LIFE KEEPS plunging Elamir Oraby back into the kitchen. As a young man he left Egypt to become an airline pilot in Athens, but instead he started cooking. He came to the United States to learn to fly, but wound up working in a taverna. Deported to Egypt, he somehow returned to the United States, this time running a grocery. On to catering, hotel and restaurant kitchens, then chucking it all to lounge is St. Thomas.
Kitchens continued to reel him in, however. One night at a bar, the man next to him was complaining that his chef had left just when he was needed to prepare a big international buffet for the next night. Oraby immediately presented himself as "King Tut," a chef. The next night an international buffet sprang from his hands, and one night every week after that.
King Tut is Elamir Oraby again, and it is his kitchen rather than his buffet table that is international. He works as garde manger at the Tysons Corner Marriott, among a staff that includes a Yugoslav chef, a Spanish supervisor, several Korean pantry chefs, sous chefs from France and Wales, even a couple of Americans.
Oraby saves his Egyptian cooking for home.
While Oraby learned his American cooking from such formal sources as Northern Virginia Community College and an apprenticeship at Stouffer's, his Egyptian cooking he learned by watching at home, spending hours entranced by his mother's and aunts' cooking. His mother's son, his father called him.
The secret of the taste, he learned, was cooking in clay pots. They are the link between a traditional Cairo kitchen and his garden apartment galley kitchen behind Landmark shopping center, where Oraby lives with his wife Janet, a computer programmer at the State Department. One blender, two teakettles and not much space. Oraby, in white Egyptian cotton shirt and white cotton pants, can reach from one corner of the kitchen to the other while standing still, which doesn't necessarily mean he can find everything.
Janet Oraby unearths them.
No sooner has Oraby deep-fried the felafel than he has run out of pots, and he still has several dishes to go to complete his buffet of a dozen Egyptian specialities. Pots are washed.
Oraby keeps dipping into the plate of mashed garlic beside him as he cooks. How much garlic does he use?
"A lot," he answers.
"A LOT," his wife reiterates.
The platters on the dining table are shifted and shifted again to accommodate one more and one more dish.
By the end of the evening, the table in the small dining "L" has been heaped and reheaped with the following:
Moluchia, the dried green Egyptian vegetable that turns to a slippery texture like long-cooked okra, this time stewed with rabbit. According to Oraby, "If your mother-in-law cooks you this dish, it means she loves you."
And if she really loves you, she makes it with rabbit. Oraby gets his moluchia from Egypt every time his mother can prevail on an acquaintance to tuck some in a suitcase, although it is rumored to be grown in New York by an Egyptian who sells it for $10 a pound.
Felafel, the chickpea and fava bean fritters that ere Oraby's favorite cooking lesson in his mother's kitchen. Oraby does not like to follow recipes, prefers to improvise and vary his cooking. "Maybe tomorrow I cook the felafel a different way," he shrugs.
Fattah, toasted pita torn into pieces and moistened with boiling broth, topped with rice pilaf and more broth, decorated with rack of lamb, and finished with a sauce of tomatoes, vinegar, garlic and butter. Oraby claims that this was Napoleon's favorite dish in Egypt. Pickled eggplant Tomato salad Stuffed zucchini. Baba ghanouj, but with his special addition, feta cheese. Fish cooked in clay Okra in tomato sauce.
And last, the shredded wheat dessert called kounafa, this time with Oraby's contemporary touch, a filling of kiwi fruit and strawberries.
Oraby, at age 30, looks back with amusement on his globe-trotting kitchen encounters, looks at the present with enthusiasm for making innovations in his Egyptian cooking with touches he has learned in American kitchens, and looks to a future of Egyptian life incorporating his American experience. His dream?Working in the kitchen of the Cairo Marriott. KOSA MAHASHIA (Stuffed Zucchini) (8 servings) 4 large zucchini, cut in half vertically 1 medium onion, finely chopped 1/2 teaspoon salt 4 teaspoons pepper 1/2 pound ground beef (or 1/4 pound ground beef and 1/4 pound ground livers and stomach) 4 cups cooked long-grain rice 1/2 cup tomatoe sauce 1 tablespoon fresh mint or 1 teaspoon dried 1 tablespoon fresh dill 1 tablespoon fresh parsley 3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil 1 1/2 cups meat stock
Wash zucchini and cut off the green caps and bottoms. Halve lengthwise and hollow the halves, reserving the pulp that is scooped out. Set aside.
Mix onion, salt and pepper. Combine with meat, rice and tomato sauce.
Mince mint, dill and parsley. Add to rice, along with oil, and mix well. Stuff zucchini with this mixture, but don't fill up the entire zucchini.
But pulp in the bottom of a large pot and arrange zucchini over it. Pour boiling stock to reach halfway up the side of the zucchini. Bake covered in oven at 350 degrees or in a deep covered saucepan on the stove on low heat for approximately 30 minutes, until zucchini are tender. Serve hot or at room temperature. Kosbareyah (Fish With Coriander Sauce) (6 servings) For the fish: 5- to 6-pound fish, cleaned (use rockfish, trout, sea bass or halibut) 6 cloves garlic, mashed 1/2 cup lemon juice 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper Flour for dusting Oil for frying Sauce: 1 large onion 4 tablespoons butter 1/2 bunch fresh coriander leaves, chopped 1/2 bunch fresh dill 1/2 cup tomato sauce 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon white pepper
To prepare the stuffing for the fish, mix garlic with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stuff the fish with this mixture and marinate for 5 hours in the refrigerator.
