Some Sephardic families have the tradition of not preparing any black foods during Rosh Hashanah in order to avoid the appearance of mourning. The mothers and grandmothers of these clans are famous for their delicious stuffed vegetables. For Rosh Hashanah, this dish is still prepared, using everything that is in season, except eggplants, black olives and dark raisins. Stella Cohen, the author of Stella’s Sephardic Table, shares her recipe for the queens of stuffed vegetables. [Read more…]
— by Hannah Lee
Much of what I know about the world comes from reading historical novels. Beyond the wars and the political intrigues, these books bring to life the daily struggles of their characters. The best ones portray memorable characters, but this article is about their ability to shed light on little-known aspects of history.
One such book is the new Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes, in which the emancipated black workers of a Southern sugar plantation await the arrival of Chinese farm workers. The able-bodied have left for a new life in the North, so the only ones left are the elderly, the fearful, and the orphaned 10-year-old Sugar, who hates her given name. The Chinese men are young and strong, but the major difference is that they chose to come, to escape famine back home.
The fictive angle is the rapprochement initiated by Sugar between the blacks and the Chinese, creating a community of neighbors who shared their skills in healing and cooking. They swapped stories of Br’er Rabbit, and of the 12 animals named by the Jade Emperor to the Chinese zodiac. This is a finely written book, with realistically drawn characters.
More after the jump.
The book taught me a new aspect of Chinese history. What was extra special was that the author learned about it from a scholarly book written by a Jew, Lucy M. Cohen, titled Chinese in the Post-Civil War South: A People Without History. (That closed the cultural triangle for me.)
Another fascinating book is The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden by Robert J. Avrech, who is better known for his screenplays for the films “Body Double,” “A Stranger Among Us,” and the Emmy award-winning young adult film, “The Devil’s Arithmetic.” The book has a cast of familiar real characters, such as the Apache chiefs, Geronimo and Victorio, and the outlaw Doc Holliday, but it also introduced me to Lozen, Victorio’s younger sister who was respected as a fighter, medicine woman, and midwife. She sat on war councils, and chose not to marry, which was unusual for an Apache maiden.
The hero of the book is Ariel, who is about to mark his Bar Mitzvah, as his family is making their way across the United States after fleeing from one of the pogroms that terrorized the Jews of Russia. Ariel and his family are fictive, but they represent the thousands of Jews who sought freedom in the western expansion of the United States. Especially pleasurable for me were the gems of wisdom from the Talmud and Torah, that Ariel had learned from his father, who had semicha (rabbinic ordination) from the great Rabbi Velvel Soloveitchik, also known as the Brisker Rav.
Just as the present day Dalai Lama learned from the Jewish exodus and diaspora, Lozen learned from Ariel that it is difficult for a tribe of people to survive without a written language:
The elders of our tribe realized that unless our laws were written down, there was the danger that the ways of our people would be forgotten. They understood that for a small tribe to survive among larger and more powerful tribes, the Jews had to build a fence — an invisible fence — around the tribe. This fence was made of words and ideas.
Finally, it was a rare delight to read about a family who observes traditional Jewish rituals even in the difficult terrain of frontier life. As a Hollywood professional, Avrech has written a gripping tale, with cliffhangers that lure the reader to continue. Sadly, the book is dedicated to the memory of his son, Ariel Chaim.
— by Marcia Israel Weingarten
Baklava is a sweet pastry made of layers of Filo dough filled with chopped nuts and bathed in a sweet syrup. It is labeled as a Turkish, Greek or any of a variety of Middle Eastern countries’ delicacy. My family made it on the Island of Rhodes, so I claim it as my own.
The full recipe after the jump.
There are many variations in making Baklava. Different communities feature different nut mixtures and dIfferent configurations when baking. My mom makes a rolled variety. Here is her recipe:
Kaye Hasson Israel’s Rhodesli Baklava
- 1 Lb prepared FIlo Dough
- 5 Cups almonds, ground (or other nuts of your choosing)
- 1 C Sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground Cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 1 C oil in a small bowl.
- 1/2 C Tasted Sesame Seeds (optional)
- 1 1/2 C Honey
- 1 1/2 C Sugar
- 1 C Water
- Prepare a mixture using ground nuts, sugar, cinnamon and gloves. Set aside.
- Open package of Filo. Keep moist and usable by placing a moist cloth over the waxed paper covered batch of Filo that you are not currently using ( otherwise, Filo has a tendency to dry out).
- Place one layer of Filo on your work surface. Brush with oil. Place a second layer of Filo directly on top. Brush second layer with oil.
- Sprinkle nut mixture in a thin, even layer on brushed Filo. Top with one additional sheet of Filo. Brush with oil.
- Begin to roll Filo tightly. Slice rolled Filo log at a diagonal. Cut approximately 1 inch in length. Place cut pieces on a cookie sheet, lined with parchment paper.
- Bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 20 minutes (Since ovens vary, watch as it bakes…when it begins to take on color, you can remove from the oven)
- Allow to cool.
- In the meantime, prepare syrup: Combine all ingredients. Boil on stove. Cook until it becomes “sticky” (if you have a cooled bit between your fingers, it should form “strings”)
- When syrup is ready, pour over tray of baked Baklava. Allow syrup to soak in.
- For serving, “soaked” piece of Baklava can be placed in size-to-fit paper Bake Cups (often called Cupcake liners) and placed on a serving platter.
Marcia Israel Weingarten is the creator of Bendichas Manos. “Bendichos Manos” which means “Blessed Hands,” is an exploration of the Sephardic recipes handed down in Marcia’s family.