Learning a Ramadan favorite from Hanan Rasheed to kick off the month-long holiday.

The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic word ramida meaning “be burnt, scorched,” referring to the first time the holiday was supposedly observed which was a summer month.1

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The Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which takes place in the 9th month of the Islamic (lunar) calendar, is marked by the first sighting of the new moon or crescent (hilal) and lasts 28 to 30 days for all the phases of the moon. Because the estimated start date for Ramadan 2019 is Sunday, May 5th, Muslims all around the globe will begin to look for the first glimpse of the new moon around May 3rd in order to determine the official start to the holy month of fasting. Some will look to their local imam for the official announcement while others may follow what is declared by the Judicial High Court in Saudi Arabia. Once the official announcement has been made, Muslims will call friends and family members to congratulate them with “Koulu am weh entoum salameeneh,” meaning “Many happy returns” or “Ramadan kareem” (“a great/generous Ramadan”).

During this month-long holiday Muslims worldwide will fast from dawn until sunset each day in order to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by the angel Gabriel — an act that is considered to be the fourth of the five pillars of Islam. (The five bases of the Islamic faith are as follows: shahada [confession/declaration of faith], salat [prayer], zakat [almsgiving/charity], sawm [fasting, especially during the month of Ramadan], and hajj [pilgrimage to Mecca].2

Between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan, adults are expected to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual relations. (From sundown until sunrise the next morning they can continue with their normal routine, and fasting is mostly waived for the young and adults with certain issues related to health.)

The emphasis of the holiday is on self-sacrifice, charity, gratitude, and reflection. Ramadan  is not only a month of fasting and prayer, but a period of spiritual healing and devotion to Allah (God). It is a time to feed the hungry and the poor, and catch up with family and friends.2

Eid al-Fitr (“festival of the breaking of the fast”) begins with the first sighting of the new moon on the first day of month of Shawwal marking the end of the fast of Ramadan. The festival lasts for three days and is a period of prayer, giving, and forgiveness. During this period Muslims will celebrate by giving gifts to family members and donations to charities, wearing new clothing, and feasting on a variety of savory and sweet dishes.Family members, friends and neighbors will wish one another Eid Mubarak meaning “have a blessed festival.”

Ramadan is like the arrival of the most special guest — aziz — someone whom you prepare and wait for all year long from one Ramadan to the next.

— Hanan Rasheed

I met Hanan Rasheed, a Palestinian-American, in February of 2019 while teaching a cooking class at ICE (the Institute of Culinary Education of New York). She was a culinary arts student at the time and came into my class to introduce herself after seeing my cookbook “Too Good To Passover: Sephardic & Judeo-Arabic Seder Menus and Memories from Africa, Asia and Europe” on display outside the classroom kitchen. Two days later we were sitting down together in a café discussing our equal love for Middle Eastern food and culture, and figuring out ways to bring people together through it.

Hanan is the creator of “Healing Table” where she prepares Middle Eastern themed pop-up dinners in order to bring individuals from all faiths and backgrounds together. A big part of what motivates her to organize these dinners is conflict resolution between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims, through their shared history of food and culture.

On Friday, May 3, 2019, Hanan came to my Upper West Side apartment to talk about her memories of Ramadan as a child while growing up in the West Bank village of Dibwan, and to show me how to prepare Qataiyif (a stuffed and baked pancake with walnuts and cinnamon that is dipped in rose water syrup). The recipe reminded me of the Syrian version in my cookbook A Fistful of Lentils pronounced Atayif, which is fried then dipped in the syrup.

The following is a photo journal with the recipe that she showed me.

