Author Archives: Natasha Cooper-Benisty

Natasha Cooper-Benisty

About Natasha Cooper-Benisty

Natasha Cooper-Benisty has been a Jewish educator in both day school and religious school for the past 10 years. In 2011 she received a MS in Jewish Communal Service from Gratz College. She enjoys educating her students about Moroccan Jewish culture and creating Moroccan feasts for her Ashkenazic friends.

Eating Ashkenazi-Sephardi Style at Sukkot

Baklava2Sukkot appears to be one holiday in which the Moroccan and Ashkenazic customs and rituals are fairly similar. We both use the lulav and etrog and we both build a sukkah. I imagine that the sukkah building materials might have differed in Morocco than the materials my family used in London, England and before that in Russia and Poland.

One thing that do I know was different was the temperature outside when sitting or sleeping in the sukkah. My husband, Motti, is not sure about whether families slept in their sukkot during the holiday back in Morocco though the average temperatures in Casablanca during the months of September and October range from 66 – 73 degrees Fahrenheit (I checked!) so it does seem possible. He does, however, remember once sleeping in the sukkah as a kid in Beersheva, but it did not seem to be a family tradition.

My paternal great grandfather, on the other hand, did sleep in the sukkah and had an ingenious way of dealing with the London rain. He had a retractable roof which he used when the weather was not cooperating. Apparently he always slept outside during the holiday which is remarkable when you consider the rain and the chilly temperatures (55-61 Fahrenheit on average – yeah I checked that out too!).

Here is New Jersey, we do not sleep outside, but we do have an annual gathering in our sukkah on the second day of Sukkot in which we tend to play, “Can we outdo ourselves again this year?” Perhaps I’m a little insane, but I have kept track of my guests and menus for all Jewish holidays, plus Thanksgiving, for about the last 12 years or so. Subsequently, although my friends may not recall what was for dessert on Sukkot 2012 or 2013, I know and often don’t want to repeat myself so soon.

At the same time our guests have also developed a fondness for certain dishes such as Motti’s vegetable soup (a self-created item that technically is always changing!) and his myriad of Moroccan/Israeli salads including, but certainly not limited to, roasted peppers and various eggplant dishes. Our friends look forward to our Sukkot lunch and can name certain favorites that they hope will top the menu this year. I too have made some dishes along the way which are also enjoyed by our guests including Moroccan fish and baklava, the latter perhaps not so Moroccan, but passed along to me by my Tunisian sister-in-law Shosh and made by other family members. Please take note that it is not as difficult to make as you think as long as you are not planning to make the filo dough yourself.

This year we are bringing out a few of the old time favorites and trying some new dishes. We will see what works and what if anything makes its way into the Benisty top ten. In the meantime, I recommend trying the roasted peppers and baklava when you get the chance. You won’t regret it!

 

roasted pepper2Roasted Peppers

Ingredients
8 pepper of varying colors
Juice from ½ a lemon
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, sliced

Directions
1)    Grill the peppers until soft. This can be done on an outdoor grill, over an open gas flame or under the broiler. Make sure the skins are blackened all over.
2)    Place the peppers in a paper bag while warm and close. Leave to cool to aid in peeling. Then peel skins off the peppers so that no skins are left.
3)    Peel the blackened skins off the peppers and slice the peppers into ½ inch strips.
4)    Mix the peppers with the lemon juice, olive oil, sliced garlic and salt.
5)    Refrigerate any leftovers.

Note that this dish will keep for several days.

Baklava

Baklava appears as a favorite dish through the Middle East. Filo dough one of its essential ingredients can be found in many grocery stores and specialty markets but be sure to check the date to assure buying fresh products.

Ingredients
1 package filo dough (20 sheets) return any left over sheets to the freezer
2 sticks margarine, melted
1 pound chopped walnuts
½ cup sugar
1-tablespoon cinnamon
4-5 ounces of honey

Directions
1)    Defrost filo sheets/leaves as per the instructions on the box.
2)    Grease an oblong pan or baking sheet
3)    Brush half the leaves (ten) completely with the margarine one at a time on one side only. Arrange them one on top of the other in the pan.
4)    Mix together walnuts, sugar and cinnamon
5)    Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the prepared filo sheets.
6)    Repeat step three with the rest of the filo sheets.
7)    Freeze for one hour.
8)    Remove from freezer and cut completely through dough making diagonal lines in both directions so that little diamond shapes are formed throughout the dough.
9)    Bake in a 400 degree oven for about a half hour, but check after 20 minutes to make sure that the dough does not begin to burn.
10) Remove from oven and pour the honey over the diagonal cuts in the pastry. Let honey absorb, cool and serve.

