Oh, Who Needs Flour Anyway?

standard Wednesday April 1st, 2015 Leave a response

When the Israelites left Egypt more than 3,300 years ago, they were in a bit of a hurry and didn’t wait around for their bread to rise. Observant Jews still commemorate their exodus by skipping the leavening, and during the eight days of Passover, regular flour is not used in food preparation for fear that it may have come into contact with water, thereby activating the rising process. I see baking without flour made from grain as an opportunity for creativity. In that spirit, here are two historic Jewish recipes and a modern Israeli one that comply with the special rules of Passover.

One of the oldest recipes for nut flour cakes comes from the Piedmont region in Italy. Italy boasts the longest continuously residing Jewish community in the world. The first Jews arrived in the 2nd Century BCE. Italian Jews adopted local ingredients to prepare dishes for their holidays. Here is a traditional hazelnut cake recipe that is perfect for Passover.

Italian Hazelnut CakeIMG_3486

Adapted from Sweet Artichoke

  • 2 cups ground hazelnuts
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 5 tbls. butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 355 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line a 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper.
  3. Mix the butter, sugar, egg yolks, salt, and ground hazelnuts.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they are stiff.
  5. Fold the egg whites into the hazelnut mixture.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan.
  7. Bake for 40 minutes.
  8. Allow the cake to cool completely before inverting it onto a serving platter.

Judeo-Spanish recipes have been preserved in the communities of North Africa and the former Ottoman Empire since the expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492. Here is a wonderful Passover cake that is still baked by Turkish Jews, which traces its origins to Spain.

Judeo-Spanish Almond-Orange CakeIMG_3449

Adapted from The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden

  • 1 1/2 cup ground almonds
  • 2 navel oranges
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 tbls. orange blossom water

For the orange puree:

  1. Place the oranges in a pot.
  2. Cover the oranges with water.
  3. Bring to a boil.
  4. Lower the flame, and simmer for 2 hours.
  5. Drain and allow the oranges to cool.
  6. Cut oranges in half, remove and discard seeds and puree in a food processor.

For the cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place the orange puree and all the other ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Mix well.
  4. Pour the batter into an oiled 9-inch cake pan.
  5. Bake for 60 minutes.
  6. Allow the cake to cool completely.
  7. Turn the cake out onto a serving platter.

Israeli food has been influenced by Jewish communities from around the world. This delectable chocolate cake was inspired by the pastry chefs of central Europe. The first time it was baked in Israel was in a kibbutz kitchen for the collective Passover Seder.

Israeli Passover Chocolate RollIMG_3468

Adapted from Bel Alfandari

For the cake:

  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbls. Dutch cocoa
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler.
  3. Beat egg yolks with 1/3 cup sugar and the salt.
  4. Mix in the melted chocolate.
  5. In a separate bowl, whip egg whites with the remaining sugar.
  6. When the egg whites are stiff, fold into the chocolate mixture.
  7. Oil a cookie sheet and cover with parchment paper.
  8. Spread the batter evenly over the cookie sheet.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes.
  10. Remove from the oven, and cover cake with two clean, damp kitchen towels.
  11. After 5 minutes, remove the towels and cut around the edges of the cake with a sharp knife.
  12. Invert the cake over a new piece of parchment paper.
  13. Remove the parchment paper that the cake was baked on. Sprinkle one tablespoon of cocoa over the cake.
  14. Roll the cake with the parchment in place.
  15. Allow to cool completely.

For the filling:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tbls. vanilla sugar
  1. Whip the cream with the vanilla sugar.

To assemble:

  1. Unroll the cake, unpeeling the parchment as you go.
  2. Spread the whipped cream evenly over the cake.
  3. Roll it up like a jelly roll and carefully place on a serving platter.
  4. Garnish with more whipped cream, strawberries and chocolate shavings.