Hanan Rasheed’s Qatayif ma’eh Juz
(Walnut-Stuffed Pancakes with Cinnamon, Cardamom,
and Lemon-Orange Blossom Water Syrup)

Yield: Makes about 3½ dozen four-inch pastries

INGREDIENTS:

For Pancake Batter:
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon yeast
5 cups warm water (¼ cup for yeast mixture + 4¾ cups for main batter)
2 cups semolina
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons warm milk

For Walnut Filling:
1½ cups raw walnut halves
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons sweet/unsalted butter, melted

For Rose Water Syrup (Ater):
2 cups sugar
2 cups cold water
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons orange blossom water

For Frying, Baking and Serving the Pancakes:
4 to 5 tablespoons vegetable oil,
for greasing the skillet and brushing the pastries before baking

2 half sheets or large baking trays lined with parchment paper

3 tablespoons sweet/unsalted butter, melted,
for brushing the outsides of the stuffed pancakes

1 pastry brush

2 tablespoons finely ground pistachios, for sprinkling on top of pastries before serving

 

DIRECTIONS:

Prepare the Pancake Batter:

  1. Combine 1 tablespoon of sugar, yeast, and 1/4 cup of warm water in a small bowl. Place in a warm location and let sit for 10 minutes or until bubbles form on the top (the sugar and warm temperature helps to activate the yeast).
  2. In a medium sized mixing bowl combine the semolina, flour and salt.
  3. Pour the yeast mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix well.
  4. Add the 3 tablespoons of warm milk and the remaining 4¾ cup of warm water and whisk together into a smooth batter. Pour mixture into a large blender and pulse until very smooth (if necessary blend in batches). Pour mixture back into your bowl, cover, and let sit for 20 minutes at room temperature. Meanwhile prepare the walnut filling and syrup.

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Prepare the Walnut Filling:

  1. Place the walnuts, sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom into a food processor and pulse just until walnuts are coarsely ground, 15 to 30 seconds.
  2. Pour mixture into a small bowl and combine with the melted butter.
    Set aside and prepare the syrup.

Prepare the Syrup:

  1. Combine the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring to a slow boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to a medium-low heat and simmer for 15 minutes until sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture has turned into a light syrup.
  2. Remove the syrup from the heat and mix in the rose water. Set aside to cool and start to cook the pancakes.

Cook the Pancakes:

  1. Lightly grease a medium sized non-stick skillet with oil and warm over a
    medium heat for 1 minute.
  2. Mix or whisk the pancake batter. Using a ¼-inch measuring cup, scoop out ¼ cup of the batter and pour into the hot skillet. Cook until the bottom is golden brown and the top is soft but feels dry to the touch, about 2 minutes. (Note: You will only be cooking the bottom side; you want the pancake to be cooked enough so that it has a nice golden color on the bottom but remains pliable enough to fold and stuff in Step #12. If the pancake is overcooked and dries out it will break when folded and will not seal shut along the edges.)
  3. Remove the pancake and place onto a piece of parchment paper with the cooked/golden side down. Cook a second pancake in the same fashion then stack it on top of the first pancake on the baking sheet. (Note: When you stack the second pancake on top of the first it should be flipped over so that the golden side is up facing you, and the white side with the bubbles is on the bottom. This helps to keep the pancakes soft until you are ready to stuff and fold them.) Continue to cook and stack the pancakes, 1 to 3 at a time, until all the batter has been used up.

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Stuff the Pancakes:

  1. Place one pancake on the countertop or a clean cutting board so that the white/bubble side is facing up. Put 2 tablespoons of the ground walnut mixture in the middle of the pancake and spread it out into a horizontal line from left to right. (Note: Be careful to keep the nuts away from the edges of the pancake or you will have trouble sealing it closed in the next step!)
  2. Fold the pancake up from the bottom to create a semi-circle shape, and pinch the edges together so that the pancake is sealed shut. (The topside of the pancake should be a little softer and slightly sticky enough to hold the pancake together.) Place the stuffed pancake onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper and continue in this manner until all the pancakes have been filled.

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Bake and Serve the Pancakes:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. As oven heats up, brush the top of each stuffed pancake with the melted butter.
  2. Place the baking trays on the bottom and lower-middle racks of the oven and
    bake until slightly crispy on top, about 15 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven and immediately dip each pastry into the cooled syrup to fully coat. Cool for 10 minutes on the parchment paper. Serve warm or at room temperature arranged on a platter or plate sprinkled with the ground pistachios as decoration.

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Qatayif_9

Sahten!


