Sephardic Recipes With A Modern Twist

Sephardic Spice Girls

A Passover Feast That Will Have You Stuffed

Whatever customs your family follows at the Seder, just know that you are creating moments of joy and pride and lasting memories

From my earliest memories of the Passover Seder, the most dramatic and meaningful part was when my father would walk around the table carrying the ke’arat Ha’Haggadah.

All of us would be singing Bib’hilu yatzanu mi’mitzrayim. Ha’lachma aniya….l’shata datiya b’nei chori. The words from the Haggadah of Maimonides stating “in haste, we went out of Egypt with our bread of affliction…next year, may we be free men.”

The bib’hilu ceremony comes after the kiddush blessing over the wine, the karpas, (dipping of the bitter herbs into the vinegar to represent the salty tears of the enslaved Israelites) and the yachatz, the splitting of the matzah in two. As a little girl, it was a nice break to the seriousness of the Seder. It was always fun to see my father or uncle go around and bless each person and kiss the top of their heads. 

Knowing that this has been the custom for generation after generation fills me with pride. Seeing my own children and my brother’s children embracing tradition fills me with gratitude. 

Ask any Moroccan Jew and they’ll tell you that this is their favorite moment of the Seder. It’s just the most joyous way to start the telling of the Exodus story.

—Rachel

After my grandfather would break the matzah in two, he and my grandmother would call all the grandchildren to the head of the table. They would place a piece of matzah in one of my grandmother’s vividly printed silk scarves and wrap a matzah-filled scarf around each child. We would leave the dining room and then come back, making a show of being tired and weary travelers. The adults would ask us “Where are you coming from?” We would answer “We were slaves for Pharoah in Egypt and we’ve been wandering in the desert!”

My parents, uncles and aunts would make a show of welcoming us “strangers” and inviting us to share in the Seder. We would sing from the Haggadah in Judeo-Arabic “Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat. Whoever is needy, let him come and join.” We still do this with my children and my nephews and nieces and my parents are just as enthusiastic as my grandparents were.

—Sharon

Of course, no celebration is complete without a huge feast. Chicken soup. Homemade fish balls. A brisket. This year in addition to our old favorites, Rachel and I will be serving Matzah Farfel Stuffed Cornish Hens with Baby Potatoes and Quinoa Stuffed Vegetables in a Tomato Sauce. Tiny Cornish hens are festive and full of juicy flavor. In this dish, the stuffing of matzo farfel, onions, celery and mushrooms is simply delicious. 

Stuffed vegetables are very popular in Middle Eastern cuisine. Tradition dictates stuffed grape leaves and cabbage and ground beef or lamb. But we used easy to stuff vegetables—winter squash, mini bell peppers and tomatoes. We made it vegan friendly, by replacing the meat with quinoa and pecans for a new world twist on an oldworld classic. 

Passover is the holiday that symbolizes the birth of the Jewish nation. It’s the holiday of matzah, maror and sweet charoset. The holiday of young voices happily singing Mah Nishtana and Chad Gadya.

Whatever customs your family follows at the Seder, just know that you are creating moments of joy and pride and lasting memories. 

Wishing you a very happy Passover!


Matzah Farfel Stuffed Cornish Hens With Roasted Baby Potatoes

Stuffing

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
4 celery stalks, thinly sliced
10 ounces mushrooms, sliced
2 cups matzah farfel
1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 teaspoon Himalayan salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup chicken broth or vegetable broth or water
2 eggs, beaten

In a large frypan, warm oil over medium heat and add onions. Sauté for 3 to 5 minutes until onions are translucent.

Add celery and continue to sauté for 3-5 minutes until translucent. Place onion and celery in a large bowl. 

In the same frypan, warm olive oil over medium heat and sauté the mushrooms, 3-5 minutes. Add mushrooms to onions and celery. 

Add the farfel, apricots, salt and turmeric to the sautéed vegetables and mix well. 

Add water and eggs to mixture and combine thoroughly. Then set aside. 

Cornish Hens

4 2-3 pound Cornish hens, rinsed and dried
3 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 large onion, cut into wedges
12 small red, white and purple potatoes, washed and halved
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons avocado oil
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 400°.

In a bowl, mix the spices.

Place Cornish hens on a large plate and rub spice mix onto the hens. 

Stuff the hens and use a toothpick to close the cavity. 

Place the hens breast side down in a large ovenproof baking dish.

Place the onion wedges and potatoes around the hens, then season with salt and pepper.

Drizzle oil over the hens.

Pour water over the potatoes and onions.

Roast for one hour, then remove from oven and baste the hens. Cover with foil and continue baking for another half hour or until potatoes are fork tender. 


Quinoa Stuffed Vegetables 

Vegetables to stuff
10 mini bell peppers
4 tomatoes
6 white squash

Cut tops off bell peppers and tomatoes and set aside to reuse. Remove core and seeds. 

Cut squash in half and core, leaving a half inch at the bottom.

Arrange cored vegetables in an ovenproof baking dish.

Tomato Sauce

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1 lemon, juiced
3 tablespoons sugar or honey
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric
Salt and pepper

Stuffing 

2 cups quinoa, prepared according to box directions
1 tomato, finely chopped
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1/2 cup mint
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large pot, warm olive oil over medium heat, then add garlic and sauté for two minutes. 

Add crushed tomatoes, lemon juice, sugar, spices and seasonings. 

Bring to a slow boil, then set aside. 

In a large bowl, combine quinoa, tomato, pecans, parsley, mint, olive oil and seasonings and mix well.

Stuff each vegetable with the quinoa. Replace the tops of the tomatoes and mini peppers. 

Pour the tomato sauce over the vegetables and bake for 90 minutes.


Sharon Gomperts and Rachel Emquies Sheff have been friends since high school. The Sephardic Spice Girls project has grown from their collaboration on events for the Sephardic Educational Center in Jerusalem. Follow them on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food. 

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