If you are intimidated by the idea of making a rolled cake, you can just bake the batter in a 9½ inch pan for 35 minutes. After the cake has cooled completely, top it with the whipped cream, strawberries and chocolate shavings.

Published in The Shuttle

Gefilte Is Not the Only Fish in Sea

standard Sunday March 29th, 2015 Leave a response

Why do we always have to serve fish for Passover? I get this question every year from the non-pescatarian participants in our Seder. They clearly do not share my childhood memories of preparing for the holiday of matzahs.

When I was a kid, purchasing and preparing the fish was an unforgettable experience. Serving fish during the Seder is a tradition that goes back to the Talmudic Era (70 BCE). At that time, fish was an affordable specialty that would elevate any celebration. No Passover or Shabbat table was considered complete without it.

My grandmother Devorah kept the traditions of her native Poland her whole life. Even though she had a perfectly good refrigerator in her kitchen in Israel, we would purchase a live carp on the day before the Seder. When we brought the fish home, our bathtub would be half filled with water. The carp was allowed to swim there, while the children played with it. Due to Israel’s water shortages, the fish was the only one who was ever allowed to take a bath! The rest of us very conscientiously showered, using the minimum amount of water necessary.

When the time came, my father would take his heaviest wrench, and slam the fish on the head, killing it with one blow. Then, he would slice it open, and remove its intestines and organs. He would fillet the fish, extricating the delicate flesh from the spine and skin. Carps have lots of tiny bones, so getting them all out was a lot of work. After rinsing the fish, he would hand-grind it. Now it was good enough for savta Devorah’s gefilte fish!

Despite all the jokes about gefilte fish, I have to admit that I loved hers. She mixed the freshly ground fish with chopped almonds, eggs, matzah meal, salt, black pepper and just a touch of sugar. She prepared a broth with fish heads she had purchased from the fishmonger, carrots and onions. The fish balls were poached in this broth. When they were ready, the delicate patties were removed from the broth with a slotted spoon. My savta would arrange them on a serving platter, decorating each with a carrot medallion from the pot. The broth was strained into a glass jar, and both the fish and the broth were refrigerated until the next day. After all the symbolic foods of the Seder were eaten, Shulchan Orech or “the festive meal” was announced. The first course to be served was the gefilte fish.

Savta Devorah’s gefilte fish would have been very familiar to the Jewish housewives of New York’s Lower East Side at the beginning of the 20th century. Because the bulk of Jewish immigrants came to the United States from Eastern Europe, American Jews immediately associate Passover with gefilte fish.

Ashkenazi Jews do not have a monopoly over the consumption of fish during the Seder. This Passover, you can be adventurous by trying fish recipes from different Jewish communities around the world.

For something exotic, you may experiment with the flavors of the Jewish community of Bombay. Merchant traders from Baghdad founded this community about 250 years ago. They adopted the foods of India, and added influences from Arabia, Turkey, and Persia. Here is a recipe for sardina, a fish served cold for Shabbat and Passover. You may prepare it a day or two in advance, and keep it ready to serve in the refrigerator.


Adapted from “Indian-Jewish Cooking” by Mavis Hyman.

  • 2 lbs. fish fillet
  • curry powder
  • olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
  • 2 mangoes, diced
  • 1 bunch scallion, chopped
  • 1 chili pepper, thinly sliced
  • salt
  • cashew nuts, shelled and toasted
  1. Sprinkle some curry powder and salt over the fish fillets.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy frying pan.
  3. Fry the fish on both sides until it flakes easily.
  4. Place the fish in a large bowl, and allow it to cool to room temperature.
  5. Flake the fish with a fork.
  6. Mix in the mangoes, scallions, tamarind concentrate, and chili pepper.
  7. Adjust the seasoning.
  8. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  9. Serve cold, garnished with cashew nuts.

