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30 Sep

Sukkot is a harvest holiday celebrating the harvesting of vegetables and grains. While there is not much symbolic food, there is a lot of symbolism in the way food is eaten during this week-long holiday.

Eating in the sukkah:

The word sukkah means “booth” or “hut.” During sukkot, it is symbolic ot eat meals in a sukkah to remember the forty years of wandering in the desert that the Jews enduring after leaving Egypt.

Inviting guests:

It is customary on sukkot to invite guests for meals to welcome people to your abode.


An etrog is a large cirtus fruit that looks like a lemon. While you don’t eat this during sukkot, I’ve heard of jams, marmalades and other excellent dishes made after the holiday ends. One interpretation is that the etrog symbolizes the heart and is shaken with 3 plant species (palm symbolizing the backbone, willow representing lips and myrtle referring to the eyes) and to show all the different people and strengths a community needs to flourish.

Why I add a hint of cumin to almost everything I make

28 Sep

When I was a little girl, cooking was always around me. As a Syrian Jew, I spent hours watching specialty Middle Eastern food being made. I always wanted to help make the complicated Syrian recipes like lachamajin, kibbe, and sambusak I watched my grandpa spend hours making. Each dish was made with such precision and love and yet at the same time when it came to quantities, the response was “a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and then taste until you get the exact flavor.” These responses both invigorated and discouraged me. I was excited that I may one day be able to nail that exact flavor, but fearful that maybe I didn’t get that gene and maybe I would never make the food like my grandpa did.

As I have started cooking, I have gotten a better sense of the recipes and flavors. I have also built more confidence in asking questions and tweaking recipes as I create my food. Food and cooking are still always around me and I still love them. Even though I know my fractions, I am still able to use cooking to learn other skills that are more practical for my adult life.

The recipes I include in my cookbook are those close to my heart, that me to my family and as a result, ethnicity and religion.

Photo by Sanjay Acharya (Own work) GFDL  or CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Rosh Hashanah

17 Sep

Rosh Hashanah Food Traditions

The Leek omlette, Swiss Chard omlette, Black-eyed peas, and Dates have two interpretations. First, all are eaten as foods that relate to the words they represent. For example, leeks are called Karsi, which is related to the word karet meaning to cut off or destroy. The blessing that goes with the leek omlette says, “[m]ay all your enemies be cut off.” They are pretty much the old food puns, like eating lettuce to say “lettuce” (“let us”) have a good new year. The second interpretation is that these are the foods the Gemorrah, a written Jewish text, recommended Jews eat on this holiday.


Pomegranate seeds symbolize merits. The blessing says “[m]ay your merits be many like the seeds of a pomengranate.”

Challah and sugar:

Challah is the bread that is always blessed on Jewish holidays. On Friday nights for Shabbat, challah is dipped in salt to remember the destruction of the second temple, but on Rosh Hashanah, challah is dipped in sugar for a sweet new year. The challah is also round, symbolizing the cyclical nature of the year and creation.

Fish or lambs head:

Sometimes Rosh Hashanah will feature a fish head on the table. This is to sybolize Rosh Hashanah as the head, or start, of the year. It is a fish because fish symbolizes fertility.

New fruit:

Every year you are supposed to try a new fruit, representing the new year. In the past few years, I’ve had quince, rambutan, and Chinese melon. It’s an excellent way to explore different types of ingredients and cultures.

Rosh Hashanah: A Holiday Year in Food

16 Sep

The ultimate summary of most Jewish holidays can be boiled down to “they tried to kill us; they failed; let’s eat.” During holidays, foods take on special meanings and different Jewish ethnicities eat different foods when celebrating. Each holiday revolves around a different type of food that helps participants use their senses of taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing to feel the holiday.

The year starts today, with Rosh Hashanah, literally translated as “head of the year.” For this occasion, dishes are sweet and symbolize our wishes for a sweet new year. Sukkot comes about a month later (sometime in between late-September and late October).  Sukkot is a harvest holiday focused around eating earthy foods and grains.

Then comes Hanukkah, the miracle of oil that lasted for many more days than was anticipated. For Hanukkah, all the foods you eat are fried.  Followed by Hanukkah is Tu Bishvat, the festival of the trees, that has foods symbolizing all four seasons and recognizing what is given to us from the earth.

Purim—a mix between Halloween and Mardi Gras, where the food you make is given to neighbors and others to show you care—comes next.  After that is Passover, the festival of unleavened bread, where each food symbolizes the journey from slavery to freedom.  Finally, is shavuot, when Jews received the ten commandments. In celebration, you stuff yourself with all sorts of dairy desserts.

Falafel Fridays

31 Aug

Mike, who worked as the community coordinator at the campus ministry, was looking for great recipes for lent. As a way to build community and really help students think about the impact of giving meat up and observing Lent, he started hosting Falafel Fridays. On Falafel Fridays, kids from all over would show up. These students could learn how to cook a new food and be social (which is what Fridays are all about in college).

As an athlete and healthy eater, Lent was always challenging for Mike. On Fridays, he searched for alternatives to the classic fish fry or carb load like spaghetti dinners. Mike looked for something that was easy to make, not so expensive, but filling! One day, in college, Mike stumbled onto Levantes, a Mediterranean restaurant in Washington, DC. There, he found a phenomenal falafel sandwich. He was instantly in love. It satisfied his need for healthy, good, vegetarian food with lots of sides like Israeli salad, Morroccan carrot salad, and hummus for not a lot of money.

Falafel Fridays served numerous purposes. First, it taught students to cook something healthy and easy. Second, it allowed students to think about what they give up during Lent and why . Third, it enabled students to learn about and experiment with spices like cumin and coriander and fresh herbs like parsley. Finally, because the falafel recipe is mainly comprised of fresh vegetables and foods, it opened a conversation about health, food, and sustainability. For Mike, Falafel sparked conversation, created community, and gave students a great Friday afternoon hang-out option and meal.

Friday Falafel Recipe


1 can chickpeas
1/2 large red onion, diced (about 3/4 cup)
2 tbsps finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp salt
1/2-1 tsp dried hot red pepper (or cayenne pepper to taste)
4 cloves garlic
1 tbsp cumin
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp lime juice
4-6 tbsps flour
Olive oil for frying
Tomato for sandwich, diced
Red onion for sandwich, diced
Cucumber for sandwich, diced
Green leaf lettuce for sandwich
Hummus for sandwich
Tahina sauce
Pita bread (warmed in oven)


Prepare vegetables ahead of time. Slice some of the red onion and put aside for sandwich toppings; dice the rest for use in falafel patty. Mince the garlic for ease of mixing in food processer/blender. Slice cucumber and tomato, get lettuce leaves ready–place all aside.

Drain chickpeas, then empty container into food processer/blender, and add diced onion, garlic, lime juice, and olive oil. Add cilantro and blend again until mixture is relatively uniform (it will be a bit chunky) and resembles a thick paste. Ideally, you don’t want big chunks of garlic or onion. Add a bit of the flour and baking soda to absorb some of the moisture—I recommend putting the paste in a bowl first and stirring it with a spoon at this point. It becomes very challenging to get out of the blender.

Place some of the flour and baking powder in a small bowl and mix with a fork to create a basic dredge. Take about a tablespoon worth of paste, roll it into a small patty, and dip it briefly into the flour dredge. DO NOT coat it entirely— just a gentle dusting to hold it together as a patty, so that the paste does not all disintegrate in fryer.

In a skillet or saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Drop the patties in one by one, allowing space between. (Some prefer vegetable oil; I use olive oil for the additional flavor and health benefits. Others also do a deep-fry, where the entire falafel is covered in oil. I fry them in about a quarter inch of oil.)

When the edges of the patty appear to have turned a golden brown, flip and repeat on other side. Once both sides are golden brown, transfer to a plate with a paper towel to absorb excess oil.

