Sephardic Recipes With A Modern Twist

Sephardic Spice Girls

Happy New Dishes


Every year my mother reminds us of the rules that she learned at the table with her grandfather Yosef Chai—that we wear white, that we greet each other cheerfully and that we be especially careful not to break anything.


Every Rosh Hashanah, my mother, my daughters and I set the table with all the foods for the simanim, the signs for a sweet, happy, healthy New Year. Every year my mother reminds us of the rules that she learned at the table with her grandfather Yosef Chai—that we wear white, that we greet each other cheerfully and that we be especially careful not to break anything. When my father and brothers conduct the Seder according to the order laid out in the Ben Ish Chai’s siddur, I have a special thrill knowing my family connection to this great man.

Rachel and I are especially thrilled that the Jewish Journal is back in print. We are thrilled to present to you, dear reader, these sweet recipes from the old country that are guaranteed to tantalize and tempt those at your table. 

May we be blessed with the best year ever.

Poisson en Croute

In the 80s and 90s, whenever our family had a special occasion – – holidays, anniversaries, birthdays or family visiting from Europe – – my mother would make fish in puff pastry. The fish is finely minced and seasoned with onion, charred bell pepper, lemon juice and paprika and makes a wonderful contrast to the crispy, flaky puff pastry. She served it with a roux made with white wine, flour and capers. 

It was always impressive and very delicious. 

She would form her poisson en croute in a log shape like a long bureka but I formed ours in the shape of a fish. I cut the pastry into a fish shape freehand, but if you are not that confident there are many fish templates online.

A fun centerpiece for your Rosh Hashanah table.  —Rachel

1 pound white fish, skinless, boneless and finely minced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper
¼ cup green olives, finely chopped
¼ cup chopped cilantro, finely chopped
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper
1 10oz bag baby spinach
1 large carrot, sliced on the diagonal
Olive oil for sautéing
1 egg white and 1 egg yolk
One package Pepperidge Farm puff pastry

Roast the bell pepper on stove top , keep turning til completely chard. Place in a plastic bag for 15 minutes. Peel and seed and dice into small pieces.

Place fish into food processor until completely chopped into smooth consistency.

In a pan, place one tablespoon of oil and onion and cook until translucent.

In a bowl, place the fish , onion, cilantro, olives, breadcrumbs, paprika, salt, pepper and mix, set aside.

Sauté the carrots in oil until tender and season with salt and pepper

Sauté the spinach for two minutes in oil until it starts to wilt.

Preheat oven to 425°F. 

Lightly roll out first layer of puff pastry and cut into a fish shape. Then cut second sheet to the same size and shape. 

Place puff pastry on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and layer with carrots, fish filling and spinach. 

Brush egg white around the edges of the dough, then place second sheet of puff pastry on top. Seal edges by pressing with a fork to make a pretty pattern. 

Cut a circle for the eye and use extra dough to make fins and scales. Brush the top of fish with egg yolk.

Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until dough has puffed and is golden brown.

Tamarind Chicken 

When your parents are from Iraq and you are growing up in Sydney, Australia, you become accustomed to eating and drinking things vastly different from your friends. But there are some things you’ll never understand. One of those is the satisfaction my parents would get from drinking water infused with the fleshy pulp surrounding tamarhindi seeds. I’ve still never tried this tamarind beverage, so I can’t really say whether it’s good or not. What I can tell you is that I absolutely love tamarind paste in my cooking!

The tamarind tree is native to Africa, but also grows in India, Pakistan and other tropical regions. The bean like pods contain a fibrous pulp that ripens into a sweet and sour paste. From India, where tamarind is used to flavor curries, it traveled to the Middle East, where it is called tamarhindi, date of India. 

This chicken dish includes butternut squash, turnip, celery and onion. But the tamarind, honey and orange juice give it the most deep and delectably tangy sweet and sour flavor. Make sure you have rice available to soak up all that yum! -Sharon

1 chicken, cut in 8 pieces
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped into wedges
6 small turnips, washed and chopped into wedges
1 purple onion
2 celery stalks, chopped into large pieces
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup tamarind paste
1/4 cup honey
1 orange, juiced, with peel reserved and cut into strips
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons mustard powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Preheat oven to 425°F.

In a large baking dish, arrange butternut squash, turnips and celery around the sides and place chicken pieces in the center. Place orange rind between the chicken pieces. 

Pour olive oil over chicken, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. 

Over medium heat, warm the oil in a small pan, then add tamarind paste, honey, orange juice and spices. 

Bring the sauce to a gentle boil while stirring. Let the sauce reduce and thicken. 

Brush the chicken with the sauce and roast for 30 minutes. 

