Romaniote Jewish Pastitsada

standard Monday January 16th, 2017 Leave a response

A shorthand way to differentiate between Jewish communities is to denote them as “Ashkenazi” and “Sephardi.” There are several Jewish groups that do not fit into these categories. One such community is the Romaniote Jewish community of Greece.

Romaniote Jews have lived in Greece for over 2,000 years, initially arriving after the fall of the Second Temple. Some of them were brought as slaves. The name “Romaniote” is derived from the Greek name for the Byzantine Empire, “Romaioi.” They speak Yevanic, or Judeo-Greek. Many of them settled in Corfu, one of the Ionian Islands in northwestern Greece. The majority of this community was deported to concentration camps and killed during the Holocaust. Fewer than fifty Romaniote Jews remain in Ioannina today.

First settled by the Phoenicians, Corfu was conquered by the Venetians in 1386. The Venetians ruled over Corfu for 400 years. Corfu withstood two sieges by the Ottomans, never succumbing to Ottoman rule.

The original cuisine of Corfu was Mediterranean. It mainly consisted of wine, olive oil, wheat, fish, and foraged edible weeds. During the Middle Ages, when the Venetians captured Corfu, Venice controlled the spice and sugar trade. The Venetians brought new foods to Corfu from America and the Far East. These included coffee, chocolate, tomatoes, corn, peppers, and beans.

The Jewish community adopted these foods. Pastitsada is one of the most famous recipes from Corfu. Every cook has his or her own signature mix of spices that seasons the sauce. Traditionally, pastitsada was cooked with rooster meat. Cubed beef may be substituted by the modern urban chef.

Photo by Hideya HAMANO

Photo by Hideya HAMANO


Adapted from Authentic Greek Recipes

  • 2 Lbs. cubed beef
  • 1 Lb. pasta
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup tomato, cubed
  • 4 onions, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • ¼ tsp. ground chili pepper
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot.
  2. Brown the meat, and place in a separate pot.
  3. Brown the onions, and add them to the meat.
  4. Place the pot with the meat over the fire.
  5. Stir in the wine, chili pepper, cinnamon sticks, cloves, salt, and black pepper.
  6. When the wine boils down, add the tomato paste. Stir the contents of the pot until all the meat is coated with tomato paste.
  7. Add the cup of cubed tomato.
  8. Pour in enough water to cover the meat.
  9. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 1 ¼ hours.
  10. In a separate pot, boil water.
  11. Add salt and a few drops of olive oil.
  12. Stir in the pasta.
  13. Cook until it is al dente (about 10 minutes).
  14. Drain the pasta.
  15. Serve the pasta with some meat sauce ladled onto it.

Akara: Black-Eyed Pea Fritters

standard Saturday December 31st, 2016 Leave a response
Acaraje Baiana: A Hanukkah Food
Photo by Baiana Claudia

What should you serve when the last night of Hanukkah abuts the secular New Year’s Eve? The Yoruba tribe of West Africa offers the perfect recipe for a mash-up of traditions. It makes it possible for you to combine the American southern custom of serving black-eyed peas for good luck with the Hanukkah tradition of serving latkes. The result is akara, one of the most popular snacks in West Africa.

Akara means bread in the Yoruba language, yet it is gluten-free. It is prepared by cooking and pureeing black-eyed peas, then seasoning them with salt and onions and frying them in palm oil — but, in honor of Hanukkah, this recipe calls for olive oil. After it is cooked, akara is eaten with a spicy sauce.


  • 1 can black-eyed peas
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic
  • Minced chili pepper to taste
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Olive oil
  1. Process the black-eyed peas in a blender.
  2. Mix with the onion, garlic, salt, black pepper and chili pepper.
  3. Shape the batter into walnut-sized balls.
  4. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  5. Fry in the olive oil until golden-brown.
  6. Serve with hot sauce.

Adapted from African Food Recipes.

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Being Jewish During Christmas: 10 Easy Steps

standard Wednesday December 21st, 2016 Leave a response
Celebrating Hanukkah
Photo by Shoshanah

Being Jewish in the diaspora is especially difficult during Christmas. Christmas is such a shiny and beautiful celebration that it is hard for Hanukkah not to be eclipsed by it. I decided to rise to the challenge. Here is how I did it.

1) Acknowledge the beauty of Christmas

Honesty is key. The Christmas decorations and lights are lovely. There is no harm in saying so. My family enjoyed admiring them all around us. At no time were Christmas decorations allowed in our home, and my kids were never permitted to help their friends decorate a Christmas tree.

