Flavors from the Emirates for Rosh Hashanah

standard Thursday September 3rd, 2020 Leave a response

The first Jew to write about his travels to the area that is today the United Arab Emirates was Benjamin of Tudela. In 1170, one hundred years before Marco Polo embarked on his voyage to the Silk Road, Benjamin of Tudela traveled to “Kis,” located in the north of the Arabian Peninsula. He wrote about this and many other adventures exploring Europe, Asia, and Africa in his book, The Travels of Benjamin. This year a peace treaty is being signed between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. It will finally be possible for Israeli citizens to follow in the footsteps of Benjamin of Tudela.

Kis was connected to the port city of Julfar, in present day Ras al-Khaimah. Ras al-Khaimah, which means “head of the tent,” is located on the coast of the Persian Gulf. It is famous for its lush date palms and fertile mountain valleys. It was active in trade with East Asia, importing spices, porcelain, silks, gems, and incense. Kis was inhabited by Bedouins, who excelled at trading and navigating.

Many of the foreign traders who sailed to Kis were Jews. A sea captain named Buzurg ibn Shariyar described one of these Jewish traders, named Ishaq bin Yahuda , in his Book of the Wonders of India, first published in 900. In the 1970s a group of Bedouins discovered a Jewish tombstone from the 1500s in Ras al-Khaimah. It was made for a man named David. He was presumably a trader who died in Julfar and had to be promptly buried, per Jewish law. No other archaeological signs of Jewish life have been found, indicating that there was never a significant permanent Jewish community in Ras al-Khaimah.

Benjamin of Tudela probably enjoyed Bedouin cuisine during his sojourn in Kis. The staples of the Bedouin diet consisted of flatbreads baked in an earth oven, goat’s milk yogurt and cheese, olives, fava beans, lentils, dates, pomegranates, grapes, almonds, and melons. For special occasions, grilled lamb or chicken may have been served. Everything was flavored with exotic spices imported from the East. The Bedouins of Kis also grilled the abundant fish they caught in the Persian Gulf.

In honor of the peace treaty between Israel and the UAE, add a special recipe from Ras al-Khaimah to your Rosh Hashanah feast. Like the ancient Jewish traders before you, try this delicious Bedouin recipe for fish flavored with dates and spices. It would be fitting for such an historic Rosh Hashanah!

Samak Mashwi: Charcoal Grilled Fish
Adapted from The Complete Middle Eastern Cookbook by Tess Mallos

Kosher fish
2/3 cup dried pitted dates
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 onions, chopped
1 ½ tsp. Baharat spice mix
1 tsp. ground turmeric
Salt to taste

If grilling over charcoal, light the charcoal and wait until it glows.
If you are using an oven, preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (232 degrees Celcius).
Soak the dates in cold water for 30 minutes.
Wash the fish.
Mix the onions, garlic, Baharat, turmeric, and salt in a bowl.
Fill the fish cavity with the spice mix.
Place the fish in a roasting pan.
Puree the dates.
Coat the fish with the date puree.
Grill the fish over charcoal until it flakes easily with a fork.
If using the oven, roast the fish in the oven for 18-20 minutes.

Hands-On Jewish Holidays Book!

standard Sunday January 17th, 2021 Leave a response

Coming soon! I am very excited to share that after many years and requests from readers of my blog, I finally compiled my thoughts into a book. I will be publishing it soon on Amazon. It will be available in English, Russian, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Where My Matrilineal DNA Path Led Me

standard Saturday August 11th, 2018 Leave a response

In honor of Israel’s 70th birthday, The Jewish Federation Of Greater Philadelphia invited me to participate in a special project called “My Israel Story.” I discuss how my research led me to crypto-Jews, Jews who practice Judaism in secret, who have preserved their special traditions to this day.


Tabouli Cuisines: Philly’s Israeli Druze Outpost

standard Monday June 25th, 2018 Leave a response

As I was perusing the Ardmore Farmer’s Market for dinner ideas, a perfectly formed Maqluba, or molded savory cake made with rice, meat, and vegetables, caught my eye. It is so difficult to get this recipe to come out just right that I felt compelled to find out who the skilled cook was! Mona and Mohammed, the proprietors of Tabouli Cuisines, introduced themselves to me in flawless Hebrew.

