Sephardic Recipes With A Modern Twist

Sephardic Spice Girls


I met Rachel when she was a sophomore at Beverly Hills High School and I was a junior at YULA Girls High School. Brigitte, Molly and Shira were all friends in high school. Brigitte married Jonny who was in my graduating class. He was also good friends with Yosi. Esther married Yosi, who’s grandmother was a cousin of my grandmother. Yosi went to law school with Neil. I met Mona on New York’s Upper West Side. She had gone to Israel on the SEC Hamsa trip when Neil led the tour group, way before he ever married Rachel. This trip also resulted in many unfortunate camel jokes, but that’s a different story.

The friendships were cemented in our early twenties through the Sephardic Educational Center Young Professional’s Group, when we had Monday night Classes for the Masses at Kahal Joseph Synagogue and Cultural Nights and at SEC Conventions in Montreal, Miami and Mexico.

The sisterhood grew stronger with every engagement, marriage, childbirth and bar and bat mitzvah that we celebrated together.

The G-d Squad title was coined over twenty years ago when one of the moms in the group had a newborn and two toddlers and had to move houses. We all came over to unpack boxes and that’s when she decided that we were her G-d Squad.

The group has expanded with the years. But the rules have remained the same: make each other laugh, celebrate birthdays and milestones and cheer each other on.

There is so much to learn from each and every member. We all love to eat and we all bring our different culinary traditions—Moroccan, Turkish, Syrian, Egyptian, Persian and Iraqi—to the table.

One fun day, in what seems to be a different lifetime, we gathered to bake for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. We made lots of beautiful challot and ka’ak, salty, crispy, ring-shaped crackers.

Esther, whose family has a Turkish and Syrian legacy, by way of Cuba, showed us how to make ma’amul, a Middle Eastern dessert delicacy. She brought the beautiful wooden ma’amul mold that her great aunt gifted her upon her marriage (to Yosi, remember?).

Traditionally made with pistachios or a mix of nuts, like pistachios, almonds and walnuts, Esther used walnuts.

The ma’amul can be filled with walnuts or dates, but whichever filling you choose, be sure to include orange blossom water, which lends a sublime and subtle flavor.

If you don’t have a great aunt, or a G-d Squad, to give you a ma’amul mold, they can be purchased on Amazon.

And full disclosure, the stunning ma’amul in the picture is from our culinary angel Jazmin Daian Duek. She delivers.


To your good health!

Esther’s Ma’amul Recipe


2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup semolina flour
1/2 teaspoon rose water
1 cup unsalted butter or margarine or coconut oil

Nut Filling

1 pound walnuts, ground
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter or margarine or coconut oil, melted
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water

Date Filling

1 pound pitted dates
1/2 cup ground walnuts
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.

  2. Combine flour and semolina in a large bowl until it has a crumb consistency.

  3. Add rose water, fold in the butter and add 1/2 teaspoon lukewarm water.

  4. Knead the dough well and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

  5. Prepare the fillings by combining the ingredients.

  6. Divide the dough into four portions.

  7. Work with one portion at a time, while covering the rest as you work.

  8. Pinch walnut size balls of dough, then press down on the center with your finger, to form a ½ inch indentation.

  9. Fill the indentation with ¼ tsp of the filling, then close the pastry.

  10. If using a ma’amoul mold, press the top of the pastry firmly against the mold, then lightly tap the mold on a hard surface to remove the pastry.

  11. Place the pastry on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

  12. Bake 10-12 minutes or until the bottom of the pastries are lightly browned and tops remain pale.

  13. Sprinkle the cookies with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

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Making Ma’amul: A Middle Eastern Dessert