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A Thread That Binds: Intro to Sephardic Food

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    Posted: 01 November 2016 at 01:00
My big project, the past couple of months, has been an exploration of Sephardic cooking. What sparked this was the realization that the Sephardic diaspora from Iberia, took these people across the Mediterranean, following both shores. In the process they influenced, and were influenced by, all the foods Friend Wife and I like best. In short, they form a binding thread for our own culinary preferences.

For the benefit of our non-Jewish members, I’m going to go into greater detail, than I usually do, regarding the culture and history of these people.

With the destruction of the second temple, in 70 AD, the Hebrew people began a great diaspora, traveling and settling world-wide. Eventually they formed, in simplistic terms, three largish communities. In the Germanic states and eastern Europe they became the Ashkenazi. Most American Jews are Ashkenazi, and, among themselves, spoke Yiddish---a derivative of High German.

A second group coalesced in Iberia, and would later become the Sephardim. Among themselves they spoke Ladino; a lingua franca that evolved from Spanish & Portuguese, with overtones of Hebrew, Arabic, and, later on, Turkish.

Finally, there were the Levantine Jews, those who stayed behind in the Roman province of Judea and the old Persian Empire, settling as far eastward as Kurdistan and Samarkand, and, from there, into India and even China. These include a sub-group called Romaniates, due to their connection with the Roman Empire. And, yes, those were the biblical Jews from the time of Jesus. They spoke Hebrew, and the predominant local language.

Much later the Levantines would be absorbed by the Sephardim. Or so most authorities maintain. However, for our purposes, only those who trace their roots to Iberia are considered to be Sephardim.

Starting in the mid-15th century, there arose in Iberia organized religious persecution of the Jews, particularly under the Inquisition. Among other things there were forced conversions. Many of these “conversos” secretly maintained their Jewish culture and identity, despite the fact they would, if revealed, be tried as heretics. Torture and death would follow.

This Church-instituted persecution culminated in 1492, when Isabella, a rabid anti-Semite, convinced her husband to evict all Jews (along with the Moors, who had just been defeated at the end of a hundred years of warfare). Ferdinand issued the expulsion order, which was followed by a similar edict in Portugal in 1498.

“Sephard” is the Ladino word for “Spanish,” and the name Sephardim stems from that.

It’s important to understand, too, that this persecution was counter-productive to Spanish culture. Jews represented a disproportionate percentage of the creative forces of the population. Highly educated, they were artists, and doctors, and bankers, and skilled craftsmen. They dominated the trades, finance, medicine, and international relations.

The Ottoman Empire welcomed them with open arms. Sultan Beyazit II (who reigned from 1482-1512) issued proclamations that no city ruler in his empire could refuse entry to these displaced Jews, nor expel them.

Compassion? Maybe. But a bit self-serving, as well. He saw the possibilities inherent in leavening Ottoman society with these educated, creative people. So much so, that he is reputed to have said, about Ferdinand, “You call this a wise ruler? He has impoverished his country to enrich mine.”

Thus began two great migrations. Many of the Sephards followed the northern Med as they made their way towards Turkey. Some settled in each country along the way, so we find Sephardim in France, Italy, Greece, and many of the various Mediterranean islands.

The majority, however, initially went to Morocco, with their Moorish neighbors, then followed the Med across the Maghreb, through Egypt, the Mideast, and, finally, Turkey. The same pattern of settlement echoed that of the northern shore.

The descendants of those people thought of themselves as nationals of the country in which they lived. Certainly, they were Jewish, by religion. But if you asked an Italian Sephard what he was, or one from Greece, they would answer “Italian,” or “Greek.” Culturally, they were similar to their Christian neighbors. They dressed the same, ate more or less the same foods prepared the same ways, pursued the same interests, and spoke the same languages.

This syndrome was even more apparent on the southern shore, where the Sephards were all but indistinguishable from their Arabic neighbors.

Two things marked them as different. One was the Spanish overtones they brought to their foods. This, again, was more apparent in the Maghreb, because the Moors did the same thing. But you can see this in the names of their dishes, many of which retain Spanish or Ladino words as part of the recipe title---not only in the Mediterranean countries, but on into the Ottoman Empire as well.

Take, for instance, one recipe for fish cakes, which is called Keftes de Pescado. You can readily see both the Turkish and Spanish roots.

Understand, too, that there is not one Sephardic cuisine. Just as they influenced the foods of the countries in which they settled, so too were they influenced by them. Thus, you have, for lack of a better word, sub-communities. For example, in Algeria there is a Sephardic community called the Pied Noir. These are descended from French Sephards who migrated from southern France to North Africa. Among their food is a distinct French flavor, and even the recipe titles have French names. Another such community can be found on the island of Rhodes. The Rhodian cuisine is, itself, special. Basically Greek, it has distinct Turkish contributions, as would be expected. But also an overlay of Arabic flavors, brought there by returning crusaders. To this, add the Spanish seasoning of the Sephardim, and you find dishes prepared nowhere else.

The second difference, and a much more important one, is the Laws of Kashrut. This is the amalgam of Jewish dietary rules, and they are extensive. It is said there are 212 specific rules. These not only enumerate what animals are clean or unclean, but go into the specifics of how the animal is butchered and prepped. Violation of any of them, make the ingredient non-kosher.

We’ll talk about these restrictions next time, because they are, in addition to the Spanish overlay, the crux of what makes Sephardic food what it is, and how it often differs from what’s in their neighbors’ pots.








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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pitrow Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 November 2016 at 08:51
Thanks for that Brook! I can't wait to see your further posts on this. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 November 2016 at 10:33
Outstanding introduction, Brook - I know that we've corresponded about different aspects of this project, but it is really something to see it all assembled and presented.

Excellent work, and looking forward to the next!
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One of the many commonalities between observant Jews and Muslims are the dietary restrictions imposed on them by various sacred writings. While this almost uniformity of diet comes as a surprise to many people, it shouldn’t. Both are Abrahamic religions, and trace their roots to the same founders. Muhammad did not reject the Old Testament; he built on it. The Qur'an, in fact, refers favorably to Jews and Nazarenes as “the People of the Book.”

These dietary restrictions, among Jews, are delineated in the Old Testament (Torah) and explanations of it (Talmud), and are called Kashrut. Among Muslim people, the rules are found directly in the Qur'an, and are called Halal. To be clear, Kashrut applies only to food, whereas food is only one part of Halal.

There are, to be sure, some differences. In general, Kashrut is more restrictive than Halal. The one glaring exception is alcohol. Jews are permitted wine, and, by extension, spirits. Alcohol, along with other intoxicants, are specifically forbidden Muslims.

There were many factors affecting how tightly these rules were observed. The more liberal the group, the less likely they would be to follow some of the more arcane restrictions. For example, among the Moors and Ottomans, wine would often be found. Indeed, during the height of the Spanish/Moorish War, a cry went out to North Africa for military aid. Several Berber tribes responded. More fundamentalist in outlook, they considered the Moors to be pleasure-loving heretics.

By the same token, orthodox Jews take great umbrage over the looseness in which conservative and liberal Jews interpret Kashrut.

I will, as much as possible, ignore these sectarian differences.   

Many authorities believe that the Moors, ironically, subscribed to Kashrut rather than Halal. Most likely this misinterpretation results from their looseness regarding alcoholic beverages, rather than them actually keeping kosher. True, the Moors did not eat camel. But, then again, there weren’t too many of the humped beasts running around Spain.

Most non-Jewish, non-Muslim people think Kashrut and Halal refer only to defining what animals are clean and unclean. The rules do that, to be sure. But the restrictions go much more in-depth, delineating what parts of clean animals are permitted, how the animal is to be killed, and how it’s to be butchered. Even who can do the butchering is spelled out. Among the Jews, only specially trained and certified butchers can slaughter animals. Among Arabic people, any Muslim can do so, as long as all the other ritualistic aspects are maintained. Generally, animals butchered by non-Muslims could not be Halal, the exception, again, being the People of the Book.

