Contrasts of flavor, color and texture are an integral part of Sephardic gastronomic tradition – of others, too, of course, though by no means all (where I live, the food is mostly mushy, bland and tending toward weirdness), and to varying degrees among them. One of our signatures is a sour sauce, agrestada, or agristada (from the Spanish root word agrio: sour).
Agrestada is an egg and lemon mixture that’s either blended right into a hot dish as a finishing touch, exactly as the Greeks do avgolemono (which means egg-lemon), or cooked separately to yield a luscious lemon mayonnaise. The light note – and that’s all it is supposed to be – of sourness, of piquancy, wakes up the taste buds with a pleasant, lemony tingle, not a shock. It’s intended for specific dishes, to bring out the flavors it accompanies, not to compete with them, to create a ‘whole’ experience; a gastronomic yin and yang. Which means the lemon flavor should be easy to discern, but it shouldn’t twist up the mouth like a fistful of Sweet Tarts, or whack you – or the food it’s eaten with – senseless. Continue reading
Years ago my brother-in-law, who is a tall, blue-eyed, blond-haired WASP from Ohio, told my sister, who is a tall, brown-eyed, olive-skinned Jew from New York, that when he first laid eyes on her he was struck by her exotic looks. “Exotic!!?” she cried, “Where I come from, Meg Ryan is exotic.” Exoticism, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder and has everything to do with your frame of reference. Continue reading
My mother used to make what we called Ajada. It was made with soaked bread, eggs, fresh garlic and lemon juice. It was mixed and mashed together and we used it as a dip for meat. What is the origin of this food? Is it Turkish or Spanish or Greek? I would love a recipe if one is available. Did I ask this question before? Thanks and wish I could come and take a class with you.
Good question, Estelle.
Ajada, a traditional Sephardic condiment, has its roots right here where I live in the north western Mediterranean and is just one member of a broad category of emulsions that are used at table to flavor savory meals – meats, fish, soups, stews, vegetables, you name it. The word ajada is Ladino and translates loosely as ‘a thing made of/with garlic’ which, along with olive oil, is the basic recipe for the whole category. Between Catalan, Spanish, French, Langue d’Òc, Italian and umpteen different dialects of each, garlic & oil emulsion goes by at least a dozen different spellings, among them alioli, aioli, alhòli, alloli, ajjoli, aillade, and ajada. The French word in the group, aillade, is equivalent in structure to the Ladino ajada. The others you see here are all compound words, in various Romance languages, that mean garlic (allium – of the onion family) and oil (oleum). And with this many variations in the spelling alone, you can easily imagine the countless variations in the recipe – Continue reading