Category Archives: Your Questions Answered

Q & A: Medieval Catalan Jewish Food (more familiar than you might imagine)

I just discovered, through DNA testing, that my ancestors lived in Girona. They left when the Alhambra Decree was issued. Do you have any recipes of Jewish specialties from Girona?  Thank you.  Ronit

Sure, Ronit! It may well be you know one or two already, as Catalonia’s medieval Jewish recipes were its first culinary exports.

If you’re familiar with spinach with pine nuts and raisins, you probably think of it as an Italian or Italian Jewish dish.  You’d be right. But there, too, in its endless regional variations (adding lemon and garlic in Rome, chive and anchovy in Genoa, sweet onion and vinegar in Venice, etc.), the basic recipe is attributed to the arrival of Sephardim at the time of the expulsion from Spain.

This classic dish is still eaten all over Catalonia, and you’ll be just as likely to find it made with chard as with spinach. Dressed simply with salt, pepper, raisins, pine nuts and olive oil, today’s typical traditional Catalan recipe is far tamer than European food was in the spice-crazy Middle Ages.  In that era spices were wildly expensive and people who could afford them made a big show of using them. Recipes were Continue reading

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Q & A: Reshikas

Hi, Janet,
Have you ever heard of rechikas?  My grandmother (and later, my mother) made these little dry cookies, not very sweet at all, crunchy and absolutely DELICIOUS, especially when dunked in some Turkish coffee!  OMG, I’m drooling.  Please say you know what I’m talking about.
Yael Eylat-Tanaka
Of course, Yael! Reshikas, or reshas, are exactly as you describe them. My first taste was a mesmerizing experience.  I was very, very young – four, at most – and my mother brought home a bagful after a visit to my great grandma.  My eyes popped, and I couldn’t stop eating them.  Great grandma was already in her nineties, but she still made one mean cookie.
Reshikas are merely biscochos – shortbread cookies –  that are twisted before shaping them into rings. Orange juice (not rind) blended into the dough is most likely the source of the subtle flavor you remember, and the crumbly texture comes from oil.  Growing up in New York our oil of choice was Mazola corn oil – in the 1960’s we weren’t exactly spoiled for choice – but your grandmother surely used a mild-flavored olive oil.   To jog your memory a little, here’s an old post with a photo.

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Sephardic sashimi, with a twist

“My father would eat an appetizer which was raw fish with lemon squeezed onto it. I think it is called LAKADA, made from mackerel. He would eat it with greek olives and bread.
I am a Sephardic Jew who grew up in Brooklyn and now live in Kansas City and would like to know how my mother prepared this dish for my dad.” – Joseph

The recipe name you’re trying to remember is lâkerda,  the Turkish name for an appetizer of marinated raw tuna or of bonito, which is indeed a kind of mackerel (When made with bonito, it is  called palamida, which is the Greek name for that fish).  Both are oily, blue fishes.  I’m not partial to mackerel, but I love raw tuna marinated in lime juice and this is essentially the same thing.

The technique is very straightforward; probably the most difficult part of making lakerda is cleaning and boning the fish.  How you approach that will depend upon the kind of fish you’ve got, and what’s available at the fish market depends upon where you live.  If you don’t know your way around fish, Continue reading

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Sharope: white spoon sweet (Q & A)

Hello, Janet, Have you ever heard the word “sharope”? When I was a child, my grandmother who was Turkish would make a sweet, white paste which she kneaded on the tile floor. We would then snip off pieces and eat them. They tasted of vanilla, and the texture was like a paste, softer than caramel, and not formed. Can you help? – Yael

Yep!  Sharope (shah-ROH-peh)  is a spoon sweet.  It’s  a kind of meringue – a marshmallow creme, really – in which hot sugar syrup, rather than dry granulated sugar, is beaten into egg whites for a long, long time with a wooden dowel. Dry sugar separates quickly from beaten egg whites, but the cooked syrup is more stable and doesn’t separate (this, by the way, is also the process for making Italian meringue), so this is a sweet you can make and store in a jar.  Sharope might be flavored with lemon or almonds or, as in your grandmother’s case, vanilla, which would be delicious.  I’ve never heard of anyone kneading sharope on the floor!  It’s not usually so dense to even allow for that kind of handling, although the longer you beat the meringue, the more  taffy-like it becomes.  I’m guessing your grandmother either beat the meringue for a VERY long time or that she added mastic, which is what gives Turkish ice cream its taffy-like texture (For further explanation, take a look at my post about Dondurma).

If you’re familiar with Marshmallow Fluff, it’s pretty close to sharope – but it ain’t the same.

Thanks for your question, Yael.  A good one!

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