Tag Archives: Bukharian

Little Georgia at the Crossroads of Rego Park and Forest Hills, Queens

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“Before the Guests Arrive”: Table Setting at Milena’s Grandmother’s Apartment in Queens

This past April it dawned on me that I hadn’t even thought of creating a chapter on Georgian Jews for my Passover cookbook. Why? For some reason I thought that both historically and culturally Georgia would be more like Eastern Europe, and that the Jewish community, therefore, would be predominantly Ashkenazi. But in doing a little bit of reading about the country in general and the Jewish community in particular, I learned that they were among the oldest communities in the Jewish diaspora that many believe goes back to the days of the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. While in fact Russia does border Georgia to the north, upon closer look I observed that to the south were Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, three countries that one could categorize into the Near East, Eurasia, or Central Asia, depending upon your perspective.

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Milena Kozhin Below a Georgian Mirror at her Grandmother’s Apartment in Queens

I decided to email a Milena Kozhin, a young Georgian-American woman I had met back in 2009 to ask her what she considered herself to be, and she confirmed that not only did they (the Georgian Jews) not consider themselves to be Ashkenazi, neither were they truly Sephardic. “We are our own thing,” expressed Milena’s aunt Irina, “and my husband will get upset if you call us one or the other.”

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Matzah Blinchikis with Meat

On two separate occasions, once in May and again in June of 2014, I went to visit Milena so that we could cook together, and I could see how the dishes reflected this crossroads of East meeting West. When we first entered the apartment of her Grandmother’s I observed a beautiful table of all kinds of fruits, cakes, and pastries, that was interestingly reminiscent of my visit to a Bukharian couple who had also set their table with beautiful fruits and breads. We made Pkhali Charkhali (Beet Salad with Garlic, Walnuts, and Coriander Leaves), Meat Blinchiki (Fried Meat-Filled Matzah Blintzes), and Pelamushi (Grape Juice Pudding). And like the language, the unusual combination of flavors and ingredients felt unfamiliar to me. Here is what I observed: Georgians like to serve many dishes at once, and the flavors are strong but not hot. They use a lot of walnuts, coriander leaves, garlic, and fenugreek, and are known for their many dairy products and variety of delicious breads. And if you think that you still might have figured them out, for Passover they eat corn meal, but not rice.

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Bukharian Rhubarb Salad with Beets, Mint, and Coriander Leaves

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Inspired by a simple rhubarb and scallion recipe in Amnun’s Bukharian cookbook, I decided to try working with rhubarb to create a salad that would be in the Bukharian/Afghani chapter of my Passover cookbook. I found the use of rhubarb as an ingredient in a savory salad intriguing, as my only association with rhubarb was in sweets, cooked with a lot of sugar and combined with strawberries for a preserve or pie. However, when I tasted the rhubarb raw, I found it to be too tart for the American palate. I decided to toss it with a few tablespoons of sugar, let it marinate, then roast it for a mere 5 minutes to not only tenderize the rhubarb, but cut some of the tart/bitterness and bring out its natural fruitiness, which it did. The result was a relish-salad that was both festive as well as summery, something that would go well with any meat barbecue or vegetarian picnic. Try it for this July Fourth and let me know what you think!

Salota az Ryevozgu Lablabu: Rhubarb and Beet Salad with Scallions, Mint, and Coriander Leaves
(Yield: Serves 6 / Makes 3 cups)

For Salad:
1 pound rhubarb stalks, ends removed and discarded, chopped into ¼-inch cubes (2 full cups)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 large boiled beet, cut into ¼-inch cubes (you will need only 1 cup total)
¼ cup finely chopped scallions
½ cup coarsely chopped coriander leaves
¼ cup finely chopped mint leaves

For Dressing:
2 tablespoons canola, sunflower, or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 to 4 grindings of fresh black pepper

STEPS:
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. While oven is heating up, toss rhubarb and sugar in a small baking pan and let sit for 10 minutes (about the time it takes to heat up your oven). Place pan on the top rack of the oven and roast rhubarb until just tender, but not mushy, only about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

2. Combine cooled rhubarb with rest of salad ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Add the dressing ingredients and toss again. Let salad sit (at room temperature) for 30 minutes to 1 hour to marinate then serve, or store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

©Jennifer Felicia Abadi:  www.TooGoodToPassover.com / jabadi@FistfulofLentils.com

OUT with the OLD and in with the NEW: Time to throw out the old spices!

Spices_Down_Sink_blogMy students often ask me, “How long can I keep my spices?” This is a hard question to answer as throwing out your spices on a regular basis to replace with fresh ones can be very expensive. But one thing I will say is if you are going to do it only once a year, right before Passover is the ideal time!

Passover is all about spring and renewal, and your Seder dinner should reflect that with all fresh ingredients and spices. Many individuals that I interviewed from various countries (such as from India, Iran, Morocco, or Libya) explained that one of the first and most important things prepared in advance for the holiday were the spices. They were bought from the market as seeds, picked clean, washed, dried, and freshly ground all in honor of the holiday feast. The result? The food just tasted different. Better. Fresher. And to match a home that has been cleaned from top to bottom, the spices also had to be new.

