Sephardic Seder

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Just wrote this post for Gather DC: http://gatherdc.org/2017/04/05/save-your-seat-at-a-sephardic-seder/

Save your Seat at a Sephardic Seder!

by Jackie N

Passover is a very special time for Sephardic Jews and many communities have different practices, customs and rituals on the holiday.

Most of you already know that most Sephardic communities (but not all) eat kitniyot; such as rice, corn, millet, dried beans and lentils, peas, green beans, soybeans, peanuts, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and mustard. But did you also know that many Sephardic communities have developed various customs and practices for the Seder itself?

Some of these customs include:

  • Beginning the Seder by passing the Seder plate over the heads of all the guests, to demonstrate that we were once slaves in Egypt and carried heavy burdens on our heads.
  • Lightly whipping fellow dinner guests with a scallion during the singing of Dayenu to remind us that it was a miracle that we were freed from the lash of oppression.
  • Eating a soft matzoh that more closely resembles the matzoh eaten by the Israelites leaving Egypt.
  • Making a date-based charoset paste or chutney.

You can experience some of these unique customs in DC this year. For the first time, Sephardic Jews in DC will be hosting our first Sephardic Seder. At this Seder you will learn more about these customs, as well as sample the many traditional Passover dishes from various Sephardic and Mizrahi communities across the world.

To reserve your place at our seder please purchase them on our EventBrite page. Please note that the Seder is primarily geared towards Young Professionals in the DC Metro area (20’s and 30’s).

Sephardic Jews in DC will also be co sponsoring a fun Mimouna happy hour and dance party along with the Israeli House, Moishe House, EntryPointDC, and JScreen. A Mimouna is a traditional festival event celebrating the end of Pesach. The custom was brought over to Israel by Sephardic refugees from Northern Africa and has been adopted as a National Holiday in Israel. Join us to celebrate the end of Passover with traditional Moroccan and Israeli sweets, great Happy Hour specials, henna artists, dancing, and awesome music! Buy your tickets here.

To learn more about Sephardic Passover customs please consult the following links:

Kurdish Rice (Parve)

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Food is culture. It tells a story. Jewish food tells the story and history of an exiled people; who despite many hardships never forgot their roots and biblical teachings/commandments.

Like many community organizers, I cook not just to feed people (which honestly could be more easily accomplished with ordering lots of pizza) but rather to teach people about different Jewish cultures, cuisines, and Judaism itself.

Hosting events is not always the easiest thing to do. Sometimes in life you think you’re prepared to handle it all and then you get slammed with lots of problems you didn’t anticipate. I’ve mentioned this before in other posts, but sadly cooking is often times a thankless and unappreciated job.

Recently I hosted a massive Shabbat dinner event for close to a hundred people, the amount of people was originally planned at 50, but when you partner with less competent/experienced organizations you sometimes wind up with these kinds of issues. As they say in French, c’est la vie.

Despite the hardships, I soldiered on and perservered. I also learned some valuable lessons with regard to working with people and also how to cook multi17342678_10110568412902641_8920911846493067822_nple dishes for a hundred people in a tiny kitchen and under a strict budget through the process.

There’s no way I could have pulled off a dinner for 100 and stayed under budget without some key recipes that are filling, easy, and cheap to make. If you’re curious my other dishes and normal go-tos are Israeli salad, roasted string beans with garlic, kale salad, turkey meatballs, chicken sofrito, and Turkish roasted potatoes.

This recipe is definitely one of those easy to make dishes that everyone will love. It was the first thing I ran out of at the dinner, and even people who don’t like rice dishes (cough, cough…me) will love it.

It’s light, filling, full of flavor, and as noted before very easy and cheap to make. Vegatarians and meat eaters alike will enjoy it. It’s lightly based off a recipe from Jerusalem the cookbook and is heavily influenced by spices found along the Silk Road (likely making it Kurdish in origin) but this is a much easier version then the original recipe.

Even better, it’s highly versatile. Don’t like rice? Replace it with quinoa or cauliflower rice, or add chicken or tofu, sour cherries instead of cranberries (or maybe both?), add chili powder to make it spicy, or ras el hanout spice, etc. This recipe is flexible and delicious, so feel free to play around with it.

And for those hosting this Passover best of luck! Just know your hard work is appreciated and needed. Keep on keeping on! And try this with quinoa!