When it comes to animal proteins, both Kashrut and Halal are based on humane treatment of the critter at all stages. Permitted animals must be alive before prep starts. Because of this, wild game is, as a practical matter, not allowed by either set of rules (caveat: Nowadays, farm-raised deer can, at least in theory, be acceptable).

The animal must be calm and unfearful, and killed by drawing a sharp, unbroken knife across its jugular in one, continuous stroke. The animal is then bled out, because blood, as such, is forbidden by both sets of rules.

I will not bore you with all the details of Kashrut and Halal. Some of the rules can get pretty obtuse. Just be aware that both Jewish and Arabic cuisines are, even in these more liberal days, tempered, if not strictly controlled, by these restrictions.

Because this is an exploration of Sephardic foods, I’m going to go over some of the appropriate Kashrut rules, noting Halalial differences where appropriate.

The number one commonality between Kashrut and Halal is the absolute prohibition against pork, or pork products of any kind. Sausage casings, for instance, come from sheep and goats, rather than pigs.

This rule is so inviolate, and the belief in the uncleanliness of swine so strong, that the precipitous cause of the Sepoy Mutiny, in India, was a rumor that the British were greasing cartridges with lard---something the Muslim soldiers wouldn’t tolerate.

To be kosher, an animal must have cloven (i.e., split) hooves and chew its cud. There is no such rule under Halal, and Muslims are permitted things like camel and rabbit, forbidden the Jews. Halal, btw, does proscribe predatory animals, but all other non-enumerated animals are permitted, so long as all the Halal rituals are adhered to.

Although there are exceptions, as a general rule, only the front half of the animal was kosher. Obviously, this affects which cuts of meat could be used.

Among Jews, dairy and meat cannot be mixed at the same meal. This stems from the biblical injunction to “not steep a kid in its mother’s milk.” This rule is so important that two sets of dishes are prescribed, because even a dish that has once been used for dairy cannot be used at a meat meal. This cross-contamination goes so far, that, at a minimum, Jewish households had four sets of dishes; two for everyday use, and two more used only during the Passover holiday, because dishes that had been touched by leavened products were not acceptable at that time. Many Jewish households actually had yet another set of dishes, reserved for the Sabbath.

In part, this explains why olive oil and chicken fat were used where other cultures used butter. Butter is a dairy product, and could not be used with meat.

Poultry, including chicken, goose, duck, turkey, and pigeons, are allowed under both Kashrut and Halal. Predatory and carrion birds are forbidden under Kashrut. Halal specifies only predatory birds, but carrion birds are implied in the prohibition.

Fish must have both fins and scales to be kosher. All other seafood is forbidden. So, eels, fish without scales, shellfish, and crustations are not permitted. The Qur'an merely says “fish” and disallows other sea animals. Interpretations of that are varied, with sectarian differences especially coming to the fore when discussing shellfish and crustations.

Cheese is a special category. Technically, cheese is permitted under both sets of rules, so long as it is made from an otherwise clean animal. The problem stems from where the cheese was made. Worldwide, most milk for cheese making is curdled with rennet derived from swine. This, alone, makes it forbidden. Cheese made with rennet from other sources is allowed. The more liberal Sephardim consider that splitting an unnecessary hair, and eat most cheeses.

Gelatin is a similar case in point. Regular gelatin is proscribed by both rule books, because it is primarily a by-product of swine. Once other sources, such as agar-agar, became available, gelatin made from them was permissible.

All vegetables, grains, and most fruits are allowed to both Jews and Muslims, so long as they are bug free, because insects are forbidden by both (except that locusts, specifically, are permitted under Halal).

Although restrictive, Kashrut and Halal do not mean deprivation by any means. If I had you over for a Sephardic meal, there wouldn’t be a Blood Sausage appetizer. Nor would you enjoy Stuffed Calamari as the main course. But, unless I made a point of it, you wouldn’t know that I was cooking with particular restrictions.

As we’ll see in the following installments, Sephardic cuisine encompasses a rich diversity of flavors and ingredients. Indeed, most of the time, if you’re familiar with a national cuisine of the Mediterranean, the dishes will sound familiar. More like variations on the theme than totally different.

A perfect example is the classic Persian dish, Tachin Joojeh; a chicken and rice casserole that’s cooked in a particular way, so as to form a crusty rice topping. The original recipe calls for a mixture of egg, yoghurt, and saffron as the base. Yogurt and chicken, served together, are not kosher. But Persian Sephardim adapted the dish by substituting lemon juice for the prohibited dairy product.

Note, too, the use of saffron even in the original---a culinary contribution from Iberia, introduced by the Sephards. Saffron became very common in Persian foods; indeed, Iranian saffron is considered the best in the world. Just another instance of the culinary cross-fertilization between the Sephardim and their host countries.

In short, don’t be concerned about the dietary restrictions in your own cooking. Just be aware that, many times, they have affected what would otherwise be the “authentic” version of that particular dish.




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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 November 2016 at 10:56
Just finished reading this - it does a lot to clear up the confusion that I've had regarding the dietary rules of both religions. It is also is interesting to see the adaptations and accommodations made due to geography or other situations.

Many thanks for posting, Brook - I'm looking forward to what's coming!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 November 2016 at 11:14
Both the Torah and Qur'an make allowances for circumstances, Ron. Take, for instance, this passage from the Qur'an:

"He hath forbidden you only carrion, and blood, and swineflesh, and that which hath been immolated to (the name of) any other than Allah. But he who is driven by necessity, neither craving nor transgressing, it is no sin for him. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful."

The Torah has similar disclaimers, to cover necessity and survival.

Sectarian differences often arise over things like defining "necessity." Plus, of course, there are the actual enumerations of what is permitted and not under both Kashrut and Halal.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 November 2016 at 06:44
In the past I have concluded threads like this one with a list of references. But, the more I get into this topic, the less likely I see an end to it. There’s just too much to learn, too many recipes to try, to many cross-influences to explore.

That being the case, I thought I’d present a list of sources, to date, in case anyone wants to look at them first-hand. I’m sure, as things continue, there will be others (there are at least two additional books on my wish-list), I’ll add them as we go along.

As always, the Internet is an invaluable source of information. But one site stands out, to wit, The Converso Cookbook (http://jewishstudies.washington.edu/converso-cookbook-home/),
by Ana Gomez-Bravo. She is Professor of Spanish and Jewish Studies at the University of Washington’s Stroum Center for Jewish Studies, and a bonafide authority on Jewish and Converso life in Spain, in the Middle Ages. In this on-line only publication, she presents some Converso recipes. More to the point, she explains why they were developed by Spanish Jews, and the consequences Conversos faced by continuing to eat them.

There are, it turns out, an incredible number of books about the lives and culture of Spain’s secret Jews under the Inquisition. One that focuses on the culinary aspects (and, thus, provides insights into the roots of Sephardic cooking) is A Drizzle of Honey, David M. Gitlitz & Linda Kay Davidson, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999

Other books I’m using---and, no doubt, will continue to use often in the foreseeable future---are:

Sephardic Cooking, Copeland Marks, Donald I. Fine, Inc., New York, 1992.

The Sephardic Table, Pamela Grau Twena, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1998.

Sephardic Flavors,, Joyce Goldstein, photos by Beatriz Da Costa, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2000.

Sephardic Holiday Cooking, Gilda Angel, Decalogue Books, Mount Vernon, NY, 1986.

A Pied Noir Cookbook: French Sephardic Cuisine From Algeria, Chantal Clabrough, Hippocrene Books, New York, 2005.

