Synagogue in Cochin, India Opens Its Doors One More Time.

Here is a short video of a recent service held at the surviving 900-year-old synagogue in Cochin, India. Please take the time to view it as it gives you a rare glimpse of the synagogue inside, and introduces you to one of the few Indian Jews still living there, whose job it is to take care of it.

Cochin, India synagogue video

Searching for a Jewish past through recipes with Jewish roots.

HeleneJawharaPiner_4_blog_MohamedJawhara

Photo by Mohamed Jawhara

This past October, I received an email from Hélène Jawhara-Piñer, a young French woman with Spanish roots (on her father’s side) who was preparing her doctorate in Bordeaux, a city with the largest Sephardic community in France. Helene explained to me that she was focusing on the Arab culinary heritage of 13th and 14th century Andalusian Spain, and by translating original Arabic and Spanish recipes and manuscripts from this same era she was hoping to trace the ways in which Arab Muslims, Catholics, and Jews once shared recipes and cooking techniques, finding where they diverged, and how they transformed dishes into ones still prepared today. I was very curious about Hélène’s area of study, as it overlapped with my own personal and professional interests in Judeo-Arabic and Sephardic cooking, and as a result the two of us became instant pen pals, writing back and forth about recipes, ingredients, and cooking techniques. After corresponding for about six months, Hélène decided to come to New York City to cook with me in the days leading up to Passover to learn some hands-on techniques of the Sephardic foods I was preparing for clients as well as for my own two Seders (which she also attended, along with her husband).

HeleneJawharaPiner_3_blog_MohamedJawhara
Photo by Mohamed Jawhara

While in New York City, Hélène further related to me how a few years ago she learned from an uncle on her father’s side that they once had Jewish family living in 14th century Spain, changed their name to Piñer (likely based upon their agricultural business in pine trees), a common practice forced upon Jews at this time. This knowledge of her own Jewish past sparked a personal interest in recipes that like she, had Jewish roots. Now the detective, Hélène began sifting through hundreds of recipes from this time period kept in the university’s library in search of those that either mentioned explicitly that they were Jewish (which was rare), inferred a Jewish origin according to ingredients used or more interestingly left out due to the laws of kashrut (such as using beef in a dish normally using pork, or vegetables like eggplant to replace meat all together, or olive oil in place of butter in a dish that also contained  meat), or used a particular technique (such as cooking a covered, single-pot dish for a long time in a low heat) indicating Shabbat.

During her visit, Hélène and I decided to recreate one particular recipe that she had translated from Arabic into French. The recipe was very general, written more like a long paragraph, using vague words like “spices” and “aromatics” in the ingredients list. Hélène explained that in her research she noticed that recipes from southern Spain and North Africa frequently used cinnamon, ground ginger, black pepper, and cumin, while aromatics likely referred to fresh coriander leaves (parsley was a later addition used mostly by Christians in places like Italy), bay leaves, onion juice, fresh mint, pine nuts, rosewater, and the leaves, skin, and pulp of an etrog — a Biblical fruit in the citrus family resembling a large bumpy lemon (something still used symbolically during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, an agricultural festival marking the end of the wheat harvest in the Land of Israel).

What fascinated me most was when Hélène explained that while Jews who remained in Southern Spain were forced to alter their dishes and ways of cooking so as to hide from the authorities of the Inquisition, those who fled to nearby Morocco were able to continue their original cooking techniques because they were protected (which ultimately preserved these recipes in exile). By examining traditional Moroccan recipes that continue to be prepared today by Sephardic Jews in the diaspora (outside of Spain), we can better learn about how these dishes were originally prepared then (before Jews, and ultimately Muslims, were forced to convert or leave).

The following is the recipe from which Hélène and I based our own creation. For those of you who know Arabic, you will see the word Yehudiy’yeh in its title (the second word reading from right to left), which describes this style of dish as “Jewish”:

PlatoJudio_Recipe_Helene_1A_blog

Plato Judío Relleno Oculto
(Jewish Style Layered & Stuffed Omelet Cake with “Hidden” Meatballs)

Yield: Serves 10 / Makes one 10-inch pie

INGREDIENTS:

For Ground Meat Layer:
1¼ pounds ground beef
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh coriander leaves
½ cup coarsely grated (not chopped) yellow or white onions
2 teaspoons rosewater
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons cold water
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1¼ teaspoons kosher salt (if using kosher meat use only ¼ to ½ teaspoon)
¼ teaspoon coarsely ground fresh black pepper

