A Sampling of Philadelphia’s Colonial Foods

standard December 9, 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

Alexander the Great’s Hanukkah Treats

standard December 7, 2014 Leave a response

Who is responsible for the foods we serve for Hanukkah today? The answer might surprise you.

Sephardic Hanukkah specialties, many of which consist of deep fried dough flavored with honey and sesame seeds, all originate from a special honey cake introduced to the Levant by Alexander the Great.

Judea was conquered from the Persians by Alexander in 332 BCE. It was under Greek rule for 191 years, until the Maccabees created the Hasmonean state in Israel in 141 BCE.

The Jews of the upper classes of Judea became Hellenized under Alexander. Josephus explains in his book, The Jewish War, that one of the reasons for the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire in 167 BCE was a civil war between the wealthy, Hellenized Jews of Jerusalem, and the traditionalist Jews of the countryside.

The Hellenized Jews wanted to discard all Jewish traditions, including circumcision, while the traditionalists ferociously guarded their rituals, which ended up sparking a civil war between them. King Antiochus IV Epiphanes sided with the Hellenized Jews, and decided to try to crush the traditionalists.

Antiochus’ prohibitions against practicing Judaism and desecration of the Temple led to the Jewish Revolt, which lasted two years. In 165 BCE the Maccabees were victorious. They cleaned, purified, and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem, and then celebrated the Festival of Lights for eight days. This celebration included feasting, and one of Alexander’s signature treats was on the menu.

What foods did Alexander introduce to Judea?

One ancient Greek recipe that goes back to those days is for honey-sesame fritters. These treats were served at the Greek symposia, “drinking parties.”

Tiganites me meli, “honey cakes,” were believed to absorb alcohol. They remained in the Jewish cuisine in the form of loukoumades, “honey doughnuts,” flavored with sesame seeds, which are served by Sephardic Jews in honor of Hanukkah. Here is the recipe introduced by Alexander.

Honey-Sesame Fritters: Arxaies Tiganites Me Meli K
Adapted from The Classical Cookbook by Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger.

  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
  • olive oil
  1.  Mix the flour, water, and 1 tablespoon of honey in a bowl.
  2. Heat the olive oil over a medium flame in a heavy frying pan.
  3. Drop a tablespoon of batter into the hot oil.
  4. Flip the pancake over when it is golden-brown.
  5. When both sides have cooked, place the fritters on a serving platter.
  6. Drizzle a tablespoon of honey over them.
  7. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.


Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Homemade Hanukkah Coins

standard December 3, 2014 Leave a response

Why are chocolate coins part of the Hanukkah celebration? If you have ever participated in a Hanukkah party, you probably enjoyed the rituals of lighting the menorah, eating potato pancakes or latkes, and receiving a party favor of Hanukkah gelt or money. This custom may have started out as the imitation of a European Christmas tradition.  No celebration of the Saint Nicholas Day in Europe is complete without the distribution of chocolate geld or money.

Saint Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra, in present-day Turkey.  He was a very shy man who was known for his kindness to children.  He would throw gold coins down the chimneys of houses with children during Christmas.  His good deeds are memorialized to this day by Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) and his Moorish sidekick, Zwarte Piet.  Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet parade through the streets, throwing chocolate coins covered with gold foil at the children.

In the 1920s, American chocolate producers were inspired by the Saint Nicholas traditions to create chocolate coins for Hanukkah.  These coins were wrapped in gold and silver foil, and sold in little mesh bags.  In the 1930s, chocolate producer Elite began manufacturing chocolate coins. These coins were molded with the image of the menorah that was found on the last coin minted by the Maccabees 2,000 years ago.

A fun, creative, and delicious activity during Hanukkah is making your own artisanal Hanukkah coins.

Hanukkah Chocolate Coins

  • Chocolate Chips
  • Toasted nuts
  • Candied orange peels
  • Fleur de sel (hand-harvested sea salt)
  • Sprinkles or Jimmies
  • Dried fruits
  • Shredded, toasted coconut
  • Mini marshmallows
  • Toffee bits
  • Crumbled pretzels
  • Chopped-up cookies
  1. Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave or over a hot-water bath.
  2. Pour the melted chocolate into coin-shaped molds, or spoon it onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
  3. Personalize your gelt by adding the topping of your choice.
  4. Allow the chocolate coins to harden at room temperature.
  5. Carefully extract them from their molds, and wrap them with gold or silver foil. 


Published in The Shuttle.



A Diet of Biblical Portions

standard November 19, 2014 Leave a response

One of the first things Jewish children learn about ancient Israel is that it is referred to as “the land of milk and honey.” Beyond that evocative phrase, though, how much do we really know about what the Israelites ate, and what, if any, of their food traditions live on today?

Please continue reading here.


Fall Harvest Pumpkin For Sukkot

standard October 6, 2014 Leave a response
Pumpkins for Baking

Sukkot arrives at the most beautiful time of the year. The trees slowly transform themselves from lush tones of green to vivid shades of gold, ochre, vermilion, and fuchsia. Nature beautifies our surroundings as we build our booths, and decorate them with the seven species Of the Land of Israel and the Four Species of Sukkot. Once our sukkah is built and adorned, it is traditional to serve a festive meal that celebrates the opulence of the fall harvest.

