Monthly Archives: March 2016

Persian Fried Eggplant (Parve)


A few years ago, I went to visit a friend in New York for the weekend. She was doing a religious study program in Crown Heights, which is a very religious neighborhood in Brooklyn and also the headquarters of the Chabad Lubavitch movement.  A family  who was affiliated with the program, invited my friend and I, as well as a few of her classmates to their home for Shabbat dinner.

In the Jewish religion hosting people for Shabbat is considered a huge mitzvah, or a good deed. We are encouraged to open our homes and extend hospitality in the tradition of our ancestors.

So that cold and rainy Friday evening, we trekked our way north to the family’s home which was a few miles away from the Chabad-Lubavitch neighborhood and closer to the Jamaican/Caribbean Islander part of Crown Heights. We walked past closed kosher restaurants and markets and passed a stream of families and young bochurs making their way to 770 to pray. Past the stately townhomes that line the main drag of Crown Heights until they gave way to lively bodegas and bars.

After about thirty minutes of walking we ended up at a non-descript short squat building , our intrepid guide indicated this was it. I looked around – to my left was a restaurant blasting Jamaican reggae music, to my right an empty alley way. Needless to say it seemed like an unlikely residence for a frum Chabad family to reside.

We walked in and were immediately greeted by the host’s children, the strong scent of spices and roasted meat filled the air and a massive table was set for a feast. I was reminded of the story of Abraham and his pleasure  in hosting strangers in his desert based home. Like this feast, many of Abraham’s guests were surprised to find such decadence in an unlikely place.

Surprisingly the family was Iranian (Persian descent), a rarity in the very Ashkenazi Chabad movement, so we were able to sample some traditional foods that evening. Of the many delicious dishes that I sampled that evening, one simple salad stood out to me.

This recipe is low carb and paleo but it is not low calorie since it’s fried. If you want to make it low calorie, I recommend roasting the eggplant instead of frying it, just keep in mind that the flavor and texture will not be the same if you bake or roast it.

Serves: 4 as an appetizer

Cooking time: 45 minutes


1 large globe eggplant – look for a long eggplant approximately 8-10 inches long. If you can’t find one this size use two smaller (5-6 inch) eggplants.

4 crushed and finely minced garlic cloves

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

1 tablespoon lemon

3 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

1/2 cup of oil

2 tablespoons of salt


    1. Wash eggplant and cut off the top. Peel a few strips from the eggplant lengthwise making sure to leave a strip of skin every inch or so. (If you really hate eggplant skin you can remove all of it – but it does keep the eggplant together while frying)
    2. Start slicing the eggplant into ½ inch thick rounds.
    3. Place eggplant slices on a rack with a tray or tea towel underneath. Liberally sprinkle the eggplant slices with salt, then flip and sprinkle the other side of the eggplant with salt. Let the eggplant sit for twenty minutes. Once you see brown water forming on eggplant, wash the eggplant pieces off well, making sure to remove the brown water and remaining salt .
    4. Pat the eggplant pieces dry with paper towels and then let dry for ten more minutes on paper towels.
    5. Once eggplant is dry, heat half of your oil in a large frying pan. Make sure you have about ½ inch of oil in your pan at all times. Eggplant is a sponge for oil, so as you’re adding eggplant pieces to the pan add additional oil little by little.
    6. Once the oil is hot, add the eggplant slices. Try not to crowd the pan. Cook eggplant slices for about 3 minutes on each side you’re looking for a golden brown color (not burnt) and for the eggplant to start softening.
    7. Remove eggplant slices using a slotted spoon and let drain on paper towels. Let cool for 10 minutes.
    8. Fry your garlic for about 2 minutes on a medium heat, being careful to not let it burn – you just want to cook it for a bit. If you prefer the taste of raw garlic you can skip this step.
    9. Once the eggplant is cool add to a medium sized bowl, and add garlic, chopped parsley, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, and pomegranate seeds. Mix well, making sure that all the eggplant pieces absorb the liquid. Taste and if necessary add salt – you may want to skip the salt because the initial salting of the eggplant tends to give it a salty flavor – it’s really a matter of taste preference to add more. You can also add pine nuts to this dish if you want an added crunch.
    10. Let the salad marinate and sit for 30 mins at room temperature and then serve.