1. https://www.etymonline.com/word/ramadan

2. Bakhtiar, Laleh. Ramadan: Motivating Believers to Action: An Interfaith Perspective.
The Institute for Traditional Psychoethics and Guidance, Kazi Publications, Inc.,
Chicago, 1994.

3. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Eid al-Fitr.” [www.https://www.britannica.com/topic/Eid-al-Fitr],
Encyclopedia Britannica, inc., March 20, 2019, (Accessed April 25 2019).

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IACP Finalist in Best Self-Published Cookbook Category!

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“Too Good To Passover” has been entered as a finalist in this year’s Self-Published Cookbook Category! Winners will be announced at the IACP awards ceremony on May 18th in Santa Fe. Will keep you posted!

Sweet and Spicy Ethiopian Style Haroset

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I was surprised to learn from many Jews who had grown up in Ethiopia, that haroset simply had never been a part of their Seder meal. But for those few who did have it, the addition of fresh ginger was essential to creating a paste that was both sweet and spicy. Because the Ethiopian diet traditionally has very little in the way of sweets, the haroset also became the dessert, spread over matzah either at the end of the Passover meal or during the long holiday week.

Recipe from “Too Good To Passover,” Section 1: Africa, Chapter 3: Ethiopia

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ETHIOPIAN STYLE HAROSET
(Date and Fig Spread with Fresh Ginger)

Yield: Serves 8 to 10 / Makes 2 1/2 cups

Ingredients:
1/2 pound Medjool dates (about 8 large), cut in half, pits discarded
1 pound dried Black Mission figs, quartered, stems discarded
1/4 cup peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger root
1/2 to 3/4 cup cold water

Steps:
1.
If your figs are dry and hard, place them in a small bowl filled with enough cold water to cover. Let the figs soak long enough to soften slightly, 1 to 2 hours. Drain well. (Figs should be soft enough to squeeze between your fingers.)

2. Place dates, figs, ginger root, and 1/2 cup water in a food processor and pulse until a smooth and thick paste (if you need to add more water, do it one tablespoon at a time so that it doesn’t become too watery).

3. Place in a small, decorative bowl and serve at room temperature with matzah.

 

Stuffed Fila Triangles with Spinach, Lemon and Pine Nuts for Purim

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Fila Triangles Stuffed with Spinach,
Lemon and Pine Nuts

Yield: Serves 12 to 15 (about 60 fila triangles)

INGREDIENTS:
For Filling:
10-ounce package baby spinach leaves, rinsed and dried in salad spinner
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped yellow onions
¼ cup + 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ to ½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 large egg, well beaten

For Preparing the Triangles:
1-pound box phyllo/fila dough, thawed according to package directions

2 sticks unsalted butter melted, plus ¼ cup vegetable or olive oil (mixed together)
(or 1¼ cups olive oil, if you would like dish to be dairy-free/parve)

Dish of sesame seeds (about ½ cup)

 

STEPS:
Prepare the Filling:
1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet and cook the onions, stirring, over medium heat until golden and soft, 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Add the spinach, one handful at a time, and toss to coat with the onions and oil. When all of spinach has been added and mixed, cover and let steam over low heat until the spinach is cooked down and wet in texture, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the lemon juice and salt and continue to cook over low heat, uncovered,
until the excess liquid is cooked off, about 15 minutes.

4. Remove from heat. Drain any extra liquid and place the spinach in a medium-size bowl. Add pine nuts and mix well. Cool to room temperature (you can hasten cooling by placing the mixture in the refrigerator for 10 minutes). When the spinach has cooled, quickly mix the beaten egg into the spinach mixture.

5. Preheat the oven to 350° F.; Line two baking sheets or half sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Prepare and Stuff the Fila:
6. Unroll the fila pastry dough onto a large cutting board and gently smooth out with dry hands. With a kitchen scissors or very sharp knife, cut the fila in half widthwise, along the short end. Re-roll one half and securely wrap in a plastic bag, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil (fila will keep up to 1 week in refrigerator, but do not refreeze).

Cut the other half lengthwise into 3 equal strips 3 inches wide and about 12 inches long. Place the strips on top of each other to form one stack and cover with a slightly damp kitchen towel to keep the fila from drying out and crumbling.

