Ashkenazi Mina, Anyone?

Dear Janet,

My grandparents Nissim, and Virginia, originally came from Istanbul, and the area in Bulgaria just over the Turkish border. I grew up eating borekas, spinach pies, haviar (tarama), biscochos, et al. But there is one dish my grandmother made that although I’ve researched everywhere haven’t found anything remotely similar. Unfortunately no one’s left alive who can even remember what it was called. The ingredients were ground liver, raw eggs, chopped walnuts, rye bread, and possibly chopped onions/celery. The raw ingredients were combined making a paste, which was then spread into a greased baking pan about 1/2 an inch thick, the top glazed with beaten egg, and baked. When cut and served it was quite firm, and dark brown on top. Have you ever heard of anything similar?

Thanks so much for all your hard work, it’s been an enjoyable read.

Alan

Wow.  When we talk about Jewish cooking being adaptive, I suspect this may be a prime – and very personal – example.  Off the top of my head, this sounds like a Sephardic rendition of a classic Ashkenazi dish from Eastern Europe:  chopped chicken liver.  Neither rye bread nor chopped chicken liver are part of Sephardic gastronomy.   Ashkenazi chopped liver is sauteed in a pan with onions, mashed to a paste with hard boiled egg and typically eaten with rye bread (Delicious.  I’d make it here in Spain if I could find rye bread.  Or caraway seeds, for that matter).  On the other hand, walnuts are native to the Balkans and very much an element of Turkish and Bulgarian cooking, Sephardic or otherwise.  They would have been a food your grandparents grew up with.

The cooking method you detail is similar to Ottoman mina and Algerian meguena – Sephardic baked meat pies – though the resulting texture as you describe it didn’t have the delicacy of the Sephardic dish, which is made lighter by adding chicken broth and beaten eggs to the mixture. That difference is a reflection of either Bulgarian cooking or of your grandmother’s.

You don’t indicate whether she made this dish prior to emigrating; however, I suspect it might be something she invented afterwards, applying a classic Sephardic technique to this quintessential Ashkenazi dish she might have first tasted in America – in the Moskowitz household, perhaps?  Unless someone can tell me otherwise, maybe you’ll want to call the dish Virginia’s Ashkenazi Mina.

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5 Comments

Filed under History, Holidays (fiestas judias), Your Questions Answered

5 responses to “Ashkenazi Mina, Anyone?

  1. Alan Moskowitz

    Janet thanks so much. No my mother’s parents were Levys, (my father was Moskowitz), and they lived in a vibrant Sephardic Community that once existed on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, NY, and emigrated here in the early 1920’s, so no clue as to whether this dish was made in Bulgaria/Turkey. My grandmother usually served it at Thanksgiving, and it was always referred to as stuffing. The last time I tried to make it, it came out like chopped liver, (I’m thinking my liver to bread ratio was too high.) as opposed to the firm dense pie my grandmother made, I’m also pretty sure she used raw beef liver. I did find a Russian Recipe that combined Liver & Walnuts, but that’s as close as I came. As far as outside culinary influences, NYC is a melting pot, and my grandfather was multi-lingual – speaking ladino, hebrew, greek, turkish, english, and french, he worked his way through Greece on the railroad before coming to the US, and was a window washer which took him into many different neighborhoods/ethnic enclaves, he also worked as a cook in a bar in Harlem on 8th Ave. in the 40’s & 50’s, so I’m sure he was even acquainted with a smattering of soul food. My grandmother’s family (which was also my grandfather’s family – distant cousins), was from Bulgaria/Turkey, but she had lived in Paris for a while as a seamstress in a Couture Design house. I will experiment with my recipe again this year, and if I approximate my grandmother’s stuffing, I’ll send you the recipe. As far as creative culinary adaptation goes, I remember my shock and indignation at biting into the Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwich with cream cheese my grandmother made me a a small boy, when I objected to the cream cheese, she thought for a second, then said she added it so the Peanut butter wouldn’t stick to the roof of my mouth. 🙂 Thanks again Janet, love your site, you rock!

