Sephardic Recipes With A Modern Twist

Sephardic Spice Girls


What is it about friendships that intertwine and connect generations?

As a young man, my grandfather was sent from the bustling city of Baghdad to the sleepy village of Al-Azair, the mystical burial place of the prophet Ezra. A pilgrimage site that is holy to both Jews and Muslims, the large compound sits on the Western bank of the Tigris River, shaded by many palm trees. 

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It was there that he met and married my grandmother and started his teaching career. He reminisced that on the day he arrived, all the students gathered to greet him with cheers. One of those students was my grandmother’s cousin, Yehezkel Avrahamy.

When the Iraqi Jews were transplanted to Israel in the early 1950’s, my grandfather was a headmaster of schools in Kiriyat Ono, Zichron Yaakov and Benyamina. The Avrahamy family settled in Jerusalem. Yehezkel got a job working in a shoe factory, where he met his wife Esther. A sabra, she also spoke Arabic because her parents hailed from Aleppo. The two families maintained a devoted friendship and my mother remembers that as a young girl, she thought that Yehezkel and Esther were the most romantic couple that she had ever met.

My grandparents emigrated to Australia in 1967. In 1973, Yehezkel and Esther and their three children, Ronit, Yigal and Yosi, moved to Los Angeles, where they joined his eldest sister Meda Jacobs and her family. Three of my uncles moved to Los Angeles in the seventies and my family joined in 1981. My grandparents spent months at a time in Los Angeles and always spent time with Meda, Yehezkel and their sister Shula. Over the years there were bar mitzvahs and weddings and we always celebrated together. Yosi was in my grade and it was was almost as though our generation inherited the friendships of our parents. Neil, Rachel’s husband was also very close to Yosi. When Yosi found his own Esther, Rachel and I fell in love with her too. And now the fourth generation are friends too!

Over the years, whenever I ever saw Yehezkel, he always gave me the biggest smile and always managed to express his gratitude that my grandfather was his “mo’allem” his teacher.

When Yehezkel was in the hospital about six years ago, Rachel and I felt pretty helpless. But we knew the one thing we could do to show our love and support was to show up. And of course, bring some home-cooked food.

Rachel brought burekas and Arroz con Pollo.

I knew exactly what I would bring: my grandmother’s shorba, an Iraqi tomato chicken soup with rice.

Shorba is the hearty soup you make when the weather outside is cold and grey. Shorba is the smooth creamy soup you make when someone is sick and you want to nurse them back to health. Shorba is the soup you make when you want simple home cooked goodness.


Shorba has the soothing flavor of chicken, the comfort of rice, the cooling menthol of cardamom, the brightness of tomatoes and the healing power of onion and garlic and spices.

I had never cooked Shorba before and I didn’t have a recipe. But the flavors were so engrained in my brain and tastebuds that I managed to make a delicious pot of soup.

Yehezkel loved it. And so will you and your family.

Iraqi Chicken Shorba

5 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
6 tomatoes, diced
10 cardamom pods, gently crushed
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon allspice
2 large chicken breasts with bones
8 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 medium potatoes, diced
6 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups of jasmine rice, rinsed and soaked for one hour
8 cups water
Sea Salt
Fresh ground black pepper

  1. Fry onions in olive oil over medium heat, until they are transparent.

  2. Add tomatoes and spices and sauté for 3 minutes.

  3. Add chicken breasts and sauté for 5 minutes.

  4. Add garlic, potatoes and tomato paste and sauté for 5 minutes.

  5. Add rice and water, stir well and bring to a boil.

  6. Add salt and pepper to taste.

  7. Reduce heat, cover tightly and let simmer for 45 minutes.

  8. Shred chicken and serve in the soup.

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