Ashkenazim and the Sephardim

Jewish identity is as much composed of cultural and ethnic dimensions as those of faith and religion. Originating from the Hebrews of the Ancient Near East, Jews branched out to the rest of the world forming distinct communities with their own traditions and cultures- and of course, cuisines!

The largest of these groups are the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim; here’s a synopsis of each group’s food customs.


 The Ashkenazi originate from Germany and Eastern Europe; “Ashkenaz” means “Germany” in Hebrew. In addition to that of Germany, the Ashkenazi cuisine is influenced by the foods of Poland and Russia (i.e. horseradish, rye bread, & pickles). In this cold region the food tends to be heavier, with lots of potatoes, noodles, and meat. Additionally, this group was forced to live in poverty after having been expelled from Western Europe in the Middle Ages, and therefore were limited in terms of ingredients. Their foods were made with fewer components (fewer spices and ingredients) and those that were more flavorful had to be used sparingly. This is why the Ashkenazi cuisine is often regarded as being blander than dishes in Sephardi cuisine.


The Sephardi originate from Spain, North Africa, the Middle East, Egypt, and Turkey; the root of “Sephardi” means “Spain” in Hebrew. Their cuisine was influenced by Spanish and Mediterranean cuisines (i.e. shakshuka and hummus) and was developed in a sunnier climate than Ashkenazi making it generally lighter, healthier, and more colorful than that of the Ashkenazi. Staples of Sephardi cuisine are salads, stuffed vegetables and vine leaves, olive oil, lentils, fresh and dried fruits, herbs and nuts, chickpeas, and lamb. Another interesting difference in the Sephardi tradition in relation to food is that they eat rice and legumes during Passover whereas other Jewish ethnic groups do not.




  • 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Dried apricots, chopped
  • 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Dark raisins, cut in half
  • 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Yellow raisins, cut in half
  • 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Dried, pitted dates, chopped
  • 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Dried figs, chopped
  • 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Pistachios, preferably dry roasted
  • 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Walnuts, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon cumin
  • 2-3 twists of freshly ground pepper (optional)
  • About 4 tablespoons (¼ cup) hot liquid (sweet red wine like Manischewitz or grape or apple juice), added by tablespoonful


  1. Mix the dried fruit and nuts (all chopped) together in a bowl.
  2. Heat the liquid and add it to the fruit and nut mixture. Let the charoset sit for a few minutes until the fruit absorbs the liquid.
  3. Mix again and drain off excess liquid if any or add more if required.

*Original recipe:




Charoset Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ lbs Gala or Fuji apples (about 4 medium apples)
  • 5-6 tbsp sweet kosher wine
  • 1 tbsp honey (use agave to make vegan)
  • 1 ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ginger
  • ¼ tsp allspice
  • Salt to taste

Candied Walnuts Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw walnut halves
  • ½ egg white
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp cayenne
  • Dash cinnamon
  • Dash nutmeg (optional)


  1. Peel and core the apples, then chop them fine. I usually put them in a food processor and pulse a few times till they’re chopped fine but with texture. Careful, it’s easy to over-chop if you go this route and you could end up with applesauce!
  2. Place the chopped apples in a bowl. Stir in 5 tbsp sweet kosher wine, honey, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and a pinch of salt (to taste). Taste the mixture; if you feel it needs more moisture or sweetness, add a bit more kosher wine. The wine will be soaked up a bit as the charoset marinates, but you don’t want it puddling too much at the bottom of the bowl… a little puddling is fine.
  3. Cover the bowl, place in the refrigerator, and allow the mixture to marinate for 24 hours.

Candied Walnuts Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Separate egg white from yolk, then pour half of the egg white into a mixing bowl (just eyeball this, it doesn’t half to be exact). Use a whisk to beat the egg white till frothy, then beat in the sugar, salt, cayenne, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add the walnuts to the egg mixture and stir till the walnuts are fully coated in the seasoned egg white mixture.
  2. Spread the walnuts out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes till crisp. Remove sheet from the oven and allow the nuts to cool on the sheet.
  3. Pour the candied nuts onto a cutting board and roughly chop them into smaller pieces.

*Original recipe:

Spaghetti Squash with Shrimp

Gluten free, Atkins, South Beach, Paleo…

Even if you haven’t personally been on a low carb diet, you’ve almost certainly had to deal with someone who has.

I’m not hatin’: the evidence still backs up these diets as effective.  If you want to lose weight, lower your blood sugar, cholesterol, or blood pressure, then you could do worse than this route.

Then walked in the beast of them all: the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD).

