Sephardic Recipes With A Modern Twist

Sephardic Spice Girls

Sharon Gomperts: My family is visiting the apartment building in Israel where my uncles and their families live. I awake in the middle of the night and hear adult conversation in the living room. I jump out of bed to find my parents and my Uncle Naim and Aunt Dalia standing by the second-floor window, looking out onto the main road. They’re very concerned by the convoy of military trucks, some loaded with jeeps, barreling up the main road toward Israel’s northern border. 

I am a little girl visiting from Australia. I have no concept of geopolitics and the impending threat of war. I go back to sleep. 

The next afternoon, my Uncles Naim and Eliyahu are pulled away from their prayers in the synagogue and commanded to join their units. Four weeks before, we all had celebrated the wedding of my Uncle Aryeh. Three weeks before, we had celebrated the brit milah of Naim and Dalia’s baby boy Rafi, who, like my older brother and four other cousins, is named for our late paternal grandfather.

I see my uncles sitting in the kitchen. They break their fast on simple sandwiches of white bread spread with homemade strawberry preserves.

I see my uncles walking away from their homes, wives and young children.

I see them walking through the orange orchards, in khakis with backpacks slung over their shoulders. I see them walk purposefully heading toward what would be known as the Yom Kippur War.

Rachel Sheff: Every year, after the Kol Nidre service, my brothers and I would gather in our Los Angeles living room and my mother and father would regale us with stories of their childhoods in Larache, a port city in Morocco. We would laugh and laugh, long into the late hours of the night.

The next day meant long hours in the synagogue. We’d come home and, before resting, my mother and I would set the table with pretty linens, the finest china plates and crystal glasses. My mother would proudly display the sterling silver cutlery she had brought in her suitcase when my family emigrated from Morocco. 

When the end of Yom Kippur was signaled by the long blast of the shofar, my mother and I would rush home from the synagogue. My mother would whip egg yolks and sugar until they were a creamy pale yellow and I would brew coffee. The minute my father and brothers would walk through the door, my mother would pour the coffee into cups and spoon a generous amount of the whipped egg on top. This Spanish Moroccan custom was the only way to end a long fast: a hot drink to restore the body after fasting and to start the New Year on a sweet note. 

In the past, after our coffee and cookies, we would sit down to eat a hot meal, including soup and a stuffed chicken and letrea (egg noodles). Nowadays, we have adopted my husband’s family tradition of a dairy meal. And we have a new, very American, very beloved-by-our-children tradition: creamy macaroni and cheese with crispy sage and a crunchy panko topping.

Gomperts and Sheff: We are fortunate to know that the meals we eat to break our fasts this year will be filled with delicious treats, such as the babka we ordered from our good friend Mickey Kahtan. Kahtan is from a traditional Iraqi family but, along the way, she perfected the art of the Polish-Lithuanian dessert babka. Very popular in Israel, they are called oogot sh’marim (yeast cakes). They come with various delicious fillings such as cinnamon, chocolate and, like the ones Kahtan baked for us, tangy, creamy, slightly sweet cheese. Follow Kahtan on Instagram @MickeyBakes to see her other delectable, edible works of art. 

We also share our mothers’ recipes: Nana Sue’s Cranberry Almond Biscotti and Maman’s sweet coffee (Ponche De Huevos).

This year, we gratefully celebrate Yom Kippur basking in the knowledge of a new peace agreement with our Arab brethren.


3 eggs
1 cup olive oil
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups unbleached flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup slivered almonds
3/4 cup cranberries 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

  2. In large bowl, combine eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla beat until sugar is dissolved.

  3. In another bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. Mix well. 

  4. Make a well in dry ingredients and incorporate egg-and-sugar mixture.

  5. Add almonds and cranberries and combine well. 

  6. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Shape dough into narrow logs. 

  7. Bake 15-20 minutes. Slice dough with a serrated knife. 

  8. Lower temperature to 275 F and bake until biscotti is golden.

Makes 8-10 biscotti.


3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar

  1. Separate yolks into small bowl.

  2. Add sugar and beat briskly with a whisk until sugar dissolved and mix is light pale yellow.

  3. Top your favorite coffee with a generous dollop.

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