Tag Archives: Sephardic

Pepitada: Melon Seed Milk — a comforting break-fast drink?

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I had heard and read about a drink made from melon seeds, and it had always intrigued me. My first thought was: “Is it really possible?” Followed by my next thought: “Would it be worth it?” The word Pepitada comes from the Ladino word pepitas meaning, “melon seeds,” and I believe the suffix “ada” signifies some kind of drink (like you have in the word “lemonade” or limonada). This drink is truly Sephardic in nature, and something that I learned about from Bulgarian, Moroccan, Greek, and some Turkish Jews. Traditionally it is served as a break-fast food after Yom Kippur as something that is both nourishing and gentle on an empty stomach. But recently a young Bulgarian woman emailed me that in her family this drink is given to those who as firstborns have to fast on Erev Pesach (the day leading up to the first Seder) as a way to break their “pre-Passover fast”. (Note: This particular fast, otherwise known as the “Fast of the Firstborn,” is a way of expressing gratitude for those who had been spared the Plague of the Firstborn the night before the Israelites fled from Egypt.)

Because it is summer (and melons are in season) I decided in early June that this would be the perfect time to start collecting seeds, placing them in a container in the freezer until I had at least two cups-worth (it took me about 7 melons of all kinds). Then yesterday, I felt it was time. I removed and thawed the seeds, rinsed them well, and spread them out on a large kitchen towel to air-dry. Then I toasted them, cooled them, and ground them up in my new NutriBullet blender into a powder that resembled sawdust. I wrapped it in a double layer of cheesecloth, tied it up into a ball, and dropped it into a large bowl of water. Yes I was skeptical. However, after a few hours I already began to see progress. The pulverized seeds were dissolving and a milky substance was seeping out into the water. I squeezed, and more came out. I let this process continue for almost eight hours at which point (since it was late at night) I decided it was time to remove the bag and flavor with some sugar and a little bit of vanilla extract. I poured it all into a glass container and placed it into the refrigerator overnight for the flavors to meld.

This morning I tasted it and here are my thoughts:
If you are one of those people that loves to drink almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, tiger nut milk, or protein drinks, then you should try it. It has a slightly bitter flavor (adding some sugar or honey helps), but I have to admit that the taste has grown on me. It’s soothing, nourishing, and I can imagine that if you had grown up with this drink the taste and consistency would be very comforting to you. Overall I think that it actually is the perfect sustenance following a fast (or even when you are in need of a little comfort). And now is the time to start saving those seeds!

 

Pepitada (Sweet Melon Seed “Milk” with Vanilla and Rose Water)

For Milk:
2 cups melon seeds (saved from 7 to 8 large melons; can be from canteloupe, honeydew, canary, casaba, Galia, or mixture of any above, rinsed and stored in container in freezer until ready to use)

8 cups cold water
¾ to 1 cup sugar
¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon rose water (optional)

For Serving:
Ground cinnamon (optional)

 

1. Rinse all seeds thoroughly in a fine mesh strainer, making sure to remove and discard any pieces of the melon or its membrane. Spread out on a large kitchen towel and air-dry completely, 2 to 3 hours.

2. Pour dried seeds into a baking pan and toast for 20 minutes in a 375 F. degree oven, shaking pan after 10 minutes to loosen and expose all seeds. Remove from heat and allow to fully cool, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.

3. Pour toasted seeds into a food processor, spice grinder, or NutriBullet blender (you need something that can easily and thoroughly pulverize) and pulse until very finely ground (should resemble saw dust).

(For more NutriBullet recipes, please click here!)

4. Cut two pieces of cheesecloth into pieces about 10 inches in length. If cheesecloth is created like a tube, then place one tube layer into the other, and tie up one end to create a small sack. Pour the ground seeds inside and tie second end closed. If cheesecloth is flat, then layer two pieces together, pour the ground seeds in the center, gather up all four corners and tie tightly. Place the sack of seeds into a large bowl filled with the water and cover with a lid. Let sit at room temperature for a minimum of 8 hours (or overnight), squeezing and twisting the sack every couple of hours to extract the milky part of the seeds.

