Category Archives: Holidays (fiestas judias)

Where’s the Beef? (All About Mina, and Some Medieval Haggadahs)

Last weekend I went to see the Medieval Haggadah exhibition that’s just opened at the Barcelona History Museum. For the first time since the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, eight illuminated Haggadot produced in Catalunya in the 14th & 15th centuries are in their country of origin, after having been smuggled out hundreds of years ago to save them from destruction.

Barcelona Haggadah 28v29r.lI was hoping one or two of them might be opened to illustrations of a Medieval Catalan Seder table (like the illustration to the right), and that among the foods represented I might spot a mina. It wasn’t an unrealistic expectation. Mina is a meat pie that’s unique to Spanish Jews, essential to our Passover meal, and as significant for us as any ritual element of the Seder. But the why of its importance has been a huge mystery for generations. I grew up without ever hearing any explanation for its presence on the table, only that it must (!) be there. And no wonder: it took me years to unravel the mystery  myself, and I had to move to Spain to finally get to the bottom of it. Today I begin to explain it all for you. If pies could talk… Continue reading

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Αlmost Αunt Rachel’s Cake

Today a ramble about a great cook and some cakes.

Of all the great cooks in my family, my grandfather’s sister Rachel (ra-SHEL) was the one who blew everyone else out of the water.  Like a molecular chef without the gimmickry, Αunt Rachel knew how to turn everyday ingredients on their heads. Her flavors were huge and delicate at the same time, and textures light as a feather, yet so satisfying, you never felt underfed for eating so ethereally. I remember a salad dressing of hers that seemed to hover above the lettuce leaves. (For real). There was something rare and astonishing about her hand. Among those who knew her, the pleasures of Aunt Rachel’s cooking were legendary, and invitations to dine chez Tante Rachel were the stuff of envy.

Like so many great cooks of her generation, she took most of her culinary secrets to the grave, but there was one she recorded – one – and I was given a cherished copy.

The first time I set out to make Aunt Rachel’s Cake (which we’ve only ever called Aunt Rachel’s Cake), I was living in a tiny mountain village outside of Rome, where days were long, supplies were limited, and my kitchen gadgets consisted of a box grater, two flimsy wire whisks, and a mortar and pestle.

Mandela, Lazio. My cake was born in the tall bright house to the right of the cluster of trees. Photo mine, taken in 2005.

Aunt Rachel was gone several years already, and had retired from the kitchen long before that. (She lived to be 102). Continue reading

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Riff on a ram’s horn

Happy New Year!

Today I offer you an audiovisual mash up that’s best appreciated during this holiday. It’s brought to you by a biblical blast from a ram’s horn, and one of the musical heroes of my childhood. Continue reading

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Hold the cheesecake; I’ll take sutlatch

Raise your hand if you’re not sure what Shavuot is about.

This very nice holiday commemorates the Jewish people’s receiving the Torah – from God! – on Mount Sinai. Needless to say a pivotal moment, and this was after they’d fled Egypt and slavery, and been traipsing around the desert for seven weeks trying to sort themselves out. That was quite a spring, full of momentous occasions, big decisions, and major commitments.

This year the holiday begins on June 3. If you’re so inclined, a few days from now you’ll be staying up all night in a Torah study group somewhere, which is what people do to observe Shavuot, and maybe still wondering what to cook, because of course there’s a meal before the all-nighter. Or you might be worrying about what’s on the menu, if you’re not doing the cooking, and with good reason. In Ashkenazi tradition, the night kicks off with a dairy fest: cheesecake, cheese blintzes with sour cream, and I don’t know what else. Everything served should be white and have started out inside a sheep, a goat or a cow. Continue reading

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Filed under Holidays (fiestas judias), Recipes