Sephardic Recipes With A Modern Twist

Sephardic Spice Girls

Shifte Meatballs

Shades of Eucalyptus: A Meatball Recipe

The first home I remember living in was located at 32 Bligh Street in Kirrawee, in the Sutherland Shire, south of Sydney in New South Wales. A year after emigrating from Israel to Australia, my father (a bricklayer by trade and an adventurous risk-taking entrepreneur in spirit) built us a stunning three-story house. A huge eucalyptus shaded the front yard and inside were large rooms with big windows and hardwood floors. A long balcony hugged the second floor and a flagstone veranda looked out onto the garden. 

A massive mulberry tree spread its branches over one side of the yard and my brother Rafi and I would spend hours picking and eating the bounty of luscious, ripe, dark purple berries. Vines of pale green chayote and butternut squash grew wild and my father planted a garden bed with rows of strawberry plants. 

While I would spend hours listening to the Broadway recordings of the “Sound of Music” and “Cinderella” and reading my Enid Blyton books, my brother, very courageous and quite naughty, would spend hours exploring the bush with his friends.

Just steps away from our house was the Royal National Park, a massive expanse of pristine eucalyptus-rich bushland. Founded in 1879, the Park is full of natural wonders including massive cliffs along the Pacific Ocean, beautiful blue beaches, the Figure Eight Rock Pools and even a cliff formed from smooth layers of pristine white rock called the Wedding Cake, but mostly there is lots and lots of bush. 

The best Sundays were those when my extended family would gather for a picnic at Audley in the Victorian “pleasure gardens” of the Park. My grandparents brought wooden fruit crates packed with my grandmother’s big pots of rice and stews, her Israeli salad, her grated carrot and orange salad, pita and lots of fresh fruit. And the most delicious shifte kebab, ground beef flavored with subtle spices and studded with chopped onion and flecks of green parsley. 

We would feast in the sublime calm of this enchanted bush that was once sacred  Aboriginal land.

After lunch, my father and my uncles would rent rowboats from the Audley Boatshed and we would glide down the Hacking River, shadowed by the towering eucalyptus and spiky grey-green casuarina trees. 

—Sharon

Hanging out in the kitchen with Sharon is always fun. We talk about our kids, our recipes and we have lots of laughs. Not too long ago, we invited Nathalie Basha from Spectrum News to hang out in the kitchen with us. We spoke about our families and she told us about her Iraqi heritage and her love for Iraqi food. It felt like another girlfriend had joined us in the kitchen. 

Sharon chopped fresh parsley and lots of onion to add to her meatballs. I told her that maybe she needs to go easy on the onion. She said no way. So these meatballs are heavy on the onion. Which I love. But no way could I ever serve this to my husband and my kids because they freak out about too much onion and garlic. My secret technique (borrowed from my mother) is to grate the onion and garlic so that it just melts into the food. My family has no idea that is where all the delicious flavor is coming from.

Sharon added lots of warm spices —cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika and turmeric. She added her secret ingredient — potato starch. We stood there rolling the meatballs. Our jewelry clinked on the glass bowl, the rhythm of our hands matched and it was quite therapeutic. 

Sharon added lots of warm spices — cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika and turmeric. She added her secret ingredient — potato starch. We stood there rolling the meatballs. Our jewelry clinked on the glass bowl, the rhythm of our hands matched and it was quite therapeutic. 

Then Nathalie, Sharon and I feasted on these tasty meatballs, jasmine rice and Israeli salad. 

—Rachel

Shifte Meatballs

1 lb ground beef
1 white onion, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 cup potato starch
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Freshly ground black pepper

  • Preheat oven to broil setting.
  • Combine meat, onions, parsley, potato starch, 2 tablespoons olive oil and all the spices in a large bowl and mix well.
  • Lightly oil an ovenproof skillet.
  • Form the meat mixture into a golf-sized balls, then place in the skillet.
  • Place on the middle rack of the oven and roast for 5 to 8 minutes until nicely browned.

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.

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