5. Add the sugar, vanilla extract, and rose water (if desired) and mix well until dissolved. Place in the refrigerator an additonal 6 hours or overnight for sugar to dissolve and flavors to meld. Remove from refrigerator and pour through a fine mesh strainer if there appears to be a lot of sediment from ground seeds at bottom. Before serving, shake well and adjust sugar, vanilla, and rose water (if used) to taste. Serve cold, with or without ice, with a little ground cinnamon sprinkled on top, if desired.

In “Jewish Week,” this week!

Please check out yesterday’s article about me and
Sephardic cooking by Caroline Lagnado!

JEWISH WEEK: The Memory is in their Taste Buds

http://www.thejewishweek.com/special-sections/sephardim-new-york/memory-their-taste-buds

Sephardic Culture: Walking and Tasting Tour in Bercelona!

Are you interested in learning about Sephardic food and history, right where it happened?
Check out my friend Janet Amateau’s cultural walking tour, and get a taste of Judeo-Spanish history,
one bite at a time!

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Photo: Courtesy of Janet Amateau

Almodrote: Turkish Shredded Zucchini Pie with Sheep’s Milk Cheese and Yogurt

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During my fall trip to Roosevelt Island (see post, “Roosevelt Island: My Trip To Instanbul), I visited Jale Turcihin and she taught me how to make Amodrote, which in Izmir is (apparently) known as Frittata (sounds Ladino, no?). While it does contain cheese, in Jale’s home it was the Passover tradition to serve a variety of Amodrotes (eggplant, leek, spinach) before the main dishes came out (even if they contained meat). The combination of the Kaseri — a sheep’s milk cheese — with the yogurt gives a special tartness that to me is particularly Mediterranean (and reminds me of my own Syrian Kusa b’Jibbin (Squash Cheese Pie). In Jale’s home it was served with a small glass pitcher of a sugar syrup on the side, which when drizzled on top would give a sweet and salty taste, something one often finds in Sephardic cooking. It’s a great type of dish to learn for any meal or time of year, especially when you are looking for vegetarian options. And if the “dairy-before-meat-in-the-same-meal” custom doesn’t work for you, then save it as a dish for one of those long Passover days when you simply don’t know what else to prepare for dinner! 

Almodrote: Turkish Shredded Zucchini Pie with Sheep’s Milk Cheese and Yogurt
(Yield: Serves 8 to 10)

For Almodrote:
9 medium zucchini (don’t get them too big or they will be too watery!)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups coarsely grated Kasseri / Kasheri cheese, or other hard, sharp sheep’s milk cheese
(about 1 pound total for pie itself and topping together)

4 large eggs (should be 1 cup total), lightly beaten
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons plain whole milk yogurt
¾ cup matzah meal

For Baking:
1 tablespoon pure olive oil or canola oil
2 tablespoons matzah meal
½ cup grated kasseri cheese

1. Peel the outside of each zucchini lengthwise so that you create dark green and light green ½-inch stripes, about ½ inch apart (the peeled part will be light green and the dark part will be the dark green skin, about ½ inches wide).

2. Coarsely grate each zucchini by hand or in the food processor and pour into a large colander. Lightly toss with ½ teaspoon of kosher salt with your hands, place colander in a baking pan or the sink, and drain for at least two hours in order to extract excess liquid.

3. Working one handful at a time, scoop out and squeeze the zucchini even further to discard any excess liquid before placing it into a separate mixing bowl  (you should have about 6 cups of grated zucchini once liquid has been drained and squeezed). Discard all drained liquid.

4.  Add 2 cups of the grated cheese (reserving remaining ½ cup for top), eggs, yogurt, and ¾ cup of the matzah meal to the zucchini, and squeeze mixture together with your hands until soft and fully blended.

5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.; coat just the bottom of an 8- or 9-inch x 13-inch baking pan with the 1 tablespoon of oil, then sprinkle the bottom evenly with the 2 tablespoons of matzah meal.

6. Pour the zucchini-cheese mixture into the pan and spread out evenly with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle top with the remaining ½ cup of grated cheese and place on middle rack of the pre-heated oven to bake until top become a dark brown color, about 1 hour and 15 minutes (pie should be soft but solid enough that when you gently shake pan it doesn’t appear too watery in center).

7. Remove from oven and cool about 20 to 30 minutes to set. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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

 

Did you know?: The myth that ALL Sephardim eat rice.