Easy Sephardic Turkey Burgers (Meat)


This is an easy weeknight dinner, perfect for those nights that you just want something filling and nutritious but only have twenty minutes to cook.

Most Sephardim traditionally eat a lot of minced meat dishes, but they’re usually in the form of kebabs or meatballs, not burgers. This recipe is Sephardic style, due to the spices and flavors, but not a traditional recipe. If you’d like to make a more traditional dish, I’d recommend either grilling or cooking in an oven using the broiler.

This recipe is low carb and paleo friendly (if you omit the breadcrumbs and teriyaki sauce).

Serves: 2

Cooking time: 20 minutes


1 pound ground turkey meat or chicken

2 green onion stems, finely chopped

1/2 white sweet onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 egg

1/2 cup breadcrumbs (omit if you prefer low carb)

1.5 tablespoons of teriyaki sauce (substitute 1 tablespoon of soy sauce for low carb)

1/3 cup of vegetable oil for frying

1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped.


  1. In a large mixing bowl combine all ingredients (with the exception of the oil), mix well. Make sure that the garlic, green onions, parsley, and onion are finely chopped, because large chunks will distract from the flavors and texture of the dish. I normally run these ingredients through a food processor together to save time.
  2. Heat oil in a frying pan on medium high. Oil should be hot before adding the meat.
  3. Using wet hands, scoop about two tablespoons of meat, and shape into small torpedo shapes.
  4. Add three  to four to a pan and fry for about 4-6 minutes on each side until golden brown. Make sure to leave room and not crowd the pan.
  5. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and let dry on paper towels or a rack. Season with some lemon juice or sumac powder and enjoy!



Spicy Moroccan Carrots (Parve)


This recipe is not for the faint of heart [or for most Ashkenazi guests]. It has bold flavors: spicy, tangy, and sweet, that somehow meld together perfectly. It is fairly easy to make, filling, colorful, paleo, and low carb.

Moroccan carrots vary depending on who’s making them, I’ve had versions that were thinly sliced and seasoned with just lemon and other versions that featured thickly sliced giant pieces of carrots in an oily tomato based sauce. This version leans closer to the fairly modern Israeli version and does not contain tomato paste or strong notes of cumin. If you prefer a more traditional version of Moroccan carrots I recommend adding a tablespoon of tomato paste and another tsp of cumin.

This dish can be served as a standalone salad or you can use it as a filling for falafel sandwiches or as a topping for other salads. If you like sweeter salads, feel free to add some chopped bell pepper.

When shopping for ingredients, make sure to look for carrots that have a fairly large circumference and not thin carrots – in this case, size does matter and will impact the taste. And please do not use baby carrots – the taste will not be the same and the overall presentation of the dish will look sloppy.

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves: 4 people


3 large carrots

2 tablespoons of fresh cilantro leaves (washed, destemmed, and chopped finely – can substitute parsley)

1 tablespoon of fresh parsley leaves (washed, destemmed, and chopped finely)

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp Pipelchuma spice (substitute 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper if you don’t have it)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tsp raw garlic very finely minced

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh jalapeno (make sure to handle carefully and deseed)

1 tsp white vinegar

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 tsp salt


  1. Wash and peel the carrots, cut off and remove the end and tops of the carrots.
  2. Using a steamer or large stock pot, either steam or boil your carrots for about 5-7 minutes. You’re looking for a fairly firm texture – do not let them get mushy or too soft.
  3. Remove the carrots from steamer and let cool for ten minutes.
  4. Once cool, slice your carrots thinly, about a 1/4 of an inch thick.
  5. Place cut carrots in a bowl, add the rest of the ingredients and toss well. Add more salt, pipelchuma, lemon or pepper per your taste.

Serve immediately at room temperature.


The Sephardic Pantry Part 1 – Spices


I’ll admit it. I have a problem, an addiction some might say, and I’m ready to come clean.

Here it goes….

