This just in: The Spanish Inquisition may have been on the lookout for telltale signs of the Festival of Lights, but they didn’t turn up much. Hanukah wasn’t a big deal in Spain. Hanukah wasn’t a big deal anywhere, really, until American Jews got overwhelmed by Christmas-driven consumerism and decided to put some muscle behind the menorah – which, when you come to think of it, already represents a lot of muscle, otherwise known as the Maccabees. No shrinking violets, they.
This year we’re having to compete with Thanksgiving! Oddly enough, last year I wrote about Sephardic food and Thanksgiving, after one Alan Moskowitz asked me whether I could re-create his Sephardic grandmother’s mysterious chopped liver “stuffing” recipe, which was really an Ashkenazi/Thanksgiving-inspired mina. Despite the funky name, the result is truly delicious and the story is fun. You should check them both out here, and consider putting a Thanksgiving mina on your holiday table, or your day-after-holiday table – especially if you’re ordinarily inclined to add liver to your stuffing, or giblets to your gravy.
But you really want donuts. No – you want fritters. Bimuelos, it’s bimuelos you want, soft, spongy fritters that puff up with air when you cook them, and are light as a feather. Continue reading
Ours wasn’t much of a potato household. We were – are – Ottoman Sephardim, into lots of rice and a little bit of pasta, and potatoes were a New World discovery that took hold more in northern Europe than in the northern Mediterranean. As far as we were concerned, potatoes were mostly good for filling ojaldres and not much else. My mother’s potato repertoire was limited to baked, mashed, or the very rare purchase of demon frozen French fries, which she insisted on baking because it was ‘healthier.’ Although why she would then fry up a huge platter of breaded fish and think nothing of it is beyond me.
As a potato-challenged people, our forays into latke territory (our Ashkenazi-centric religious school made me feel I wasn’t Jewish if I didn’t eat latkes) were always tentative Continue reading
Anyone who’s read anything about Sephardic food must surely know by now that fish and chips made their way to England via the Portuguese Jews (who, by the way, were largely of Spanish descent).
Fish is an abundant staple throughout Iberia, and just as likely to be fried as not. In a place and time when it mattered, it was the Sephardim who fried their fish exclusively in olive oil, so it was indeed exotic and novel to the English, until then accustomed only to cooking with animal fats, to be introduced to this element of the Mediterranean diet – and in the sixteenth century, no less! The crisp batter is the real seducer, of course, but for me the English version is always a let-down, something they’ve not gotten the hang of despite four centuries of practice. With one exception – one! – I’ve never had fried fish in England that wasn’t Continue reading
Okay, so here’s the story of Hanukah in a nutshell: Political infighting between three guys vying for the High Priest spot in Judea resulted in the murder of one of them, and in seriously pissing off their Syrian ruler, Antiochus, because the murdered guy was his pick for the top spot. So Antiochus got mad at all the Jews because of these infighting knuckleheads, shut their Temple down and forbid anyone from practicing Judaism anymore. If you want a time frame, we’re talking the 2nd century BCE. Eventually, Judah Maccabee, the son of a Jewish dissident priest who was hellbent on regaining religious freedom, formed a guerilla army that successfully ousted Antiochus. With Jerusalem now reclaimed, the Jews could reconsecrate their Temple and start worshipping there again.
If you’re unfamiliar with Jewish synagogues then you don’t know that they always contain a light called the Ner Tamid – Eternal Flame – that burns continually as a reminder of the eternal presence of God. In my lifetime I’ve only ever seen the eternal lightbulb, but 2,200 years or so before Thomas Edison, you can be sure oil lamps were de rigeur. Continue reading