7. Set up everything you will need before you on a counter top. Working with one strip of dough at a time, gently peel off a single layer of fila and place it vertically before you on a clean cutting board or other work surface. (Re-cover the stack of fila with the damp towel each time to prevent drying.):

PhylloTriangles_Step_1_blog

8. Using a pastry brush, coat the entire strip lightly with the butter-oil mixture. In the bottom left corner, about ½ inch from the left and bottom sides, place 1 teaspoon of the filling (too much filling will make it hard to fold and cause the triangle to burst in the oven):

PhylloTriangles_Step_3_blog

Fold the bottom right corner over the filling to the left-most side to form your first triangle shape. (Note: It should be a right triangle and the piece of the fila that you fold over should line up flush with the left side of the strip.):

PhylloTriangles_Step_4_blog

Dab the top of the triangle with the butter-oil mixture again. Bending at the top of where the filling ends, fold the dough straight up to form your first triangular shape. (Make sure that the triangle always stays a right triangle whenever you fold it!)

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Dab the top of the triangle with the butter-oil mixture again. Folding along the diagonal of the triangle, fold the bottom left corner up to the top right, making sure that the angles remain square:

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Fold the extra flap of fila dough on the right side over the triangle to the left:

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Fold the triangle up again along the diagonal side from the bottom right corner to the top left corner. Dab with the butter-oil mixture and keep folding back and forth until fila strip is finished and you are left with a complete triangle:

PhylloTriangles_Step_9_blog

9. Brush the loose edge and top with butter-oil mixture one last time and dip one side of the triangle into the dish of sesame seeds:

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You may freeze the triangles at this point layered between pieces of parchment or wax paper in a large air-tight container or tin wrapped with aluminum foil or plastic wrap. When ready to bake, spread the frozen triangles out onto 1 or 2 baking sheets and bake immediately without thawing until they become slightly brown on the outside and soft and fully cooked on the inside. Will keep in the freezer for up to 4 weeks.

Place the triangles on the baking sheet sesame seed side up about 1 inch apart. Repeat with the remaining fila strips and filling:

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10. Bake the finished triangles until slightly brown, about 15 minutes. Place on a large platter and serve warm or at room temperature.

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Remembering Grandma Fritzie

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On May 22, 2001, Grandma Fritzie passed away on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
I have been thinking a lot about her lately.

Only a week ago I received an email by a woman named Francine in Tucson who had purchased  a lithograph by my grandmother at an estate sale.

After doing a search online Francine came across my website and information about the life of my grandmother. She was intrigued by her strong personality and drive to be a female artist in the sixties and seventies, and was reminded of her own Brooklyn born Italian-American family, with their large family gatherings that centered around great food. When I received this email with the photo of my grandmother’s lithograph, I was happy to know that her artwork was keeping the memory of her alive. 

Unfortunately Grandma Fritzie never got to see my cookbook “A Fistful of Lentils: Syrian-Jewish Recipes From Grandma Fritzie’s Kitchen” when it was officially printed in 2002. But I am so very grateful that I spent so much personal time with her while writing it. This book was what brought me into the world of recipe recording and teaching, and Syrian food was my first lesson.

 

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Painting by my grandmother hanging in my apartment, possibly a self portrait from the 1960s

Very recently I received a letter from the publisher that all rights to the cookbook had been reverted back to me. My first reaction was to feel sad because I thought that if my cookbook was no longer being printed, my grandmother’s, mother’s and family’s stories and recipes would be forgotten (which was the whole point of writing this book to begin with!). But then I realized this was an opportunity for me to take back my book and relaunch it with revised (and possibly even new) recipes. I have learned a lot about self-publishing this last year when “Too Good To Passover” was released in January, and it almost feels like “A Fistful of Lentils” has finally come back home to me in my care. 

By the end of this year I hope to relaunch a new edition to “A Fistful of Lentils” that will continue to keep my family’s stories and recipes, and the Syrian-Jewish culture alive. Stay tuned! 

