Sephardic Recipes With A Modern Twist

Sephardic Spice Girls


If you lived in New York in the ’80s, you experienced a city on steroids.

From the hit Broadway shows “Les Miserables,” “Dreamgirls” and “Phantom of the Opera” to some really cool and quirky off-Broadway productions; from blockbuster art exhibitions featuring the works of Van Gogh, Rembrandt and the Impressionists at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the downtown art scene featuring avant-garde artists such as Cindy Sherman, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, the city was teeming with attractions.

You could catch Robin Williams doing stand-up at a comedy club and great bands jamming at the Blue Note Jazz Club in Greenwich Village. You might spot Calvin Klein on Seventh Avenue and  Elizabeth Taylor in an elevator at the Helmsley Palace Hotel, and Andy Warhol dining with friends at Mr. Chow. “The Donald” and Ivana Trump dominated the tabloids, high society was flying high, the real estate market was hot and Wall Street was on fire.

If you were Jewish and religious, you experienced all that. But you also ate at kosher establishments: Jerusalem Pizza and Gross Dairy Kosher, Lou G Siegel and Kosher Delight in midtown; Schmulka Bernstein’s Kosher Deli and Ratner’s Dairy on the Lower East Side; and Levana, Benjamin of Tudela and My Favorite Dessert Company uptown. 

If you were Jewish, religious and single and living on the Upper West Side, Shabbat meals could be purchased at Meal Mart or Fischer Bros., and the menu was always the same: rotisserie chicken, potato kugel, noodle kugel and coleslaw. There might be cholent and chopped liver. And if your hosts were truly health conscious, a green salad with peppers and cucumbers, bottled Italian dressing and fake “bacon” bits from a jar. 

For Jewish singles on the Upper West Side, the highlight of the dating calendar was Simchat Torah. To accommodate the large crowds, roadblocks closed off traffic around Lincoln Square Synagogue (jokingly called Wink and Stare Synagogue because it’s round structure afforded congregants a view of the other gender). Young people crowded on the street, greeting one another and looking over one another’s shoulders hoping to find Prince Charming or Ms. Right. Surely, some of them actually made it inside for hakafot, dancing and carrying the Torah scrolls in seven circles around the synagogue. 

Simchat Torah marks the end of the weekly reading of the Torah cycle and the beginning of the new cycle. We rejoice by singing, dancing and drinking. Children wave their flags (and receive lots of candy). The theme of the autumn harvest that pervades Sukkot continues into Simchat Torah. Ashkenazi Jews have a tradition of making stuffed cabbage (when you put two together, they look like a Torah scroll). They also make kreplach, a dough stuffed with ground beef. 

Because of all the vegetarians in our families, we were inspired to remake kreplach into vegan wontons with some Sephardic spices and Harissa and Amba Aioli dipping sauces (amba is a tangy mango pickle condiment that originated in Iraq). They wontons are  really simple to make. Luckily, a few were left for us to photograph. 


10 ounces medium-firm tofu, drained, patted dry and cut into small cubes
1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped
6 medium mushrooms, finely chopped
1 inch ginger root, peeled and finely grated
4 scallions, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 package wonton wrappers

Oil for frying

  1. In large bowl, combine all ingredients except wrappers and frying oil. Mix well.

  2. Lay out wonton wrappers and stuff each with tablespoon of vegetable mixture. Lightly wet edges of wonton wrapper and close diagonally to form triangle.

  3. Heat oil in frying pan and fry wontons till crispy and golden.

Makes about 36.



2 tablespoons harissa sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
Combine ingredients and mix well.

Amba Aioli

3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon amba (pickled mango)
Combine ingredients and mix well.

Honey Soy

1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds

Combine ingredients and mix well.

Makes about 12 servings.

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