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (for frying)
2 bay leaves

For Meatball Layer:
1¼ pounds ground beef
¼ cup finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
½ cup coarsely grated (not chopped) yellow or white onions
2 teaspoons rosewater
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons cold water
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt (if using kosher meat use only ¼ to ½ teaspoon)
¼ teaspoon coarsely ground fresh black pepper

¼ cup matzah cake meal (for rolling meatballs before frying)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (for frying)

For Omelet Layer #1:
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons reserved oil from fried meatballs (or use extra virgin olive oil), for frying

For Omelet Layer #2:
5 large eggs, lightly beaten

For Topmost Egg Layer:
1 dozen large eggs, lightly beaten
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon rosewater

For Serving:
Coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
Toasted pine nuts and pistachios, coarsely chopped
Ground cinnamon

STEPS:

Prepare the Ground Meat Layer:
1. Combine all ground meat ingredients (except the bay leaves and oil) in a medium mixing bowl, squeezing together with your hands until smooth and soft.

2. Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet (preferably nonstick) over high heat for 1 minute. Add the bay leaves and fry for 30 seconds.

3. Add the ground meat in small amounts, breaking it up with the edge of the spoon so that meat cooks evenly and without large clumps. Cook until brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Pour into a bowl and set aside to cool. Clean and dry the same skillet to use for the meatballs.

PlatoJudio_1_blog

Prepare the Meatballs Layer:
4. Combine all meatball ingredients (except the matzah cake flour and oil) in a mixing bowl, squeezing together with your hands until smooth and soft.

5. Scoop out 1 level tablespoon of the meat mixture and roll it into a smooth, even ball (you can lightly wet your palms with cold water to prevent balls from sticking to your hands). Place the ball onto a large tray or platter, and continue in this manner until all of the meat mixture has been used up.

6. Place the tray of meatballs and a small bowl of the matzah cake flour before you, just to the side of the stove where you will be frying. Warm 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet (preferably non-stick) over high heat for 1 minute, then roll a meatball in the matzah cake flour and gently place it into the hot oil. Fill the skillet with several meatballs and fry each one until dark brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. As each meatball is browned, place it onto a separate tray or platter until all the meatballs have been fried. Being careful not to splatter and burn yourself, pour the hot oil into a ceramic or heatproof glass bowl and set aside to reuse for the omelets.

PlatoJudio_2_blogPlatoJudio_3_blog

Prepare Omelet Layer #1:
7. Combine all the ingredients (except the oil) for the first omelet in a medium bowl.

8. Warm 2 tablespoons of the reserved oil from the meatballs (or fresh extra virgin olive oil if you prefer) in a nonstick 10-inch skillet over high heat. Pour the egg mixture into the hot skillet and fry until firm on top and slightly curled along the edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn off heat and using a spatula, gently slide the omelet out onto a dinner plate or platter and set aside until needed. (Keep the oil remaining in the skillet to be used for the second omelet.)

PlatoJudio_4_blog

Prepare Omelet Layer #2:
9. Reheat the pan with whatever oil remaining in it over a high heat for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Pour the 5 beaten eggs for this second omelet into the hot skillet and cook until firm on top and slightly curled along the edges, 3 to 5 minutes (like the first one). Turn off the heat, and leave this omelet in the skillet to serve as the bottom layer.

Prepare Topmost Egg Layer:
10. Combine all the ingredients for the topmost egg layer in a medium bowl and set aside.

Assemble the Pie Layers:
11. Pour cooked ground meat evenly over the omelet remaining in the bottom
of the skillet.

PlatoJudio_5_blog

12. Gently slide Omelet Layer #1 (that you have sitting on a plate on the side)
on top of this ground meat layer.

PlatoJudio_6_blog

13. Arrange each meatball on top of this second omelet layer so that the omelet
is evenly covered (it is okay if there are spaces between the meatballs).

PlatoJudio_7_blog

14. Pour the Topmost Egg Layer mixture evenly over the top of the meatballs
to serve as the final layer of the pie (meatballs will be poking out and visible).
Cover skillet tightly and steam over low heat until eggs on top have solidified
and fused with meatballs and rest of cake, about 30 minutes.

