Last weekend I went to see the Medieval Haggadah exhibition that’s just opened at the Barcelona History Museum. For the first time since the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, eight illuminated Haggadot produced in Catalunya in the 14th & 15th centuries are in their country of origin, after having been smuggled out hundreds of years ago to save them from destruction.
I was hoping one or two of them might be opened to illustrations of a Medieval Catalan Seder table (like the illustration to the right), and that among the foods represented I might spot a mina. It wasn’t an unrealistic expectation. Mina is a meat pie that’s unique to Spanish Jews, essential to our Passover meal, and as significant for us as any ritual element of the Seder. But the why of its importance has been a huge mystery for generations. I grew up without ever hearing any explanation for its presence on the table, only that it must (!) be there. And no wonder: it took me years to unravel the mystery myself, and I had to move to Spain to finally get to the bottom of it. Today I begin to explain it all for you. If pies could talk… Continue reading
Today a ramble about a great cook and some cakes.
Of all the great cooks in my family, my grandfather’s sister Rachel (ra-SHEL) was the one who blew everyone else out of the water. Like a molecular chef without the gimmickry, Αunt Rachel knew how to turn everyday ingredients on their heads. Her flavors were huge and delicate at the same time, and textures light as a feather, yet so satisfying, you never felt underfed for eating so ethereally. I remember a salad dressing of hers that seemed to hover above the lettuce leaves. (For real). There was something rare and astonishing about her hand. Among those who knew her, the pleasures of Aunt Rachel’s cooking were legendary, and invitations to dine chez Tante Rachel were the stuff of envy.
Like so many great cooks of her generation, she took most of her culinary secrets to the grave, but there was one she recorded – one – and I was given a cherished copy.
The first time I set out to make Aunt Rachel’s Cake (which we’ve only ever called Aunt Rachel’s Cake), I was living in a tiny mountain village outside of Rome, where days were long, supplies were limited, and my kitchen gadgets consisted of a box grater, two flimsy wire whisks, and a mortar and pestle.
Mandela, Lazio. My cake was born in the tall bright house to the right of the cluster of trees. Photo mine, taken in 2005.
Aunt Rachel was gone several years already, and had retired from the kitchen long before that. (She lived to be 102). Continue reading
That’s ridiculous. Everyone knows the Pyramids were built by extraterrestrials…
Whatever your own theory about who built the pyramids or how, several hundred years ago my female ancestors chose to commemorate the monumental labor with a monumental Passover cookie: the mustachudo.
Hazelnut mustachudos (Sephardic spice pyramids)
Any Sephardi whose family came from Rhodes (and a few other places) has some kind of mustachudo recipe. Mustachudos are soft, chewy cookies made from ground nuts. They weren’t always shaped like these neat little pyramids. That’s my doing. Continue reading
At Passover, whatever’s on a Sephardic Seder plate makes its way into the meal, too, and onto the table throughout the entire week. In my family, harosi is one of the holiday’s most treasured extended pleasures.
Making the harosi each year was one of my grandpa’s favorite cooking projects, as far back as anyone could remember. He made huge batches of it – huge! – with real loving care for both the tradition and for the family. At the Seder we always placed several generous bowls of it around the table to enjoy through the meal, and afterwards, Papú would gift each of us a jar or two – labeled with our names, and swaddled lovingly in acres of paper towel and rubber bands – so we could each keep spreading the love throughout the weeklong holiday. We spread it on matza. We spread it on cake. On cheese. Over ice cream. On spoons – it’s great straight from the jar. Ottoman Sephardim eat spoon sweets, and harosi is one more. Continue reading