The Scent of Orange Blossoms: Sephardic Cuisine from Morocco,, Kitty Morse and Danielle Mamane, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA., 2001.

Whether you read any of them or not, I certainly hope you'll join in the discussion of this fascinating topic, and it's influence on global cuisine.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 November 2016 at 07:26
This looks like a great bibliography, Brook -

I am taking a look at the UoW's website right now, and have also ordered Copeland Marks's book.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 November 2016 at 09:25
The Marks book is a great choice, Ron. Not just for Sephardic cooking, but as an introduction to some exotic cuisines we rarely give much thought to; such as that of Kurdustan, and Samarkand.

Samarkand, especially, intrigues me. It was the crossroads of the ancient world, and is likely as far east as Marco Polo actually got. It was there he learned about such "Chinese" specialties like pasta.

Were I not so wedded to the Sephardic study......
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Perhaps without realizing it, FotW community members are no strangers to Sephardic foods.

I have, for example, posted many Sephardic recipes through the years; albeit not necessarily with that intent. To be sure, there have been some direct recipes. Most recently, I posted about Onion Skin Eggs (http://www.foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/a-sephardic-specialty_topic4711.html), a dish unique to the Sephardic culture.

Another direct recipe is for Rosh Hashanah Soup (http://www.foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/rosh-hashanah-soup_topic4481.html )

Dishes posted with a different ethnic identity, such as Moroccan and Moorish, which are all but indistinguishable from Sephardic versions, have also appeared, such as Moroccan Pumpkin Soup (http://www.foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/morocan-pumpkin-soup_topic3070.html ), and, Moroccan Carrot Salad (http://www.foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/moroccan-carrot-salad_topic2054.html ).

If you peruse the forums, you’ll find additional recipes and discussions, from myself and other members, particularly in the Iberian, North African, and Turkish forums.

None of these were posted with a particular interest in Sephardic food as such. They were just recipes I and others enjoyed.

What sparked my exploration of Sephardic food as such was two things. First was an epiphany: Most of the foods Friend Wife and I enjoy most seemed to have a common thread, and I wanted to isolate it if I could. We’re talking, primarily, about North African, Mid-Eastern, and Turkish foods.

Still, I hadn’t done much about it, until reading Lisa Goldfinger's incredible blog, Panning The Globe (http://www.panningtheglobe.com/). Among other things, I came across her recipe for the above named Tachin Joojeh. It sounded incredible. But there was one discordant note. “How,” I wondered, “can a dish identified as being Sephardic use non-kosher ingredients?”

Unlike many bloggers, and to her ever lasting credit, Lisa gives full attribution to the sources of recipes she adapts. This one came from Copeland Mark’s book, Sephardic Cooking. I had to check it out.

Sure enough, Marks presents the recipe with chicken and yogurt combined. But he notes that it is not kosher that way, and provides a variation that the Sephardim living in Persia would use.
I actually prefer Lisa’s version of the original, both for her use of ingredients, and the techniques she uses. You can see her recipe here: http://www.panningtheglobe.com/2012/11/13/persian-layered-chicken-and-rice-with-yogurt/.

Have you ever started a casual inquiry and been sucked in so the subject becomes a passion? That’s what happened to me. Reading Copeland’s book I realized that here was the binding thread I’d been looking for.

As a result, I’ve spent many happy hours researching Sephardic foods. Lots of time on the Web, of course. Plus I currently own seven books about Sephardic and Converso cooking, and there are several more on my wish list. What the heck. Anything worth doing is worth overdoing, right?

Thus, it’s only right that we start our look at Sephardic foods with Marks’ recipe:

Tachin Joojeh
(Layered Chicken, Rice, Eggs and Yoghurt)


Chicken:
1 tbls corn oil
1 medium onion, sliced (1/2 cup)
1/8 tsp ground turmeric
1/8 tsp pepper
1 lb boneless chicken breast and thigh, cut into two inch cubes
1 tsp salt
2 tbls water

Tachin:
1 egg, beaten with 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1/8 tsp pepper, and ½ cup yoghurt
¼ tsp whole saffron, crushed with ¼ tsp sugar using a mortar and pestle
2 cups raw rice, well rinsed and cooked for 8 minutes
3 tbls corn oil
2 tbls margarine
2 tbls barberries or dried currants (optional garnish)

Heat the oil in a skillet, add the onion, turmeric, and pepper, and stir-fry for 3 minutes. Add the chicken and salt, mix well, and cover the pan. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes, then add the water to lubricate the mixture and cook for 5 minutes more. Set aside.

Mix the beaten egg, yoghurt and saffron together well. Add half of the half-cooked rice and mix well.

Prepare a 1 ½ quart casserole, round or rectangular, preferable heatproof glass, by adding the oil and swirling it around. Add the tachin mixture and spread over the casserole. Over that arrange the chicken cubes and onions. Over that spread the balance of the rice. Dot with margarine. Cover the casserole with the aluminum foil or the casserole cover and bake in a 400F oven for about 45 minutes, or until you can see that the bottom tachin has become quite brown and crisp. Do not burn.

Remove casserole from the oven and turn it upside down on a platter. Cover this with a cloth towel for about 3 minutes. The entire contents will descend into the platter with the tachin as a firm crust overall. Stir-fry the barberries in hot oil off the heat for 1 minute, which turns them quite red. Sprinkle over the tachin as a garnish.

Cut through the crust to make 3- or 4-inch serving pieces.

Serve warm. Serves 6.

To make a kosher version, he says, omit the yogurt and substitute one tablespoon of lemon juice.

Keep in mind that this is a modernized version. Neither corn oil nor margarine would have been known until recently. For absolute authenticity, use olive oil (or chicken schmaltz) instead.

One of the reasons I prefer Lisa’s version is the relative lack of moisture in the Marks recipe. My concern is that the rice doesn’t fully cook through, particularly if you start with brown rice. This can be an even greater problem with the kosher version.

Another reason I like Lisa’s better is that this dish tends to be dry. Her greater use of yogurt helps avoid that. Plus, she makes it with a delightful yogurt sauce that compliments the dish nicely.

I’ve presented this recipe because it’s what got me started, along with the fact it illustrates how the Sephardim adapted to the foods they found in their neighbors’ pots. In future installments, I’ll confine myself strictly to Sephardic dishes.






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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 November 2016 at 02:24
As with all peoples whose origins stem to the Caucasus Mountains and the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia, the Sephardim were a wheat-centric people. Later, when rice was introduced, they embraced it. But wheat---in the form of couscous, bulghur, cracked wheat, and flour---remains the go-to grain of choice.

Among the Sephardim, bread truly is the staff of life. So far I have uncovered well over a dozen forms of bread associated with them, without even including matzo. Some of these are everyday breads, the same as their neighbors are eating. Just as many others are related to specific holidays or celebrations.

One side note: All of the following recipes are essentially how they appear in my various references, and universally call for active dry yeast. If, like me, you’d rather use instant yeast, you can review how to substitute by reading my bread primer at http://www.foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/the-staff-of-life-a-primer-on-baking-bread_topic3089.html

Keep in mind, too, that whereas I assume the use of bulk yeast, and measure it in teaspoons, you can substitute those small envelopes of yeast on a one-to-one basis.

While most breads would be indistinguishable from that of their neighbors, the Sephardim often put a twist on it; either through the addition of various flavorings, or by changing the shape. A classic instance is the Persian flatbread called Barbari:

Barbari

1 tsp honey
1 ¼ cups (10 oz) water
2 tsp active dry yeast
3 ¼ cups (14.63 oz) unbleached bread flour
1 ½ tsp salt
2 tbls olive oil plus extra to glaze
2 tsp sesame seeds

Stir the honey into 2/3 cup of the water in a bowl, then sprinkle in the yeast. Let stand five minutes, stirring to dissolve. Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and our in the dissolved yeast.