Mona and Mohammed are from the Druze community of Majd al Shams in the Golan Heights. The Druze are Unitarians, who believe that they descend from Jethro of Midian. Mohammed’s father served in the Druze Battalion of the Israeli Defense Forces, and was killed in combat in the Yom Kippur War. Mohammed’s mother was left alone to care for her ten children. Mohammed was only ten years old. “It has been a very difficult road, but we have built something,” Mohammed told me.

The inspiration for their food stand came from Mona’s homemade Levantine cuisine. When they came to the United States, their children’s classmates would stay for dinner. When they extended these invitations to the adults as well, their guests loved the food so much that they starting placing special orders to cater festive occasions. Mona prepared everything in her home kitchen.

Eventually they decided to open a food stand. They have built up a loyal following, and I must say that after tasting their food I will be returning too. Everything is made from scratch, with recipes that have been handed down over generations. Apart from their incredible Maqluba, there are colorful, freshly cut salads, stuffed vegetables, kibi (bulgur croquets stuffed with meat), falafel, and baklava. There are many vegetarian and vegan options.

You may purchase their delicious foods at their stand at the Ardmore Farmer’s Market. Tabouli also offers a catering menu and delivery.

Tabouli Cuisines
Address: Ardmore Farmers Market,, 120 Coulter Avenue, Ardmore, PA 19003
Phone: (610) 896-3800

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Aunt Katy’s Hungarian Yeast Cake

standard Monday June 25th, 2018 Leave a response
Photo: Hu Totya.

Shabbat in Israel has unspoken rituals. People eat lunch at around noon, and then rest until 4 p.m. No one calls or rings door bells during those four hours. After the siesta, social life begins again with cake and coffee. The streets fill with people on the way to their friends’ homes for an afternoon visit. Most hosts eschew the convenience of cake mixes or store-bought cakes. They take pride in their family recipes and the pastries they bake themselves. One of my most memorable coffee klatsch experiences was with my Aunt Katy. She baked her family’s Hungarian yeast cake, filled with walnuts from the tree in her garden.

Aunt Katy explained that Hungarian yeast cakes are very versatile. They begin with basic yeast dough that is filled with whatever you have available, or whatever your budget permits. In Hungary, the traditional fillings were sweet farmer’s cheese, walnuts and poppy seeds. In addition, her family prepared jams from the plums and cherries that grew in their garden and baked with them throughout the year.

In Israel, Aunt Katy has a majestic walnut tree in her garden. When the nuts ripen and fall to the ground, she collects them, removes the green fruit that encases them, and allows the nuts to dry. Then, she cracks them open, one by one, and the nuts are ready to be eaten or incorporated into a recipe.

I remember sitting under the shade of the walnut tree in Aunt Katy’s garden as she brought out her yeast cake, still warm from the oven. As the desert breeze blew through the garden, the tree protected me from the afternoon sun of the Negev. I took my first bite of the spongy, crunchy cake. Its delicious nuts nourished me and delighted my taste buds. I felt like the tree was holding me in its embrace, like a true earth mother.

Katy’s Hungarian Cake
Yeast Dough

  • 2 cups flour
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dry yeast
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, cubed
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons warm milk

Walnut Filling

  • 3 1/2 cups ground walnuts
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/3 cup raisins soaked in water

Egg Wash

  • 1 egg, separated

Preparing the filling:

  1. Bring the milk and sugar to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients.
  3. Cook while stirring, until all the liquid has been absorbed.
  4. Set aside to cool.

Preparing the dough:

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk and one tablespoon of sugar.
  2. Wait about 10 minutes until the mixture begins to foam.
  3. Add all the other ingredients and knead together.

Assembling and baking the cakes:

  1. Cut the dough into 2 pieces.
  2. Roll out the first piece to form a rectangular shape.
  3. Spread 1/2 of the walnut filling over the dough, leaving a 1-inch margin on all edges.
  4. Fold in the edges to create a frame to contain the filling.
  5. Roll up the dough like a jellyroll.
  6. Pinch the ends shut so the filling does not spill out during the baking process.
  7. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  8. Repeat this process with the rest of the dough and filling.
  9. Whisk the egg yolk, and paint the cakes with a pastry brush.
  10. Allow the cakes to rise in the refrigerator for 5 hours.
  11. Remove the cakes from the refrigerator.
  12. Preheat the oven to 350 °F.
  13. Whisk the egg white, and apply a layer on each cake.
  14. Poke some holes in the dough with a skewer so the steam may escape while the cakes are baking.
  15. Bake the cakes for approximately 30 minutes, until they are golden-brown.