I’m addicted to… spices.

Another secret: I have an entire kitchen cabinet with four shelves devoted to housing my spice collection, which routinely and literally threatens to spill over to other parts of my tiny kitchen. Not to mention bags of extra spices in the freezer and all sorts of sauces. Whenever the spice cabinet is opened, it feels as if you’ve been transported into the middle of a Middle Eastern shuk.

This is the first post of many that discuss the necessary tools, spices, sauces and techniques that I recommend having on hand to create amazing dishes. First, let’s discuss buying and storing spices. It’s not as easy as it seems. I can’t tell you how many homes I’ve been to where I’ve seen the same spice rack hanging for years untouched! Or friends who don’t have anything in their pantry besides garlic powder and bland paprika.

There are quite a few spices that a home chef will need in their kitchen in order to make some of the Sephardic dishes that are featured in this blog. So here are a few of my key spice buying recommendations and spice suggestions you will need for your pantry:

  1. Buy from the experts: Spices can be very pricey – so if you’re on a budget, I recommend you buy spices from an ethnic market in bulk. Not only are you getting a better deal on spices, but generally speaking, ethnic markets have access to good quality spices, and quicker rotation on items, which means your spices haven’t sat on the shelf for months. Spice markets/stores are also great, but keep in mind when buying from bulk containers, sample before buying a ton, because sometimes a batch will be off or you might not like the taste from that vendor. If you’re in the DC Metro area I highly recommend Yekta Market, Motis Market and the Afghan Market in Fairfax.
  2. Freeze the spices you don’t use right away to extend their shelf life. Store the rest of the spices in a dry and dark environment.
  3. Don’t let your budget get in the way of buying quality. Please don’t buy spices from 99 cent stores or other shady brands- look for whole unadulterated spices from reputable brands.
  4. Stop sprinkling dust on your food! Make sure to check the expiration date on all spices (some spices have a longer shelf life than others but I’d recommend keeping spices for no longer than 2 years). Throw out spices that are over 2 years old.
  5. Check the sodium content, especially with spice mixes. I’ve noticed a lot of Israeli and Middle Eastern spice blends tend to add salt to their mixes. If you’re using a mixture with salt make sure to decrease the salt you would normally add to the dish. Also, I highly recommend not buying salt/spice mixtures, since each brand varies in terms of quantity of salt ratio to spice, and I’ve noticed that salt tends to overwhelm the taste of the spice. I recommend buying pure spices and then adding your own salt. The one exception to this rule is truffle salt which is incredible on anything.
  6. Make your own. Don’t be scared to make your own spice mixes. Sure, it’s easier to buy everything premade but don’t be scared to make your own. It does involve extra work but it’s usually worth it in the end.
  7. Storing It: Make sure to invest in spice containers for spices that come in baggies as well as white labels. Ikea and world market sells these for a good price, label spices with the name and expiration date so you can keep track of them.
  8. Grind it. Mortar and pestles are great tools for grinding spices, and food processors are also super handy!
  9. Toast but don’t burn. Many spices taste much better if they’re toasted for a few minutes, the heat brings out the flavor. Few things to keep in mind – spices will burn fast – they should be toasted for a couple of minutes – be careful not to burn them. Spices that are toasted need to be used right away otherwise they can go bad.
  10. Kashrut/Kosher keepers: Keep in mind that while spice mixes need a heksher unadulterated spices do not  (if in doubt talk to your Rabbi). Which means you can buy spices in whatever store you’d like. Always make sure to ask if the spices have additives – i.e. oil, fragrance, preservatives which can potentially be un-kosher. Also if you’re buying Middle Eastern style spices please keep in mind that Sadaf brands are almost always kosher and they have pretty amazing and great quality products!