Draw enough of the flour into the yeast to form a soft paste. Cover the bowl and sponge until frothy and risen, about 20 minutes.

Pour about half the remaining water and the olive oil into the well. Mix in the rest of the flour. Stir in the reserved water, as needed, to form a firm, moist dough.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth, shiny, and elastic, about ten minutes.

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1 ½-2 hours. Punch down, then let rest ten minutes.

Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Shape each piece into a round five inches across and one inch thick. Cover and proof until doubled in bulk, about 30-45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425F. At the same time, preheat two baking sheets in the oven until very hot.

Meanwhile, use your fingertips to gently press into the surface of the dough to form nine dimples, about ¾ inch deep, across the top of each round. Brush each with olive oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Dust the baking sheets with cornmeal or semolina. Place the shaped dough on the hot baking sheets and bake 20 minutes until golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack.

Round is the typical shape of these breads. Imagine Pita, without the hollow. But many Sephardim took a different approach, making the bread rectangular (similar to Ciabatta), with long grooves the long way.

Here’s one variation on that theme:

Sephardic Barbari

3 ¼ cups unbleached bread flour plus more for dusting
1 ½ cups water
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp active dry yeast
2 tsp sugar or honey
Sesame seeds for topping (sometimes poppy seeds are substituted)
Semolina for bottom of baking pan

Make a glaze: Combine 1 teaspoon flour with 1 teaspoon baking soda with 2/3 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to boil, then allow to cool.

Dissolve the sugar in ½ cup of the water. Stir in the yeast and let it proof, 5-10 minutes.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Make a well in this mixture and slowly mix in the yeast mixture and balance of the water.

Knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour or water as necessary, about 15 minutes by hand, or 7 minutes by stand mixer. Divide the dough into two large rounds.

Sprinkle two baking sheets with the semolina, transfer the rounds to them. Cover, and let rise until doubled in bulk. Brush with the glaze.

Dip your fingers in the glaze, and, with the edge of your hand, form several long, parallel ridges in the dough, simultaneously drawing it out into a roughly rectangular shape, about 8 x 18 inches and up to ½ inch thick. Brush the dough again with the glaze. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds.

Preheat oven to 375F. Bake 25-30 minutes until golden. Bread should be slightly flexible, not stiff like ciabatta.

One bread tradition I much admire is La Mimouna, which has to do with the ending of Passover. Passover is an eight-day celebration, commemorating the exodus from Egypt. The Hebrew people had to pack up so quickly they didn’t have time to let their dough rise, and had to bake it unleavened. This is, btw, the origination of Matzo.

During Passover, no leavened products are allowed in the house. Every crumb is scrupulously removed.

La Mimouna is apparently unique to Morocco. It is celebrated at the end of Passover, when Muslim women bring a lump of starter dough to their Jewish friends and neighbors, so they could immediately begin baking leavened bread once more.

This practice harkens back to Spain, previous to the mid-14th century. At that time, Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived and worked side by side in harmony. They comingled freely, dressed pretty much the same, shared each other’s cuisines, and spoke a common language. Although I’ve found no references to shared starter dough, I have no doubt the this sharing took place at that time.

Morocco is a good a place as any to start our look at “Sephardic” breadstuff, and at what a Sephardic housewife might do with the starter she received at La Mimouna.

The standard flat bread of Morocco is Khubz (aka Ksra), known to the Sephardim as Khbiza Del Zrarehe. While there are numerous variations on this bread, the Sephardim are more likely to flavor it with anise and/or caraway seeds, particularly for the Sabbath or other celebrations.

A hallmark of Khubz are the designs impressed in it, before baking, with the tines of a fork.

This version is adapted from Kitty Morse & Danielle Mamane’s The Scent of Orange Blossoms: Sephardic Cuisine from Morocco:

Khbiza Del Zrarehe
(Shabbat Sesame & Caraway Bread)


2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar or honey
1 ¾ cups warm water
6 cups unbleached bread flour
1 tsp salt
3 tbls toasted sesame seeds
2 tbls toasted caraway or anise seeds
3 tbls sunflower oil
1/3 cup semolina for dusting
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water (optional)

Combine the yeast and sugar with ¼ cup of water, and let proof, 10-12 minutes.

In a large bowl combine the flour, salt, sesame seeds and caraway seeds. Make a well in the center. Add the yeast mixture, oil, and 1 cup of water, and incorporate the flour into the liquid. Knead, adding the remaining water as needed, to make a smooth, elastic dough, 10-12 minutes. Shape into a ball, and let rest five to ten minutes. Knead again for one minute.

Lightly grease two large baking sheets and sprinkle them generously with semolina. Divide the dough into four equal parts. Shape each into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, flatten each ball to about seven inches in diameter with a rolling in. Place two rounds of dough on each sheet and cover with a clean cloth. Let rise in a warm, dry place, away from drafts, until double in size, about one hour.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Prick the center of each loaf with a fork (ed: in a decorative pattern) and let rise ten minutes. Lightly brush each round with egg wash.

Bake until golden brown, 22 to 25 minutes. Cool briefly on wire racks and serve.

Pumpkin is very symbolic to the Sephardim. Its roundness symbolizes the roundness of life, while the tough hull protects the squash, symbolic of God’s protectiveness.

Often served on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year, and second most important holy day in the Jewish calendar), this bread---from Gilda Angel’s Sephardic Holiday Cooking---is symbolic of wishes for a well-rounded and full year.

Turkish in origin, this is a yeast bread, not the quick bread more familiar to Americans:

Pan de Calabaza
(Pumpkin Bread)


2 tsp active dry yeast
½ cup sugar
2 cups warm water
½ tsp ground ginger
1 ½ tsp ground cardamom
2 tsp salt
½ cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, lightly beaten, divided use
1 cup canned cooked pumpkin
8 ½ cups unbleached bread flour
2 tbls sesame seeds

In a large bowl, dissolve sugar and yeast in water. Let proof ten minutes

Mix in the ginger, cardamom, salt, oil, two eggs, and pumpkin. Blend in flour, 2 cups at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Knead dough on a lightly floured surface, adding more flour if needed, until smooth and elastic, 8-10 minutes (or four minutes in a stand mixer). Place ball of dough in a large, greased bowl, turning to coat entire surface. Cover bowl with a clean dish towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about an hour.

Punch dough down. On a lightly floured surface, form two loaves and 12 rolls. Place each loaf in a lightly greased 9x5x3-inch pan. Place rolls on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375F. Brush tops of loaves and rolls with remaining egg. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake 20 minutes and remove rolls. Bake loaves additional 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cools 20 minutes in pans. Remove from pans and cool completely on racks.

Note that this recipe makes a fairly large quantity of bread. So you might want to cut it in half. If not, the loaves and rolls can be frozen.

Most people are familiar with Challa, the braided, enriched bread iconic to Jewish holiday tables, particular on the Sabbath. Less known are its ritualistic characteristics. Sephardic housewives, according to Kitty Morse, would burn an olive-sized lump of Sabbath dough, called a “halla,” to symbolize the tithe once paid to Levitical priests in biblical times. Two loaves are placed on the table, to symbolize the two tablets of the law.

Askenazic Challa is made with a sweetened egg dough, similar to Brioche. The Sephardic version is less sweet. Here is one version:

Challa
(Braided Sabbath Bread)


2 tsp active dry yeast
2 tbls plus 1 tsp sugar
1 ½ to 1 ¾ cups bread flour
2 tsp salt
3 eggs, divided use
4 tbls sunflower oil
1/3 cup semolina for dusting
3 tbls toasted sesame seeds

In a small bowl, mix the yeast and sugar with ½ cup of the water. Stir gently and set aside until the mixture begins to bubble, 10-12 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Make a well in the center. Add the yeast mixture, two of the eggs, and the oil and mix to combine. Knead, adding the remaining water as necessary, to make a smooth elastic dough, 12-15 minutes (or six in a stand mixer).