PlatoJudio_8_blog.jpgPlatoJudio_9_blog.jpg

Serve Cake:
15. Cool cake 20 to 30 minutes, then run a thin plastic spatula around the edges to dislodge it from the skillet. Place a round platter or plate (larger than the skillet itself) on top of the skillet and quickly flip skillet over so that the meatballs become the base of the layer cake and the omelet becomes the top.

PlatoJudio_14_MohamedJawhara

Photo by Mohamed Jawhara

16. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the chopped mint leaves and toasted nuts and serve warm or room temperature cut into wedges.

PlatoJudio_12_blog

Recipe_PlatoJudeoRellenoOculto_Helene_1_GodWilling

(God Willing, He Will Come.)

 

Nargesi: A pie in love with itself.

NargassiFlower_blog

The name Nargesi comes from the Farsi word (Narges) for the Narcissus plant or daffodil, a sunny springtime flower (with either bright yellow petals and a deep orange center, or bright white petals with a deep yellow center) that has come to symbolize rebirth and renewal. This river bank flower is named after the Greek God Narcissus known for his extraordinary beauty, who subsequently drowned while admiring his reflection in a pool of water. Over time the term “narcissist” has come to define someone consumed with his or her own physical appearance or ego.

In my research on this dish I came across photos where instead of the eggs being scrambled with greens and herbs (as done in this recipe), the eggs were cracked open and poached directly on top of a bed of sauteed greens and onions, which visually resembles the Narges flower over leaves. I learned this unusual recipe from my friend Simona Shokrian, whose family would serve this for Passover. The resulting dish is more like a hearty frittata, mixed with herbs, spinach, and tiny meatballs, that you cut into wedges like a pie. Naima Abrishami suggests to sprinkle with lemou Omani (crushed Persian dried limes) to add a slight tangy flavor before serving.

Nargassi_6A_blog

Nargesi (Persian Egg “Pie” with Leeks, Spinach, Turmeric, and Tiny Meatballs)

YIELD: SERVES 6 TO 8

INGREDIENTS

For Meatballs:
1 large (1/2 pound) white onion, pureed in food processor (should have about 1 cup)
1 pound ground turkey (dark meat better since it has some fat) or beef

For Nargesi:
2 tablespoons grape seed, safflower, or vegetable oil
1½ cups coarsely chopped yellow or white onions (about 1 large)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white or freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin (optional)
1 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley leaves
1 cup finely chopped coriander leaves or 1/3 cup tarragon leaves
½ cup finely chopped dill leaves
4 ounces coarsely baby spinach leaves (about 7 loose cups)
2 cups coarsely chopped leeks (use dark green and white parts only) rinsed in cold water and drained, or 1 cup coarsely chopped chives
¾ cup hot water
6 large eggs, lightly beaten

For Serving (optional):
2 tablespoons ground or crushed lemou Omani (dried Persian limes)
or 1 to 2 whole lemou Omani, ground in food processor

STEPS:
1. Drain the excess liquid from the puréed onions and mix with the ground meat in a medium bowl.

2. Heat a large 5- or 6- quart pot with oil over high heat for 1 minute. (Note: Your pot should be about 9 or 10 inches wide, but no more or the final pie will be too thin!) Add the chopped onions and cook until soft and transparent, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the salt, pepper, turmeric, and cumin (if desired) and mix well. Cook 1 minute.

4. Reduce to a medium-low heat. Wet your hands lightly with cold water (to prevent sticking) and taking only 11/2 teaspoons of the meat mixture, form it into a small, smooth meatball the size of a large cherry. (Meat will be very soft and wet, so be gentle.) Drop the meatball into the pot and continue until all of the meat mixture has been used up. Cover pot and steam until solid and cooked through, about 20 minutes.

5. Drop in the parsley, coriander (or tarragon), dill, spinach, and leeks (or chives) and cover.
Steam until the herbs and spinach have wilted and softened, 10 minutes.

6. Pour the hot water over the top and mix gently so as not to break meatballs. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover, reduce to a medium heat, and cook for 15 minutes. Uncover and cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. (Eggs will cook too quickly if added to mixture when very hot.)

7. Once nargasi has cooled, re-warm over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Gradually pour in the beaten eggs while gently mixing with a spoon to distribute evenly. Partially cover and steam over lowest setting until eggs have solidified but are still soft and slightly wet in the center, 35 to 40 minutes.

8. Score and scoop out large pieces of the nargasi and arrange in layers onto a serving platter or plate. Serve warm with lemou Omani on the side for individuals to sprinkle on top of each serving, as desired.

