Teach your children well… in Ladino.

It’s Pi Day, so here’s something to chew on.

Most parents aren’t prepared to teach their children a first language, let alone a second one. They just talk to their babies who, being babies, soak it all up, and before you know it they’ve figured out how to make themselves understood around the house. The next time languages come up, the kids are turning twelve and on their way to junior high. I believe this is the real reason so many Sephardim of my generation never learned to speak Ladino.

El Call 011b

As small children, my siblings, cousins and I already knew we belonged to something very special. Even so, we were kept a little bit apart from our culture, observers as much as willing participants in our living heritage. We learned to cook. (Delicious!). We learned our family history. (Fascinating!). We learned traditional melodies. (Beautiful!). But when it came to their utterly charming language, most bets were off. Though we may have heard it every day, my elders more often spoke at us in Ladino (typically to shower us with endearments) than with us. Nor with my dad, who they adored ( in case you’re wondering), and he had even taken up Spanish when he was dating my mom. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Other Reading

What do you call a Sephardic butter pastry (besides divine)?

My grandmother was born in Turkey and used to make bourekas and montees, which were essentially the same but shaped differently. The bourekas were turnovers filled with potato and cheese or rice or meat and onions, or spinaca. The montees used the same dough (oil, water, flour), but were made like spiral spanakopita. I’ve never found any info on montees anywhere on the web, and everyone I could ask is gone. Have you heard of them and can you tell me the origin of the name?
Thanks very much
Len

Sure, Len!

First, let’s get you back on track with the spelling. “Montee” should be mantí, a pastry better known as mantikos.

Though your grandmother made her mantí from an oil dough, the name refers to its original star ingredient: butter. The word comes from manteca. In modern Spanish usage, “manteca” on its own brings to mind lard – emulsified pig fat – but the formal meaning indicates any emulsified fat derived from animals or plants. In the past, the specific fat was understood from context; under kosher law the consumption of fat from cow, sheep, and goat meats is forbidden, hence in a Sephardic kitchen, manteca would only mean butter. Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under Glossary, Your Questions Answered

On dining every day, even over pizza.

To read so many recipe columns, you’d think Sephardic Jews eat nothing but lavish, exotic party food. Well, there is life between holidays and social visits, and it is no less enjoyable.

Everyday meals, as much as holiday food, define our cuisine and our philosophy about eating. In examining them what comes through is the value we place not only on food that tastes good but on healthful eating, and sharing a pleasant experience at the table. Though not every day is a festival, every meal should be special, no matter how uncomplicated the recipes.

Some basic ingredients of the Sephardic kitchen.

Some everyday ingredients from a Sephardic kitchen – mine!

Balanced composition, good fresh ingredients, and a few simple techniques are all you need to make a delicious Sephardic meal every day – that and a properly set table. Jewish dietary laws aside, we are rigorous about the content, composition and presentation of our meals. Eating is also a time to take pause and enjoy one another’s company. You’d think these concepts are universal, but I have eaten among people who slap slop on the table, let the forks and knives fall where they may, clutch them like shovels, have no use for napkins, and clear the table while people are still eating. (I have dined among savages). Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Customs, History

Boyos de rayu (Boyikos)

Editor’s note: When I first wrote this post in 2009, it was before I’d sorted out certain details about our food names, and I referred to the biscuits as boyos de rayo, rather than the diminutive boyikos de rayo, which is correct. The comments that followed, which are still posted here, reflected that omission, and it was quite a conversation! This post from November 2012 explains how the Ladino diminutive is used in our food names, so I won’t repeat it here. The recipe link was broken, too! It’s fixed now and re-posted, for those who missed it the first time around. 🙂

 

Everybody loves a good cheese biscuit with drinks, and this is ours. Boyos de rayo are crumbly, yeast-free, oil and cheese biscuits. They’re delicious on their own, but in a meze with preserved fish – lakerda or palamida, olives, maybe some potato ajada, and a chilled wine or raki (Turkish anisette), you could snack happily to satiety.

Boyos de rayo aren’t really buns at all [and should properly be called Continue reading

14 Comments

Filed under Recipes