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! 

 

 

 

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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

A Matzah Mosaic Decorating Party!

The whole idea behind the Passover holiday is to get the kids involved. What better way than to have a matzah decorating party? Every year my kids enjoy decorating sheets of matzah that we give to our guests as gifts to take home with them after the Seder meal. Just melt chocolate and paint it on using pastry brushes, then stick on your favorite candies, sprinkles, or chopped up nuts and dried fruit. It’s fun for adults as well! Make sure that the chocolate has dried completely before placing into Ziploc baggies and storing in the freezer until ready to eat. You need only defrost about 20 minutes before.

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Grandma Fritzie’s Syrian Passover Soup

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Today’s post by the Jewish Food Society shows my family recipe for Kibbeh Hamdah, a Syrian soup made with lamb meatballs, dried mint, and lots of lemon. If you like tart flavors, this is the dish for you. Enjoy!

 

Moroccan Date-Raisin Haroset “Truffles”

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Moroccan Style Haroset
(Cinnamon Dusted Date-Raisin “Truffles” with Walnuts, Rolled in Cinnamon)
Yield: Serves 12 / Makes approximately 3 cups or 4 dozen 1-inch balls

A recipe from my cookbook Too Good To Passover: Sephardic & Judeo-Arabic Menus and Memories from Africa, Asia and Europe, Section 1: Africa, Chapter 5.

This Moroccan haroset is shaped into a small ball, then rolled in ground cinnamon to resemble an elegant truffle. For the most impressive way to serve visually, stack balls on top of one another into a pyramid shape on an elegant platter alongside any other more classic haroset spread in a bowl. When it comes time to eat, guests may help themselves to a single truffle and eat it straight, or pressed down between two small pieces of matzah as a sandwich.

For Haroset:
1 cup walnuts

½ cup slivered almonds
12 large Medjool dates or 20 regular-size dates, pitted and cut into large pieces
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup dark raisins
3 to 4 tablespoons sweet Passover wine, such as Manischewitz

For Serving:
1 box of matzah/matzo squares or mini matzah crackers

Cinnamon (for rolling and dusting the outside)

DIRECTIONS:
1. Place the walnuts and almonds in the food processor and pulse until coarsely ground, but not into a meal-like consistency (about 30 seconds).

2. Add the dates and raisins and combine in the food processor for about 30 seconds.

3. Add the wine and pulse until the mixture becomes a soft paste.

4. Taking one level tablespoon (or mini melon ball scoop) at a time, roll the thick paste into 1-inch balls* (if the paste is sticking too much to your hands, try dipping your hands in cold water and then rolling them).

5. When all of the balls have been rolled, pour a couple of tablespoons of ground
cinnamon onto a small plate and gently roll each ball in the cinnamon to lightly coat the outside. (You can also dust your hands with cinnamon and then roll each ball again
between your palms to lightly coat, whichever way is easier.)

6. Serve haroset balls at room temperature stacked in a small decorative bowl or on a small platter alongside tea matzahs. Store balls in a tightly covered plastic container between layers of parchment or wax paper in the refrigerator for up to three days, or the freezer for up to one month.

*Note: If you wish to serve the mixture in the more common way of a paste in a bowl, then add a little more wine or warm water to make a bit smoother and softer for spreading.

The One Way Ticket Show: My trip to the Ottoman Empire to meet the Sultan.

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In a recent interview by Steven Shalowitz for his podcast The One Way Ticket Show, I was asked the following question: “If I gave you a one-way ticket, past, present, future, real, imaginary or state of mind, where would you go?” (Remember — there’s no coming back!)

Putting aside the fact that by going back in time I would be giving up some of the great discoveries in medicine, technology, and advancements in human rights, I chose to go back to the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the mid 1500s. (I had briefly considered the golden age of Jewish culture in Spain in the 8th and 9th centuries, but decided I didn’t want to be stuck there once the Inquisitions began.)

One Way Ticket Show

 

 

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