2) Control the radio and television

As soon as Thanksgiving is over, the broadcast media inundates everyone with Christmas music and movies. We made a point of listening to Hanukkah and Israeli music, and to watch movies about Hanukkah. We created our own Hanukkah bubble, which was surrounded by Christmas.

3) Instill pride with the retelling of the story of the Maccabees

Tell your kids the story of the bravery of the Maccabees. Use whatever resources you have at your disposal to bring it to life. Most kids are fascinated to discover that the weapon of mass destruction during their time was the war elephant.

Photo by Joe Goldberg

Photo by Joe Goldberg

4) Make Hanukkah crafts

We made our own beeswax candles and hanukiot. It was so much more meaningful for the children to light a menorah they had made themselves.

5) Participate in community celebrations

Your family may join an ice menorah sculpting and lighting happening, or go to the Latkepalooza to taste non-traditional latkes. Communal menorah lightings and celebrations are a wonderful way to feel part of your People during Hanukkah.

6) Create your own Hanukkah traditions

We celebrated Hanukkah by making our own gelt, preparing latkes and sufganiot, and hosting at least one Hanukkah party. It is fun to serve Israeli foods during a Hanukkah party, as well as Sephardic treats and specialties from other Jewish communities. Of course, no Hanukkah party is complete without the dreidel game.

7) Light an olive oil menorah

Lighting an olive oil menorah transports you back in time to the Temple in Jerusalem. Your family can relive the rededication of the Temple after the victory of the Maccabees, and the lighting of the pure oil.

8) Give great presents!

If you examine the reasons young children are envious of Christmas, one of the main ones is that gifts are involved. This one is easy to solve. I told my kids that while children who celebrate Christmas get gifts during only one day, kids who celebrate Hanukkah get gifts during eight nights. Then, I went out and bought eight great gifts for each of them. They had something to look forward to every day. When Christmas and Hanukkah were over, all the kids at school compared what they had received. My children were satisfied with their gifts.

Photo by MathKnight

Photo by MathKnight

9) Bond with other Jews

There is a special bond that forms in December between Jews. There are enough of us in the Philadelphia area that together we share a special Christmas tradition: have dinner at a restaurant in Chinatown, and then go to a movie. Check the Jewish community listings for special activities and events scheduled on December 24 and 25. Single people in our community should go to the matzah ball where they can mingle with other eligible single Jews. Even when Christmas and Hanukkah don’t overlap, non-Christmas feels like our own special holiday.

10) Be genuinely happy for your Christian friends.

I always wish my Christian friends a happy Christmas, and I mean it. I love hearing about their different traditions and recipes. I have modeled this behavior for my family.

My kids are now young adults. I asked them what they thought of their Hanukkah experience growing up in the United States. They told me that Christmas is a beautiful holiday, and that they feel so lucky to be Jews celebrating Hanukkah.

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Hanukkah Cookies: Recipe for Rosettes

standard Sunday December 18th, 2016 Leave a response

Would you like to serve a fried treat that is delicious and beautiful this Hanukkah? Surprise your family and friends with a delicate rose, created from batter, shaped by a metal cookie cutter, and cooked in olive oil. This ethereal treat harks back to ancient Persia, medieval German woodcutters, and the Ottoman Empire.

The technique of deep-frying foods originated in the Mediterranean in the 5th Century BCE. The most commonly used oil was olive oil. As traders took this art to Persia, cooks poured batter into the hot oil, and then immersed the fritter in a syrup of rosewater and sugar.

In the 15th Century CE elaborate wooden molds were carved in Europe for shaping gingerbread cookies. Both the mold carving and gingerbread baking were controlled by guilds. In the 18th Century CE the wood was replaced by tin, and shaped cookies were democratized. Everyone could bake their own fancy cookies!

The cooks of the Ottoman Empire brought all these traditions together to create a beautiful fritter called demir tatlisi. They dipped iron molds in the shape of flowers in batter and deep-fried them. A warm syrup of sugar, water, and lemon was allowed to simmer on the side. After all the cookies were fried, they were dipped in the syrup and served. Visiting European diplomats brought these recipes to Europe, where they were adopted. Scandinavia fell in love with the flower cookies, calling them Struva. The syrup was replaced with powdered sugar. When the British discovered them, they named them rosettes. You may surprise your Hanukkah guests with beautiful flower shaped fritters.

Hanukkah Rosettes

Adapted from Kari Diehl

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • Powdered sugar
  • Olive oil or vegetable oil


Special equipment: You will need a rosette mold.