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Posted on October 7, 2014

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Not My Mother’s Matzah Balls: My Moroccan Kitchen

I have often joked that I am the only woman in America who doesn’t cook anything that she grew up eating. Now this is not a reflection on my mother’s cooking abilities, but rather a result of my marriage to a Moroccan Israeli with very different ideas of what constitutes good food.

My husband was born in Marrakech and moved as an infant to Beersheva, Israel where much of his family still reside. There amidst the trials and tribulations of raising a family in the “ma’aborot” or tent cities, my heroic mother-in-law cared for her large family. Her main occupation in life was clearly feeding her family and in their home this meant the daily preparation of good Moroccan food translating into hours of daily cooking each day.

moroc-salad-2

The food and spices she used were completely different than those that constituted my Ashkenazic upbringing. Couscous was a staple and always made properly (no instant Osem for her) and could be combined with vegetables with chicken on the side for a meat meal or could be made dairy and eaten with leben, a yogurt-like cheese quite popular in Israel. Shabbat would include Moroccan fish and would always feature the Moroccan version of cholent called skhina (meaning “hot in Arabic) or hamin (like the Hebrew word for hot, “cham”) which would include foods like eggs in their shells and chickpeas. Other popular dishes were chicken with olives and different vegetable soups including chickpea pumpkin soup, traditionally served on Rosh Hashanah and my son’s favorite.

Moroccan cooks are also famous for their many salads which make their appearance primarily on Friday nights (carrot, beets, anise, pepper, eggplant etc). My mother in law was also busy pickling olives, peppers and carrots.

Of course one cannot discuss Moroccan food without emphasizing the spices. Onion powder and garlic powder, perhaps the staples of Ashkenazic cooking, have no place here. Instead saffron, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, paprika and allspice rule. Moroccan cooks also create their own blended spice called “mashia” which is great on ground beef. Lemons and olive oil are also staples with  preserved lemons often used to flavor various dishes.

Then there are the exquisite foods made for special occasions which I won’t go into here since they merit their own blog post!

I often kid that my husband will only eat food if it is from somewhere between Spain and Iraq (excluding Eastern Europe of course!). Having grown up eating exclusively Moroccan and some Israeli/Middle Eastern food at home, he is not interested in anything else. In fact, when we first started dating he wouldn’t eat anything at my parent’s home not due to any kashrut concerns, but just because everything was so foreign to him. Eventually he tried my mother’s chicken soup, but he prides himself on never having tasted a matzah ball nor gefilte fish.

moroc-salad

The fact is that I have never made these foods. Honestly, I prefer my adopted Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisine. My “mixed” kids get their fix at their grandparent’s home if they need it.  Otherwise, we are all happy embracing our Moroccan heritage.

Moroccan Chickpea/Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients
1 ¼ cups yellow split peas or chickpeas (if using chickpeas, soak for at least ½ hour)
1 large onion, chopped
2 ¾ quarts chicken stock (you can use Osem chicken mix as an option)
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons sunflower oil (I normally use canola)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon saffron
1 pound orange pumpkin, cubed (I use calabazzo pumpkin or a butternut squash will work.  I usually use about 2 pounds though the original recipe suggests 1 pound)
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leafed parsley

Directions
Put the yellow split peas and the onion in a pot with the stock.
Bring to a boil and simmer for at least a ½ hour or until the split peas are tender.
Add salt and pepper to taste, the oil, cinnamon, ginger and saffron and put in the pumpkin.
Simmer until the pumpkin falls apart
Use an immersion blender or a masher to make the soup smoother.
Sprinkle with flat-leafed parsley before serving.

*note that when using chicken powder I omit the salt.  Also the soup can get very thick so feel free to add water to it if it feels too thick.


Moroccan Carrot Salad

Ingredients
2 lbs carrots
2 garlic cloves
2 lemons
1 tablespoon cumin
2 tablespoons paprika
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
Flat leaf parsley or coriander
Peel and clean carrots.

Directions
Peel and clean carrots.
Boil carrots until a fork easily pierces the thickest carrot.
Rinse carrots with cold water and then slice them about ¼ to ½ inch thick.
Crush or finely chop the garlic.
Mix the garlic with the juice of two lemons, all the spices and the olive oil.
Toss the carrots with the mixture.
Sprinkle chopped coriander of flat leaf parsley on the top of the carrots and toss.

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Posted on July 17, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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