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
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.
To everything there is a season, and a reason. Sephardic custom – all Spanish custom – is to finish everyday meals with a very simple but specific category of desserts: things soft, light, sweet and simple. It’s the time for puddings, custards, flans and simple fruit dishes, cold in summer, warm in winter. Cakes and more elaborate desserts – and lots of them! – are for festive occasions. This was certainly the norm in our house, and I suppose it served us well by establishing sound eating habits with room for the occasional exercise in outrageous excess (When we were growing up, large and lavish birthday or holiday meals were immediately followed by a second meal, equally large and lavish, called dessert). Continue reading