This recipe makes two cake rolls.

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Philadelphia Jewish Voice Past President Ronit Treatman Honored

standard Friday May 18th, 2018 Leave a response

Tonight, we gathered not only to mark the anniversary of our paper, but to honor Ronit Treatman, whose role with The Philadelphia Jewish Voice has been critical to our growth and success.

Dan Loeb, founder and publisher of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, presents a silver menorah to immediate past president Ronit Treatman in thanks for her leadership. Photo by Bonnie Squires.

Ronit began writing for us in 2009. She soon became a regular contributor to the food column, “The Kosher Table,” which was founded by Lisa Tuttle. Ronit eventually succeeded Lisa as food editor in 2010.

Ronit’s food column allows our readers to meet innovative people who are influencing what we eat and how we consume it. The readers are attracted by delicious food which Ronit and her writers present, but she does not simply present recipes. Instead, the reader is invited to explore culinary trends and ingredients, and the way they are intertwined with Jewish history, geography, and traditions.

Ronit is our guide as we can travel around the world and experience its diverse Jewish communities, and the native flavors found in their regional culinary specialties. She helps us discover our own local farms, artisan purveyors, and restaurants.

Ronit passionately embraces new technology – spearheading the Philadelphia Jewish Voice’s use of social media – and incorporating video in her columns. For example, her video in colonial garb, showing how cholent was prepared in America hundreds of years ago.

Ronit’s writing has an international appeal. In fact, her article on kosher locust attracted attention around the world and landed her an interview on the Public Radio International’s program, “The World”.

Beyond her column, Ronit helps in all aspects of our paper and its leadership. Ronit has just concluded two years as president of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice. She served with her usual thorough, intelligent and insightful approach, helping to build the publication and encourage its volunteers, presiding over a period of growth, innovation and success for The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

The Treatman family. Photo by Bonnie Squires.

Ronit is a wonderful ambassador for the modern Jewish family and for her love of Israel. She was born in Israel and has lived in Ethiopia and Venezuela before settling in Philadelphia. She graduated from the International School of Caracas, is fluent in five languages and has a B.S. in international business from Temple University.

Ronit’s devotion to The Philadelphia Jewish Voice is typical of her commitment to Israel and the Jewish Community. Ronit served as a volunteer with the Liaison to Foreign Forces Unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). She and her husband – the successful lawyer and real estate developer Howard Treatman – are active members of the Germantown Jewish Centre. She is committed to fighting the Boycott, Divest & Sanction movement and anti-Zionist propaganda in our community.

Ronit’s children Devorah, David and Hannah share their parents’ passion for Israel. They have attended Jewish day schools, and Devorah recently completed her service in the IDF. With such role models it is no wonder that the children are carrying on their parents’ commitment to community and leadership.

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Ten Commandments Surprise Cookies

standard Friday May 11th, 2018 Leave a response

My favorite inauthentic part of eating at a Chinese restaurant is the fortune cookie at the end of the meal. Many modern Chinese restaurants won’t serve fortune cookies because they are not part of the Chinese tradition. I decided to bake my version of these biscuits for Shavuot. Rather than containing fortunes, each cookie will celebrate the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai by revealing one of the Ten Commandments. My new tradition may be as American as the creation of the original fortune cookies.

The fortune cookie as we know it was invented during the 1800s in San Francisco. It was adapted from a recipe for Japanese rice crackers. In Japan this type of snack is called tsujiura senbei. It is flavored with sesame oil and miso, and is not sweet like the American version. The fortune is written on a slip of paper that is rolled up tightly. The paper remains outside the biscuit, securely tucked into the pinch in the middle of the cracker.

According to Deuteronomy 18:10, “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, one that useth divination, a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer.” In other words, fortune telling is forbidden in Judaism. That being said, cookies containing secret messages within them are really fun! In celebration of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, I decided to bake my own Japanese-inspired cookies at home. I prepared wafer rolls, which are easier than fortune cookies. Instead of fortunes, I hid one of the Ten Commandments in each of them. You may find the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:4-21.

If you don’t have the time or the patience to bake your own cookies, you will get a similar result if you buy a tin of hollow wafer rolls. These are usually used to garnish an ice cream sundae. Just roll up each commandment and place it inside the cookie. This is a fun party favor to include whether you are a host or a guest.