  1. Mix the flour, milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt.
  2. Refrigerate the batter for 2 hours.
  3. Heat the oil in a heavy pot to 360 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Pour the batter into a shallow casserole dish.
  5. Heat the rosette mold in the oil.
  6. Dip the hot mold in the batter so that the bottom and sides are coated, but not the top.
  7. Submerge the mold and batter in the hot oil.
  8. Fry until golden brown.
  9. Place the rosettes on a paper towel to blot the excess oil.
  10. Arrange the rosettes on a plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Hanukkah Chili

standard Tuesday December 6th, 2016 Leave a response

As winter descends over Philadelphia, we get to drive away the darkness with our Hanukkah lights. One way to make our Hanukkah parties more festive is to cook a large pot of chili. Served with corn chips or some fresh crusty bread and assorted garnishes, it is the perfect main course to enjoy before the latkes, sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), and chocolate gelt make their appearance. Read More

The Bounty of the Sea

standard Tuesday November 15th, 2016 Leave a response
Photo by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

Photo by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris.

It is common to visualize the Thanksgiving feast as a beautifully set table with a large, golden-brown roasted turkey at the center, surrounded by fall vegetables and cornbread. Perhaps it would be more accurate, though, to feature a platter of fish. The Wampanoag tribe, who celebrated the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims in Plymouth in 1621, depended on the Atlantic Ocean for much of their sustenance. The Native Americans foraged for mushrooms, berries, wild herbs and nuts to supplement their diet, and they shared this bounty with the Pilgrims.

One of the most plentiful species of fish found in the Atlantic Ocean was cod. The recipe below is inspired by ingredients that would have been easily available to the Native Americans and Pilgrims. Read More

The Savory Pumpkin Pie

standard Thursday October 27th, 2016 1 response

How can you make something for Thanksgiving dinner in a hurry? Many people dread having to cook all the traditional dishes. They lack the time and expertise to roast the perfect whole turkey. One dish that combines many of the traditional fall flavors associated with Thanksgiving is the savory chicken pumpkin pot pie.

This delicious pie can be prepared using convenience and canned goods from the supermarket. It is a very versatile recipe, and you may use any fresh or frozen vegetables at hand to enhance it. If you prefer, you may use a store-bought roasted turkey in the recipe instead of the chicken.

Photo by Alvin Smith

Photo: Alvin Smith.

Chicken Pumpkin Pie

  • 1 roasted chicken, cut up
  • 1 can of plain pumpkin puree
  • 1 onion, cubed
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley
  • 1/2 cups fresh sage leaves, minced
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • 3 tbsp. chicken broth
  • 2 frozen pie crusts or individual tart shells
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy pot.
  3. Brown the onion over medium heat.
  4. Add the minced garlic.
  5. Mix in the flour, and then add the broth.
  6. Stir until you have a smooth sauce.
  7. Place the chicken, pumpkin, parsley, and sage in a large bowl.
  8. Season with salt and pepper.
  9. Stir the contents of the bowl into the sauce.
  10. Pour the pumpkin-chicken mixture into the pie crust or tart shells.
  11. Top the pie crust or tart with the second pie crust or flattened tart shell, pinching the edges shut.
  12. Cut a few slits in the top crust to allow the steam to escape.
  13. Bake for 45 minutes for a large pie, around 15 minutes for individual tarts.

Ful Nabed: Sukkot Fava Bean Soup

standard Thursday October 20th, 2016 Leave a response
Jewish Soup for Sukkot: Fava Bean Soup
Photo by Neven Mrgan

When the Ancient Israelites left Egypt, they carried the memories of the foods they enjoyed with them. Of all the vegetables, they missed fava beans the most. Fava beans, which have been in Egypt for over 8,000 years, have been found in the tombs of the pharaohs as part of the indispensable items that must be brought to the afterlife. Egyptian Jews have retained the tradition of eating fava beans when celebrating happy occasions. On the sixth night of Sukkot, a delicious soup made with fava beans, called Ful Nabed, is served.

Ful Nabed: Fava Bean Soup

  • 2 cans of fava beans
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 5 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 4 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. minced parsley
  1. Pour the contents of the canned fava beans into a blender and puree.
  2. Heat the puree in a pot.
  3. Stir in the garlic, cumin, oil and lemon juice.
  4. If the soup is too thick, add some water.
  5. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Adapted from Saad Fayed.

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

The Healthy Way to Break Yom Kippur Fast

standard Monday October 10th, 2016 Leave a response
Yom Kippur Food: Healthy Minestrone Soup
Photo: Katrin Morenz

At the conclusion of the 25-hour Yom Kippur fast, your body deserves some tender loving care. The foods that are traditionally served to break the fast do not necessarily provide this. Here are some tips on the scientifically healthiest ways to replenish your body with nutrients.

