Category Archives: Sephardic

Pumpkin Latkes

Pumpkin Latkes

Its the day after Thanksgiving and I am enjoying the satiety that come from too much food and drink, and in the miracle of miracles, I finally got a seat at the grown-ups’ table. I had thought it might happen, given the guest count and but I have been having Thanksgiving with the same crowd for about 25 years and had yet to graduate, so I wasn’t holding out too much hope. But happen it did and it was all that I’d hoped for, but I was promptly told it was a fluke occurrence and I would be headed back to the “young adult” table next year. While today I will bask in the glory of my newly recognized adulthood, Hanukkah is just around the corner (starting Wed night) so the frying and latke making has already begun for the Heathens. I figured in honor of Thanksgiving I would carry on the pumpkin theme and make pumpkin latkes. Obviously these have a slightly different texture than traditional potato latkes, and are more pancake like. They are also slightly sweet so I would include them with my apple latkes as a great Hanukkah breakfast or dessert option.

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Filed under Breakfast, Dessert, Hannukah, Holidays, Jewish, Parve, Sephardic

Sephardic Pumpkin Soup

Warm, seasonal and tasty Pumpkin Soup

The prevalence of  New World fruit and vegetables Old World cuisine in is a continual source of wonder to me.

Stop and think for a moment what Italian cooking would be like without tomatoes, Szechuan, Indian or Thai cooking without the various forms of chili peppers, and of course some much of the cooking of Northern Europe would feel empty without the ubiquitous potato. We should add to that list the pumpkin. A member of the squash family, it finds many places in the cuisine of North Africa. From the many slow cooked stews served with couscous to the wonderfully sweet and satisfying pumpkin soup. [For more pumpkin ideas check our our kugelpie and challah]

As you try to add a bit of Jewish flair to your Thanksgiving celebration, let me urge you to chuck those poor, tired (and perhaps even huddled) matzo balls and whip a bit of this seasonal soup that was a staple of the Sephardic kitchens of Morocco, Libya and Tunisia. This soups appears in several forms in both Joan Nathan and Claudia Roden’s cookbooks and even makes an apprearance in Gourmet’s last collection of recipes published just before the magazine was shuttered.

In this recipe I added butternut squash to the mix, but feel free to experiment with what is in season and tastes good. Some recipes call for chunks of meat- if you go that route, use something tough and fatty that will braise in the soup. Beef chuck, or veal shoulder are both great choices. Stay away from turkey though- except for the legs, it really doesn’t braise well and you should really save that for the entrée.

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Filed under Jewish, Sephardic, Soup

Thanksgiving Redux

Pumpkin Kugel for Thanksgiving

With the holidays rapidly approaching and Hanukkah falling a mere week after Thanksgiving this year, the heathens are in full blown production mode, getting ready to delight our faithful readers with some new holiday fare.   Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that the entire point of the holiday is to simply share a meal with your family and friends. There are no gifts to wrap and no temple to be guilted into going to. My family has a tradition of going around the table and saying what we are thankful for.  As only can happen in families, about 25 years ago the youngest of us at the time, said she was thankful for Jello, and to this day we have a Jello mold on the buffet, despite the fact that it rarely gets eaten anymore.  Every family has the dish that it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without, and I love hearing from my friends of different ethnic backgrounds tell about dishes from their family’s country of origin that have a place of honor at the Thanksgiving table.  So, as you are planning your menu, don’t be afraid to bring in an element of Jewish or Israeli cuisine, to this uniquely American holiday. While we are roasting our pumpkins and grating our potatoes, we invite you to peruse some of our recipes from Thanksgivings past.

Dafna’s Israeli couscous – Thanksgiving Style

Ari’s Pumpkin Kugel

Gordon’s non-Jewish Pumpkin Pie – with pumpkin roasting instructions

My Sephardic Pumpkin Challah

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Filed under Ashkenazi, Fruit and Vegtables, Holidays, Israeli, Sephardic

Ma’amoul – Menena (Walnut & Date Tartlets)

Hot and Tasty Ma'amoul Cookies

The next major holiday on the Jewish calendar is Purim. While we will crank out several variants of the traditional hamantachen (I know Amiee is working on her poppy seed filling) I wanted to try something new. In asking around I was told by my spouse that her co-worker who is Israeli of Egyptian descent makes Ma’amoul for Purim. Intrigued since I had never even heard of them I quickly consulted Claudia Roden who supplied a recipe that I then modified. Roden does not mention a holiday connection, but says her mother kept a box of these around all the time. But, since every good tradition has to start somewhere- I am going say this is indeed a Purim treat, sweet like the deliverance of the Jews from Haman.