Put the hummus, veggies, and falafel into a warm pita shell and enjoy!

Image: By Tlmoers (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

Commandeered Apple Cake

23 Aug

Emily has made Apple cake dozens of times, both with her mother and on her own since she was too young to use a knife to cut the apples. Though her mother originally got the recipe from of a friend of hers, it has been totally co-opted and claimed as her own. Through her experience in making this recipe, Emily can answer all of the questions you’ve pondered in previous apple cake attempts.

This apple cake helped Emily connect with her mother. Every time either of them makes the cake, they call each other to discuss the outcome. Here are some of the things they have figured out along the way.

What type of apple works best? Honey crisp for a sweet cake, granny smith for more tartness, a mix to spice things up.

How does the cake turn out if you peel the apples? Don’t bother; it’s much better with the skins for texture and it also keeps the apples from getting mushy.

What happens when you accidentally put an extra cup of sugar in the mix? It becomes very tasty with a super crunchy top, but will induce a sugar crash.

Finally, what is the best way to reheat it? Her mother is a microwave fan and Emily swears by the toaster oven.

Commandeered Apple Cake Recipe

  • 3 cups Flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 3 cups unpeeled, chopped apples (any variety)
  • 1 cup walnuts (optional)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350˚.  Sift dry ingredients, then mix in apples and nuts. Mix in other ingredients until all flour is incorporated.

Pour into a greased bunt or tube pan. Do NOT smooth out the top—the bumps and ridges get crispy.

Bake for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.

An important equipment note for this recipe is the need for a bunt pan. The batter is so dense that it will not cook all the way through any other way. One alternative for those without a bunt pan is to make “apple cake muffins” which cook up much more quickly (about 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top).

This apple cake started as a Rosh Hashanah treat, using apples to celebrate the Jewish New Year, but can be used for any occasion. It works particularly well as a birthday cake for lactose intolerant bosses. Also, because it’s parve (not meat or dairy), it can be brought to almost any Jewish dinner party. Most importantly, it’s easy (it’s the only recipe Emily has memorized) and is a big crowd pleaser. To serve, You won’t need any accoutrements to go with it, no sauces or whipped cream, that would just ruin the purity of awesomeness that is this apple cake.

Photo by Silar (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

The Family Leek Omelette

21 Aug

My favorite holiday of the year is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. On this holiday everything you eat is supposed to be sweet to represent a sweet New Year. In Syrian tradition, you also eat other symbolic foods to keep enemies away and to bless you with a year of many merits.

One of my favorite foods is the leek omelette. When cooked correctly, it comes out thick, has a perfect golden brown color, and is delicious. I remember being scared to learn how to make this omelette because of all the hot oil involved. It’s difficult to flip and there is a high likelihood splashing yourself with hot oil, especially in the first few cooking attempts. Additionally, if you flip it too early, the whole omelette falls apart and you need to just start again.  For years, I needed my grandpa on the phone before (and sometimes during) the omelette making process. I have to say, though, my omelette now rivals his.

Leek Omelette Recipe


  • 1 leek (at least 1 inch wide)
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons matzah meal
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • oil for frying


Cut the tops off of the leek where the leek becomes darker green. Half the leek length-wise and then half it again. Cut very fine, making approximately ¼ inch slices. Rinse very well, making sure no sand or grit is left. This can be done by soaking slices in a shallow bowl of water and letting grit fall to the bottom. Cook for 15 minutes in boiling salted water. Rinse in cold water and drain.

In the meantime, separate the eggs. Beat white until they are foamy but not quite stiff. Beat the egg yolks.

Add the leeks to the egg whites. Next add the salt and cumin and mix. Add the egg yolks and matzah meal. Mix well.

Heat a 9 inch frying pan with about 1/8 inch oil. Add mixture making sure that it spreads out. Cover and cook on medium heat until bottom is brown. Turn over using a plate to help flip the omlette and fry the other side until it is golden brown as well.

This dish can be served hot or cold. Because it is like a frittata, it can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or as a delicious dinner sidedish.

Abby’s Famous Pecan Pie

20 Aug

Until Paula was in college, she had no idea what a boxed cake taste like. That just wasn’t the way things were done in her family. No break-and-bake cookies and no ready-to-go frosting. The women in Paula’s family always bake from scratch.

On one fateful Thanksgiving eve, a few years ago when Paula was 18, her grandmother decided it was her turn. It was time she learned to make pie. They started with the crust—a simple butter crust that was always moist and kept people coming back for more—and then they moved on to the filling, one of Paula’s favorites becoming Abby’s Famous Pecan Pie. Within a few years, Thanksgiving dessert became Paula’s responsibility. At first she found it stressful and nerve-wracking.  It didn’t matter how many other Thanksgiving dishes like turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce her mother was balancing; when it was pie time, she would announce, “It’s my time to make the pies. I’m taking over the kitchen.”

Paula’s grandmother has since passed away, but now, anytime she is in the kitchen making desserts, especially those pecan and pumpkin pies, she remembers her grandmother teaching her and her grandmother in the kitchen making those delicious pies that were such a family pleaser.

Abby’s Famous Pecan Pie comes from a dear Abby column that Paula’s mom started using. While other pies make appearances occasionally, the classics always made on Thanksgiving (the most important pie holiday of the year) are Abby’s pecan pie and the classic pumpkin pie.

Abby’s Famous Pecan Pie Recipe


  • 1 9” unbaked pie crust (or for better results, a homemade butter crust)
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 heaping cup pecan halves
  • whipped cream for serving


Heat over to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine corn syrup, sugar, eggs, butter, salt and vanilla; mix well. Pour filling into unbaked pie crust; cover with pecan halves. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until center is set. Remove from over and cool. Serve with whipped cream.

Photo by Stu Spivack (CC-BY-SA-2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pie Recipe

10 Aug

Laurie is one of six children. For her, weeknight meals were mostly macaroni and cheese or tuna casserole, but holidays were a different story. Growing up, Thanksgiving was always spent with her family in Georgia. There were aunts and uncles, her whole family. One special memory was of a piecrust from her Aunt Pix. On Thanksgiving morning, she and her siblings could be found in the basement, making and rolling out crust, constantly arguing with each other about what the pie filling should be. And growing up, Laurie assumed this is how Thanksgiving would always be.

As she and her siblings grew up and started incorporating significant others into their lives, Thanksgiving no longer meant trips to Georgia and visits with aunts and uncles. Eventually, as she and her siblings married, Thanksgiving became the holiday they spent elsewhere. Even though each sibling started attending other Thanksgiving celebrations, Aunt Pix’s piecrust always traveled with them. It was the dish they volunteered to bring and it was what continued to tie them together. In recent years, they’ve started sending pictures to one another on Thanksgiving of the pie they made that year.

Aunt Pix’s Thanksgiving Pie Crust Recipe

  • 4 cups of flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 3/4 cup crisco
  • 1 Tbsp vinegar

Mix flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Cut in shortening until mix is crumbly.  In a different bowl, beat vinegar, eggs and 1/2 cup of ice water.  Combine 2 mixtures, dividing with a fork until it holds together.

Divide into 6 patties; wrap each in plastic wrap.  Chill or freeze. They will keep in the fridge for 3 days and the freezer for 2-3 months.

Fillings for this piecrust have run the gamut including apple, cherry, blueberry, chocolate pecan as well as some combinations of the above like cherry apple or blueberry raspberry pie.  The crust is easy to make and always turns out deliciously.

Laurie generally finds recipes through googling, trying to throw something together with what is in the fridge, or using because that is just the recipe she has. Conversely, the piecrust is the only recipe she cooks for a purpose… to remember her childhood Thanksgiving and connect her with her family, even as they become a part of other families.

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