“A Feast of History: The drama of Passover through the ages”

FeastofHistory_ChaimRaphael_blog.jpg

In reading Chaim Raphael’s book, A FEAST OF HISTORY: The drama of Passover through the agesI came across the following description of the Seder ceremony, which I think sums up its role as a common (yet important) Jewish experience:

“The Seder has a unique quality, however, in that it is a ceremony which brings together — and always has throughout history — all kinds of people of Jewish origin, no matter what weight they normally attach to this in terms of belief, practice, political philosophy, social interests or family loyalties. Among our profusion of skeptical Jews … there are not many who will refuse to attend the Seder ‘on principle’ — as they might other Jewish observances. On the surface, nothing is committed by attendance.”

— Chaim Raphael
(Excerpted from: A FEAST OF HISTORY: The drama of Passover through the ages (with a new translation of the Haggadah for use at the Seder)Steimatzky’s Agency, Ltd. together with Weidenfeld Nicolson, London, 1972, pages 17-18.)

 Have a good Seder everyone!

Is Shmura Matzah Healthier?

Wheat_Field_2.jpg

Every year rabbis in certain regions of the country and the world spend countless hours watching and examining designated wheat fields for the sole purpose of producing Pesach flour to make Shmura (“watched” or “guarded”) Matzah for Seder ceremonial use. While the intent for checking these fields is to insure that no moisture has contaminated the wheat (which could lead to fermentation and make it chametz or unkosher for Pesach), there may be the indirect benefit of creating a better quality, better tasting, and even healthier wheat flour. Could farmers learn from these rabbis about the best ways to take care of their fields? Check out this very interesting article yesterday and you will learn some interesting things as well.

Rice and beans for Ashkenazim on Passover? You could be lucky too.

Beans_Kidney_BlogWhile many Ashkenazim (Germanic or Eastern European Jews) have long considered Sephardim (Spanish/Mediterranean Jews) or Mizrahim (Middle Eastern Jews) lucky for being able to consume rice on Passover, this staple grain may soon be accepted for them as well. As the American diet continues to change (where individuals can choose to be gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, or vegetarian) there has also been an ongoing debate in the Ashkenazi community about whether to start accepting kitniyot into the weekly Passover diet. Kitniyot (from the Hebrew word for “little things”) is a general category for such foods as legumes, pulses, corn, soybeans, peas, poppy seeds, and even rice, that like chametz (cereal grains such as wheat, or processed foods containing cereal grains such as cake or pasta) have been forbidden by Ashkenazi rabbis for centuries. (While many in the Sephardic world do consume kitniyot, it really varies region to region, such as Moroccans who generally do not consume rice, but may have chickpeas and fresh green beans). Because of today’s stricter labeling and processing requirements, it’s difficult to defend the tradition based on the possibility that a food product could have been contaminated, and the rule against kitniyot is not written in the Torah.

While some are starting to change by embracing rice and beans during Passover, many still prefer sticking to what they were brought up with. (It’s hard to change tradition!)

Here are some interesting and recent articles about the topic,
and the changes that some rabbis in the conservative movements are making.

And another regarding the legality of quinoa.

Eight Charosets with a Different Story

My Syrian dried apricot charoset (listed as #5) has been featured with several other interesting charosets on KosherLikeMe in a post entitled,”8 Charoset Recipes Sure to Spark Chatter at your Passover Seders.” Check out this delicious article, and let me know what type of charoset you plan to make this coming holiday!

Eshkol HaKofer

Sephardic Passover Dishes and Memories, from India to Italy!

too GOOD to PASSOVER

Sephardic Passover Dishes and Memories, from India to Italy!

In my Iraqi Kitchen: Recipes, History and Culture, by Nawal Nasrallah

Sephardic Passover Dishes and Memories, from India to Italy!

Bendichas Manos

a blog about living, cooking and caring in the Ladino tradition

Just another WordPress.com site

KOSHER LIKE ME

COMING SOON

my madeleine

Sephardic Passover Dishes and Memories, from India to Italy!

101 Cookbooks

Sephardic Passover Dishes and Memories, from India to Italy!

A Kosher Christmas

'Tis the Season to be Jewish

SEPHARDIC FOOD

an exploration and celebration of the Judeo-Spanish culinary legacy

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 361 other followers

%d bloggers like this: