We’re almost at the end of Hannukah (Dec. 2-10) and I hope you are enjoying some wonderfully crisp latkes and blintzes.
Latkes come primarily from Ashkenazi food traditions. Sephardic Judaism brings us the bimuelo, a variation of the Isreali sufganiyot, the jelly-filled doughnut more common in the United States. There are other differences between the two major Jewish groups in terms of cuisine, too.
In Ashkenazi traditions, you’ll find dishes like matzo ball soup, gefilte fish and those latkes, foods found in cooler climates with plenty of potatoes and noodles to enjoy to get you through the cold months. Go a bit south for Sephardic foods that we often associate with Mediterranean cuisines with hummus and the now very popular shakshuka. At Shabbat, for example, you’ll find the stew Chamin in Sephardic traditions while it’s called Cholent in Ashkenazi families, but both are designed so that there’s no cooking during actual Shabbat. These are just a few of many examples showing the nuances of these very different cuisines and just the tip of the iceberg on an exploration that could go on for a lifetime.
Many years ago I had the opportunity to dine in London with a family of Yemenite Jews who enjoy further cuisine variations. Several thousand Jews settled in Yemen and may have lived there as far back as the 3rd century CE. Their cuisine is vibrant with spices in dishes like a Shabbat chicken soup with hawayej, a special spice blend, and served with two traditional condiments, hilbeh made from fenugreek seeds and schug, a mix of peppers, garlic and spices. Here are the recipes for the chicken soup, hilbeh and the schug as well as one for the Yemenite variation on the bimuelo called zalabia.
1 pound all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon hot water
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2-3 cups sunflower or safflower oil for frying
Place flour in the mixing bowl of a standing mixer. Create a well in the middle and pour in the sugar and yeast. Add 1 cup water. Let stand for 5 minutes until it froths.
Add salt and the rest of the water and mix with the dough hook attachment on low speed for about 10 minutes, scraping the hook and sides of the bowl as needed. The dough should be soft and sticky.
Wet your hands and smooth the top of the dough, then cover and let stand in a warm, draft-free area for 45 minutes. The dough should more than double in size. With wet hands, gently deflate the dough and let rise again for about 30 minutes. You’ll see air pockets at the top. While the dough is rising for the second time, heat 1-inch oil in a heavy bottom skillet or pot and keep at 365 to 375 degrees F. With wet hands, tear off a small walnut-sized ball of dough, stretch into a small rectangle and lower it carefully into the oil. The zalabia will puff up and then float in the hot oil. Fry for about 90 seconds until golden then turn the fritter around and fry for another 60 to 90 seconds. Scoop them up with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Enjoy immediately. Drizzle with honey or dip in cinnamon sugar or jam.
Yemenite chicken soup
1 whole chicken, about 4 pounds, cut into pieces
4 drum sticks
2 beef marrow bones
2 teaspoon turmeric
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch cilantro, rinsed and tied into a bundle
1 large onion rinsed and halved, skin on
2 teaspoon hawayej spice blend (see below)
1 1/4 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large 2-3 inch chunks
Salt and pepper
Place chicken pieces and marrow bones in an 8-quart stock pot. Add 12 cups water to the pot, bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes, skimming the foam that rises to the top.
Stir in the turmeric, 1/2 tablespoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and garlic cloves. Add the cilantro bundle and onion. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer. Let the soup cook for about two hours, making sure the liquid is at a low simmer.
Use a pair of tongs to pull out the onion, the cilantro bundle and the two chicken breasts on the bone. Place the chicken breasts on a cutting board and pull the meat from the bones, shredding the meat.
Add the chicken breast meat back to the soup pot and stir in the hawayej spice blend. Taste, and add salt and pepper if desired.
Add the potato chunks and any other vegetables you like including carrot, celery, parsnip. Simmer again for about 20 minutes, until the potato is tender.
Take the marrow bones from the broth and remove the marrow from the bones with a spoon. Add the marrow back to the broth or reserve and serve on the side as a garnish. Serve the soup with some of the broth, a leg, some vegetables and some of the shredded chicken breast meat. Serve with Schug on the side and some hilbeh.
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 1/2 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 1/2 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoon Cardamom seeds taken from their pods
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Toast the cumin, caraway and coriander seeds in a pan over medium hear until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
Pour the toasted seeds into a bowl and then into a spice or coffee grinder with the turmeric, peppercorns, cardamom seeds and clove. Grind into a powder, stirring periodically.
This makes a great condiment for grilled meats and fish, too.
15 hot green peppers, trimmed of stems.
20 cloves garlic, peeled
2 bunches fresh cilantro, chopped with stems
1 tablespoon each of ground black pepper, cardamom, cumin and salt
Mix the garlic and peppers in a food processor and create a rough paste.
Add the cilantro and spices and process until smooth. Store in the refrigerator in airtight containers for up to three weeks.
1 tablespoon finely ground fenugreek seeds
6 cups boiling water
2 garlic cloves
1 large tomato
2 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon cardamom seed
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
Place the fenugreek powder in a large bowl. Pour plenty of boiling water over the powder and stir. Let stand for about five hours. Pour off the water. The fenugreek should have a gelatinous texture.
Place garlic, tomato, tomato puree, caraway seeds, cardamom seeds, chili flakes and salt in a food processor and process until smooth. Add the fenugreek jelly and mix by pulsing. Serve with flatbread.
Rachel Forrest is a former restaurant owner, reviewer and Seacoast resident who now lives in Austin, Texas. Find more of her food columns at www.seacoastonline.com.