So today, in honor of this tradition, I decided to go down to Kalustyan’s on 28th and Lexington Avenue to purchase some new spices to make sure that I would be getting rid of the old ones. If you haven’t been to this store yet, you definitely should. It’s a beautiful place, almost like a specialty food museum, and you will find yourself getting lost in all of the unusual spices, rices, sauces, and dried fruit. I walked in just for spices, but here is what I walked out with:

Roasted ground cumin (usually buy regular, but thought I would try the roasted)
Ground coriander (A staple in my house along with cumin)
Fenugreek seeds (for making Yemenite soup and Hilbeh sauce)
Turmeric (Generally need for Persian dishes)
Hazelnuts (To test my Sephardic Mustachudos cookie recipe for Passover)
Bokharian Sweet & Sour Persian Dried Plums (hope to use with Bukharian soup recipe next time!)
Whole wheat & white Moroccan couscous (for Mimounah break-fast party last night of Passover)
Tiny dried rosebuds and crushed rose petals (for Tunisian charoset recipe)
3 bags frozen fava beans (for helping my friend to make Tunisian M’soki on 2nd Seder night)

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Bukharian Egg & Matzah Soup with Sour Golden Plums

Soup_Matzah13This recipe is adapted from the one that I learned from Amnun Kimyagarov and his wife Zoya during my trip to Rego Park in late August of 2013 (see previous post from September 15, 2013). You can also find this recipe (called, “Oshi Masozgoshak“) in Amnun’s cookbook: “Classic Central Asian (Bukharian) Jewish Cuisine and Customs.”

The original recipe uses unripe green apricots, but dried yellow or golden plums are substituted here in the U.S. The trick is to add a slight tart flavor to the soup. Dried apricots can be used if you cannot find the dried yellow or golden plums in a Russian, Eastern European, or Asian grocery store, but keep in mind that the flavor should be more tart than sweet. Zoya used imported dried Olucha which are dried yellow plums that resemble giant golden raisins. According to Amnun’s Bukharian/Russian/English dictionary this translated to “Cornelian Cherry” and looked like this (see below):

YellowPlums_DriedWhen I went looking in a Russian grocery in Queens (right after my visit with Amnun and Zoya) I couldn’t find the same dried yellow plums that they had used, so instead I got a box of something that looked similar called Uzbek Apricot Kondak, which on the container were translated as “Small Size Apricots with Pits” (photo below). The Apricot Kondak were much more sweet than the Olucha that Zoya had used but looked pretty in the soup (make sure to warn guests about the big pits!). Perhaps the next time I would try to use a more sour apricot like the California variety. After emailing Amnun about this he told me that the taste of the soup should have a slightly sour flavor, so if you cannot find the dried sour plums you should add a few tablespoons of lemon juice instead.

Apricot_Kondak1Oshi Masozgoshak
(Yield: Serves 8 to 10
/Makes about 15 cups)

For Soup:
3 tablespoons vegetable, safflower, or canola oil

2 cups coarsely chopped onions (about 1 large)

1¼ pounds veal stew, beef stew, or chicken thighs cut into ¼-inch pieces

12 cups homemade plain veal, beef, or chicken broth or water

Meat bone (can be 2 reserved bones from chicken thighs, or 1 from veal or beef)

2 teaspoons fine sea salt
3 to 4 generous grindings of fresh black pepper
¾ pound carrots, cut into ½-inch cubes (about 2 cups cubed)
¾ pound white potatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes (about 2 cups cubed)
1½ cups dried golden or yellow plums, or Persian dried sour plums*
2 cups finely chopped sorrel leaves or loosely packed coriander leaves (stems discarded)

6 large eggs, lightly beaten

*If you cannot find these from an Asian, Persian, Central Asian/Russian, or Middle Eastern
specialty grocery store then substitute with dried California apricots and several tablespoons of
freshly squeezed lemon juice until you have reached desired tartness.

For Serving:
4 squares matzah, broken into 2-inch pieces

STEPS:
1. Pour oil into a large 4- to 6-quart pot or saucepan and warm over high heat for 1 minute.

Reduce to a medium-high heat and mix in onions. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes until very soft
but not browned.

2. Add meat and mix well. Cook meat, stirring often, until it becomes a greyish-brown color,
about 5 minutes.

3. Pour in broth (or water), and add bone(s), salt, and pepper and bring to boil over high heat.
Reduce to a medium heat and simmer for 15 minutes, uncovered.

4. Add the whole dried plums or apricots, mix well, and continue to simmer an additional
15 minutes uncovered.

5. Add the carrot and potato pieces, and chopped sorrel (or coriander leaves) and mix well.
Cook 10 minutes over medium heat, just until potatoes become soft but not mushy.