Cooking time: 1 hour / Serves: 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 1 sweet onion very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup of wild rice (optional – you can use only white rice)
  • 1 cup of white basmati rice
  • 1/4 cup of golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup of cranberries
  • 1 cup of chickpeas
  • 3 tablespoons of curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt and pepper
  • 2.5 cups of vegetable or chicken stock (feel free to adjust based on rice used)
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of honey
  • 1 teaspoon tumeric
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

Instructions:

  1. Begin cooking the rice following the instructions on packaging using a vegetable or chicken stock as your liquid base. Once you’re about 10 minutes into cooking time (whether stove top or rice cooker) add the raisins and cranberries  into the rice and mix well. Finish cooking until the rice is fully cooked.
  2. In a seperate frying pan heat your oil. Once hot, add the onions, salt, pepper, honey, garlic powder, chickpeas, curry powder, and tumeric and reduce the heat to low. Caramelize the onions by cooking them for 5-10 minutes, make sure to move the onion mixture carefully,  being careful not to burn the onions.
  3. Remove the onions/chickpeas with a tong or slotted spoon once the onions have softened and turned a caramel brown color. Place in a large bowl.
  4. Remove the rice/berry mixture from the pot and add to the bowl. Combine the rice and caramelized onions until mixed thoroughly. Serve warm.

Kale Salad with Moroccan Spiced Chickpeas and Tahini/Miso Dressing

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They say that necessity is the mother of all invention. I’m sure whoever coined this phrase definitely spent some time in my kitchen.

For some reason I always seem to have plenty of specialty ingredients but always seem to lack basic necessities. One Friday afternoon about an hour before Shabbat I began to prepare a salad. I peered into my fridge and realized I had totally forgotten to buy salad ingredients (i.e. cucumbers, tomatoes, etc) but I did have a huge bag of kale. I pondered what to do with it for a good five minutes.

I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of kale since it generally has a very “woody” taste and the texture is a bit off putting. Normally I steam it and add it to omelettes or sautee it with garlic and onions. I had recently had a delicious kale based salad at Souper Girl that had made me question whether I should try to make a salad out of it.

Inspiration struck! I lightly steamed the kale, just enough to take away some of the rough texture and woody taste, sauteed some chickpeas with a delicious Morrocan spice blend I had recently purchased, and then used the leftover dressing from another dish I had made for that Shabbat dinner. Voila! An amazing and easy to make salad that was healthy, delicious, cheap to make, and filling!

Ingredients:

Miso/Tahini Dressing:

  • 1 tablespoon of sesasme seed oil (not toasted/dark roast)
  • 3 tablespoons of tahini
  • 3 tablespoons of miso paste (white or red)
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pepper
  • 1/2 cup of water

Salad

  • About 2 pounds of kale – thoroughly washed and chopped into bite size pieces
  • 1.5 cups of canned chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of ground coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of Morroccan Paprika (sub out Spanish)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  2. Make your salad dressing by combining all of the ingredients into a blender or food processor until very well blended. Make sure to try it and add additional salt, pepper, or honey per your taste preferences
  3. Using a steamer – lightly steam the kale for about 4-5 minutes. The leaves should still be whole but soften a bit. Set aside the kale in a salad bowl once complete.
  4. In a small oven-safe bowl (pyrex container works best) combine the chickpeas, olive oil, salt and spices. Mix well until the chickpeas are coated by the spices.
  5. Move the chickpeas to the oven and bake for about 10 minutes – let cool to room temperature.
  6. Add chickpeas to the top of the kale. Pour dressing on top and toss well.

Gather DC Media Coverage

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Some older coverage from Gather DC (formerly Gather the Jews)

 

Jewish Cook of the Week – Jackie


Jackie: Where did your interest in Jewish community start?

Jackie N: I’ve always been lucky to live in places with a strong Jewish community. I attended Jewish day school, went to a Cuban-Jewish Sephardic synagogue (yes they do exist!), and grew up in a very traditional home.

When I went to college at the University of Florida (go Gators!) it really propelled my interest in getting involved with the Jewish community. Up until that point, I had lived in Miami which made me take Jewish practices and communal life for granted.  For the first time in my life, I was living on my own without my family nearby. It felt very unnerving to not have Shabbat dinner every Friday and although I loved my new friends at school I missed Jewish life. I started getting involved by going to UF’s Hillel and Chabad and by the time I graduated I sat on Chabad’s board and was very active in Jewish life at UF.

When I moved to DC in 2008 I didn’t really know too many people and had no family in the area, so the Jewish community was an easy and a great way to make friends.  I realized that many of my friends were also alone up here without our families nearby. So I decided to step up and take the lead and host the major holidays and Shabbat for my friends. It also felt more intimate, fun, familiar and less stressful than going to a large holiday event with hundreds of people. From there, my dinners grew tremendously and I became known for hosting Shabbat dinners.