Some notes on production. The dough will look loose and crumbly at first, let it rest to firm up. This is traditionally made with rose-water, which I do not keep on hand but feel free to swap out some of the milk for an equal amount of rose-water. Third, you can make any filling you want, Roden says that pistachios were the most prestigious given their price. Last, Roden says her mother made a design on the top with “dented pincers”. Having no idea what that might look like I did a Google image search and found that many people use a mold to create intricate designs that would make any Christmas cookie baker proud. I decided that I would keep it simple, scoring the tops with a fork in the manner of my own grandmother’s sugar cookies.

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Pita with Za’atar

 

Toasty and tasty pita with za'atar

 

Let me start of with a word of caution. If you choose to proof your dough in the oven (as I do) it might be worth your while to attach some sort of tag or sign to the oven controls alerting other household members to the presence of a bowlful of live organisms inside. Those tiny bugs (I speak of yeast here) while hardy will perish once the oven becomes warmer than 140F, which will happen if someone else preheats the oven to do some baking.

However, as Scarlett observed, “tomorrow is another day”. On this fine Monday we are making pita. Now, pita is available in every country around the Mediterranean, from the Moroccan r’ghayef to Italian Piadina and of course the many variants of pita ranging from the soft small Greek variety to the large Iraqi pita (called a lafa in Israel).Where good pita is not available is around the Bay. In fact the best thing on offer is pita baked in LA, frozen and trucked up here. Good pita is fresh, as in the restaurant owner just sent a kid running back to the bakery to get more, fresh. After an hour or two they start to harden up and become better suited to throwing than wiping up hummus or holding a tasty bit of kabob.

These pita are inspired by the small Armenian bakery just on the edge of the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s old city. This small bakery has served countless Israelis, tourists and religious pilgrims over the years. The specialty of the house is pita baked with a topping of olive oil and za’atar. Za’atar for those of you not familiar is prepared from dried leaves of the hyssop plant, mixed with salt and toasted sesame seeds. Like everything else in the spice rack, freshness is the key. So if you are buying this outside the Levant smell it first and make sure it still smells fresh. Rancid sesame seeds are nasty!

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Israeli Style Ful Medammes (Fava Beans)

Service

“I ate him with some fava beans and a nice Chianti” -Hannibal Lecter

Fava beans are one of the oldest beans eaten in the Western world. In fact it was the only bean known in Europe before the discovery of the Americas (where the common bean is from). The fava bean is eaten all along the Mediterranean basin and well into Asia where they come in a variety of sizes. I can remember eating steamed fava beans with my breakfast in Amman seasoned with salt and herbs that were more than an inch wide.

According to Claudia Roden, fava beans were used in making a traditional Egyptian Shabbat stew that her father called tfadalou. It consisted of whole eggs that were slow cooked with the beans in the still hot ashes of the communal baths or bakeries. It would form the center of a meal with a slew of salads and bread on Shabbat afternoon (a seuda shlitshit or third feast of the Sabbath).

In Israel fava beans are used in a porridge that is simply called Ful (pronounced fool). It is a simple dish that is frequently eaten as a breakfast with hard boiled eggs or as part of a lunch with grilled meat and pita. This dish is a lot like musabacha a warm mix of whole and crushed chick peas. At Humas Said in Akko (or Acre) you can get humas with ful bringing these two similar dishes together.

My personal favorite is the ful at Samir’s in Ramle (located at the top of Detroit Community St. -the things people name streets!). It is a warm mix of stewed fava beans, garlic, salt, pepper and lemon juice. This very simple dish has only one real requirement, that you make it from scratch using dried fava beans.

By the way, if beans give you gas (a byproduct of the oligosacchrides present) then one possible solution is to boil them briefly and then rinse them before continuing to cook in fresh water. A better solution is the traditional one, cook them low and slow to break down those carbohydrates into something your body can actually digest.

