritious food, full of natural goodness.

Kate Larkindale said...

I used to be a chef, and I love to cook. Now I usually set aside some time on a Sunday afternoon to experiment with new dishes, but it's always really disheartening because my kids tend to take one look at whatever I've spent two hours cooking and say 'yuck'. During the week I tend to only make really quick things because between work and writing and chores, there just isn't time to make a performance out of meals.

Love freshly made pasta sauce. I pack mine full of diced veggies so even my vegetable-adverse kid doesn't know they're there....

Jimmy Fungus said...

I consider putting something in the microwave "cooking." I often get fast food or a sandwich, because I "don't feel like cooking", because I don't feel like unwrapping a t.v. dinner. But seriously, I don't think I would last too long outside of America, if they don't even have tomato sauce.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

My mother cooked her own sauce with "everything". To this day if I go out for supper and there isn't a sauce, I feel a bit disappointed. No, I don't generally make sauces. My DH does. In fact, he does most of the cooking now that he's retired. I cooked for 7 of us for too many years. Now I just bake. But my mother, her chicken caccitori was soooo good. And her cheese sauce on cauliflower! Not to mention her Swiss Steak. No wonder I was such a grubby little kid.

Love hearing about your life over there, Lexa. Next best thing to being there.

mshatch said...

My mom gave me a recipe for tomato sauce that should've been easy but ...it didn't quite come out as good as hers. What can I say, I'm a writer, not a cook.

Julia King said...

Nom Nom Nom. Egypt, huh? That is way cool. I'm jealous. Like a ton jealous. I wish I could cook better. I guess if I had more time, I def would pick it up. Well done perfecting the art of tomato sauce. :D

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

You're probably a lot healthier eating fresh veggies and stuff. We do take our supermarkets for granted, strawberries all year round. When I was a kid we looked forward to strawberry season. They were so good, for the short time they were available.

tfwalsh said...

I love cooking and grow my own veggies... in summer I make tomato sauce from all the tomatoes... but there are somethings I cheat on... I can imagine how hard it would be to adjust to the new life. On the bright side, you meals are very healthy and free of preservatives... Very cool.

Empty Nest Insider said...

You deserve so much credit! It's difficult enough to adjust to living in a new country, and then you taught yourself how to cook from scratch on top of it! You are an inspiration! Julie

Annalisa Crawford said...

My Hubby does the cooking, but he's cooking from scratch for years - and he's fantastic. He doesn't use recipes, so every bolognese or curry is slightly different.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

And I bet you are healthier for it!
Saw your comment - fixed your name for the blogfest.

Kelly Louise said...

Sounds good to me. When's dinner?

DMS said...

How great that you have learned to cook new things. I am sure you are healthier now! Making food from what is in season has to be better for you. I know jars are easier- but the work is worth it. :)
~Jess

Rob-bear said...

Such a saucy post! Learning how to cook what's in season is an art! Well done!

Katja Weinert said...

I think you're right, you're probably better of for it, it's crazy just how many preservatives we have in our food without realising it. I mean they declare the ingredients on the tin, but since I don't really know what the preservatives are and how they affect the body it's no use seeing the name of it on a list. Cooking from scratch is the only way to know what we're putting in our bodies, so well done you!

Pk Hrezo said...

LOL... I know what you mean. First time I visited my friends in Germany, they made spaghetti with that stuff and I was kind of repulsed. When they visited the States for the first time and went to the grocery store I showed them the selection of actual sauce and they were baffled. lol

Mina Lobo said...

Atta girl! And, like, where's the recipe for your tomato sauce, huh??? ;-)
Some Dark Romantic

Elise Fallson said...

It's amazing the things you miss when you move to a different country. I've had to adapt too and cook more around the seasons as well. I've never made fresh tomato sauce but I remember as a kid my father making it.

AmyMak said...

1. I think it's very cool you really live in Egypt. I've never met anyone who's even been to Egypt.
2. I like that you blog about tomato sauce and not just writing.
3. Congrats on the request from McCarthy (I clicked on your link from fallingleaflets :) He said no to me :) But that's okay!

M. Christine Weber said...

Hahaha! Oh I love this. And yay for learning to cook in an awesome way. I find that the fresher ingredients are, the tastier they are. And I'm sure you're so much healthier for it! By the way, sometime you should post your sauce recipe!!! Yum. :0)

Lynda R Young said...

I love a good homemade tomato sauce! Yum!!

Sera Rivers said...

I am Italian and I agree: Homemade is best! When I don't have time to make a real sauce, I go for the jar on the shelf, but I try to get the ones that are mostly natural ingredients.

Catherine Stine said...

Yes, homemade tomato sauce is a good thing to learn how to make in any country!
Catherine Stine’s Idea City

Ruth Schiffmann said...

Oh my, good for you! Everything I serve comes out of a can or a jar. I know it's terrible, but cooking is just not my thing.

Lauren said...

Basic sauce: cut up three tomatoes, crush a clove of garlic, cut up an onion. Use your wok (: to cook it all up. Add a T of olive oil and 1 of milk if you want a meat flavor without the meat. Quick, easy. Add seasonings if you want, but it's not necessary.

Lauren
Lauren-ritz.blogspot.com

Laughing Ferret said...

I had the exact same problem when I lived in Belarus. A lot of things you assume as your 'base start' for cooking in the US just isn't an option, so it's back to raw ingredients, and works out much better

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