A friend approached me in 2013 about co-hosting a Sephardic Shabbat service/dinner. I agreed to do it and it was a massive success! From there I began hosting monthly Shabbat dinners through my organization Sephardic Jews in DC.

10731068_10105919570544991_2032516370974524497_nJackie: Can you tell me about your love of food? 

Jackie N: I’ve always loved to cook. I’ve been cooking ever since I was a small child and I used to help my mom out in the kitchen all the time. She’s an even better cook than I am, but hopefully one day I’ll be as good as her! I especially love learning about the history and evolution of food. I’m fascinated by what ancient Sephardic Jewish communities ate, how they lived, and how their lives differed from the rest of the population and why. I’m constantly tinkering in the kitchen, researching different kinds of recipes and cuisine, and making it for my friends. I even have a food blog which contains many of my recipes.

Jackie: What is your favorite Sephardic meal to cook?

Jackie N: Oh way too many! I love cooking Turkish Sephardic food, especially borekas, keftes de prasas (leek latkes), abondigas de prasa (leek meatballs), and sofrito. I also love cooking Persian food and my favorite dish to make is fesenjoon (a walnut/pomegranate stew). I also love Moroccan food and love to make Chraime (Moroccan fish), hamim
(cholent) and Moroccan carrot salad.
 

Jackie: How did you get the idea to start Sephardic Jews in DC? 13906725_10109007473278161_3125682790798231446_n

Jackie N:I was raised in a traditional Sephardic home and grew up going to a Sephardic synagogue. I really love the customs, heritage, history, and cuisine of the Sephardic world, but almost all of the synagogues and Jewish events in Washington DC are Ashkenazi, with the exception of a few synagogues in suburban Maryland.

I started the organization because the preservation of Sephardic culture, traditions, heritage and cuisine is very important to me. I want to ensure that Sephardic culture doesn’t die out, but rather will continue to evolve and be celebrated for its many contributions to Jewish life.

I spent many years frustrated that most Jewish organizations in DC didn’t address the Sephardic world, so I decided to take the lead and create a community-based organization to fill this void. My goals with this organization are not just to feed people delicious food (certainly an added benefit), but rather to create a robust Sephardic community in DC and educate people on Sephardic/Mizrahi culture, cuisine, history, liturgy, and traditions.

I believe that sharing a meal helps bring a community together and keeps traditions alive. Plus, learning about something is always easier when you have delicious food close by.

I, of course, have to acknowledge that “it takes a village” and use this opportunity to thank the  people and organizations that have assisted me throughout the years. My fellow Sephardic leaders Ari, Aaron, and Jen. Also organizations like Chabad (Rabbi Levi and Menachem Shemtov), 6th and I (Rabbi Scott Perlo), Mesorah DC (Rabbi Teitelbaum), and Moishe House Arlington/DC for their partnerships.

Jackie: What are ways for people to get involved with your organization?

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Jackie N: I’m always looking for people who are interested in volunteering their time to help nurture and grow a Sephardic community, whether it be helping to cook for events, leading or participating in services, generating ideas for events, or just attending and helping out at events. Thus far we have been a community lay-led organization with no major sponsorship. I’m hoping that in the future I’ll be able to work with larger Jewish organizations and be able to create an organic Sephardic Jewish community in DC. If you’re interested in learning more about coming to one of our monthly Shabbat dinners please visit our page on Facebook Sephardic Jews in DC.

Finish the sentence: When the [Sephardic] Jews Gather…there will be delicious food, good conversation, and fun times.

Plantain bread

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Plantains are one of my favorite comfort foods, likely due to my Cuban and Colombian heritage. I like them both eat them both unripe and ripe. My favorite way to use them while cooking is to either add them to my chicken soup or  fry them and then douse them with tons of salt and lemony ojo (garlic sauce).

I recently found a new use for them at my last Shabbat dinner. This recipe is inspired by an  colleague of mine (originally from Mali) who was kind enough to provide me with a half dozen perfectly ripe plantains the day before my Shabbat dinner. I pondered what to do with them, not really in the mood to fry them and also lacking a soup that I could put them in.

I googled lots of different recipes, initially thinking to make a sweet mofongo but worried that many would be confused or grossed out by it. Finally on my way home from work in an Uber pool, inspiration struck. I was talking to my Uber driver, a trained chef of African descent, about my Shabbat dinner and told him I was stuck on what to do with the sweet plantains. I mentioned that I was interested in making a dish inspired by the Jewish communities of Somalia and Sudan. He suggested making plantain bread which is a very traditional African dish, that was likely eaten by these communities.

