Category Archives: Recipes

Searching for a Jewish past through recipes with Jewish roots.

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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).

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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”:

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Recipe_PlatoJudeoRellenoOculto_Helene_1_GodWilling

(God Willing, He Will Come.)

 

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Nargesi: A pie in love with itself.

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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.

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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.

Charazoti: Georgian Flavors Come Through in their Charoset.

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version of this charoset was described to me by Irina Kazhiloti. The walnuts, which are commonly found in Georgian cooking, are added in a larger quantity than the rest of the nuts, while the addition of pears and peeled chestnuts give it a thick texture similar to a pâté. Try serving this with one or two other charosets at your Seder table this year!

Charazoti 
(Georgian Style Pear and Wine-Soaked Raisin Spread
with Walnuts, Hazelnuts, and Chestnuts)

Yield: Serves 8 to 10 / Makes About 2 1/2 Cups

For Charazoti:
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1/3 cup whole raw almonds
1/2 cup peeled and cooked chestnuts (fresh or packaged)
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
Pinch of salt
2 ounces ripe pear, cut into cubes (about 1/2 cup)
4 ounces Red Delicious apple, cut into cubes (about 3/4 cup)
2/3 cup black raisins soaked in 2/3 cup sweet kosher for Passover red wine for 1 to 2 hours
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

For Serving:
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds (or mixture of all three)

STEPS:
1. Pulse walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, chestnuts, sugar (if desired) and salt
in a food processor for about 30 seconds or just until coarsely ground and crumbly
(do not over grind).

2. Add the pieces of pear, apple, raisins (and the wine it was soaked in),
and orange juice and pulse until mixture becomes smooth and thick, almost like a pâté.

3. Place into an air-tight container and chill for 2 hours. Serve in one or two small decorative bowls garnished with chopped nuts. Charazoti may be store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Revisiting the Egyptian Sofrito: Test 3 is the charm.

had neither tasted nor even heard of a sofrito until one year while visiting family in France, my husband and I were invited to the home of Dinah Franco — a Sephardic Jew of Egyptian descent. Sofreír in Spanish means to sauté or “lightly fry,” and in Spanish, Portuguese, Caribbean and Latin American countries, a sofrito is a type of sauce made by cooking a lot of garlic, onions, and spices with various vegetables for a long period of time over low heat, so that it can be used as a base for cooking meat, other vegetables, beans or rice dishes.

The following recipe is one that I recreated after having tasted Dinah’s, which combines nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and turmeric, with a lot of garlic and onions. When I was first developing this dish I focused on getting the right balance of seasonings and ingredients down on paper, and when I later tested my recipe I found that the result was more like a soup than a stew. In this most recent third attempt I used a lot less liquid to braise the meat and cooked it over a lower heat for a longer period of time. The overall result was a thick, rich sauce that took on the flavor of the meat, and more of what a true sofrito should be.

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STEP 1: Gather and prep your ingredients (3 pounds beef stew pieces, 4 cups onions, parsley, 1 to 2 cups coriander leaves and/or parsley leaves, 4 to 5 tablespoons garlic, spices, 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, black pepper).

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THE SPICES: 1/4 teaspoon cloves, 1 teaspoon ginger, 2 teaspoons turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg.

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STEP 2: Brown the meat in a large heavy-bottomed pot with a little oil over high heat, then pour into a separate bowl along with all of its liquid.

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STEP 3: Add a few tablespoons of oil to the same pot (no need to wash) and cook onions over medium-high heat until soft and transparent, but not browned. Add the garlic and while stirring, cook for 30 seconds.

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STEP 4: Add the spices, salt, and pepper, mix, and cook over medium heat for about 1 minute.

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STEP 5: Return browned meat and all of its liquid plus about 1 cup cold water to the pot. Add the chopped herbs and mix well. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a medium-low heat, cover, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Uncover and cook an additional 1/2 hour until sauce has reduced and meat is so soft it can be easily cut with a spoon. (Note: If you like, you can scatter a few cups of potato pieces over the top and cook it with the meat for the last 1/2 hour as well.)

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STEP 6: Dinner is served.

 

 

 

 

 

Libyan Butternut Squash Pudding: The trick to this treat.

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If you’ve always liked the idea of traditional American pumpkin pie, but simply never became much of a fan, this Eastern version might be for you. The trick is to use fresh butternut squash instead of pumpkin for a richer texture as well as a more natural sweetness (with a little spice from the ginger), and because it’s dairy- and gluten-free, the overall texture is lighter. It’s a nice way to end a heavy meal, and if you really miss the richness from the dairy, you can always serve it with some fresh whipped cream on top!

Helwat al Yaktin 
(Libyan Butternut Squash “Pudding” with Cinnamon,
Ginger, and Vanilla)

Yield: SERVES 8 / Makes eight 1/2-Cup servings

For Preparing Pan or Ramekins:
8-inch square or round baking or pie pan
(non-stick, glass, or ceramic preferable over metal)

2 to 3 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil

For Pudding:
2 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil
2 1/2 pounds fresh butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes,
(already peeled and cut cubes okay,
but please don’t substitute with frozen or canned purée)

1/2 cup vanilla or regular almond milk
3 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Baking and Serving:
1 to 2 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil (for greasing the bowls or pan)
1/2 cup reserved cooked butternut squash cubes
(you will need about 8 small cooked cubes so that each serving
gets a piece on top)

Ground cinnamon

STEPS:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.; Grease pan generously with oil and set aside.