Lower temperature to 300°F, cover chicken with foil and roast for another 55 minutes. 

Mexican Squash Stew 

By the time we sit down at the table for the Rosh Hashanah Seder, everyone is starving. So when we get to the part of eating my mother’s kar’a, gourd in Arabic, it tastes extra delicious. This recipe from my mother’s repertoire is like all her cooking—healthful, fresh and delicious. 

I used to be obsessed with zucchini, but when I would cook it, it would be bitter more times than not. So now zucchini is pretty much banished from my house. I much prefer the pale green Mexican squash. It has a thin tender skin and juicy, mild, tasty, almost seedless flesh. Let the squash simmer in the juices of the tomato and you’ll be guaranteed a truly yummy side dish. – Sharon

6 Mexican squash, washed and cut in quarters lengthwise
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 large tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon allspice
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for sautéing

Oil for sautéing 

In a large pot, warm oil over medium heat and add onions. Sauté until translucent.

Add tomatoes, tomato paste, turmeric, paprika, allspice, salt and pepper and stir well.

Add the squash and stir in the sauce. Cover tightly, lower heat and let simmer for at least one hour until soft and tender. 

Waldorf Salad

When I was a little girl in Kirrawee, a southern suburb of Sydney, Australia, every school lunch was a Vegemite sandwich on whole wheat bread made by my mother. Every week my father would go to the wholesale market and buy a big box of Granny Smith apples because he knew they were my favorite. So one of my snacks would always be a green apple. One day, I gave my apple to a friend and when I came home, I fearfully told my father. To my surprise, he laughed and was so happy. From that day on, he always put two apples in my lunchbox.

Nowadays, I still love to eat apples (honey-crisp are my favorite) and to cook with them. I love them with chicken, in my curries and of course, baked into cakes and puff pastry. But nothing beats a Waldorf Salad. 

Named for New York’s astonishingly beautiful Art Deco Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, Waldorf Salad originally contained just apples, celery and mayonnaise. It evolved to include walnuts and dried fruit, like raisins, cranberries and dates.

I make it with crispy, sweet apples like Smitten, Envy, Gala or Fuji and tart Granny Smith. The celery adds crunch, the pecans add a meatiness, the dates add a deep, honey sweetness and the bed of spinach adds extra nutrition. Instead of mayonnaise, I dress the salad with a light vinaigrette made with a good oil, red wine vinegar, mustard powder and honey. 

A deliciously light, refreshing salad full of simanim for a sweet new year.  —Sharon

3 large honeycrisp apples, large dice
1 large Granny Smith apple, large dice
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced 
3/4 cup pecans, roughly chopped
5 medjool dates, chopped
1 10 ounce bag baby spinach
Pomegranates for garnish, if desired

Place apple and celery in a bowl and toss with vinaigrette.

Just before serving, arrange spinach on a serving dish, place apple and celery on top. Then garnish with pecans, dates and pomegranate. 

Red Wine Viniagrette
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon English mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients. Whisk until spices have dissolved and dressing is smooth. 

Moroccan Carrot and Swiss Chard Salad

 Swiss chard, spinach and beets are all called selek in Hebrew, which also relates to the word for depart. In the Seder, we implore Hashem that our enemies, haters and those that wish evil will depart (or get lost in Hebrew slang). 

One of the classics of the Moroccan kitchen, this salad is always on the table for Shabbat and the Jewish holidays. Like a matbucha salad, the carrots and Swiss chard are cooked then served cold. It tastes even better a day or two or three later.

Before my niece Ines could speak a word, this was her favorite salad. All through her childhood, my mother would make it for her every Shabbat. Now she is a beautiful young lady and living in New York, so whenever she is in town I prepare it for her. She won’t be at our Rosh Hashana table this year, so this past shabbat I made a huge platter of this delicious salad in her honor. And although there were fifteen of us at the table, she ate most of it. It’s that good! – Rachel

3 bunches of swiss chard, destemmed, rinsed and chopped into 1/4 inch strips
4 large carrots, peeled and sliced into the thick pieces
1 teaspoon salt
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon cumin
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper
½  lemon

Fill a large pot halfway with water, add a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Add carrots and boil for 3 minutes, then add the swiss chard and give it a stir so that it is covered with water.  

Turn off the heat and let sit for 2 minutes, then strain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Let cool. 

 Over medium heat, warm the oil in a large pan, the add the garlic and spices. 

When they start to sizzle, add the vinegar, stir well and add the carrots and Swiss chard. Continue to sauté for 3 to 5 minutes.  

Turn off the heat and let cool. 