 

 

 

Happy 70th Birthday Israel! My podcast with Steven Shalowitz on popular Israeli foods and their origins

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In honor of Israel’s 70th anniversary (April 18, 2018), I was interviewed by Steven Shalowitz to discuss popular Israeli food for JNF’s Podcast (the Jewish National Fund), IsraelCast. Tune in as we discuss the origins of shakshuka, borekas, felafel, hummus, halvah, the biblical herb za’tar, and shnitzel. (I will even talk about how pastrami became a Jewish-American deli favorite!)

Click here for JNF’s Podcast, IsraelCast
(Scroll down to “Episodes” and you will find it listed first as
episode 25, Culinary Expert Jennifer Abadi.)

Note:
In the second half of my talk I will also briefly discuss my new cookbook
Too Good To Passover.

 

 

Breaking the Bread “Fast” with Something Sweet: Mimounah arrives just in time

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Tomorrow night, Saturday, April 7th, 2018 is the last night of Passover when many of us will be breaking our week-long bread “fast” with something special. For North African Jews in particular it is time to prepare for the Mimounah celebration with a variety of pastries, sweets and confections. (For further explanation on this festival please go to my blog page.)

The following recipe was taught to me by Colette Nahon who grew up in Orán (the Spanish pronunciation, or Wahran — in Arabic), a city along the northwestern coast of Algeria where many Spanish people once settled. While the name mantecaos derives from the Spanish word mantequilla, meaning “butter,” or even more closely to the word manteca for “shortening” (which in Spain was usually pork fat), this Jewish/kosher version uses vegetable oil instead, making it something easy to serve following a meat meal. Because it contains flour, Colette usually prepares this specialty for the Mimounah holiday when flour products such as cakes, cookies, and breads are served to mark the end of Passover. Mantecados are a cookie commonly prepared for Christmas in the Iberian Peninsula (a region including Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Gibraltar, and a small part of France) and made with lard or butter. What is most interesting is that through this cookie one can trace the Sephardic lineage of the Jews who fled the Inquisitions during the very end of the 1400s and settled in Algeria, bringing this cookie along with them.

Recipe from “Too Good To Passover,” Section 1: Africa, Chapter 1: Algeria

Mantecaos (No-Butter Butter Cookies with Cinnamon)
(Parve)
Yield: Serves 15 / Makes almost 4 dozen 1-inch cookies

Ingredients:
1 pound all-purpose flour (about 3 level cups, but more accurate if weighed)
¾ cup sugar
1 cup vegetable or safflower oil
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Steps:
1. Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2. Combine flour with sugar in a medium size mixing bowl.

3. Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the oil. Mix well until all of the oil is absorbed and the mixture can easily be formed into a soft dough.

4. Scoop out one level tablespoon of dough using a measuring spoon or melon ball scoop, and gently roll it into a ball. (Note: It is important that the ball of dough not be larger than 1 level tablespoon, otherwise the baking time, texture, and final size will be affected.) Use your thumb to slide the dough out of the spoon and onto the parchment paper on the baking sheet. Leaving about 1 inch between each ball, continue to scoop out and roll dough until is finished.

5. Make a shallow indent in the center of each ball with your thumb and flatten them down ever so slightly. (If this makes the ball of dough crack a little around the edges, leave it! This — according to Colette — is what makes the cookie look homemade.)

6. Sprinkle the center of the dough (where the thumb print is) with about
1/16 teaspoon of cinnamon and bake on the top and middle rack of the oven until they begin to crack slightly along the bottom edges, and only the very bottoms are golden brown, 27 to 28 minutes on the middle rack and 25 to 26 minutes on the top rack.*

*(Note: These cookies should become a “sandy,” white color on the outside, and retain a pale, “snowy” color on the inside, with only the very bottoms slightly browned. Once fully cooled, the resulting texture should be a tiny bit crunchy on the outside and crumbly on the inside, which Colette says should “melt in your mouth.”)

7. Allow the cookies to fully cool and harden before serving, about 30 minutes. Store cookies between layers of parchment paper in an air-tight container at room temperature up to one week, or in the freezer up to one month. Bring to room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.

For another Mimounah recipe, see Moroccan Cigares aux Amandes

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