RiceDid you know that some of the most Sephardic of Sephardim simply do not eat rice at all during Pesach? Yes, it’s true! Recently I interviewed a woman (thank you FaceTime!) straight from her Gibraltar apartment who informed me that while all other kitniyot (such as beans, chickpeas, peas, string beans) were permitted during the holiday week, rice simply was never something that they would eat. I was surprised, and said to her, “But Spain is right there, and Spanish is one of your main languages. Surely you are just about as Sephardic as it gets!?” After speaking with so many Jews from all over the Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and even Asian world, I have come to realize that this Ashkenazic belief is not completely true. While most non-Ashkenazim do eat rice, there are still many that never did and still do not. The reasons are not clear, but it seems that those communities who had rice as a staple in their diet going back centuries were most likely permitted to consume rice for Passover (but not without it’s strict sorting and cleaning requirements). Another reason may have had more to do with the local rabbi at the time, and his final decision (which could have been based upon several interpretations of the laws of kashrut) as to what was considered chametz.

QUESTION: Any other Sephardim out there that don’t eat rice? Let me know!

Minestra Dayenu: It should have been enough.

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When I first read about this traditional Italian Passover soup it was really the name that captured my attention. (What a great name!) It conveyed that it was both a filling Italian soup, as well as one sufficient for Passover. So as usual, I began looking into the meaning of the words themselves. Minestra (a general term for hearty vegetable soups cooked with dried pasta) is rooted in the Italian/Latin word minestrare, meaning “to administer,” or “to serve.” It was originally a one-pot dish (most likely first prepared by the poor) that cooked leftover vegetables, potatoes, beans, and pasta or rice in a broth and was served at the table as the main or only course for the meal (the popular minestrone known in the USA is a type of minestra). The word dayenu in Hebrew literally means, “enough for us,” a phrase we are all familiar with either chanting or singing at the end of our Seder meal as a way of showing our endless gratitude to God for having saved us from eternal slavery (“If he had brought us out of Egypt, and had not carried out judgements against them — Dayenu, that would have been enough… If he had fed us the manna and had not given us ShabbatDayenu, that would have been enough.”) 

In Claudia Roden’s, “The Book of Jewish Food,” (Knopf, 2007) Ms. Roden describes her recipe as having been personally mailed to her from a woman in Turin, Italy. In doing a search online I came across a few others that mentioned this specific soup as well. It seems that this particular minestra captures the spirit of the traditional Roman or Italian soup in that it utilizes a broth (chicken) as the base to cook down leftover pieces of matzah to create a thick pasta-like soup. The addition of cinnamon as well as beaten egg yolks reflects the Sephardic/Eastern touch, however, and turns it into a perfect Passover-friendly dish. While preparing this soup I quickly texted an Italian friend of mine in New York to ask her the following: “Is Minestra Dayenu something that you and your family prepared for Passover in Italy, and if so, is it simply chicken broth, egg yolks, cinnamon, and matzah pieces?” She instantly replied, “Yes, we did do this but you cannot make it using the Israeli or American style matzah because they are too thin and completely fall apart — it’s like using lentils instead of rice to make risotto! Every Passover my mother sends me the French kind to use because they hold together more like pasta. You have to use the French kind or it’s not worth it.”

In the end I prepared my own version of Minestra Dayenu utilizing defrosted homemade turkey broth (yes, from the holiday that keeps giving!). Once the broth had started to boil, I added salt, black pepper, and just enough ground cinnamon to taste it. I threw in a few broken up squares of good ‘Ol American-Israeli matzah (will have to wait until my next trip to France for the better kind) and let the soup slow boil for 15 minutes. Then I beat up a few egg yolks and quickly mixed them (for all you New York City Jews out there, yes, it looked like Chinese egg drop soup, but not as thick, and reminded me of the Bukharian egg soup recipe that I had learned this past October). And there it was, simple, and filling all at the same time. That should have been enough.