Refrigerate until ready to serve. Add salt and pepper to taste and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Maman’s Petit Biscuits Au Miel

(Maman’s Little Honey Biscuits)

I was in my kitchen at one o’clock in the morning. I had just set the last cake to cool on my counter and I was tired but contented. Distractedly, I took a bite of honey cookie fresh out of the oven. It had been a very long time since I’d eaten one and the scent and flavor instantly transported me back to my childhood in Casablanca. It made my heart so happy.

These very traditional Moroccan cookies are redolent with honey, cinnamon and fresh fragrant orange rind. They are not particularly delicate with their dense texture and thick shape, but they are the essence of home and comfort. They are perfect to keep in a battered metal box or cookie jar on the kitchen counter, ready to be savored with your morning coffee and afternoon tea.

As we say in the Seder, may your new year be as sweet as honey! —Rachel 

4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup oil
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon orange rind
4 tablespoons honey
Approximately 4 to 6 cups of flour


1 egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar for 5 minutes, then add the oil, baking powder, cinnamon, orange rind and honey. 

Slowly incorporate the flour until the dough comes together and is not sticky to the touch.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper then form dough into walnut sized balls. Shape into logs and then press down so that cookies form an oval shape.

Brush egg on top of cookies and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. 

Silvia and Marina’s Apple Cake

Sometimes someone who works with you becomes a much-loved member of the family. The always smiling Marina worked for Neil’s honorary Uncle Jack and Aunt Silvia for over 30 years and even though they both passed away decades ago, she is still an honored guest in our home. Sylvia was the kitchen director and the menu planner and she taught Marina how to make all the classic Sephardic dishes. Marina cooked to perfection, making every dish taste authentic, wholesome and delicious. Between Jack’s storytelling, Silvia’s gracious manner and Marina’s cooking, their home was always full of happy, well-fed guests. 

During the high holidays they always served this moist apple cake in adorable silver cupcake holders. I loved it as a newlywed. Then Neil and I would bring our sons Sammy and Max there and they loved it too. Our daughter Rebekah was a baby when Silvia passed away, so she never grew up with the pleasure of this yummy cake. To my great joy, I recently found the recipe that Silvia gave to me at my bridal shower. I baked the cake and Rebekah loved it. Now it will become our tradition to carry forward. —Rachel

4 Medium golden delicious apples, peeled and cubed
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup safflower oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups flour, sifted 
2 cups chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, toss apples with sugar and let stand for 30 minutes.

Beat eggs, oil and vanilla with a whisk until frothy. 

In a separate bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda and walnuts.

Add the egg mixture into the dry ingredients to create a very thick, doughy mixture, then add the apples.

Pour the mixture into a well-greased oven dish and bake for 50 to 60 minutes until the top is browned.

Comments: Serve in bowls, like a crumble. This cake can be made up to 3 days ahead. Store sealed in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, bring to room temperature or warm in the oven at 350F for 20 minutes. Serve with whipped cream or non dairy ice cream.

Date cake with toffee sauce

My mother always baked with lots of dried fruits and nuts and this date cake is a modern take on those flavors. It’s got lots of dates and lots of flavor and depth from all the spices and brown sugar. Topping the cake with boozy, caramelly sticky syrup and serving with a side of coconut cream or soy ice cream makes it an extra special treat.  —Rachel

1 ½ cups pitted dates
1 cup brewed coffee
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
12 tablespoons salted butter, or butter substitute (such as salted Miyokos vegan butter)

Toffee Sauce:

1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup or molasses
2 teaspoons orange zest
6 tablespoons whiskey
8 tablespoons salted butter, or butter substitute (such as salted Miyokos vegan butter)

Preheat oven to 325F

Coat a nonstick Bundt pan with butter and flour (Pam Baking Spray works well).

In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and baking soda together, then set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring dates and coffee to a boil, then remove from heat and let cool.

Pour the coffee and dates into a food processor and add the sugar and process until smooth.

Add eggs, vanilla and spices.

Add the butter or butter substitute and process until incorporated.

Pour liquid mixture over the flour and fold with a spatula to combine thoroughly.

Pour into cake pan and cover tightly with foil and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Remove the foil and cool for 15-20 minutes.

Over medium heat, in a small saucepan melt the sugar with corn syrup and orange zest, then bring to a gentle boil for 3 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low, stir the whiskey in and whisk in the butter, two tablespoons at a time until melted and smooth, then remove from stove.

Place cake on serving dish.

Brush the top of the cake with warm sauce, then drizzle sauce over each cake slice, just before serving.

Cake can be stored tightly wrapped at room temperature for up to 3 days.

The sauce can be refrigerated for one week.

To reheat and serve warm: wrap the cake in foil and place in an oven heated to 300°F for about 15 minutes. Sauce can be microwaved to reheat.


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