Ten Commandments Surprise Cookies

  • Ten Commandments written on slips of paper
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 eggs whites
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp. butter, melted
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl into a batter.
  3. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  4. Drop 1 tbsp. of batter on the cookie sheet, and spread it to form a 3-inch disc.
  5. When all your cookies are formed place the tray in the oven.
  6. Bake for 8 minutes.
  7. Remove the tray from the oven.
  8. Brush the handle of a wooden spoon with a little vegetable oil.
  9. Roll each cookie around the handle.
  10. Slide each cookie tube off the wooden spoon and allow to cool completely.
  11. Roll up each commandment and place inside a cookie.

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Lag BaOmer Orange Infused Buns

standard Sunday April 22nd, 2018 Leave a response

In Israel, the arrival of Spring brings with it the smoky smell of Lag BaOmer bonfires. The outdoorsy Jewish holiday falls on May 3 this year, and where there will be fire, there will be creative outdoor cooking. In honor of Israel’s Jaffa oranges, here is a recipe for a truly sabra Lag BaOmer treat. This year you may try buns cooked in orange peels in the embers. If you do not have time to prepare the dough in advance, use refrigerated dough from the supermarket or brownie, cake, or muffin mix. If lighting a bonfire near where you live is completely out of the question, the outdoor grill or fire pit will do.

Orange Infused Buns

Ingredients for yeast dough:

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 ½ tsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. rapid rise yeast
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips, almonds, pecans, cranberries, raisins, or a combination.

Preparation for the yeast dough:

  • In a large bowl combine the water, sugar, and yeast.
  • Set aside to rest in a warm place for 15-minutes.
  • Mix in the flour, salt, and oil.
  • Knead the dough for 10-minutes.
  • Add the chocolate chips, nuts, and/or dry fruits.
  • Knead the dough for a few minutes.
  • Oil a large bowl.
  • Transfer the dough, and turn over to coat with oil.
  • Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and put in a warm place.
  • Allow the dough to rise for 1-hour.
  • Punch down the dough.
  • Allow to rise again for 45-minutes.

Preparation for the the Jaffa oranges or navel oranges:

  • Slice the oranges in half.
  • juice the oranges.

  • Fill an orange half with yeast (or other) dough.

  • Close with another orange half.
  • Wrap with 3-layers of aluminum foil.

  • Place in the bonfire, and cover with hot coals.

  • Cook the dough for 30-minutes.
  •  Unwrap the orange.

As you peel back the aluminum foil you will find piping hot, smoky steamed buns (or cakes) permeated with the flavor of the orange. Enjoy eating them with a spoon.

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Israeli Independence Day or Yom Ha’atzmaut Menu

standard Wednesday April 18th, 2018 Leave a response
Photo: David Weekly

We have been blessed to merit participation in the celebration of 70 years of the modern State of Israel. The dreams of countless Jews have been realized in our times. After the Holocaust, it was the goal of the survivors who participated in building the new State of Israel to create the “New Jew,” one who would be different than the ones in Europe before the war. This “New Jew” was the Sabra, the Israeli. Sabras were strong, proud Jews. They did not look, act, speak, or dress like their parents. They also did not eat the foods of Eastern Europe. They ate Israeli food such as pita, falafel, hummus, and olives. Lets celebrate this wonderful occasion with an Israeli falafel bar.

Your falafel bar may replicate the experience of going to a falafel stand in Israel. You may purchase most of the components of a falafel ready made. Your guests will be free to compose their falafel any way they like. You will need:

  • Pita bread
  • Falafel balls
  • Tahini
  • Hummus
  • Baba ganoush
  • Israeli salad
  • Olives
  • Pickled cucumbers

For your convenience, the only thing on this list that I recommend that you prepare from scratch is the Israeli salad. This salad is very versatile and open to interpretation. If you like you may add diced radishes, fresh mint leaves, or parsley. You may also omit anything you don’t like and strip it down to the basic tomato, cucumber and pepper salad. You may purchase the rest already prepared either refrigerated, canned, or frozen.

Photo: Sharon Gefen

Israeli Salad

  • 1 tomato
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 pepper
  • green onion, to taste
  • cilantro, to taste
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt, to taste
  • black pepper, to taste
  1. Dice the tomato, cucumber, and pepper.
  2. Cut up the green onion and cilantro.
  3. Juice the lemon and add to the salad.
  4. Add the olive oil.
  5. Season with salt and black pepper.
  6. Toss well.

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.