Shape the dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a clean towel. Let rise in a warm, dry lace, away from drafts, until it doubles in size, 1-1 ½ hours.

Generously sprinkle a baking sheet with semolina. On the baking sheet, stretch the risen dough into a loaf about 10 inches long. Beginning one inch from the top end, using a serrated knife, cut the loaf lengthwise into here equal strips. Braid the strips, pinching the bottom end with our fingers to seal. Let rise, covered with a clean towel, for one hour.

Preheat the oven to 425F. Lightly beat the remaining egg with one tablespoon water. Brush the loaf with the egg wash and sprinkle generously with sesame seeds.

Bake on the center rack for ten minutes. Decrease the heat to 400F and bake until golden brown, 18-20 minutes. Cool briefly on a wire rack and serve.

Classic Challa has a very distinct, highly sculpted, braid. Because of the way this one is shaped, the braiding is more suggestive, and not as clearly delineated.

I will, most likely, return to Sephardic breads from time to time as this series continues. But I don’t want to overwhelm you with them all at once.

Besides which, it’s time we got on to some of the actual dishes of these people.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 November 2016 at 09:00
Very nice, Brook - I particularly enjoyed this, very much:

Originally posted by Brook Brook wrote:

One bread tradition I much admire is La Mimouna, which has to do with the ending of Passover. Passover is an eight-day celebration, commemorating the exodus from Egypt. The Hebrew people had to pack up so quickly they didn’t have time to let their dough rise, and had to bake it unleavened. This is, btw, the origination of Matzo.

During Passover, no leavened products are allowed in the house. Every crumb is scrupulously removed.

La Mimouna is apparently unique to Morocco. It is celebrated at the end of Passover, when Muslim women bring a lump of starter dough to their Jewish friends and neighbors, so they could immediately begin baking leavened bread once more.

This practice harkens back to Spain, previous to the mid-14th century. At that time, Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived and worked side by side in harmony. They comingled freely, dressed pretty much the same, shared each other’s cuisines, and spoke a common language. Although I’ve found no references to shared starter dough, I have no doubt the this sharing took place at that time.


Such an example of peaceful coexistence is something to be admired, indeed.

Thanks for posting these recipes. The chicken dish is something that I think we could try right now, in our house, and the various breads certainly pique my interest, as well; the pumpkin bread seems especially appealing this time of year, but all are something I would like to try.

Looking forward to the next installment - thank you!
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What is Sephardic food?

Identifying a dish or cooking procedure strictly as Sephardic is all but impossible. There are just too many fusions of Iberian Jewish cookery with other cultures. Often enough, in addition to the food being kosher, the differentiating quality has as much to do with rituals as with the food itself.

When I say “fusion,” we’re not just talking about two cuisines melding. There are fusions on top of fusions.

For example: There were Jews in Iberia at least as early as the sixth century BCE. With the destruction of the first temple, about 560 BCE, Jews spread out across the ancient world, including Iberia. Indeed, many scholars identify a significant number of Spanish place names---including Barcelona itself---as having evolved from Hebrew.

Until the mid-14th century, Spanish Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived together, coexisting side-by-side in what historians call the “convivencia.” As Gitlitz & Davidson describe it, in their scholarly A Drizzle of Honey, “The three religious communities prayed in their respective liturgical languages, of course, but in the street they all spoke in a common tongue….They sang each other’s songs, imitated each other’s poetry, and played each other’s games…..And they grew fond of each other’s cuisine.

We can call that fusion number one.

Meanwhile, other Jews had migrated to the Maghreb, settling in with various Berber tribes, where they lived in harmony with their Muslim neighbors, and assimilated into Berber village life; including adapting indigenous foods and ingredients.

Call that fusion number two.

After the Expulsion, Sephardim settled, permanently or temporarily, in all the nations of the Med. Their cuisine was influenced by all these way stations, culminating in the adaptation of much Ottoman culture---to the point where many people connote Sephardic food with Turkish.

For the sake of discussion, these multiple influences can be thought of as fusion number three.

But it doesn’t end with that. There was continual movement among the Sephardic people. For instance, Kitty Morse’s forebears, as related in The Scent of Orange Blossoms, were Pied Noir, who had settled in Algeria; migrating there from France. They thought of themselves as French, and, culturally, were no different than their Franco-Christian neighbors. In 1900 they moved to Morocco, and brought, with them, a French culinary outlook which influenced the Moroccan foods they adapted.

Not unusual. And we’ll consider such continual movement as fusion number four.

Much later, in the mid-20th century, came the great Aliyah (homecoming) to Israel, where the cuisine was further leavened by contact with Sephards from other countries, Leventine Jews, and the emerging Israeli cuisine itself.

And that would be fusion number five.

As should be obvious, therefore, Sephardic cuisine is not a monolithic whole, but, rather, a grouping of cuisines with similarities of ingredient use, food preparation, and ritual; all tempered, further, by the Laws of Kashrut.

Trying to arrange all this in some semblance of order was challenging, to say the least. Gilda Angel comes closest, with her Sephardic Holiday Cooking, to presenting this cuisine as a cohesive whole. But there’s a problem with that. By definition, celebratory food is special. So we fail to gain insights into what the Sephardim eat on a day to day basis.

To be sure, there are culinary trends common to most Sephardim. They are very big, on sweet & sour dishes, with an accent on the sour. Often, a similar mainstream dish, will have far less lemon juice then the Sephardic version. By and large, when the Sephardim left Spain they left garlic behind as well. It is all but absent in their food. On the other hand, leeks are iconic, with almost as many ways of using them as the Ottoman’s use eggplant.

Eggplant, itself, is a favored vegetable, as it was in Iberian/Jewish cooking before the expulsion. Eggplant was introduced to Spain by the Moors, and became very common in Spanish cookery even though it was all but unknown in the rest of Europe at the time.

The use of “Eastern” spices such as cumin, anise, ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom also appear almost universal, as is heavy reliance on saffron. Among the aromatics, onions were the most popular, as both flavoring and as stand-alone dishes. Fennel and, of course, leeks, are high on the list as well.     

In the end, I gave up on trying to find common hooks, and just decided to choose recipes that appealed to Friend Wife and myself, and construct menus with them in what we thought would make balanced meals.

KEFTES DE PESCADO
(Fish Cakes)


The Sephardim are masters of using leftovers in creative, flavorful ways. Leftover fish would be ground, shaped, and cooked in the form of fish cakes, fish croquettes, fish balls, and even dumplings. In this application, leftover potatoes also are part of the dish.

1 small onion, grated     
1 tbls olive oil (optional)
1 lb cooked, flaked fish     
1 ½-2 cups mashed potatoes     
2 eggs, beaten     
2-3 tbls chopped parsley or dill
Salt & pepper to taste     
Matzo meal or all-purpose flour

Use onion raw, or, optionally sweat in olive oil.

Combine the fish, potatoes, onion, eggs, and parsley. Mix well and season with salt & pepper.
Form into 8 chubby cakes, about 3” diameter, binding with matzoh meal if necessary.

Heat ¼ inch cooking oil in a skillet over medium heat. Spread matzoh meal on a sheet pan. Working in batches, dip the fish cakes in the matzo heal, coating evenly, and place in hot oil. Fry, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, 4-6 minutes total.

I prefer making these with a more flavorful fish, such as salmon or mackeral, rather than a mild fish. For my tastes, less potato is better than more, and go with a scant 1 ½ cups. And don’t forget that potatoes soak up salt, so you might want to go a bit heavier than usual.