One of the most ancient Jewish communities in the world is in Georgia, in the Caucasus. The Jews fled to Georgia during the Babylonian Exile, in the sixth Century BCE. Georgia is blessed with a mild climate and rich soil. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts grow abundantly, and are featured in Georgian cuisine. One of the most popular ways of preparing fish in Georgia is with a rich walnut sauce. It is served cold, garnished with pomegranate seeds.

Fish Satsiviphoto-15-e1427241939319-225x300

Adapted from Georgian Cuisine by T. Sulakvelidze.

  • lb. fish fillet
  • 1 cup shelled walnuts
  • 1/2 cup wine vinegar
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground clove
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 whole allspice berries
  • saffron
  • salt
  • dry chili pepper
  • ground black pepper
  • Khmeli-Suneli Georgian spice mix (optional)
  • pomegranate seeds
  1. Place the fish fillets in a heavy pot. Cover them with cold water.
  2. Add the bay leaves and allspice berries.
  3. Bring the pot to a boil, and then simmer for 45 minutes.
  4. Remove the fish with a slotted spoon to a casserole dish.
  5. Place the walnuts, garlic, chili pepper, saffron, ground coriander and salt in a food processor.
  6. Grind the nut mixture.
  7. Empty the nut paste into a pot.
  8. Add just enough fish broth to get a creamy consistency.
  9. Add the chopped onions.
  10. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 10 minutes.
  11. Add the vinegar, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and Khmeli-Suneli.
  12. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes.
  13. Pour the sauce over the fish.
  14. Cover the casserole dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  15. Serve cold, garnished with fresh pomegranate seeds.

After 500 years, Catalonia’s haggadahs come home

standard Sunday March 22nd, 2015 Leave a response

In the 14th Century, Catalonia was the home of one of the most cultured Jewish communities in the world. It is here that some of the most famous illuminated haggadahs were commissioned. However, when in 1492, the Catholic monarchs issued the Alhambra Decree, Jews were officially expelled from the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, and the Jews there had two choices: either convert to Catholicism, or flee.

Read more: After 500 years, Catalonia’s haggadahs come home | The Times of Israel http://www.timesofisrael.com/after-500-years-catalonias-haggadahs-come-home/#ixzz3V8DwTa3Q
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Moses’ Spicy Hamentashen

standard Sunday March 1st, 2015 Leave a response
Photo by Joe Foodie.
Photo by Joe Foodie.

Hamentashen don’t have to be sweet. They may be savory, and even spicy. The important thing is that they have a triangular shape, like Haman’s hat. Here is a fiery hamentashen recipe for Purim. I was inspired by fatayer, which is a type of meat pie from Lebanon.

Moses’ Spicy Hamentashen

Adapted from Just a Pinch.

Prepare the dough:

  •  3 1/2 cups unbleached flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons of instant dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (110°F)
  1. Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and place in a warm place for 60 minutes.

Prepare the filling:

  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons ground sumac
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup tahini paste
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • Hot sauce to taste
  1.  Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot.
  2. Add the onions and cook over medium heat, until they are translucent.
  3. Stir in the ground lamb. When the lamb is browned, add the tomatoes.
  4. Season with salt, hot sauce, allspice, cinnamon, and sumac.
  5. Pour in the tahini paste and pomegranate molasses and remove the pot from the fire.
  6. Stir in the lemon juice and chopped parsley.
  7. Allow the filling to cool to room temperature.


  1.  Pinch off a walnut-sized piece of dough.
  2. Sprinkle little flour on a clean surface.
  3. Roll out the dough into a 3-inch circle.
  4. Place two teaspoons of meat filling in the center of the circle.
  5. Pinch the dough into three corners, to form a triangle shape.


  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Place the hamentashen on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  3. Bake for 15 minutes.

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Purim Poppy Seed Cake

standard Wednesday February 11th, 2015 1 response
Photo by Neptuul
Photo by Neptuul

It is said that Queen Esther kept kosher in the palace of Shushan by eating a vegetarian diet. Seeds and nuts have been an integral part of the diet of the Near East since ancient times. Poppy seeds featured prominently in many recipes, and are believed to have been especially favored by Queen Esther.