    • Janet Amateau

      Alan, if you remember a large liver, try calve’s liver instead of beef. Less intense. Thanks for telling me about the Russian recipe; I really do think Grandma Levy may well have picked something up in NYC and adapted it Sephardic style. Unless someone knows otherwise right off the bat, I’ll stick with that theory until I have time and better resources to confirm or revise my opinion (I’m sitting here in a little Spanish pueblo and, for the time being, working from hunches).

      As an aside, our family stories are so similar, it’s very likely the families knew one another. Grand Concourse and Harlem (my mother was born there) as the Sephardic stomping grounds of the 1920’s, polyglots who took all kinds of jobs and saw so many sides of New York. My Rhodesli grandmother was also a seamstress, for a couture house in NYC. She made costumes for the silent film industry. My Turkish grandfather and his brothers made use of their multiple languages working at first for Nabisco (which was housed in what is now the Chelsea Market), wearing straw boaters and selling bread to hotels & restaurants in an era when French was ‘the’ language of fine food and hostelry. They delighted in knowing that between their Ladino accents, multiple languages and adopted surname (Mizrachi became Morel) nobody could figure out where they were from. This is all very much the Sephardic experience of the early 20th century.

      You should write more about your family history just as you remember it, just as you’ve told me here. It’s wonderful to read. Our grandparents were brave, brash, full of life and optimism. THEY were the ones who rocked 🙂 Good luck with the liver! – JA

    • Janet Amateau

      Alan, I read your comments again and the second time around I’m even more convinced of the mina crossover. Mina is de rigeur at Passover, in our house the favorite food on the Seder table (we make it really well!) and Thanksgiving has so many similar elements to Passover that I (and many) have often enough described Passover to people with no exposure to Jewish culture as the ‘Jewish Thanksgiving’. A useful shortcut and a logical comparison. I can’t help but wonder whether your grandmother thought along the same lines, which would explain her mina-like dish entering into her own Thanksgiving tradition (assuming she picked up on chopped liver on rye in NYC…). — JA

    • Dear Alan,
      I read your blog entry. My father’s family is Levy from Adalia Trukey. My father’s uncle was Raphael Levy who
      lived on the Grand concourse in the 50’s and 60’s (he passed in 1975) He was married to a Matilda Menashe.
      Do these people ring any bells?
      My mom was from Bulgaria (Haskovo) family Ben- Bassat.
      I live in the Bronx now and drive by what used to be
      the sephardic synagogue on the Grand Concourse (which is now a church) everyday (it brings back so many memories!).
      Those were the days!
      Rachel

  2. Alan Moskowitz

    Janet & Rachel,

    I’m guessing my Grandparents knew your Uncle, and Janet if your family was affiliated with the Sephardic Jewish Center on the Grand Concourse, well your’s too. I have a photo of a large Banquet, Honorary Dinner of some Benevolent Society from the late 50’s or early 60’s which I’ll attempt to scan. Maybe your people are there too. Janet, I can remember going to a Greek Festival at the local Greek Orthodox Church (I’d go every year w/my Mom and Grandparents), and the band that played the Greek Festival in the church was the same band that played at my Parent’s wedding in the Sephardic temple, or that my grandfather could get almost anything he wanted in a Greek Diner, whether it was on the menu or not.
    Rachel, as far the names you’ve mentioned, I see them every time I visit my grandparents, and Uncle in the cemetery in Paramus, NJ. My Mom Zelda Levy, and Uncle Irving Levy, definitely knew people of these names. There is a dentist in Dumont, NJ, who I made a half hearted attempt to contact named Jack Levy, he was from my Uncle’s Generation, so figure 70 some odd years old, maybe now I’ll try to catch up with him, as this correspondence has reignited the flame I had when searching for lost recipes. Ladies have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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