The Sephardic Table: The Vibrant Cooking of the Mediterranean Jews-A Personal Collection of Recipes from the Middle East, North Africa and India

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9780395892602: The Sephardic Table: The Vibrant Cooking of the Mediterranean Jews-A Personal Collection of Recipes from the Middle East, North Africa and India
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Pamela Grau Twena's introduction to Sephardic culture began on a blind date. Her future husband came from a family of Iraqi Jews who had immigrated to Israel. She was a non-observant Jew from Hollywood whose encounters with Jewish food had been limited to her grandmother's matzoh ball soup, a semiannual brisket, and an occasional cheese blintz. Twena's mother-in-law ushered her into a world of flavorful dishes. Captivated, she coaxed out the recipes, which had been passed through generations but never written down. Beginning with her husband's extended family, she went on to interview members of the Sephardic community (the term for Jews with ancient roots in Spain), persuading them to open their kitchens to her and divulge their coveted recipes. The result is a collection of 175 of Twena's favorite recipes from Morocco, Libya, Algeria, and Tunisia in North Africa; from the Ottoman communities of Turkey, Rhodes, and Greece; from Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, and Iran in the Middle East;

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Review:

Sephardic Jews include those who left Spain during the Inquisition in 1492 and the people in Jewish communities where the Babylonian Talmud is followed. These communities, found mainly in the Middle East, tend to be exclusive, insular, and to eat very well.

From Morocco and Italy east to Iran and India, Sephardic cooking is a rich blend of herbs and spices, of sweet and savory flavors. Hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and pilafs made with rice or bulgur are a few Sephardic dishes you may recognize.

Author Pamela Grau Twena's introduction to Sephardic cooking was unexpected. A nonobservant Jew from Hollywood, she met her husband, whose Orthodox family had emigrated from Iraq to Israel, on a blind date. After they married, they lived with his parents in Israel for one challenging year. The Sephardic Table grew, in part, from Twena's efforts to bond with her conservative mother-in-law, who guarded her territory so jealously that it took Twena months just to be allowed in the kitchen.

Obtaining recipes was difficult, even outside the family, because most Sephardic women cook by habit and feel, not following written instructions. Asked how many eggs she puts in a dish, a woman sputtered, "How can I tell you? It depends on the chickens that day, it depends on the freshness of the flour."

When she returned to the U.S., Twena continued her research in Sephardic cooking. Her collection of recipes, punctuated with moving personal stories, encompasses Italian Roasted Tomatoes generously seasoned with garlic, Indian Cardamom Chicken braised with six spices, and dishes from Sephardim living in countries everywhere in between. While Twena felt challenged by this ritualized way of cooking, where you are supposed to stir the pot in a particular way and are only allowed combine certain foods, even timid cooks can manage most of the recipes in The Sephardic Table. --Dana Jacobi

About the Author:

Pamela Grau Tewna spent nearly a year in Isreal, where she learned Sephardic traditions from he Iraqi in-laws. Returning to California, she spent years collectiong Sephardic recipes, successfully self-publishing a book on the subject. She lives in Newport Beach, California.

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