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

Alexander the Great’s Hanukkah Treats

standard Sunday December 7th, 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 Kphoto-10-e1416362512180-225x300
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 Wednesday December 3rd, 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 Wednesday November 19th, 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 Monday October 6th, 2014 Leave a response
Pumpkins for Baking
Photo by Danielle Scott

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