Some of my favorite spices:

  1. Sumac: A red tangy spice that is used in many Persian and Levant recipes. Use it on salads, kebab, and lemony based soups. This spice can be a bit gritty so if you’re sensitive to texture I recommend grounding it down and even adding it to a dressing (to “soften” the spice) vice sprinkling on top of food.
  2. Saffron: These small red threads pack a punch so use sparingly. They’re also pretty expensive, but trust me they’re worth every penny. Their flavor is indescribable, almost flowery tasting. Saffron adds a beautiful yellow color to any dish. To use them make sure to soak the threads in boiling water first which draws out their flavor and color, and then use the saffron flavored water (not the threads) to season the dish. The remaining threads can be reused a few more times but after the second or third time they start to lose their flavor. Use in rice dishes and desserts.
  3. Za’atar: An Arabic/Levant spice mixture made with oregano, sesame seeds, sumac and cumin, that’s earthy, tangy, and a bit minty. Tastes great on salads, hummus, falafel, and roasted root vegetables. Pair with a drizzle of tahini  on most foods to liven up even the blandest of dishes. It normally contains olive oil so use sparingly if you’re watching your calories.
  4. Zhoug/Schug – A “wet” spice mixture (almost like a chutney or paste) that originates from Yemenite cuisine but is widely used in Israel as a spicy condiment. Zhoug comes in both green and red varieties and can usually be purchased in an ethnic/kosher market, you can also make your own using a mortar/pestle or food processor. It is spicy and crisp, featuring jalapeno, garlic, cumin, parsley and cilantro. It normally contains olive oil so use sparingly if you’re watching your calories.

I’ll create another spice entry soon!

Israeli salad (Parve)


Almost everyone who has come to my house for a meal, whether it be for a weekday dinner, Shabbat dinner, or a holiday meal, has had this dish as an appetizer.  It is my go to dish –  because it is super easy, healthy, full of delicious vegetables, and is very filling. This salad is low carb, paleo friendly, and low calorie.

If you wanted to make this dish more of a filling meal you can add feta cheese to it or it can serve as a side for baked salmon/chicken.

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves: 4-6 people


1 green bell pepper

1 red bell pepper (if you can’t find red you can use another green or yellow/orange)

4 Persian cucumbers (substitute English cucumbers if you can’t find these)

20 firm grape tomatoes

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

1/3 cup pomegranate molasses (Add additional lemon and a tsp of honey if you don’t have this handy)

1/4 cup lemon

1 tsp salt

3 green onions

1/4 red onion finely diced

1/4 cup of olive oil

1/2 cup hearts of palm (optional)

1 tablespoon sumac


  1. Wash, deseed, and finely dice the bell peppers, dice the cucumber (no need to peel), hearts of palm, green and red onion. Aim for pieces that are about the size of your pinky nail.
  2. Cut the grape tomatoes into quarters, I recommend running water over them after cutting to get rid of the extra seeds, just make sure to dry them after, otherwise they get soggy.
  3. Add vegetables to a salad bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and toss well. Depending on preference you might want to add more salt, lemon or molasses.
  4. Enjoy! Just make sure to eat right away since this salad doesn’t refrigerate well.


Thanksgiving style Israeli couscous (parve)


Alright, I know this recipe isn’t low carb or paleo, but bear with me because it’s delicious, easy to make, fairly healthy, and everyone will like it. I call it “Thanksgiving style” because my sister Stephanie originally created it for our very Sephardic Thanksgiving celebration last year, which featured ras al hanout turkey, Moroccan rub potatoes, harissa infused sweet potato pie, and many other delicious dishes.

This dish will pair well with almost any meat dish, but can also be served on its own. If you’re really desperate to make it healthier you can sub out the Israeli couscous for coarsely chopped cauliflower rice, but I recommend it with Israeli couscous.

Serves: 4 people

Cooking time: 1 hour


2 cups of Israeli couscous (pittim) [most grocery stores sell this in the rice or pasta aisle] (sub 2 cups of coarsely chopped cauliflower rice)

1.5 tablespoons of Ossem brand consumme

1/3 cup of dried cranberries

1 small onion finely diced

3 garlic cloves finely diced

3 cups of boiling water

1.5 cup of butternut squash (peeled and chopped into small squares)

1 tsp pepper

1 tsp salt

1 tablespoon fresh or dried parsley

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons of olive oil

What you will need to make this dish: large flat bottom pot with a tight fitting lid, tea kettle