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Honey doughnuts (sufganiyot)

honey yummy sufganyiot

Fried doughnuts or fritters are common at Hanukkah in almost all Jewish communities. In fact, you can probably determine the geographic origin of many Jewish families simply by finding out what they call these treats. Israelis and Ashkenazim call them sufganyiot and typically they are filled with jelly.  Others are sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar or tossed in a sweet honey or citrus syrup. The European Sephardim call them bimuelos, in Egypt they are zalabia, Persians refer to them as zengoula, and my personal favorite are the Greek loukoumades, or as Greek Jews call them zvingous. I first encountered loukoumades at the fabulous Oakland Greek Festival, which is held every year in May. At this festival you can determine the best treats by the length of the line for it and in the case of the beer, gyros and loukoumades, the wait is totally worth it. (As an aside, we Jews could really take a cue from the Greeks on how to put on a super-fun ethnic festival, ours tend to lack beer, have a poor selection of food and are overwhelmed with organizational politics) So for this year’s Hanukkah I decided I would make my own loukoumades instead of having to wait all the way until May to get my next fix.

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Filed under Bread, Dessert, Hannukah, Holidays, Jewish, Parve, Sephardic

Bourekas ver 1.0

Would you care for a snack?

Remember that show, the one about nothing? Well it was very flattered in Israel by a knock-off version whose name I cannot recall and is presently eluding my web searches. In it the Kramer character goes to a new bourekas bakery in his neighborhood (it all takes place in Tel Aviv) and is shocked to discover that the baker has disrupted the unwritten rule of fillings and shapes. For instance a potato boureka is always a rectangle, a triangle is always cheese, a pizza filling is a cylinder, while spinach filled resembles a pastry knot. One can picture the physical reaction of this character as he bites into a triangle shaped boureka and discovers that it is filled with spinach!

I was equally shocked to discover this past week that there are several different doughs that can be used to make this tasty little treats since all of the Israeli versions are made with the same flaky pastry dough. Much like the knish, there are regional variants in dough and filling across the Jewish communities of the near east and south eastern Europe. From Marrakesh to Salonika these small filled pies were popular additions to party menus. The word itself comes from the Turkish word for pie.

I decided to try a traditional Turkish recipe that Claudia Roden offers and filled them with a salmon, onion and cheese filling.

Recipe after the break

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Stuffed Zucchini (Mahshi Cousa)

Stuffed Zucchini, done

Stuffed Zucchini con arroz

This is a dish I love, but did not consider Jewish until some recent research. When I lived in Israel I had good friends who are members of the Greek Orthodox Arab community. They are descendants of people who had lived in Israel prior to 1948, and had not fled beyond what were then Jordanian lines. Although they have a lot of cousins in Jordan today- something I learned when they invited me to come to Jordan with them in ’96- that was an incredible experience.

But back to the zucchini, each year Samir and his family would host a huge Christmas party in January (when Orthodox Christmas falls on the Julian calendar). Among the many dishes were platters of stuffed zucchini. They were stuffed with chopped meat, onions and spices and then braised in sauce until you could cut it with a fork. I would attempt to make it myself from time to time, hunting for good looking small squash in the open air market of Ramle, but I was never able to match the flavor.

A week ago I was strolling through the new west side Berkeley Bowl and came across perfect globe shaped zucchini- I couldn’t resist them. Along with some other goodies I took them home and started looking for a recipe. I found, in Claudia Rodan’s cookbook, an entry for stuffed zucchini, which she describes as a dish common amongst the Jews of Egypt, Syria and Lebanon and its use in large festive meals. Using her recipe and making some allowances for my own tastes and some of the seasonings from friend Samir used I came up with something slightly different.

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So So Spicy Schug… hot sauce of the Yemenite variety.

 

Green Schug

with pita and hummus

 

I LOVE all things spicy. And schug is among my favorites of spicy condiments. Schug is a Yemenite hot sauce that can be used to add some heat and flavor to savory dishes, and is a true soul mate for a good hummus. We’ve always had a container of schug on hand in our fridge and it’s replacement waiting to be cracked open in the freezer. Seeing the deep glossy green chili peppers in the shuk this week provoked my Yemenite side and attempt to make my own version of schug.

You can make schug with either red or green peppers depending on your personal preference. So I went with green schug, and let me tell you… it was exceptionally spicy and very very delicious.  But the level of heat is completely up to you.  It’s simple enough to make, just throw all the ingredients into a food processor and voila! you’ve made a perfect spicy sauce to match your palate. The product is a beautiful bright green chili paste with a great texture. I left the seeds in the chilies because that’s where all the heat comes from, but if you’re more sensitive and don’t like things too spicy and want more of the hot sauce flavor remove the seeds. Add more coriander (cilantro to Americans) to cool the peppers.  If you want more of what I call the “kick” of a hot sauce and less of the spicy add more garlic.

Here’s what I did….

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Filed under Bread, Israeli, Other Stuff, Sephardic