You can have fun picking your own pumpkins, apples, andcranberries. There is also a tradition of gathering black walnuts in the forests of Pennsylvania. The nuts come encased in a round, green fruit. The best way to extract the drupe is to hit the fruit with a hammer against a hard surface. You can harvest your own at Hill Creek Farm.  Of course, you may purchase all of these fruits in your local stores. Here is a delicious and easy recipe that incorporates the fall bounty. It is sweetened with locally produced maple sugar.

Harvest Stuffed Pumpkin

Adapted from Eat At Home

  1. 1 Sugar pumpkin
  2. 2 Honey Crisp apples
  3. 1 cup fresh cranberries
  4. 1 cup shelled, black walnuts
  5. 1 tbsp. butter
  6. 1/2 cup maple sugar
  7. 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Slice the top off the pumpkin.
  • Scoop out the fibrous strands and seeds.
  • Core and dice the apples.
  • In a large bowl, mix the apples, cranberries, black walnuts, maple sugar, and cinnamon.
  • Fill the pumpkin with this mixture.
  • Cut up the butter, and insert into the filling.
  • Place the stuffed pumpkin on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
  • Bake for 90 minutes.
  • To serve, scoop out some pumpkin from the sides along with the filling

Originally published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice

Strategic Feasting Before Fasting

standard September 29, 2014 Leave a response
Courtesy of J. Handron

During the 25-hour fast of Yom Kippur, many people suffer from dehydration, low sugar levels, and lack of caffeine. It is much easier to persevere and achieve success if you prepare well in advance.

Wean Yourself From Caffeine:

Photo: Nevit Dilmen

Photo: Nevit Dilmen.

The one thing regular coffee drinkers miss the most during Yom Kippur is coffee. They miss caffeine even more than water. Coffee consumers should taper off their caffeine consumption during the week before Yom Kippur.

Avoid Dehydrating Foods:

The day before the fast, avoid coffee, tea, chocolate, and alcohol. Abstain from salty foods such as pickles, smoked fish, cheese, cold cuts, and processed food with lots of added sodium chloride.

Read More

Rosh Hashanah Honey Bread From Beta Israel

video September 2, 2014 1 response

One of the most exotic foods for Rosh Hashanah comes from the Ethiopian Jewish community, or Beta Israel.

Yemarima yewotet dabo is a special type of bread, sweetened with honey and infused with spices.

The Kaffa province, located in southwestern Ethiopia, is famous for its mountain rainforests covered with coffee trees. This is where coffee originated. The province also has Africa’s largest population of honeybees. These bees produce a very special type of honey, flavored with the nectar of the coffee tree flowers.

The coffee plant is related to the gardenia family, and the honey produced from its nectar is light and aromatic. Ethiopians have historically taken advantage of this abundance of honey and incorporated it into their foods and drinks.

Baking yemarima yewotet dabo is a very ancient tradition. The dabo is baked in a traditional clay pot called a shakla dist. The Beta Israel women are renown for their pottery making skills, a craft which is passed from mother to daughter.

In the thatched hut villages of Ethiopia, a fire was started to make charcoal. The dough for the bread was mixed in a wooden bowl.

The inside of the shakla dist was lined with fresh banana leaves. This was to prevent the dough from sticking to the vessel.

After the dough was poured in, more banana leaves were layered over it. Then the pot was tightly covered.

This “Dutch oven” was placed on the hot coals, and then some coals were positioned on top of its lid. After about 30 minutes, the pot was removed from the fire. The banana leaves were peeled off, and the aromatic bread was ready.

In 1984, Beta Israel came to Israel with Operation Moses, and brought their distinctive Rosh Hashanah bread with them. You may bake some honey dabo in your oven.

Yemarima Yewotet Dabo: Spiced Ethiopian Honey BreadEthiopian Honey Bread

Adapted from What’s 4 Eats 

  • 5 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup organic wildflower honey
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 egg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Place the yeast in a bowl with ¼ cup warm water. Allow to rest for 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the honey, egg, salt, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and coriander.
  3. Add the yeast mixture to the honey and spices.
  4. Pour in 1 cup of warm milk and 6 tablespoons of melted butter.
  5. Mix in the flour.
  6. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and allow the dough to rise for 90 minutes.
  7. Take the dough out of the bowl, and knead.
  8. Shape into a round loaf.
  9. Place the loaf on a cookie sheet covered with banana leaves or parchment paper.
  10. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  11. Allow the dough to rise for 30 minutes.
  12. Bake the bread for 60 minutes.

I chose to bake the bread much as it had been prepared in Ethiopia.

I purchased frozen banana leaves  and followed the package directions. First, I defrosted them for a couple of hours. Then, I rinsed them with cold water, and dried them off with paper towels. This removed the sap and white powdery substance that naturally occur on the leaves.