Outside of Spain, where a form of aioli is popular, these cakes are typically served with an egg-and-lemon sauce (Agristada):

Agristada
(Egg And Lemon Sauce)


2 tbls cornstarch
2 cups fish stock or water
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 to ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt

Combine the cornstarch with a few tablespoons of the stock and stir to make a smooth paste. Add the remaining stoci and bring to a boil, stirring continually. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until thickened. Remove from the heat.

In a bowl, beat the eggs and lemon juice until frothy. Temper the mix by whisking in some of the stock, then sir the eggs into the pan. Simmer over very low heat, stirring, until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat and season with salt. Can be served hot or cold.

CIPOLINE IN AGRODULCE
( Sweet & Sour Pearl Onions)


This recipe well represents the penchant Sephardim have for sweet & sour dishes. If you can’t find pearl onions, small boiling onions work just as well.

2 ½ lbs pearl onions          
6 tbls unsalted butter
2 tbls sugar     
6 tbls red wine vinegar
¼ cup raisins     
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
Salt

Trim root end of onions and cut an X in each. Blanch in a large pot of water two minutes. Drain and slip off skins.

Warm the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Reduce heat to low, add the sugar, vinegar, raisins, and pine nuts. Stir well, cover tightly, and simmer until onions are complete tender, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and transfer to a serving dish.

Optional: Plump raisins in a little Marsala before adding to onions.

For my tastes, this dish was a little on the sweet side, but Friend Wife thought it was perfect. My advice: cut back the sugar to, say, 1 ½ tablespoons, or up the vinegar a tablespoon or two.

Pearl onions are generally available in 10-ounce bags, so you’ll need four of them. I like using all three colors, for a more colorful presentation.

Having made it both ways, I really recommend plumping the raisins. Not only does the Marsala add an additional flavor note, it increases the acid as well.

ALMODROTE DE BERENJENA
( Eggplant Gratin)


4 one-pound eggplants     
4 slices rustic bread, crusts removed and diced small
4 eggs, beaten     
6 oz fresh white cheese such as Ricotta, Feta, or Myzithra
½ lb Kashkaval or Gruyere cheese      
1/3 cup sunflower or olive oil     
1 ½-2 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper

Broil or grill eggplants until collapsed, about 20 minutes. When cool enough to handle, strip away skins and large seed mass. Coarsely hand chop on cutting board, transfer to a colander and let drain 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F. Oil a 9x9 inch baking pan.

Transfer eggplant to a bowl and mash well with a fork. Add the bread, eggs, ricotta, and all but ¼ cup kashkaval, all but 2 tablespoons oil, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust salt.

Spread mixture in baking pan. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Drizzle with remaining oil.

Bake until golden and set, 30-40 minutes.

First time I made this I used Myzithra. Without thinking, however, I used aged cheese, rather than fresh, which made the dish far too salty; almost inedible. Next time I used Ricotta, and it was perfect. Kashkaval isn’t readily available in the U.S. My cheese book, however, describes it as similar to Provolone, which could substitute. But, frankly, I think Gruyere is the ideal choice.

As always, given a choice between grilling or broiling the eggplant, opt for grilling. The smokiness imparted that way improves the flavor of any eggplant dish.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 November 2016 at 09:02
Excellent, Brook - by your narrative, it looks that the title of this work, A Thread that Binds, is truly appropriate. I imagine a gush of lava spilling out from a volcano, traveling to new places, flowing into cracks, fissures and a few other empty places - and working itself into the new landscape, altering it and becoming part of it while staying within confines imposed from without and within. Perhaps I'm way off, but that image has come to me several times, throughout our discussions and as I read your posts.

What I really enjoy is seeing the influences on the cuisine that are clearly from here or there; yet I admire the way that those influences are apparent within the Sephardic culture as I've come to understand it. I see quite a few things that I'd like to try, especially as winter approaches and I turn my thoughts to cooking projects.

Excellent installment, and I'm looking forward to the next one.

Ron
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As noted above, our Sephardic menus are merely compilations of dishes we thought sounded good, and which would work together well. Here is the next meal we constructed:

ALBONDIGAS DE PRASA
(Sephardic Leek and Meat Fritters)


Ground meat (as in the Turkish tradition), mixed with veggies and shaped into patties, balls, and other shapes, is very common among the Sephardim. Frying these “fritters” is the most common method, but grilling (in the form of kebabs), and even poaching, are also popular.

3 lbs leeks
¾ lb ground beef or lamb
3 slices rustic bread, crusts removed, soaked in water and squeezed dry, or 2 potatoes, peeled,
   boiled, and mashed (about 1 cup)
2 eggs, separated
¾ tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
2-3 tbls grated walnuts (optional)
½ cup dill, chopped (optional)
2 onion skin eggs, finely chopped (optional)
1 1/2 tsp salt or to taste
½ tsp black pepper
Oil for frying
All-purpose flour or matzo meal
Lemon wedges

Trim roots and most of the dark green from leeks, and discard. Peel away loose layers, cut the leeks in half lengthwise, and cut crosswise into ½-inch pieces. Soak them in a tub of cold water, swish them around to loosen any dirt, remove with a slotted spoon, and drain well in a colander. Transfer to a saucepan with salted water to cover, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the leeks are very soft, about 20 minutes. Should have about 2 cups of cooked leeks.

In a bowl, combine the leeks, meat, bread or potatoes, egg yolks, and cinnamon, walnuts, or dill, and chopped eggs, if using. Add the salt and pepper, then knead with your hands until the mixture holds together well. Form into balls about 1 ¼ inches in diameter. You may keep them round or flatten them a bit.

Pour olive oil to a depth of 1 ½ inches into a large sauté pan and heat to 350F. Meanwhile, spread some flour or matzo meal on a plate. In a bowl, beat the egg whites until very frothy but not stiff. When the oil is hot, dip the meatballs in the flour or matzo meal, then in the egg whites. Fry, in batches, until golden brown and cooked through, 8-10 minutes total. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Keep warm. When all the fritters are fried, arrange on a platter and sprinkle lightly with salt. Serve with lemon wedges.

Note the reverse breading technique, which I thought was strange, at first. But it gives the fritters a wonderful crusty outer surface. When I made them, 2 egg whites were not enough, so added a third. But I made the fritters smaller than called for, so your mileage may vary.

I’m not big on using olive oil for frying, and usually substitute sunflower oil, because it’s neutral in flavor, and has a higher smoke point.

Both moistened bread and potatoes are common thickeners and binders in Sephardic cooking. While both work, potatoes are my go-to choice.

If you don’t have the optional onion-skin eggs, regular hard-boiled eggs work just as well. Each of the optional ingredients brings a flavor nuance to the fritters, and, because they do work together, I use all of them when making this dish.

QUAJADO DE TOMATE
(Sephardic Tomato Bread Pudding)


Tomato bread pudding! The very title sounds intriguing. But, as so often happens with Sephardic foods, translations can be iffy at best. The book I took this from calls it a bread pudding. But, as you can see from the ingredients, there’s not nearly enough bread for that. The finished dish is more like a frittata. Either way, it makes a delicious side dish, or can even be used as a light luncheon.

3 lbs ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
Salt
Sugar
4-5 slices of rustic bread, crusts removed, soaked in water and squeezed dry
6 eggs, lightly beaten
4-6 tbls parsley, chopped
½ lb kashkaval cheese, or half gruyere and half parmesan, grated
Black Pepper

Put chopped tomatoes in a colander, sprinkling the layers with a little salt and a bit of sugar to draw out the excess moisture, and let drain for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Oil a large baking dish or casuela.

Transfer the tomatoes to a bowl and add the soaked bread, eggs, parsley, and all but ½ cup of the cheese. Mix well and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to the prepared dish and evenly sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.

Bake until golden and set, 30-60 minutes (depends on size of dish). Serve warm.

Be sure and let the tomatoes drain well, to keep the dish from turning watery.

Interestingly, although the recipe specifies a rectangular baking dish, the food stylist who did the picture chose a casuela instead. I thought that made a prettier presentation, and went that way as well. On my game plan is to make this again, using individual-sized casuelas.

KOMIDA DE BALKABAK KON PRUNAS
(Sephardic Pumpkin with Prunes)
     

Fruit mixed with meat or vegetables is a Moorish contribution to Sephardic cooking. As a result, we still see those combinations in many dishes from southern Spain, as well as throughout the Sephardic world.                   

2 lbs pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and deseeded, in 1 ½” dice                            
1 ½ cups pitted prunes        
3 tbls olive oil
Zest & juice of one lemon     
2 tbls confectioners’ sugar                     
1 ½ tsp salt                            
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Plump prunes in 2 cups hot water to cover for one hour.

In a large saucepan combine the squash cubes, plumped prunes with its liquid, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Stir well, ring to a boil, reduce heat and cook uncovered, stirring from time to time, until squash is tender and liquid has been absorbed, 15-20 minutes., adding additional water as needed to prevent squash from scorching. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve warm or at room temperature

Don’t expect whole prunes when making this dish. They actually melt down to create a sauce for the pumpkin.

While any prunes work, Turkish prunes, if you can find them, add sourness to the dish, which I prefer as a foil to the sweetness of the pumpkin. Another variation: Instead of hot water, plump the prunes in orange juice.

I felt 1 ½” cubes made the pumpkin too big, so cut them into smaller wedges, both for ease of eating and to reduce cooking time. Even so, watch how long they cook. You want them to be tender, but not falling apart. The given cooking time is short, and 20-30 minutes is more likely.

This came as a surprise, because Sephardic vegetables tend to be overcooked. For example, one recipe, for green beans, directs you to boil them for 30 minutes. Try that and you’ll wind up with green bean mush.




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This next menu will seem short. But that’s because we included the redo of the eggplant gratin detailed above. Not only did it work perfectly using Ricotta, but it went very well with the other dishes in this take.

GAKYNA KON MANZANA
(Sephardic Chicken with Apples and Apricots)


Throughout the Arabic world, combining meat with fruit is a common culinary technique. It’s likely that Spanish Jews learned this from their Moorish neighbors, and the idea was reinforced as they migrated through North Africa and into the Ottoman Empire.
     In the U.S., mixing fruit with pork is a commonplace. Doing it with other proteins, less so. But, as this recipe shows, it makes a lot of sense.


1 roasting chicken, 4-5 lbs, cut up; or 8 pieces chicken (4 breast halves, divided)
3 cups dry white wine     
1 tbls honey
1 tsp ground ginger     
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp black pepper     
½ tsp ground mace
½ lb dried apricots     
3-4 tart green apples, such as Granny Smith
2 tbls fresh lemon juice     
1 cinnamon stick
1 tbls sugar     
¼ cup olive oil
3 onions, chopped     
Salt
¼ cup sesame seeds, toasted

In a small bowl or zipper bag stir together about 1 ½ cups of the wine, the honey, ginger, ground cinnamon, pepper, and mace. Rub this mixture over the chicken pieces, cover, and refrigerate a few hours or as long as overnight.

Place the apricots in another bowl and add enough of the remaining wine to cover.

In a saucepan, combine the apples, lemon juice, cinnamon stick, sugar, and water to barely cover. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until just tender, 4-5 minutes. Drain, reserving the poaching liquid. Discard the cinnamon stick and set the apples and liquid aside separately.

Warm oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt, and sauté until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken with its marinade, the soaked apricots and their liquid, and the apple poaching liquid. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until chicken is almost cooked, 20-25 minutes, adding water, as needed, to prevent apricots from scorching.

Add apples and continue simmering until apples and chicken are tender, 5-10 minutes. Transfer to a large platter, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and serve.

Fans of Turkish food will recognize this as the classic chicken with apples. The addition of the apricots adds a bit of tart sweetness that’s very appealing. Traditionally, this is made with the bones in and the skin on. We prefer removing the skin, however, because stewed chicken skin has a rubbery consistency we find objectionable.


KEFTIKES DE LENTIJA
(Sephardic Lentil and Bulgur Croquettes)


Sephardic literature is filled with recipes combining grains, vegetables, and, often, meats, and frying them. Depending on the cook and/or translator, these are referred to as croquettes, as fritters, and even merely as patties. This is one of several we’ve tried, and enjoyed. I'm sure there will many others as we pursue this study.

¼ cup green or black lentils     
¾ cup lightly salted water
½ cup bulgur      
3 tbls olive oil plus more for frying
1 lg onion, chopped     
2 tsp ground cumin
2 onion skin or hard cooked eggs, peeled and chopped
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper     
3 tbls chopped fresh mint
3 tbls chopped fresh parsley     
1 egg, beaten
¼ bread crumbs or matzo meal, or as needed
Lemon wedges or plain yogurt

Put lentils in small pan with salted water. Bring to boil, lower heat, cover and simmer until tender, 20-25 minutes.

When lentils are ready, uncover, add just enough water (about a scant cup) to cover, and stir in the bulgur. Remove from heat, re-cover, and let stand until grains has absorbed the liquid, about 1 ½ hours.
Warm the oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the cumin, chopped eggs, salt, and pepper; stir well and remove from heat. Stir the onion mixture into the lentils, then stir in the mint, parsley, and beaten egg. Form the mixture into flat cakes, each about 2 ½ inches in diameter and ½-inch thick. If mixture seems too wet, add bread crumbs or matzo meal to bind it. You can also lightly coat the croquettes with bread crumbs as they are formed.

Pour oil to a depth of ¼-inch into a large sauté pan and place over medium heat. Fry the croquettes, in batches, until well browned on both sides, 8-10 minutes total. Transfer to paper towels to drain briefly, then sprinkle with salt.

Serve hot with lemon wedges or yogurt.

We used these croquettes as a side-dish. But they can serve equally well as an appetizer (or part of a mezze table), or, even, as a vegetarian main dish on their own, accompanied by a salad or soup.

For authenticity sake, do not use the hard-cooked eggs and yogurt together, as that would make it non-kosher.



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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 December 2016 at 08:54
Tracking the roots of Sephardic cookery can be difficult, at best. Although there are a very few contemporary Moorish cookbooks, there are none dealing specifically with Judeo/Spanish cuisine.

When Friend Wife and I were doing our own books about colonial cookery, we quickly discovered that, while cookbooks are helpful, real insights often come from other sources, such as diaries, traveler’s journals, letters, and the kinds of records kept by the Moravian missionaries.

In a similar vein, Judeo/Spanish food insights can be found in the records of the Inquisition. Not recipes, per se. But lists of foods, food handling methods, and cooking techniques; many of which were considered as evidence of Jewishness. If found guilty of engaging in these Jewish foodways, a Converso would automatically be considered a heretic, and could be sentenced to death.

In their scholarly book, A Drizzle of Honey: The Lives and Recipes of Spain’s Secret Jews,, food historians David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson have delved into those Inquisition records. Armed with those lists of foods and techniques, and laying them against typical Medieval cookery procedures, particularly those of Iberia, the authors have recreated what would have been likely recipes. In each case, the recipe is based on a specific list used to lay charges against an individual, and the recipes bear that person’s name.

Anyone with an interest in the antecedents of Sephardic cookery owes it to themselves to get a copy of A Drizzle of Honey.