To prepare the sauce, saute the chopped onion in the butter until soft. Add coriander and dill and stir for 30 seconds. Add tomato sauce, salt and pepper and simmer the mixture for 5 minutes.
Reserve any additional marinade from the fish and dust the fish with flour. Heat the oil and sear the fish for approximately 30 seconds on each side.
Place the fish in a casserole or clay pot with the leftover marinade and top it with the sauce. Bake in a 300-degree oven until fish flakes easily; test for doneness after 15 minutes. PICKLED BABY EGGPLANT (About 8 servings) 1 pound baby eggplant 5 cloves garlic, crushed 1 teaspoon fresh mint, chopped 1 small hot pepper, finely minced (optional) 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon pepper 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Remove green caps from eggplant. Wash and cook the eggplant, in boiling water until soft. Meanwhile, blend garlic, mint, hot pepper, sald and pepper.
Cool eggplant and cut a lengthwise slit along one side. Fill each with stuffing mixture. Arrange in salad bowl and pour lemon juice on top.Marinate for at least 2 hours. Bamia (Okra) (6 to 8 servings) 1 large onion, finely chopped 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped 1 teaspoon salt Pepper to taste 3 tablespoons butter 1 pound fresh tomatoes, peeled and quartered, or 1 pound canned stewed tomatoes 2 cups beef broth or water 1 teaspoon ground corinader seeds Juice of 1 lemon 1 pound cubed lamb 2 pounds fresh or frozen okra
In a saucepan saute onion, garlic, salt and pepper in butter until onion is soft. Add tomato, broth or water, coriander seeds and lemon jucie, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Combine meat and okra and place in a clay pot or casserole. Top with tomato and onion mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until okra is soft. FELAFEL (Makes 12 to 15 patties) 1 pound dried chickpeas or skinned fava beans (or 1 pound mixture of both) 1/2 pound white spanish onion, peeled and grated 2 ounces parsley, finely chopped 3 ounces fresh coriander leaves, chopped 5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1 potato, grated and squeezed dry Oil for deep frying
Soak chickpeas or fave beans for 24 hours.
Run them through a food processor or pound them until crushed. Mix onion parsley, coriander leaves, garlic, cumin, cayenne and potato and mix well. Form small patties and deep-fry until they are brown, turning when necessary. Drain on paper towels. FATTAH WITH MEAT (8 servings) For the lamb: Rack of lamb, about 12 ribs Olive oil Salt and pepper to taste For the fattah: 2 tablespoons butter 4 cloves garlic, mashed 1/2 cup tomato sauce 2 tablespoons vinegar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon white pepper 2 1/2 large round pita breads 4 cups seasoned meat stock, boiling 2 cups cooked rice Cut off excessive fat from rack of lamb. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and broil until cooked to taste.
Saute garlic in melted butter until brown, add tomato sauce and vinegar and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in salt and pepper.
Toast pita bread in oven until crunchy. Tear into bite-size pieces and soak bread in hot stock, until bread is spongy but not mushy.
Place bread on a large serving dish and cover with rice and move stock, them sauce. Top this with the rack of lamb and serve. MOLUCHIA WITH RABBIT (8 servings) For the stock: 2 pounds fresh moluchia or 1/3 pound dried (difficult to find, but is available at some Middle Eastern markets) 4 cups rabbit stock (or substitute beef or chicken) For the sauce: 6 cloves garlic, mashed 4 tablespoons unsalted butter $2 tablespoons white vinegar 1/3 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon white pepper Pieces of rabbit left from making the stock (optional)
If the moluchia is fresh, strip the leaves from the stems. Wash and drain it, then chop in a blender or food processor for 2 minutes. If the moluchia is dry, crush by hand.
Add fresh or dried moluchia to boiling stock. When it returns to a boil, simmer and cook for 10 minutes (for fresh leaves) or 20 minutes (for dried). Stir occasionally.
To prepare the sauce, saute mashed garlic in melted butter until golden and add vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Immediately add this to the boiling mixture and the optional pieces of rabbit, 1 minute before simmering time of stock is finished. KOUNAFA (8 servings) For the dough: 1 pound kataifi (shredded dough, available at Middle Eastern groceries) 1 1/2 sticks melted butter For the filling: 2 kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced thin 1/2 pound strawberries, cut lengthwise 1/2 cup each sliced or chopped hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds or pine nuts, raisins and sliced almonds) 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon For the syrup: 1/2 cup water 1 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon rosewater or orange extract
Unwrap shredded dough and spread on newspaper. Separate dough with your fingers, dividing it into 2 equal parts.
Brush a 9-inch layer cake pan with about 1 1/2 tablespoons of melted butter. Place half a dough in pan and press down with both hands. Pour 5 more tablespoons of butter evenly over dough. Arrange filling ingredients evenly over dough and cover with the other half of the dough, pressing gently until surface is even. Top it with the rest of the melted butter. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until golden. When done on one side, flip dough over and return to pan, baking for an additional 20 minutes until golden.
To prepare syrup, simmer water and sugar in a heavy saucepan until dissolved, stirring occasionally until liquid is clear. Add lemon juice, cinnamon and boil for 10 minutes, or until consistency becomes a little thick, and not runny. Strain. Add rosewater and allow to cool.