6. Slowly add the beaten eggs while stirring until eggs become long strands like egg drop soup,
about 1 minute. Remove from heat and serve immediately into individual soup bowls with
about ½ a square matzah broken up into each bowl.

©Jennifer Felicia Abadi:  www.TooGoodToPassover.com / jabadi@FistfulofLentils.com

My Roadtrip to Regostan, Queens

Amnun_TableSetting_BlogOne sunny Sunday morning in late August, I ventured out to Queens to meet Amnun Kimyagarov, the author of “Classic Central Asian (Bukharian) Jewish Cuisine and Customs.” (I learned about this book from a woman named Dahlia who I had interviewed for the Afghani/Bukharian chapter of my Passover cookbook.) Amnun’s phone number was right there in the book, so why not call? Amnun answered the phone and, after I introduced myself and told him about my Passover cookbook project, agreed to my coming to him for an interview about Bukharian Passover traditions and foods.

As expected, the subway ride from the Upper West Side to Rego Park, Queens on a Sunday was a challenge, but I was prepared leaving plenty of time. (Something else I found very confusing was the layout of Queens: Is it 53rd Drive, 53rd Road, or 53rd Street? I definitely felt like I was in a foreign land!) But in the end I did make it to Amnun’s with even 15 minutes to spare, choosing to explore the main supermarket on Queens Boulevard with its interesting foods and packaged goods from Central Asia (and Russian radio blasting in the background).

Amnun_Zoya_BlogUpon arriving at Amnun’s I was greeted with a friendly smile by both Amnun and his wife Zoya. The table sitting right there in the middle of the living room was covered with a white tablecloth and arranged like a still life of fresh fruits and melon slices, round Central Asian breads, diamond-shaped walnut pastries, a platter of dried fruit, nuts, and green tea. It was so beautiful I had to take a photo before even sitting down. Zoya presented me with this large flat bread whose texture looked just like a matzah, but in the form of a shallow wok or bowl. They told me that it was a special Bukharian cracker-like bread called Noni Toqiy that was baked in a traditional clay oven called a tandyr,  the same kind of oven that was used for baking matzah (what they called maso) during Passover. Even though this bread was not technically the matzah used for Passover (it was August after all!), they told me that it very much looked like the Bukharian maso. I was fascinated to imagine how their matzah would look so different from the store-bought ones that I knew growing up that were always square, totally flat, and half the size.

MatzahSoup_BukharianIn addition to the matzah, Zoya was generous with her time by showing me how to make Oshi Masozgoshak,matzah-egg soup with cilantro, chopped veal, and dried yellow plums. Traditionally the soup would use special green apricots that were available in Central Asia during the spring time. They were hard, and green, and very tart because they were not yet ripe, but when added to the soup became soft and imparted a special flavor. Because these green apricots were not something that could be found in Queens (much less in the U.S.), they instead substituted a dried yellow plum in its place, which also has a distinct sourness to it. These yellow plums are also known as golden plums and come from Central Asia. With the scrambled egg mixed into the chicken broth, it reminded me of the common Chinese egg drop soup, and made me wonder if this was one of the Asian influences on Bukharian cooking? The addition of the matzah made it Jewish and for Passover, and the sour plums/apricots felt Middle or Near Eastern.

YellowPlums_DriedUpon leaving I was given one of the round breads and the remaining matzah pieces to take home, and Amnun and Zoya hospitably walked me to the supermarket right near the subway, where i shopped for yogurt, pirogis, and these unusual dried yellow plums. What I ended up finding was something called Apricot Kondak from Uzbekistan, which looked similar to the dried golden plums that Zoya had put into the soup. Perhaps these were the same apricot that they mentioned using fresh and green in Uzbekistan? I will have to ask.

Overall it was a very successful day, and reminded me why I was writing this blog and my Passover cookbook to begin with.

Chapter by Chapter: The Jews of Bukharia and Afghanistan

CarpetIn this week’s Passover chapter, I am focusing on the Jewish community from Afghanistan and Bukharia (located today in the southwestern part of Uzbekistan). This is especially interesting to me because I know so little about this community. I also find myself wondering where and how to arrange this group in my cookbook so that it makes sense. The Jews from this region are neither truly Middle Eastern, nor Sephardic, but they have some influences of both, as well as a great deal from countries as far east as China and India. They are Central Asian — a part of the Asian continent that stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west, all the way to China in the east, Russia in the north, and Afghanistan in the south, and include the following countries:
Afghanistan
Uzbekistan
Kazakhstan
Kyrgyzstan
Tajikistan
Turkmenistan
Mongolia
Eastern Iran
Northwestern Pakistan

The reason that I have decided to group Bukharia and Afghanistan together into one chapter is because it is not so clear to me as to which dishes are purely Afghani, and which ones are Bukharian. Since so many of the Central Asian Jews were traders along the Silk Road moving in and out of these two countries as well as Persia, much of the “Jewish” cooking that evolved over time adopted a combination of cooking techniques and recipes from the general region.

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