  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium. Saute the onion for several minutes till softened. Add the garlic, butternut squash and saute for another minute, and then add the honey. Let cook over a medium heat for about 10 minutes making sure to keep an eye out and not let the squash or onions burn.
  2. Add the couscous, salt and pepper, parsley, cranberries, and ossem powder to the pot, let cook for 3 minutes taking care to make sure to stir the pot and make sure nothing burns.
  3. Add the boiling hot water to the pot and immediately put the lid on. Let cook for  10 minutes undisturbed at a medium heat. Following that, taste the butternut squash, if it is not fully cooked, I recommend continue cooking for another 5-7 minutes. If the couscous looks too dry add a bit more water.
  4. Serve and enjoy!



Shalom everyone,

Quite a few people over the years have requested that I start a cooking blog to showcase some of my favorite recipes. I’m a young professional living in DC raised in a Sephardic household and I trace my heritage to the Sephardic communities of Turkey and Greece, with some pit stops along the way in South America (Colombia/Cuba) and Israel.

While I love traditional Sephardic foods, I also love fitting into my clothing, so over the years I’ve made many adjustments to recipes to make them healthier; meaning less sugar and other processed foods, oil and fat, etc.

I’m especially focused on making food that’s low carb and paleo friendly.  As always it’s important to engage in moderation and as Michael Polan once said “Eat Food, not too much, mainly plants.”

Please feel free to leave feedback, questions, or requests for recipes. Also if you’re in DC please join my Facebook group, Sephardic Jews in DC, for information on Sephardic events around town.



Chicken Sofrito (Meat)


Chicken sofrito is a dish invented in Spain hundreds of years ago, and has been enjoyed by both Latinos and Sephardic Jews ever since. It’s super easy, healthy, low carb and perfect for anything from a weekday to Shabbat dinner.

Cooking time: 1.5 hours

Serves: 6 people


6 pieces of chicken thighs (no bones) – you can also use chicken breasts or legs

1/3 cup lemon juice

2 potatoes, washed, peeled and cut into small cubes (aim for the size of a dice) (skip potatoes if you want a low carb/low cal dish)

5 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)

1/2 cup of olive oil

1 tsp salt

10 green pimiento olives (optional)

1 tablespoon turmeric

1 tsp paprika

1/2 cup chicken broth


  1. Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Once the oil is hot, reduce temperature on the stove to medium and then add chicken to the pan and brown for about 3-5 minutes on each side. I recommend covering your frying pan while doing this otherwise the oil might splatter. Lower the temperature once you’re done browning and sprinkle the turmeric and paprika to chicken. Remove from stove.
  2. Transfer the chicken to either a dutch oven or crock pot.
  3. Add the chicken broth, olives, garlic, lemon juice, and salt on top of the  chicken mixture. Let cook for 45 minutes on a low temperature.
  4. As the chicken is cooking cooking, heat the rest of your oil (1/4 cup) in a [clean] frying pan. Once the oil is hot, add the potatoes and fry them for about 5 minutes on each side until they turn light brown.
  5. Add the cooked potatoes to your chicken mixture, making sure to baste them in the sauce. Cook for an additional 30 minutes on low heat.
  6. Remove the chicken from the crockpot/dutch oven and serve hot. This dish tastes great accompanied by cauliflower or normal rice.


“Everything Soup” – Sancocho (Meat)


This soup is not Sephardic, but it is inspired by my mother’s Colombian heritage, and something that she has cooked and eaten most of her life.

It’s an easy to make, filling, and nutritious soup. We call it “everything soup” because it contains everything but the kitchen sink, in Colombia it is known as sancocho.

We even eat this soup on Shabbat, to make it more “Jewish” we add matzoh balls.

