Category Archives: Passover Week Recipes

Celebrating Shavuot with Syrian Rice Pudding from Aleppo

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Shavuot (meaning “weeks” in Hebrew) is both an ancient agricultural festival celebrating the wheat harvest in Israel, as well as a holiday commemorating the time when God gave the Torah to the Israelites at Mount Sinai.

Shavuot takes place on the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, which is exactly 7 weeks plus one day from the eve of the second night of Passover. This 50-day period (known as the Counting of the Omer) connects the moment of salvation — when God brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt — to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai — when the Israelites pledged their loyalty and devotion to God.

There are a few theories as to why culturally we eat dairy products for this holiday. But the most common explanation is that sweet dairy foods recall the biblical line in Exodus 3:8:

“So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite.” 1

Because of the reference to milk and honey, many Jewish communities will make a point of preparing such dairy foods as cheesecake and cheese blintzes in the Ashkenazic world, or milk puddings known as Sütlaç/Sutlach in the Sephardic world or Mulhallabeya/Mahalabia in the Middle East.

You may also find more savory non-meat dishes prepared for Shavuot that don’t necessarily emphasize or even include dairy at all such as Marcoude (a North African potato-egg tortilla), fish with tahini sauce (in Lebanon and Syria), fish croquettes (in Greece) and couscous with vegetables (in Morocco).

The following is my family’s Syrian version of a honey-rice pudding from Aleppo. Interestingly enough Halab (the Arabic word for Aleppo) derives from the Arabic/Hebrew word meaning “milk.” The legend is that Aleppo, once the ancient capital of Syria, was where Abraham once milked his sheep to feed travelers and the poor. 2

Riz b’Haleb
(Syrian Rice Pudding with Honey and Rose Water)

Yield: Serves 5 to 7 (Makes about seven 1/2-cup servings)

Ingredients:

For Rice Pudding:
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons long-grain white rice
2 cups cold water
3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup mild tasting honey (such as clover)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons rose water

For Serving:
Ground cinnamon, cardamom, or nutmeg
Ground pistachios

1. Place the rice and water in medium-size saucepan or pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer over medium-low heat, uncovered, until most of the water has evaporated and the rice is soft (the water should be level with the rice), about 15 minutes.

2. Add the milk, mix well, and cook over low heat, uncovered, until the mixture starts to thicken, 50 minutes to 1 hour.

3. Mix in the honey, vanilla, and rose water, and stir well over low heat for 5 minutes.

4. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature sprinkled with ground cinnamon, ground cardamom or ground nutmeg (you may also refrigerate and serve chilled; it will keep up to 2 days).


1 Exodus 3:8: New American Standard Bible. Biblehub.com.

2 Dan Ben Amos (2011). Folktales of the Jews, V. 3 (Tales from Arab Lands). Jewish Publication Society. p. 283. ISBN 978-0-8276-0871-9.

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Shabbat Salam: A Ramadan Favorite That’s Perfect for Shabbat

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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 teach me a few of her favorite Ramadan recipes while growing up in the West Bank village of Dibwan, and to show me how to prepare Qataiyif (see recipe in this blog), as well as the following chicken and rice dish. Once finished you will see why this delicious meal would work for any special occasion, whether it be for Ramadan or Shabbat!

Hanan Rasheed’s Dejaj ma’eh Batata
(Roasted Chicken with Garlic, Allspice, Cumin and Potatoes)
Yield: Serves 6 to 8

INGREDIENTS:
For Marinating the Chicken:

5 ½ to 6 pounds bone-in chicken pieces (mix of legs, breasts, and thighs)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground curry
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

For Frying the Potatoes:
1½ to 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, dried, and cut into 2-inch wedges
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 cup sunflower, vegetable or canola oil

For Assembling and Baking the Chicken:
1 large onion, peeled, cut in quarters, and thinly sliced
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups cold water
Fried potatoes (prepared in Step #3)
1 tablespoon sumac

DIRECTIONS:
Prepare the Chicken:

1. Rinse chicken pieces with cold water and pat dry with paper towels.
Place the pieces into a large Ziploc bag.

2.  Add the remaining marinade ingredients to the bag, seal shut, and massage the spices into the chicken by squeezing the bag. Place bag in the refrigerator to marinate a minimum of 10 hours or overnight.

Prepare the Potatoes:

3. Heat the oil in a large frying pan for 2 minutes over high heat. Test to see if the oil is hot enough to fry by dropping a small piece of bread or potato into the oil. If it immediately fries, it is ready. If not, continue to heat another 30 seconds until ready. So as not to splatter yourself with the hot oil, gently place the potato pieces into the pan and mix with a large metal spoon to spread them out. Fry until golden brown on all sides, about 15 minutes.

4. Spoon the fried potato pieces into a bowl or strainer lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil and set aside.

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Assemble and Bake the Chicken:

5. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

6. Scatter the onion slices along the bottom of a large baking pan.

7. Arrange the marinated chicken pieces skin-side up on top of the bed of onions.

8. Combine the chicken broth and water in a small bowl or liquid measuring cup and pour evenly over the tops of the chicken pieces.

9. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place on the bottom rack of the oven to bake for 1½ hours.

10. Scatter the fried potato pieces on top of the chicken then sprinkle the whole pan with the sumac. Recover pan and continue to bake for 20 more minutes.

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11. Uncover the pan and move it to the top rack. Broil on “Hi” for 2 minutes or until chicken is a bit more browned, then remove from the oven. Serve hot on a serving platter or plate with rice on the side.