But something was missing, and I found myself wanting to add a bit more substance to make it a complete meal. Inspired by another Italian Passover soup recipe called, Minestra di Riso, I ended up making small one-inch meatballs with ground chicken (okay, turkey, but it should be chicken), eggs, matzah cake flour, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and parsley and cooking them into the soup for 25 minutes. These chicken dumplings looked nice in the soup and reminded me of tiny matzah balls. If you decide to prepare this dish as a main course, then perhaps adding the meatballs would be more satisfying. But I should mention that the more traditional Minestra Dayenu soup does not have these chicken dumplings, and that as a starter to the greater Passover dinner it would be more than enough without them. Dayenu.

QUESTIONS:
For those of you out there who are familiar with this particular Passover soup,
can you tell me how you prepare it?

Is the egg that is mixed in like egg drop soup, or much smoother?
How strong is the cinnamon flavor?

Do you add chicken dumplings?

You Say Haroset, I Say Harose. (Charoset, Jarose…)

Syrup_BlogWe all know haroset. We all love haroset. And, come on, we all think that OUR family’s haroset is the best, no? The Ashkenazim (at least here in the USA) tend to make theirs with chopped apple as its base, adding walnuts, cinnamon, a little sugar, and sweet wine, while the Sephardim generally use dates as their base, with cinnamon, wine or even vinegar, and perhaps apples or dried apricots depending upon the region. But what is most interesting to me right now is how many names exist in the Sephardic and Mizrahic (Middle Eastern) world for this sweet Seder treat. In Israel the spelling and pronunciation is charoset with a more guttural “ch” sound in place of the softer Ashkenazic “h” sound. In speaking with several individuals with Turkish roots the Ladino spelling “harósi” or “haróse” has been most common (although in a recipe by Elsie Menasce from South Africa, she spells it “jaróse” with a “j”, which I have been told is more Castillian). Yemenites and Persians refer to it with a different name all together: “dukah” or “dukeh” (which supposedly means “pounded” or “ground” in the Yemeni Arabic dialect). But when the consistency or style of the haroset changes from that of a thick purée or paste to that of a syrup (made of dates to the texture of honey or molasses) the names become the following: silan for those originally from Baghdad, or mysteriously changes to halech,” “hallaq,” or halékfor those Baghdadis who later settled in parts of Asia, such as Singapore, China, or India. While looking through a Bukharian cookbook I noted that the charoset recipe was called “haleko” which makes me think that the word comes from an Asian/Central Asian root of some sort. In Curacao, the Sephardim (who have Dutch roots via Portugal) call their haroset “garosa.” My latest discovery was the word, “aropi” from a community cookbook by the Sephardi Ladies of Zimbabwe. In old Greek the word is “sirópi” which sounds pretty close but with the initial letter “s”. I can see the relationship between this spelling and the word, but have yet to really pinpoint the language.

QUESTIONS:
Has anyone else heard of this spelling “aropi” to refer to any kind of syrup?
How do YOU say charoset in your family or community?

So Sweet You Can Eat it with a Spoon

SpoonSweetBowl_6_BlogThis past summer weekend in June I took a trip down with my mother and my girls Micah and Sacha to visit Little Syria in Deal, New Jersey. I was looking forward to getting out of the city and visiting my mother’s aunt Evelyn, who so reminds me of my Grandmother Fritzie (her oldest sibling). I was also looking forward to the Syrian food because it always tastes better to me when I eat it there. I don’t know if it’s because Evelyn is such a great cook, or that she reminds me so much of my grandmother, or that it’s just better because someone else has prepared it for me. All that I know is that it’s comforting and tastes like the past.

Early on Sunday morning, before all the family started arriving in droves, I cornered my aunt Evelyn and asked if I could quickly interview her about her memories of Passover while growing up in Brooklyn. After the talk she showed me her closet and pulled out a few special dishes and platters that she had stowed away. The most special thing that she showed me was this beautifully ornate silver bowl that had little hooks running all around to hold tiny silver forks with mother of pearl handles. This bowl was from her husband’s mother who most likely brought it from Syria on her way back to Egypt, and was meant to contain a special Sephardic confection known as a “spoon sweet.”. These jams, Evelyn explained to me, were often served during the week of Passover for guests when they came over for a short visit. While there could be a number of various flavors, in Syria they were often made of grated coconut, rosewater, and blanched almonds, or apricot, orange blossom water, and pistachios. The way that it was served was with the inner glass bowl filled with the jam, the tiny forks or spoons in a tray next to the bowl (or in this case hanging on small hooks running around the bowl), an empty glass next to the bowl for each fork to be placed with used, and lastly a clean glass of water for the guest to drink after his spoonful to wash it all down. What I love about this sweet is that it has a ritual all of its own. The bowl. The fork. The empty glass. The glass full of refreshing water. Each with its definitive role, making each sweet spoonful an experience not to be missed.

