This has never been a “recipe” blog, and I know that frustrates some of the people who come across it, but my aim here is to keep Sephardic cuisine alive by giving it meaningful context. So much context is conveyed through the names of our foods, which come of course from the Sephardic language, Ladino. Today I’m apologizing for my slow output (I’ve gotta make a living, too), but there are some fun and interesting posts on the horizon, and maybe some snark. Frankly, sometimes I unearth historical information that makes my hair stand on end. I hope to publish some of that here before too long.
In the meantime, I’ve just finished reading an article in The Forward about the linguistic cultural work of Rachel Amado Bortnick, a Sephardic woman born in Izmir who lives in the States. This dedicated woman is achieving for the Ladino language what I set out to do for Sephardic food: to keep it alive by giving it meaningful context. Continue reading
Dulce lo vivas – la reposteria sefardi by Ana Bensadón (Ediciones Martinez-Roca, Madrid, 2006)
There are many wonderful Sephardic cookbooks – actually written by Sephardim, for a change – that for whatever reason are not available in English. This is a shame, but I suspect that with the growing mania for all things Sephardic, it won’t be long before a publisher or two snap up some rights and get busy translating. They should.
I came across this book one day in the spring of 2006, in a tea salon in Barcelona’s Barri Gotic (Gothic quarter). Small and unassuming, it caught my eye – a straightforward recipe book with no drawings, very few photographs, and the briefest of introductions. Most of the recipes bore little semblance to the sweets and baked goods I knew from my family’s Ottoman tradition, but there was an approach, a style – delicate, at once elegant and simple – that was undeniably Sephardic. I flipped.
In the post below about ‘Ashkenazi mina‘ I referred to the adaptability of Jewish cooking (which really means Jewish cooks), but in that particular case it would be more appropriate to describe the chopped liver mina as an example of culinary crossover. Seven years living in the Med has taken a toll on my English vocabulary.
A funny thing about that post. All the while writing it I couldn’t stop thinking about really well made chopped liver, which put me onto Jewish deli food in general, and my own personal favorites growing up: garlic pickles (at age 10 I could eat a whole jarful); German cole slaw; roast turkey with cole slaw & Russian dressing on rye; rare roast beef with lettuce & mayo (I know, I know) on rye. Always the rye bread, and if you don’t understand the importance of a good rye bread, watch the Seinfeld episode about the Schnitzer’s rye. Continue reading
I’ve mentioned before how recipe names morph, which can make research tricky. Early in April, in response to a question submitted here, I wrote about a wheat pudding called colva or kolva. The one reliable reference I had found was a 1922 survey on nutrition, thoroughly secular and with no discussion whatsoever of religion or culture. I presented the recipe here – I couldn’t dig deeper at the time – and that was that. But I wasn’t satisfied.
And with good reason, as it turns out. A little more work on the name and I got to the root of near-eastern wheat puddings: colva… kolva… kholva… khalva… halva. Halva! Of course. But halva is just sweet sesame paste, right? Nope. According to Wikipedia, ‘halva’ (or halvah or halavah or halweh, etc.) is the Arabic root word for ‘sweet’, period. Candy. And as a generic it applies to a huge range of grain-based sweet confections “across the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, the Balkans and the Jewish World.” Who knew?
In my house (in America) halva was just one thing – crumbly, bittersweet sesame paste candy – but halvas turn out also to be made from semolina, bulgur, sunflower seeds, carrots, even gourds, and often with the addition of pistachios, almonds, walnuts or peanuts. Continue reading