I made it the day of the Shabbat dinner, rushed for time and not hoping for much besides a hopefully edible bread. What came out was amazing and far surpassed my expectations. I served it as an appetizer because although it’s a bit sweet, it also has a very hearty flavor to it, that pairs well with strong dips especially my Persian style babaganoush and Morrocan tomato salad. You can also serve it for dessert but may want to increase your sweetener or glaze it.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup mashed ripe plantain (3-4 plantains)
  • 1/2 cup of canola oil
  • 2 cups of white flour (you can also use almond flour)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar (add more if you prefer a sweeter bread)
  • 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of allspice
  • 1 teaspoon of finely crushed cardamom seeds
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 4 tablespoons of silan/date syrup (substitute molasses or honey)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons of golden raisins (optional)
  • 1/4 cup of walnuts (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2. In a large mixing bowl combine all of the wet ingredients (leave out flour, sugar, baking soda/powder and salt.
  3. Once thoroughly mixed add the dry ingredients to the mixture and mix very well.
  4. Grease a small rectangular pan very well and pour the mixture inside ensuring you have at least an inch in space between the batter and the pan.
  5. Bake uncovered for 35 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick comes out fairly clean.
  6. Let cool for 30 minutes, you can serve cold or at room temperature.

Syrian Cherry Meatballs “Kibbeh m’Gerraz”

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When I first heard about this dish my initial reaction was suspicion. Cherries and beef together? 16806827_10110388624230581_3963267603404361837_n.jpgYuck, I thought! I avoided making it for months, convinced that it would be disgusting.

At my last Shabbat dinner a friend of Syrian/Lebanese descent encouraged me to make it. Finally I caved in to the pressure and made a pan of them for the last Sephardic Shabbat dinner I hosted.

To say that they were a hit would be an understatement. Slightly tangy, sweet, and rich without being too greasy or heavy.

While I was inspired by several recipes, this one is modified to make it a bit lower in carbs (less sweet) and a bit more heavy on the spices.

Ingredients:
MEATBALLS
  • 2 pounds of ground beef (or ground chicken/turkey)
  • 1/2 cup of bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of baharat spice (sub out 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground allspice, 2 teaspoon ground cumin, and 2 teaspoons of ground coriander seed)
  • 1 cup finely chopped yellow onions (I like to run it through a food processor to get it extra fine)
  • 3 garlic cloves very finely minced

SAUCE

  • One small package of tart cherries (about 60) (I used the Trader Joes brand)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onions
  • 3 garlic cloves very finely minced
  • 1/2 cup unsalted tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoon canola oil
  • 1 cup hot/boiling water
  • 1 cup of room temperature water
  • 2 teaspoons of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Dark brown sugar or lemon (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Heat your oven to 375 degrees16864687_10110364544077401_9189984642241162584_n
  2. Combine all the meatball ingredients in a medium-size bowl and mix together with your hands until well blended and the meat is very soft.
  3. Shape into small individual meatballs by rolling them between the palms of your hands, 1 tablespoon at a time. Place each meatball on a oven safe tray (make sure there’s about a 1/2 inch of space between the meatball and the tray).
  4. Prepare the cherry sauce by first taking your dried cherries and putting them into a bowl with the cup of boiling water. Let sit for 5 minutes until the cherries soften.
  5. In a separate pan, heat the canola oil. Once it’s hot add the onions, tomato paste, and garlic. Let cook o
    ver medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until slightly caramelized.
  6. Add the cherries, water, salt, pepper to the mixture. Let cook over medium heat for 7 minutes.
  7. Taste the cherries, they should be slightly tangy and only a little sweet. If they16864943_10110364544072411_5555551428177688348_n‘re super tangy add a tablespoon of brown sugar. If they’re super sweet with only a little tangy flavor then add a tablespoon of  lemon juice.
  8. Once you’re satisfied with the taste of the cherry mixture, pour the mixture onto the cherries. You can also add them to the pot but I personally think the meatballs stay together better in an oven. Ensure that the meatballs are well covered by the sauce, you can always add some water (not more then half a cup).
  9. Cover with tinfoil and let cook for about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and flip the meatballs and then let it cook for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Then enjoy!

 

Persian style saffron and rosewater infused ice cream spiked with candied orange peels and pistachios (Parve)

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Bear with me folks, I realize that this recipe is not the healthiest, but it is delicious and so rich that only a few spoonfuls will satisfy you (or in some ice-creamcases you might be tempted to eat the whole thing, which I take no responsibility for).

This recipe is inspired by a recipe that Reyna Simnegar has in her book, Persian Food for the Non-Persian Bride, with some slight modifications.