One delicious treat that you can bake for your Purim celebration is a traditional Turkish cake called revani. Revani is a poppy seed-semolina cake which is drenched in syrup and garnished with clotted cream.

Poppy Seed Revani

Adapted from Selcen Koca Sari 

Preparing the Syrup

  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • juice from half of a lemon
  1. Cook the sugar and water in a pot until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  2. Add the lemon.
  3. Stir the syrup over medium heat until it thickens.
  4. Turn off the flame, and set aside.

Baking the Cake

  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1 cup semolina flour
  • 1 cup ground poppy seeds
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Mix all ingredients.
  3. Pour the batter into an oiled cake pan.
  4. Bake for between 40 and 45 minutes.
  5. Remove the cake from the oven and pour the syrup over it.
  6. Allow the cake to rest for a few hours so it may absorb the syrup.
  7. To serve, top with Clotted Cream.

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Tu B’Shvat Almond Tart

standard Wednesday January 28th, 2015 Leave a response
Photo credit: Foodie Baker
Photo credit: Foodie Baker

One knows that Tu B’Shvat, the new year of the trees, has arrived when the almond trees begin to flower in Israel.

The beautiful pink and white blossoms signal that winter is over. The almonds themselves, however, will not be ready for harvest until the fall.

This year, Tu B’Shvat begins on February 3, at sundown. You may use almonds from last year’s crop to prepare a festive almond tart in honor of the holiday.

Almond Tart

Adapted from David Lebovitz

  • 1 frozen pie crust
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup ground almonds
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons Grand Marnier
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 7 tablespoons butter
  1.  Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Place the frozen pie crust on a cookie sheet.
  3. Mix all the other ingredients, except for the sliced almonds, in a bowl.
  4. Pour the almond mixture into the pie crust.
  5. Sprinkle the sliced almonds on top of the filling.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes.

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice

A Sampling of Philadelphia’s Colonial Foods

standard Tuesday December 9th, 2014 Leave a response

Philadelphia, the city of almonds, pomegranates, olive oil, chick peas, lentils, dates, grapes,and fava beans? Thanks to the Jews who first settled the North American colonies, Philadelphia was blessed with the introduction of these Mediterranean foods. It is fun to recreate colonial recipes today in order to experience the flavors and aromas of those times and connect with an often overlooked period of the Philadelphia Jewish experience.

The first Jews arrived in this area before the land was deeded to William Penn in 1682. These were Portuguese Jews who had fled the Spanish Inquisition. The first place they settled was Recife, Brazil, while it was a Dutch colony. When the Portuguese conquered Brazil from the Dutch, bringing the Inquisition with them, the Jews moved to North America. First they went to Dutch New Amsterdam (New York). Subsequently Jews migrated from New Amsterdam and settled in Philadelphia to trade furs with the Native Americans. When King George deeded the land to William Penn, the latter embarked on his “holy experiment,” creating a colony where anyone who lived peacefully was welcome. The Jews stayed.

Colonial American food was a combination of English, French, and West Indian food. Local ingredients were incorporated into the diet. Benjamin Franklin encouraged people to eat corn, turkey, and other Native American foods in order to cease their dependence on British exports. Confectionery was very well developed in Philadelphia. It had the best ice cream in America!

One of the most accessible and popular dishes of the time was pepper pot soup from the Caribbean. This was a one-pot meal made with inexpensive meat, seasonal vegetables, and hot peppers. George Washington served it to his troops after crossing the Delaware River to attack Trenton in 1776. For those who wish to try this at home, Mrs. Esther Levy gives a recipe for pepper pot soup in her Jewish Cookery Book, the first Jewish cookbook published in the United States, in Philadelphia in 1871. Below is an adaptation for the modern kitchen.  Read More