Drink Water

The first thing to give your parched body is water. Indulge in one or two glasses of water before you approach the food.

Photo: Tracy Hunter

Photo: Tracy Hunter

Eat Fresh Fruit

While fresh fruit is usually served toward the end of the meal, following a fast it is good to begin with the fruit. Fruits are easy to digest, and give your body additional fluids and sugars. Apples, grapes, watermelon, pears, and melons are good choices. Avoid citrus fruits, as they may be too acidic at this point.

Photo: Connoisseur 4 The Cure

Photo: Connoisseur 4 The Cure

Eat Fresh Vegetables

A salad with a base of romaine lettuce, kale, or Swiss chard will provide vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients to bring your body back into equilibrium. Add some chopped raw carrots, celery, and beets. Avoid commercial salad dressings, which contain too much salt. Make your own simple dressing with salt, pepper, olive oil, and a little lemon, or a yogurt (with live cultures) dressing.

Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen

Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen


Eggs are the most complete sources of protein. They are easy to digest, and quick to prepare. Serve some boiled eggs with the salad to renew your energy.

Vegetable Soup

Whip up a quick water-based vegetable soup with whole grains such as unpearled barley or brown rice and legumes such as lentils or beans. Use fresh vegetables, and to save time, canned legumes and quick cooking brown rice or barley.

Here is a recipe for a quick and easy vegetable soup that you can make from scratch:

Photo: Katrin Morenz

Photo: Katrin Morenz

Vegetable Soup Recipe
Adapted from About Food

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 sweet potato, chopped
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  1. Heat the oil in a heavy pot.
  2. Add all the chopped vegetables.
  3. Sauté for 4 minutes.
  4. Stir in the dry spices.
  5. Pour in the 8 cups of water.
  6. Bring the soup to a boil, and then simmer for 15 minutes.

You may add cooked beans, lentils, or garbanzo beans.
Serve with quick cooking brown rice or another whole grain.

Sephardic Stuffed Rosh Hashanah Vegetables

standard Sunday September 25th, 2016 Leave a response

51yotxvdwal-_sx432_bo1204203200_Some Sephardic families have the tradition of not preparing any black foods during Rosh Hashanah in order to avoid the appearance of mourning. The mothers and grandmothers of these clans are famous for their delicious stuffed vegetables.

For Rosh Hashanah, this dish is still prepared, using everything that is in season, except eggplants, black olives and dark raisins. Stella Cohen, the author of Stella’s Sephardic Table, shares her recipe for the queens of Rosh Hashanah stuffed vegetables.

The name of this recipe in Judeo-Spanish is Tomat y Sevoya Reynadas, which in fact, means “tomatoes and onions that are transformed into queens.” This recipe originated on the island of Rhodes, now a Greek island, which for centuries prior to the Holocaust, had a large Sephardic population that spoke Judeo-Spanish. When you bite into this traditional dish, you will understand exactly why it was considered fit for a royal palate.

Rosh Hashanah Recipe: Stuffed Tomatoes and Onions

Adapted from “Stella’s Sephardic Table,” by Stella Cohen

  • 10 tomatoes
  • 10 onions

For the meat filling

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 4 tbsp. minced parsley
  • 1 scallion, sliced
  • 1 tomato, seeded and grated
  • 4 slices of white bread, dipped in water and cut up
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper

For the vegetable base

  • 1 onion, cubed
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 2 potatoes, cubed
  • 1/4 cup stewed tomatoes in their juice
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Additional ingredients

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  1. Peel and hollow out the onions, but do not discard the insides of the onions. Instead, save for Step 5.
  2. Hollow out the tomatoes, but do not discard the insides of the tomatoes. Instead, save for Step 5.
  3. Mix all the ingredients for the meat filling in a large bowl.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot.
  5. Chop up the pieces of onions and tomatoes, and place them in the oil with all the other vegetables for the filling.
  6. Add the stewed tomatoes and hot water.
  7. Season with the sugar, salt, and pepper.
  8. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  9. Stuff the tomatoes and onions with the meat mixture.
  10. Heat some olive oil in a heavy pan.
  11. Dip the tops of the filled tomatoes and onions in flour, then egg.
  12. Fry the stuffed vegetables until golden brown.
  13. Drain on paper towels.
  14. Arrange the fried stuffed vegetables in the pot with the vegetable base.
  15. Add some hot chicken or vegetable stock.
  16. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 45 minutes.
  17. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  18. Uncover the pot, and place in the oven for 15 minutes to brown the tops of the vegetables.

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.