The recipe itself is super simple and the melding of flavors created is almost magical. A Persian friend told me that the melding of flavors in the dessert reminded him of his childhood in Iran.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of a parve ice cream base – I use the Trader Joes vanilla parve ice cream. You can use a dairy based one as well, just make sure it’s not super sweet because you’re adding sugar to it.
  • 1/4 teaspoon of crushed saffron threads (about 12)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 teaspoons of rose water (I like Sadaf brand) [I happen to like rosewater, but feel free to omit or decrease this amount depending on your preference]
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped pistachios
  • 1/4 cup of finely diced pieces of fresh orange rind (aim for pieces that are 1/4 inch)
  • 1/2 cup of sugar

Instructions

  1. In a small pot set the water to boil. Once it begins to simmer add in the saffron threads, rose water, orange rind and sugar.
  2.  Turn heat down to a low-medium and let the mixture caramelize and thicken. Depending on your stove this will take about 15-20 minutes. Keep a close eye on the mixture to make sure it doesn’t burn and stir it every few minutes. Take off the heat once you notice that the mixture sticks to a spoon.
  3. Remove from the stove and pour the mixture into a glass bowl. It will continue to caramelize for a bit since it’s still hot.
  4. Add the chopped pistachios to the bowl and let it cool down to room temperature.
  5. Remove the ice cream from your freezer and let it melt a bit, you don’t want it to reach room temperature but you need it to be a more of a liquid so you can blend it easily.
  6. Combine the ice cream and syrup together, and mix very well until your ice cream is a golden yellow color and all of the pistachio pieces and orange rind is spread out  evenly.
  7. Refreeze for a few hours and then enjoy!

 

 

Silan glazed salmon on a bed of caramelized fennel

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I recently got a chance to meet my favorite Jewish chef, Einat Admonabcy. She owns the restaurants Taim, Bar Bolonat, Balaboosta, and Combina in NYC, and is also the author of one of my favorite cookbooks Balaboosta (she also has a new one pending publication in 2018).

Her food is heavily influenced by Sephardic and Israeli cuisine, and I’m constantly amazed by her ability to blend old world foods with modern ingredients to create dishes that are familiar yet completely new. Einat’s recipe for latkes, which call for ingredients like beet root and Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunroot/Sunchoke), are a great example of this style of cooking.

“Much like us (as Jews),” said Admony, “Israeli cooking is a melting pot of flavors. It comes from a lot of different cultures that came together throughout Israel, from Morocco to Eastern Europe.”

As many of you already know, latkes are a fairly modern Jewish food. They likely originated in the 1800’s in Eastern Europe due to crop failures in Poland. Potatoes were both cheap to grow and plentiful, so many Eastern Europeon Jews began incorporating them into traditional foods for the holidays, thus the birth of latkes, kugel, etc.

In the spirit of combining the old and new, the recipe below features traditional ingredients from the Sephardic world (silan (date syrup), olive oil, fennel) and the new world (salmon and balsamic vinegar).

The dish below is inspired by the dish our team made in a recent cooking competition that I participated in at Ohev Shalom.

Please note that while this dish is not low carb it is low calorie and paleo friendly. It’s also ridiculously easy to make, just keep an eye out on the fennel and onion mixture to ensure it doesn’t burn.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of sliced red onions, make sure the slices are very thin
  • 3 tbsp of silan (date syrup)
  • 1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
  • 5 cloves of garlic finely diced
  • 3 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of salt and white pepper
  • 2 cups of sliced fennel bulb, sliced very thin
  • 1/3 cup of orange juice
  • 1 pound of salmon, sliced into about 3-4 small pieces. Make sure to remove the skin and wash the filet well.
  • 1 tsp orange zest

Instructions:

  1. Using a large (non-stick) frying pan, coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Heat the pan on medium high heat until the oil is shimmering. Add the onion slices, fennel and garlic. Lower the temperature to low/medium. Spread the mixture out evenly over the pan and let cook, stirring occasionally.
  2. After 20 minutes of cooking your vegetables should be caramelized and translucent, add the silan, salt, pepper, vinegar, zest and orange juice. Cook for an additional 20 minutes until liquid is fully absorbed.
  3. Remove from the heat and put aside.
  4. In a separate frying pan, coat the bottom of the pan with more olive oil and heat on medium high heat. Once your oil is heated add your salmon to the pan. Fry on each side for 5 minutes until fully cooked.
  5. Remove from the pan. And ensure that the inside is fully cooked. Once cooked place the salmon on the bed of cooked fennel. Try drizzling with a bit of tehina or a squeeze of lemon.