Cooking time: 3 hours

Serves: 6 people


10 cups of chicken/vegetable broth (you can also do water with consumme cube if you’re feeling lazy)

1 large ripe plantain (sliced into thick pieces)

1 yellow onion (sliced)

3 medium carrots (sliced thinly)

1 cup of yucca (peeled, sliced into small cubes)

1 cup of celery (sliced)

1.5 cup of Calabaza (substitute pumpkin or butternut squash)

5 chicken legs

1 cup of frozen corn kernels (you can also use corn on the cob slice into small rings to make it more traditional)

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1 tsp turmeric or adobo

2 tablespoons lemon juice (optional)

small bunch of cilantro with stems chopped off


  1. In a large soup pot heat oil. Add minced celery, carrots, onions, turmeric, salt and pepper, and cook until translucent.
  2. Add broth, chicken, yucca, calabaza, plantain, and lemon juice. Let cook for two hours at a low simmer.
  3. Add cilantro and corn to soup, let cook for an additional 10 minutes. Taste soup, add more salt or lemon per your taste.
  4. Serve with hot sauce and lime.




Iraqi Meatballs (Meat)


For thousands of years, Iraq had a thriving Jewish community that numbered in the thousands. The Iraqi Jewish population was one of the oldest Jewish communities living in exile. They had their own religious customs,  yeshivas, schools, and shops.

Following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the Iraqi people turned on the Jewish population and violence erupted. Most Iraqi Jews were unprepared for the pogrom, known as the Farhud, in which 180 Jewish people were violently killed and 1,000 others hurt. Businesses and homes were destroyed. In 1950, Iraqi Jews were permitted to leave the country within a year provided they forfeited their citizenship. A year later, however, the property of Jews who emigrated was frozen and economic restrictions were placed on Jews who chose to remain in the country. From 1949 to 1951, 104,000 Jews were evacuated from Iraq in Operations Ezra & Nechemia (named after the Jewish leaders who took their people back to Jerusalem from exile in Babylonia beginning in 597 B.C.E.); another 20,000 were smuggled out through Iran. (referenced from Jewish Virtual Library)

My best friend Jen is a descendant of this community. Her father was born in Baghdad, at a time when over a third of the city was Jewish. He left Iraq as a child, but like many Iraqi immigrants, took his family recipes and customs with him to Israel. Iraqi food has tremendously influenced modern Israeli cuisine, popular food like amba, sabich, kubbe, etc, were all introduced by Iraqi Jewish immigrants.

Jewish Iraqi food is very unique to the Middle East, it is tangy, sweet, sour, full of spices and flavor. It incorporates several important elements of the Iraqi Jewish experience, such as spices and fruit discovered from their travel and trade on the spice routes and trade with other Jewish communities in the region to include India and Iran.

This recipe was introduced to me by Jen and her mother, slight modifications have been made. This recipe is low carb, paleo and low calorie if made with turkey meat.

Cooking time: 1 hour

Serves: 4-6 as a main course


1 package (1 pound) of ground beef or turkey

2 small zucchinis (sliced in small strips)

1 small bag of green beans (washed, ends snipped and cut in half)

2 small white onions

1 egg

6 garlic cloves

1 large can of crushed tomato sauce (unflavored) (3 cups)

1.5 cups of water

2 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1/3 cup lemon juice (optional)

2 tablespoons of harissa or 1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)


  1. Finely dice the garlic and onions, to save time you can put them both into a food processor. Divide in half.
  2. Using a large and wide pot heat your oil, once hot add the onions and garlic. Reduce the heat and cook for a few minutes till your onions are transculent, taking care not to burn the onions or garlic.
  3. Add the tomato sauce, harissa/cayenne, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, water, and lemon juice to mixture, let simmer for 10 minutes. Taste, add more salt/pepper/lemon per your taste. If you prefer a bit more sweetness add a tablespoon of honey. If your sauce is too watery add more tomato sauce or paste.
  4. As the sauce is simmering, start making the meatball mixture. Take the leftover onion/garlic, the egg, and mix well with the ground meat and salt/pepper.
  5. Moisten your hands and begin making golf sized balls. Place the balls gently in the still simmering sauce, take care not to stack them on top of each other or too closely. Let cook for 25 minutes.
  6. After about 20 minutes of cooking, add the green beans and zucchini to the sauce mixture, spoon some of the tomato sauce on the vegetables to coat them.
  7. Let cook an additional 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and serve with rice or couscous.