I lined my baking dish with the leaves, and using scissors, cut them to the desired size. I placed the dough in the baking dish and put it in the oven. As the bread started baking, the banana leaves imparted a smell reminiscent of tea steeping. (The leaves themselves are not edible.)

After one hour, the dabo was finally ready. I pulled out the golden, crusty loaf, which gave off an earthy aroma. Impatiently, I sliced it while it was still hot. It had a wonderful, moist, spongy texture, with a crackly crust. It was not too sweet, with only a hint of spices.

This bread is delicious on its own, or with more honey, and of course, a cup of Ethiopian coffee.

Melkam Addis Amet: Shanah Tovah!

3 Love Potions for Tu B’Av

standard August 7, 2014 1 response
The Love Potion

Tu B’Av, the Jewish holiday of love, is believed to be a fortuitous time to find one’s bashert, or “soulmate.” Throughout history, people have tried to help move the process along by concocting love potions. This year, the holiday begins at sunset on August 11. Below are three of the most popular “love potions.”

Love Potion Tea

Adapted from a book on Druidic practices

By Shoestring at wts.wikivoyage

  • 1/8 teaspoon Rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons loose Black tea leaves
  • 3 pinches thyme
  • 3/8 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 3 fresh mint leaves
  • 6 fresh rose petals
  • 6 lemon leaves
  • 3 cups water
  • Sugar to taste
  • Honey to taste
  1. Place all ingredients in an earthenware or copper tea kettle.
  2. Boil three cups of pure spring water and add to the kettle.
  3. Sweeten with sugar and honey, if desired.

Love Potion Wine Adapted from a book on Druidic practices

By Dennis Jarvis

  • 1 cup sweet sweet dessert wine
  • 1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon apple juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon strawberry puree
  • 9 fresh rose petals
  • 1 ginseng root, grated
  • 9 fresh basil leaves
  • 9 whole cloves
  • 9 apple seeds
  1. Place all the ingredients in a pot.
  2. Bring to a boil.
  3. Lower the heat and simmer for a few minutes.

Love Potion #9 Adapted from Coleen Graham

  • 1 scoop premium vanilla ice cream
  • 1/2 cup fresh, sliced strawberries
  • 1/2 ounce chocolate liqueur
  • 1 ounce vodka
  • 1/2 cup ice
  • Whipped cream
  1. Place all the ingredients in a blender.
  2. Blend until you have a smooth puree.
  3. Pour into a cold wine glass.
  4. Garnish with whipped cream, a fresh strawberry, and chocolate shavings.

Originally published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice

Baked Ricotta for Shavuot

standard May 30, 2014 Leave a response
Courtesy of Joan Nova

Shavuot, the celebration of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, is a cheese lover’s dream.

Why cheese? The laws of kashrut did not exist before the Torah, so all of the cooking utensils were impure. Jews had to learn how to perform a kosher ritual slaughter before they could consume kosher meat. Therefore, it was easier to make dairy meals.

The Ancient Greeks are credited with inventing the first cheesecake. It was as basic as possible: just baked white cheese.

A perfect cheese for baking is ricotta: an Italian cheese made from the liquid that remains after milk has been curdled, called whey. Ricotta means “recooked” in Italian.

The whey for ricotta traditionally comes from the milk of a sheep, goat, cow or Italian water buffalo. An easy and versatile way to entertain your guests during Shavuot is to start with ricotta al forno, “baked ricotta,” as a neutral canvas.

Baked Ricotta

This is the most elementary cheesecake. You may serve it as a sweet or savory dish by spooning the appropriate topping over it. The savory toppings should be presented with warm, fresh, crusty bread on the side.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Pour the ricotta into an ovenproof casserole dish coated with vegetable oil. Spread the cheese evenly in the dish.
  3. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.

Savory Topping Ideas:

  • Roasted red and green peppers, minced cilantro, and minced garlic tossed with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and black pepper
  • Caramelized onions and sage
  • Zest from one lemon, fresh thyme, salt, black pepper
  • Roasted tomatoes tossed with fresh basil leaves, minced garlic, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and black pepper
  • Roasted asparagus tossed with extra virgin olive oil, minced garlic, salt, and black pepper
  • Artichoke hearts sautéed in olive oil, minced garlic, salt, and black pepper
  • Green olives, tomatoes, and minced garlic sautéed in olive oil with white wine, salt, and black pepper

Sweet Topping Ideas: 

  • Wildflower honey
  • Fresh strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries
  • One pound of peaches poached in 1 cup of water, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, and 1/4 cup of bourbon
  • Melted semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Two sliced bananas sautéed in one teaspoon of butter, 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, a sprinkling of ground cinnamon, and 1/4 cup of rum
  • Two tablespoons of orange blossom water, 1 teaspoon of sugar, a few strands of saffron, 1 cardamom pod, and a handful of pistachio nuts heated together
  • Fresh cherries (1 cup) simmered in 2 tablespoons water, 1/3 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, a few drops of almond extract, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice



Originally published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice