In November 2021, we were full of plans.
In November 2021, we were full of plans. Alan was determined to finally take a trip to Japan over the winter holidays, so he booked five tickets to Tokyo on Japan Airlines. Luckily, he decided to check their COVID policy (no tourists, only business travelers with a 10 day hotel quarantine) and he canceled our flights in the nick of time.
He tried to book a vacation in Hawaii but there was nothing available. Fiji was showing up in my Facebook feed. Fiji is a quick four hour plane trip from Sydney, Australia and my uncles, aunts and cousins vacation there all the time. The photos always look amazing. So Alan took my hint and booked us for 7 nights at the Marriott Momo Bay Resort.
Rachel and I were also busy making plans for cooking demos at Beth Jacob and Kahal Joseph, healthy cooking for Sharsheret and a special collaboration with OBKLA (Our Big Kitchen Los Angeles). We spoke with Chaya Segelman, who alongside her husband Yossi, runs this remarkable organization that provides nutritious, delicious meals for needy families. We sent Rachel’s recipe for albondigas, Spanish meatballs with potatoes and peas and my recipe for bright yellow Saffron and Turmeric rice. Chaya even printed up special stickers for this special Sephardic Spice Girls x OBKLA event. And we had a long list of volunteers ready to chop, prep and pack meals.
Before we left for our vacation, our youngest daughter Shevy had a bad cold. We kept testing her for Covid but the tests were negative and we were able to board the 11 hour flight to Fiji.
We arrived at our resort and it was tropical paradise. We spent our days swimming and kayaking and snorkeling and eating. Our eldest daughter Gabriella caught a cold and we thought nothing of it (ignoring the dire warnings of our middle daughter Alaxandra). On the last day of our vacation, we packed our bags and got in line to get our COVID tests. We were all negative, except Gabriella.
Well, Fiji has a Covid protocol that requires a 10 day quarantine. Alan needed to go back to work and the girls needed to get back to school. Gabriella and I were stuck in Paradise.
The resort placed all their Covid guests in villas on a faraway bay with a private beach (the Aussies that were stranded there with us called it “Covid Island”). The view from our patio was truly beautiful with white sand, swaying palm trees and stunning blue water. Fish splashed out of the water, birds swooped through the sky and off in the distance we heard the deep bellows of mooing cows. It was truly magical.
I tried to relax and enjoy the beauty. I tried to focus on the gift of spending time with Gabriella before she left for college. Every morning, we enjoyed a flat white coffee and tropical fruits for breakfast. We went for walks along the rugged coastline of the resort, we watched the waves and looked out over the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. We sat on the jetty and enjoyed the view of a distant hill covered with thick green foliage. We swam in the bay. We ordered every single vegetarian option on the menu. We read novels. We watched BBC News, the Big Bang Theory and Jane Austen movies. We drank endless cups of excellent Twinings Tea and we enjoyed all the Australian potato chips and chocolate that I bought at the gift shop before entering quarantine.
Luckily for me, I was stuck with my most relaxed child and we tried to make the most of the situation. But it was difficult to relax knowing that my family needed me in Los Angeles.
On Tuesday, I stepped on a sea urchin, which released thousands of soft black needles in my foot. My foot swelled up and it was extremely painful. I spent the rest of the time in Fiji taking antibiotics and soaking my foot in a pail of water, hoping to coax those needles out. On Thursday, it started to rain. On Friday, it was a deluge and a tropical cyclone had hit Fiji hard. I called the Covid guy and begged him to let us leave on Sunday instead of Monday. And he agreed.
On Saturday, the rain was still pouring nonstop and the power went out and the hotel electricity operated on a backup generator.
On Sunday morning, we were released from our luxurious prison. Gabriella and I packed our bags, then we breakfasted at the lagoon restaurant watching the pouring rain and listening to the howling wind. In the afternoon, we left for the airport. Our driver encountered flooded roads, but he backtracked through the town and got us to the airport.
We were next in the check-in line, when all the lights in the departure terminal went out. Somehow, we made it onto the plane several hours later. The rain and the wind were still unrelenting. I have never experienced such a steep ascent as the one that the Fiji Airways pilot took that night.
It felt good to get off the island. It was even better to be embraced by Alan at LAX.
Chaya saved those stickers and the recipes we gave her. And we were finally able to reschedule our event for this month and as an added bonus, we invited Sivan Kobi of Sivan’s Kitchen to join us.
The list of people who wanted to volunteer kept growing and growing, so Sharon and I decided that we would make a Mezze table for them to enjoy. We made the salads that we make for our family and friends every Shabbat.
It wasn’t easy to cater because we’re not used to cooking in an industrial kitchen. The pots and pans are huge, the flames on the stovetop are bigger and the ovens are much hotter and stronger. I gave up on measurements and decided to cook by feel. Soon, I got into a rhythm and gained momentum, and everything came together.
It reminded me of the advice I often give about cooking. Taste your way through the recipe. Adjust the seasonings to your likes. Add spices, more water or oil. Maybe the food needs to cook a little longer than the recipe states. There don’t have to be hard and fast rules.
It was thrilling to see the fantastic crowd that showed up to give back. It really turned into a fun party with people mingling and energetic Israeli music. It was equally exciting to see them enjoy the lach’majin, hummus and salads that we had prepared.
After chopping, preparing, and packing the meals, everyone enjoyed Sivan’s melt in your mouth tahini cookies for dessert.
When Global Kindness arrived to pick up the food, they told us that people were already lined up in anticipation. My heart ached, but I was also proud to be part of a community that cares.
Roasting the cauliflower with generous amounts of curry and turmeric makes the flavors pop. Adding roasted garbanzos and salted cashews add meat and crunch and the bed of creamy tahini make it heavenly.
The recipes we share with you are truly easy to make and so incredibly healthful. We really hope you add them to your repertoire. The eggplant salad is soft, silky and luscious and really benefits from a slow braise. Roasting the cauliflower with generous amounts of curry and turmeric makes the flavors pop. Adding roasted garbanzos and salted cashews add meat and crunch and the bed of creamy tahini make it heavenly.The cabbage sald is positively addictive — the licorice flavor of thinly sliced fennel and crispy apple are highlighted with a dressing of oilive oil, apple cider vinegar, orange juice and a touch of honey.
ZAALOUK MOROCCAN EGGPLANT APPETIZER
1 large onion, chopped
2 -3 eggplant, peeled and
chopped into 1-inch cubes
¼ cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic minced
2 tablespoon parsley chopped
2 tablespoon cilantro chopped
2 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne powder
½ cup water
1 lemon (2-3 tablespoon juice)
In a Dutch oven or deep skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until starts getting color. Add eggplant, tomato paste, garlic, parsley, cilantro, paprika, cumin, salt, cayenne, and 1/3 cup of water. Stir to combine.
Cover and cook over medium heat for 20-25 minutes, or until the eggplant are soft enough to mash.
Stir in lemon juice and continue cooking uncovered over low heat to reduce liquid, stirring frequently; occasionally scraping the bottom of the pan. Adjust the heat if necessary to avoid contents from scorching.
When the zaalouk is reduced to desired consistency, Mash with a potato masher leaving some large eggplant pieces. Taste, then adjust seasoning with salt or additional lemon juice if needed. Plate into serving dish and drizzle with olive oil. Serve warm or cold with pita or crusty bread.
Curry Roasted Cauliflower
1 cauliflower, cut into florets
1 can garbanzos, drained
1 cup cashews
1/2 bunch Italian parsley, for garnish
1/2 bunch cilantro, for garnish
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt & pepper to taste
Heat oven to 425
Line baking sheet with parchment paper
Toss cauliflower and garbanzos with oil and spices in a large bowl
Arrange on baking sheet in single layer
Bake till cauliflower is tender, about 25 minutes
Garnish with greens, if serving as a salad.
Fennel Cabbage Salad
1 bag shredded cabbage and carrot mix
1 fennel, thinly shaved
1 honey crisp apple, quartered and
4 radish, thinly sliced, for garnish
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons honey
Whisk all dressing ingredients together.
Place cabbage, fennel, apple and radish in a large bowl.
Pour dressing over the cabbage salad and serve.
Rachel Sheff and Sharon Gomperts have been friends since high school. They love cooking and sharing recipes. They have collaborated on Sephardic Educational Center projects and community cooking classes. Follow them on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food.