2. Warm oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat for 1 minute. Reduce to a medium-low heat and mix in the butternut squash cubes. Cover, and cook until very soft and slightly browned, about 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to prevent burning.

3. While the squash is cooking, whisk the milk, egg yolks, ginger, cinnamon, sugar, salt, and vanilla together in a medium bowl.

4. Pour squash cubes into a food processor and pulse until smooth. Scrape the puree into the bowl with the liquid mixture and gently mix to combine.

5. Scrape mixture into your prepared baking pan, spreading it out with the spatula to make it even. Place pan onto the middle rack of your oven and bake 1 hour until center is slightly firm and edges are pulling away from the pan. (Note: Mixture will still be a bit soft to the touch — but not liquidy, and overall top color will turn a deep orangey-brown.) Remove from heat and cool for 30 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and chill in refrigerator for 2 hours, or overnight.

6. Serve cold sprinkled with cinnamon.

Four Generations Come Together for Algerian Boulettes with Green Peas

David Rak's grandmother Ginette (seated left), clockwise: David' mom X, David's Dad X, David's wife Jennifer, David (center), and his youngest daughter Léa

David Rak’s grandmother Ginette (seated left), David’s parents Nicole and Robert Rak (standing in back),                 David and Jennifer Rak (center and right), and their youngest daughter Léa (on David’s lap 🙂 )

Each spring, Ginette Cohen would pack her suitcase with quatre épices and a box of Spigol spice packets, and fly from France to New York City to visit her grandson David Rak for his birthday. In his tiny Harlem kitchen, she would prepare the dish that he most longed for: Les Boulettes, and a few weeks ago I was lucky enough to catch her on a visit and learn her secrets. Ginette explained to me that for other occasions, these meat patties would be coated in semolina and served over couscous, but during Passover they were instead dusted with matzah meal and served over steamed crushed matzah. Proudly served on all occasions, Boulettes gives delicious new meaning to Algerian-Jewish comfort food.

The following is a visual recipe for Boulettes:

Boulettes_Step1_blog

Step 1: Combine ground lamb and beef, eggs, broken up matzah, almond flour, onions, garlic salt, pepper, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, saffron, mint, coriander, and parsley in a large bowl.

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Step 2: Roll meat into large balls and roll lightly in the semolina or matzah meal.

Step 3: Place all coated meatballs onto a cutting board or tray and flatten slightly into patties.

Step 3: Place all coated meatballs onto a cutting board or tray and flatten slightly into patties.

Step 4: Dip patties into beaten eggs.

Step 4: Coat patties into beaten eggs.

Step 5: Gently place patties into a pan with very hot oil to fry until dark golden-brown on both sides.

Step 5: Gently place into a pan with very hot oil and fry until dark golden-brown on both sides.

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Step 6: Simmer boulettes with peas in a broth made of water, onions, salt, turmeric, and saffron for 1 hour.

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Step 7: Serve!

 

Matzah Granola. Why didn’t I think of that?

Matzah_Granola_1_blogThe kosher food industry is getting more and more creative with their Passover food products, making life during the week-long holiday almost too easy to observe. While I’m not big on promoting ready-made products, I have to say that I find the name Matzolah, a Passover-friendly snack or breakfast treat that combines broken up matzah pieces with all the best ingredients of homemade granola, very clever. Recently I was down on the Lower East Side leading a Jewish Food Tour and while at Streit’s Matzo Factory, a box of Matzah Farfel caught my eye. With plans to make my own matzah granola, I bought the box. I was a little incredulous about the taste at first, because let’s face it: matzah ALWAYS tastes like, well, matzah. But the final result was crunchy, chewy, and delicious (and I know that my kids will love it). It’s also a fun way to use up leftover matzah pieces at the end of the holiday.

Let me know what you think!

 

CHEWY MATZAH GRANOLA WITH WHOLE ALMONDS, WALNUTS,
DRIED CRANBERRIES, AND HONEY

(Yield: Serves 8 to 10 / Makes 5 Cups)

INGREDIENTS:
Dry Ingredients:
4 cups matzah farfel or finely crushed (not ground) matzah pieces (about 1/4-inch pieces)

1/3 cup whole raw almonds
1/3 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
1/3 cup walnuts
¼ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/3 cup dried cranberries, blueberries, or coarsely chopped cherries
1/3 cup coarsely chopped dried Turkish apricots or golden raisins

Wet Ingredients:
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup honey
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

STEPS:
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.; Line a large cookie or baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a medium sized mixing bowl and set aside.

3. Combine the oil, maple syrup, and honey in a small saucepan.
Bring to a slow boil over medium heat and stir for 2 to 3 minutes.
Remove from heat and mix in vanilla extract.

4. Pour hot syrup over dry ingredients in the bowl and toss well until the
matzah pieces are evenly coated.

5. Spread the matzah mixture out on the parchment-lined cookie sheet or baking pan and place into the oven and bake 30 minutes until lightly browned, shaking or mixing every 10 minutes to make sure that all of it toasts evenly. 

6. Remove from oven and cool completely, about 30 minutes. Mix in the dried fruit, and store in an airtight container or in a Ziploc bag at room temperature up to 3 weeks. Serve with yogurt, milk, or as is like a snack.

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