Iraqi Meatballs with Apricots and Tomatoes: Not Just For Passover

Stew_Meatballs_Apricots_Iraqi_BlogEven though this may be a dish served for an Iraqi Passover Seder meal, it is not something that is reserved solely for this holiday alone. Iraqis may prepare this for most any special occasion, including Rosh Hashanah as well as Shabbat. The sweet and savory combination of beef and/or lamb cooked with dried apricots is distinctly Middle Eastern, and has carried over into the Sephardic palate.

Iraqi Meatballs with Apricots & Tomatoes
(Yield: Serves 4 to 6 (Makes About 5 Cups / About 1½ Dozen Meatballs Plus Sauce)

For the Sauce:
1 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup pitted prunes
¼ cup golden raisins
2 tablespoon canola, vegetable, or olive oil
1 cup finely chopped yellow onions (about 1 medium)
One 6-ounce can (about ½ cup) tomato paste
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/8 to ½ teaspoon kosher salt (depending upon how salty your tomato paste is)
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground coriander

For the Meatballs:
½ pound ground lamb
½ pound ground beef
¼ cup cold water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
3/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2 to 3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil (for greasing your hands and browning meatballs)

PREPARE THE SAUCE:
1. Soak the dried apricots, prunes, and raisins in a small bowl with 3 cups hot water. Set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and cook the onions, stirring, until soft and golden but not brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into a large mixing bowl, keeping the saucepan for frying the meatballs (do not wash!).

3. Add the tomato paste and lemon juice and mix until the tomato paste is smooth and blended into the onions.

4. Add the salt, ginger, and ground coriander and mix well.

5. Add the dried fruit with all of its soaking water and mix well to combine. Set aside to prepare the meatballs.

PREPARE THE MEATBALLS:
6. Combine all the meatball ingredients (except for the oil) in a medium-size bowl squeezing it together with your hands until well blended and the meat is very soft.

7. Wash and dry your hands, then coat them lightly with extra canola or vegetable oil. Taking 1½  tablespoons of meat, roll it into a smooth meatball. Place the meatball onto a large platter or plate and continue to roll until all of the meat is used, oiling your hands if necessary.

8. Pour 1 tablespoon of canola oil into the same large saucepan that cooked the onions and reheat over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Place the meatballs into the saucepan and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes total.

FINISH THE STEW & SERVE:
9. Pour the sauce mixture over the browned meatballs and mix gently, taking care not to break the meatballs. Bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered, then lower to a medium heat and slow boil until sauce has thickened and reduced slightly and fruit is very soft or almost mushy in texture, about 1 hour.

10. Serve hot over white rice or as is alongside cooked vegetables or potatoes.

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

The Second Night: An All Meat Seder Dinner

Brisket_Blog1

Sephardic Style Brisket with Tamarind,
Coriander, Cinnamon, Ginger,
Apricots and Prunes

Any Carnivores out there? What was your meat of choice: Lamb, Beef or Veal?

For the second night we decided to have a much smaller Seder dinner for us carnivores. We didn’t really read the Haggadah this time, but Micah, my four-year-old insisted that we at least read the basic story as a review.

Here was the menu:
–Leftover charosets with matzah pieces on the side: (Syrian Apricot, Yemenite Date-Almond-Pomegranate, Grandma Fritzie’s Apple Butter with Sweet Wine and Walnuts)

–Vegetable Soup with Matzah Balls

–Jeff’s Cucumber Salad
(even better the next day!)


Sephardic Style Brisket with Tamarind, Onions, Coriander,
Cinnamon, Ginger, Apricots and Prunes

(Yikes! Third time that I made this brisket this week: once for me and twice for two different clients.)

–Syrian White Rice with Pine Nuts (from the first night)

–Chocolate Dipped Dried Apricots, Dates, and Figs,
with Blood Orange Sorbet

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