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TRADITIONAL FAMILY RECIPES TO BEGIN A YEAR FULL OF BLESSINGS

By: Sarina Roffé



Over the years, I have combined my journalism background and love of Sephardic history with a passion for cooking and entertaining.

I am the granddaughter of Estherina Salem, the first caterer in the Syrian Jewish community in Bensonhurst. Esther could not read or write, so she cooked from feel and touch and taste. Salem Catering was based in her backyard in a garage converted to a kitchen – a backyard kitchen. In the 1940s-50s, there were few catering halls in the community. You went to synagogue to get married or have a bar mitzvah, then went back to the house for the party. Esther and her husband Selim catered hundreds of life cycle events in people’s homes. People tell me even today that I cook like my grandmother, and I am honored to continue her legacy.

As I began to raise my own children, I saw the importance of sharing and passing on that legacy to my children. I needed to write down the recipes for the next generation. Fortunately, when my mother, Renee Salem Missry, got married, she sat with my grandmother and wrote down the ingredients and measurements. With the help of my aunts Sally Elbaz and Viviane Salem, I wrote the directions. These recipes have been handed down from mother to daughter for centuries.

In this article, I am sharing the recipes my family prepared for the special berachotfor Rosh Hashanah. There are many ways to prepare these recipes. You can prepare the lubyaas vegetarian, not meat. You can make leeks into mini egehor simply cook them with onions. People prepare krafseeyaand sylitin different ways. There is no right or wrong way to cook. There are Syrian, Moroccan, Persian, and Lebanese varieties of the same or similar foods. Cookingis an adventure, and with these ancient recipes I hope you will renew the traditions of our rich Sephardic past.

APPLES in HONEY

Of course, you start the meal with the berachotfor challah, then apples in honey. We eat honey so that our year will be filled with sweetness and joy. No recipe needed here, but I recommend trying different types of honey. Honey comes in many different flavors and we have tasted the most interesting ones collected from around the world. This year we picked up one in Portugal when I was speaking at a conference on Sephardim in Braganza. We look forward to using it on Rosh Hashanah.

Leek

Leek is used as one of the berachotso that our enemies and all our evil-wishers may be destroyed. I have seen leek prepared so many ways. My mother-in-law simply put it in her chicken soup and took it out, chopped it up, and put it on the table for the beracha. I am sensitive to vegetarians, so I prepare the leeks, egehstyle. They can be frozen in advance and reheated. You can also bake it in a pan, instead of frying them, to reduce the fat content.

Ingredients:

• 3 bunches of leeks

• 3 tbs. oil

• 1 onion, chopped

• ½ cup fresh parsley, washed, checked,

   and chopped

• 3 eggs

• 2 tbs. matzo meal

• 1 tbs. salt

• ½ tsp. pepper

• Vegetable oil for frying

Directions:

Cut off ends of leeks and peel off hard outer shells. Slice the long way to quarter
each leek and then slice. Soak and clean leek in cold water.

Heat oil in saucepan and sauté chopped onion until translucent.
Add chopped leeks and sauté 5 minutes.

In a bowl add: leek onion mixture, parsley, eggs, matzo meal, salt, and pepper.
Mix together.

In skillet, heat oil, drop by tablespoons into oil. When edges are brown,
flip to cook on other side. As they fluff in the center, remove to a paper towel to soak up excess oil.

Can be frozen at this point on parchment paper-lined tray. Store in a Ziploc bag.

Serve warm.

Krafseeya (Swiss Chard)

Swiss chard is used as a berachaso that ourenemies will be removed. Chopped spinach can be used instead of Swiss chard, or even kale. To prepare this vegetarian style, simply leave out the meat.

Ingredients

• 2 tbs. oil

• 1 large onion, chopped

• 1 stalk celery, chopped

• 1 clove garlic, minced

• 1 14 oz. can chick peas, drained    

• ½ lb. stew meat or veal cubes

• 1 pkg. frozen chopped spinach
   or 1 lb. Swiss chard

• 1 tsp. kosher salt

• ½ tsp. white pepper

Directions:

Heat oil in 3-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and garlic, and sauté 3-4 minutes, until beginning to brown on the edges.

Add meat and cook together on low fire for 30 minutes, until meat is brown and soft.

Add chickpeas, spinach, salt, andpepper.

Note: If using fresh spinach, kale or Swiss chard, wash thoroughly and dry on paper towels. Add in bunches and mix quickly.
The fresh greens will wilt quickly.

Mix thoroughly and simmer 15 minutes.

Serve warm.

DATES

Dates are sweet. We say the berachaso that all our enemies may be destroyed.

Candied Spaghetti
Squash or Halu

The next berachacalls for a gourd, and the prayer is to ask that Hashem will tear up our evil-decrees and that our good deeds will be read before Hashem. Our family has always used spaghetti squash as the gourd. After cooking, it is very stringy, like spaghetti. One nice thing about this recipe, you can freeze it and use it for several years.

Ingredients: 1 spaghetti squash

Syrup

• 3 cups sugar

• 1 cup water

• 1 small lemon,
   squeezed Dash of salt

Directions:

Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray.

Cut spaghetti squash in half. Scoop out seeds and place cut side down on baking sheet. Bake one hour in preheated 350 degree oven.

Mix the sugar, water, lemon and salt in a saucepan and simmer. Cook on low flame until thick.

Scoop out the squash with a fork, so that it is like spaghetti. Squeeze out all the liquid.

Add squash to sugar water and mix. Store in jar in refrigerator or freezer.

POMEGRANATE

You must also have pomegranate seeds for berachot. Pomegranate seeds are used as we ask that our good deeds will be as plentiful as the seeds of a pomegranate.

Lubya (Black-Eyed Peas)

Lubya, or black-eyed peas, is one of those Syrian comfort foods. While black-eyed peas can be prepared year-round, they are one of the berachotfor Rosh Hashanah. We ask that our good deeds will be as plentiful as the black-eyed beans. My mother and grandmother always made lubya with meat, but I prefer to make it vegetarian.
I generally make a batch and also serve it as one of the dishes on the holiday.

Ingredients:

• 2 tbs. vegetable oil

• 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

• ½ lb. flank or veal yadiem

• 1 pkg. frozen black-eyed peas

• 2 tbs. tomato paste

• 1 heaping tsp. kosher salt

• ½ tsp. white pepper

Directions:

In 3-quart saucepan, heat oil on medium heat. Add garlic and slightly brown, then add cubed meat.
Add enough water to cover the meat, and simmer 1 hour, covered.

Note: to make this vegetarian, leave out the meat and reduce cooking time.

Add black-eyed peas, tomato paste, salt, and white pepper.

Cook for another ½ hour. If it looks dry, add a little more water.

SHEEP’S HEAD

Sephardim also say berachotover the head of a sheep – so that we shall always be in the forefront, and not in the rear, in all the good that we do. I generally serve sliced tongue, but I have also seen people use the head of a fish.

Community member Sarina Roffé is author of Branching Out from Sepharad (NY, Sephardic Heritage Project, 2017);
Backyard Kitchen: Mediterranean Salads (NY, Sephardic Heritage Project, 2016), as well as hundreds of articles published in journals, newspapers and magazines.