JUAN DE TEVA’S ROAST LAMB
(Converso Roast Lamb Leg)


This is the first of the Gitlitz/Davidson recreated recipes we’ve tried. Is it a true Judeo/Spanish dish? There’s no way of telling. What I can say, though, is that it produced the best roast lamb we’ve ever tasted.

1 boneless leg of lamb (about 4 lbs)

Coating:
3 cups fresh cilantro
2 tsp pepper
1 cup fresh mint     
2 tbls fresh marjoram
1 tbls water     
1 ½ tsp salt
1 egg, beaten     

Sauce:     
½ cup frozen OJ     
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ cup water     
½ tsp cinnamon     
3 tbls red wine vinegar

Put all coating ingredients in food process; chop the mixture very finely. With a spatula or wooden paddle press coating into the slit where bone was removed, then onto meat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.
Next day: Preheat oven to 450F. Remove plastic wrap from lamb and bake 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small pan, combine the sauce ingredients and heat over medium low, until hot but not boiling.

Remove lamb from oven. Reduce heat to 350F. Slowly pour sauce over lamb, return to oven, and roast another 12 minutes per pound for medium rare. Let rest ten minutes. Slice and serve.

I was, initially, concerned about the amount of cilantro used. We’re not big on it, to begin with. And I thought that quantity might overpower everything. But such is not the case. Whether it’s the roasting, or the modification from the other ingredients, the cilantro mellow out.

COUSCOUS DE LA MIMOUNA
(Sephardic Couscous with Onion and Raisin Confit)


During Passover, no leavened foods are allowed. Among the very orthodox, even foods that could become leavened are prohibited. A uniquely Moroccan celebration is the feast of La Mimouna, in which Muslims bring all sorts of foods---sweet and savory---to their Jewish neighbors, to help celebrate the end of Passover. This is one of them:

8 cups beef stock     
5 tbls vegetable oil
1 cup whole blanched almonds
½ lb onions, sliced     
¼ cup sugar     
2 tsp ground cinnamon     
2 tsp salt
4 oz (3/4 cup) raisins plumped in warm water & drained
2 cups couscous     
1-2 tbls orange blossom water
Confectioner’s sugar for serving

Bring stock to boil and reduce by one-quarter. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. Add almonds and fry, shaking pan occasionally, until light gold, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Add onions to pan with 1 tablespoon oil and 2 tablespoons of the stock. Cover and cook until onions are soft, 10-15 minutes. Add the sugar, cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Decrease heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions acquire a deep caramel color, 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours. Add raisins and heat through, 2-3 minutes.

Prepare the couscous using 2 2/3 cups stock, the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to boil, remove from heat, add couscous, and set aside, covered, until stock is absorbed, 12-15 minutes. Reheat remaining stock. Combine ½ cup of it with the orange blossom water and mix with the couscous.

Mound couscous on a warm serving platter. Spoon the onion mixture around the base, sprinkle with cinnamon, and garnish with the fried almonds. Serve with the confectioner’s sugar and remaining stock on the side.

This is an absolutely beautiful dish, as well as being tasty. But it’s rather complex to assemble, especially if, like us, you construct it as individual servings. So it’s understandable that it is a celebration dish, rather than everyday food.

SHLATA DS’CHADA
(Sephardic Carrot Salad)


Although the distinction is blurring, in the Western culinary world, raw veggies are called “salad,” while cooked ones are referred to as “vegetables.” In the Arabic and Sephardic worlds, the distinction hardly exists, and what we would likely call a vegetable side-dish often is called a salad. This is one example.

1 lb carrots, peeled and cut in 1 ½ inch pieces
1 clove garlic
2 tbls cider vinegar or lemon juice
1 tbls vegetable oil
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp sugar
Salt to taste
¼ cup chopped parsley

Cook carrots and garlic in salted water until carrots are tender. Drain and discard the garlic.

Make the dressing: Combine oil, paprika, cumin and sugar. Add salt to taste.

Place carrots in a serving bowl, pour the dressing over them, and toss lightly. Cover and refrigerate several hours. Garnish with the chopped parsley just before serving.



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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 December 2016 at 09:23
You may have noticed that in this, and similar threads, that I post few recipes for desserts and sweets. That’s simply because Friend Wife and I are not particularly big on them, and rarely make them ourselves.
     
Sometimes, however, there are exceptions. When I first came across this recipe my reaction was, “Wow! I’ve got to try those. Some day. Sometime. When it stops raining….”

Recently, the Mid-Eastern market where I shop got in a shipment of fresh Medjool dates. I mean so fresh the natural sugars were oozing out. Although not cheap, as these things go, I had to have some.

Wasn’t until I got home that I thought this would be as good a time as any to give the recipe a try. Ya gotta love it when a plan comes together; even if there never was a plan.

If you buy blanched almonds, shame on you. They’re far too expensive for what they are. Blanching them yourself takes no time at all, and you save a few bucks. Just put the almonds in boiling water for two minutes. Drain. When they’re cool enough to handle, squeeze each one between your thumb and index finger. The clean nut will pop right out of the skin.

The almond paste is, essentially, marzipan. For some reason I’ve always thought marzipan was difficult to make. Turns out, such is not the case. The multiple grinding of the nuts is time consuming, but, after that, it’s a cakewalk.

I don’t own any non-stick cookware. But it doesn’t matter. A plain stainless steel pan works just as well.

Caution: These stuffed dates are incredibly sweet. And incredibly addictive. Try and control yourself.

DATTES FOURREES A LA PATE D’AMANDE
(Sephardic Dates Filled with Almond Paste)


1 cup whole blanched almonds             
Zest of one large lemon
2 tbls water                         
6 tbls granulated sugar
1 tbls butter or margarine               
24 pitted dates, slit open lengthwise*
Sugar for coating

Preheat oven to 250F. Place the almonds on a baking sheet and warm for 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and slowly feed them through a food grinder fitted with a coarse grinding plate. Switch to a fine grinding plate, and feed the almonds through 3 or 4 more times. Transfer to a bowl, add the zest, and mix thoroughly.

In a small nonstick saucepan over medium heat, combine the water and sugar. Cook, stirring, until bubbles start to form, 2-2 ½ minutes. Immediately add the butter and the almond-zest mixture. Stir continuously until the past starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, 30-45 seconds. Transfer to a bowl to cool.

Spread some sugar on a plate. Mold a heaping teaspoon of the almond past into a spindle shape and stuff inside a date. Compress the sides so the paste bulges out slightly. Roll in the sugar to coat. Using a knife, decoratively score the surface of the almond paste and set inside a 1-inch fluted paper cup. Continue in this manner until all the dates are filled. Serve immediately.

Leftover almond paste should be tightly wrapped with plastic wrap; it will keep for up to 3 months in the refrigerator. Return to room temperature before using.

*Size of the dates, obviously, will determine how many you get. In my case, the dates were huge, and I only got 16.



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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Tom Kurth Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 December 2016 at 16:30
Lordy, that sounds marvelous. Love dates, but the only thing we can find around here are the ones packed in a flat brick in a cardboard box. Prying apart any dates to stuff them would surely end up in a terrible, sticky mess. Maybe son's fiancé can find some for me in Kansas City. How big would the dates need to be for this recipe?
Best,
Tom

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 December 2016 at 04:36
I know what you mean, Tom. One of my fantasies has always been to live somewhere, anywhere, that I could have a date palm in the backyard.

I don't think size is a criteria at all. You just adjust the amount of almond paste to the size of the date.

In my case, the dates were huge. Some of 'em pushed two inches in length. And, because they were so fresh, they were very plump as well. Plus, because I was so impressed with the fact I could make the almond paste, and the taste of it, I probably over-filled them as well.

Basically, you should be using about twice the amount of paste it takes to fill the seed cavity. That should give you enough to fill the space and plump up just over the date surface. Enough so the decorative scroring just effects the paste, and not the date itself.
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