 

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Hanan Rasheed’s Riz ma’eh Sha’eriya
(Long Grain Rice with Fried Vermicelli and Pine Nuts)
Yield: Serves 6 to 8 / Makes about 8 Cups Rice

INGREDIENTS:
For Rice:

¼ cup vegetable or canola oil (for frying) plus 1 tablespoon (for final step of steaming)
1 cup vermicelli noodles
2 cups basmati rice
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
5 cups boiling hot water

For Serving:
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice
½ cup pine nuts

DIRECTIONS:

1. Pour oil into a large, heavy bottomed pot and warm over high heat for 1 minute.

2. Crumble the vermicelli noodles over the pot into the hot oil and spread out gently with a large metal or wooden spoon. Mixing constantly, fry the noodles until golden in color but not browned.

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3. Pour the rice into the the pot with the noodles and mix gently to coat with the oil.

4. Add the salt and boiling water and mix well. Bring to boil over high heat. Once boiling, cover pot, reduce heat to the lowest setting, and steam for about 30 minutes until soft.

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5. Remove lid off of rice and pour lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon of oil over the rice and fluff up with a fork. Cook an additional minute then turn off heat, cover, and let rice sit for 10 minutes.

6. Pour the pine nuts into a small skillet and toast over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes until browned but not burned. Remove from heat.

7. Spoon rice into a large serving bowl or shaped into a mound or pyramid in a large serving platter and sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts. Serve immediately.

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Sahten!

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Ethiopian Kit’ta: Matzah that’s made to order.

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Shmuel Legesse

One cold January morning, I ran down to meet with Shmuel Legesse and learn how to make Ethiopian style matzah. In Ethiopia, matzah is made just like it it had been done for the first Passover when the Jews were fleeing Egypt through the desert: By hand. And FAST. In each home, the women form an assembly line to produce each matzah one at a time, diligently following the 18-minute time limit from start to finish. After the flour, salt, and water have been mixed, the dough is quickly formed, rolled out into a pita-like size, and placed onto a flat clay pan called a Mitadt. The bread then bakes in this pan until it is crispy and browned on both sides, and brought to the table to be eaten immediately. The resulting bread is more like a thick cracker that is slightly pliable, with a taste that is nutty and earthy.

(Known as Kit’ta in Amharic,
and Kicha/Kitcha in the dialect of Tigrinya).

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YHAFESECA KIT’TA (Soft Ethiopian Passover Matzah)

Yield: Makes One 8- or 9-inch matzah

Dry Ingredients:
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Wet Ingredients:
2 teaspoons black sesame oil (not light brown Asian kind) or sunflower oil
2 ounces cold water

For Baking in Pan:
1 tablespoon black sesame oil or sunflower oil

STEPS:
1. Combine the dry ingredients in a medium size bowl.

2. Begin heating an 8- or 9-inch skillet (preferably non-stick or cast iron) over a medium-low heat.

3. Mix wet ingredients with the dry ingredients. Once liquid has been fully absorbed,
gather dough into a small ball.

4. Grease your hands with a little oil and briefly pound the ball with your fist in the bowl,
then quickly press ball down with your palm into a disk about 4 inches wide.

5. Place disk into the heated skillet and being careful not to burn yourself, gently press disk down
until it fills the size and shape of the pan. Using a dinner fork, press the back of the tines all over
the surface.

6. Raise heat to a medium-high flame and continue to cook until bottom becomes flecked with very dark brown spots, about 5 minutes. Flip bread over and cook second side an additional 3 minutes until browned. Remove from heat and serve immediately. Continue to prepare additional matzahs, one at a time (or if you can keep track of time, two at a time in two separate skillets.)

Going Green for Passover: It’s all about fresh ingredients in Indian cooking

Passover is almost synonymous with spring, and in Indian Jewish cooking all herbs, vegetables and fruits used for the holiday must be fresh and not dried. Foods that are naturally green in color are especially popular as they represent the freshness of the spring season (and the overall spirit of “renewal”). During this time, fresh turmeric root (resembling ginger root) replaces the ground kind, and young, unripe green mangoes (which have a pale yellow/white flesh and are a bit sour and crunchy in texture) are plentiful and used in salads, sauces, and chutneys.

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Fresh turmeric root (left), green mango (right).

Unfortunately it was not easy to find an actual Indian green mango, so instead I used the hardest most unripe one I could find and created a salad adding fresh coriander, mint leaves, and green chili peppers for flavor as well as color. The combination of ingredients was based upon what Sharona Galsurkar described to me — a young woman whom I was most lucky to meet and interview for my cookbook while she was visiting New York City from her native Mumbai.

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Kairi Chi Koshimbir 
(Green Mango Salad with Green Chilies, Mint, Coriander, and Dates)

Yield: Serves 6 to 8 / Makes 5 cups

INGREDIENTS:
3 large unripe, firm mangoes (2 3/4 to 3 pounds total), peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

(Note: If you can find the true unripe “green” mangoes in a Indian grocery,
then peel and coarsely grate instead of cubing)

1/4 cup fresh coriander leaves
1/3 cup coarsely chopped  fresh mint leaves.
2 to 3 teaspoons finely chopped green chilies (optional: add to taste!)
1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
15 regular pitted dates (not soft Medjool), sliced into strips about 1/8 thick
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons date sugar (or to taste, depending upon how sweet or sour mangoes are)

STEPS:
1. Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and let marinate at room temperature for 1 hour.

2. Serve at room temperature in a decorative bowl or small platter.
Store in air-tight container in refrigerator for up to 2 days.

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