It’s not only the most restrictive, but it’s intention is unlike all the others: people follow the SCD in an attempt to manage symptoms of gastrointestinal (GI) disorders.

A member of the SCD camp, and one of my most favorite people in the entire world, came to spend a week with me. This eliminated the possibility of dining out (imagine no restaurants while on vacation? in NYC of all places??), but it did result in some creative ‘problem solving’ dinner experiences.

The SCD limits nearly all carbs. Specifically, disaccharides and polysaccharides (chains of simple sugars) are avoided in preference to monosaccharides. The idea is that an excess of carbs in the intestines, and the resulting overgrowth of microbes that feast on these carbs, contributes to GI symptoms. Through limiting the quantity of carbs and the energy the body spends on breaking them down and absorbing them, intestinal balance is hopefully restored.

Specific Carbohydrate Diet
all grains meats
most dairy eggs
starchy veggies non-starchy veggies
beans & legumes low sugar fruit
anything with added sugar
(why does everything have sugar added??)

Monosaccharides: the most basic units of carbohydrates (molecules of carbon, hydrogen, & oxygen)
•     Glucose, Fructose, and Galactose

Disaccharides: two linked monosaccharides
•     Sucrose = Glucose + Fructose (table sugar)
•     Lactose = Glucose + Galactose (milk)
•     Maltose = Glucose + Glucose (product of digestion)

Polysaccharides: chains of 3+ monosaccharides
•     starch (corn, potatoes, rice)
•     cellulose (dietary fiber: wheat bran, apple skin, spinach, etc.)
•     glycogen (the storage molecule of carbohydrates in the body)

Pan to my new favorite thing: Sage Rosemary Walnut Spread. Imagine something between pesto and nut butter. And fortunately for my houseguest, it’s SCD legal.

Crazy Go Nuts makes the spread, a part of a whole line of flavored walnuts and walnut butters. Their savory flavors are particularly interesting (Garlic Parmesan, Buffalo, and Sage Rosemary, of course), but the sweet ones are also fantastic. I just straight ate a jar of the Orange with a spoon. Don’t judge.

I tried the Sage Rosemary spread as a pesto-like sauce paired with spaghetti squash. The result was intensely rich and creamy, and absolutely delicious. Surprisingly, it was much closer to an Alfredo sauce than pesto in both mouth feel and flavor. I’ll definitely make this recipe again, even without the confines of the SCD.


  • 1 lb shrimp (peeled, deveined, & tails removed)
  • 1 large spaghetti squash (about 4 lb)
  • 8 oz cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 3 oz butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 1/3 cup Crazy Go Nuts Sage & Rosemary Walnut Spread
  • 1/3 cup water
  • salt & pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat the oven to 400.
  2. Microwave the squash 5-10 minutes to soften slightly. Cut in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds. Place in a baking pan cut side up and roast till tender (about 40 minutes).
  3. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and salt and pepper; sauté until softened. Add the walnut spread, shrimp, and water, stirring continuously to mix and prevent burning. Cook until shrimp is cooked through.
  4. Serve sauce mixture inside halved squash. Or serve squash, scooped out with a fork to “shred” into noodles, topped with the shrimp mixture. Or mix squash flesh into the sauce in the skillet before serving.

Chinese New Year


Happy Chinese New Year!

I am lucky to have friends that are not only patient with my pestering and begging, but occasionally even indulge me. And this time I hit the jackpot: homemade dumplings! Yes, I know you are combatting some serious jealousy, but I do have some good news: the recipe itself isn’t hard. As for the beautiful folding technique… there, you might just want to give up hope. Even after two dozen attempts, my dumplings were definitely clumsy misshapen things, though they remained first rate in taste.


Dumplings are a traditional food made on Chinese New Year, which fell on January 28th of this year. Dumplings are roughly shaped like an ancient Chinese coin called a Sycee. A Sycee is an ancient Chinese ingot (piece of precious metal) currency, and therefore the similarly shaped dumplings have become a symbol of prosperity and wealth in the coming year.

Step One: Have a Snack

Kopitiam Coffee House, Teh Tarik, and Kaya Butter Toast
Teh tarik as it is "pulled"
Teh tarik as it is “pulled”

Arielle, a native of Singapore, led the way to Kopitiam Traditional Malaysian Coffee House (51B Canal Street, New York NY 10002) for a bite before starting Operation Dumpling. Here I was introduced to kaya butter toast and teh tarik, a popular snack in Singapore and Malaysia…. and maybe my new favorite thing.

Kaya butter toast is toasted white bread spread with butter and magical kaya jam. Kaya jam, a glorious chartreuse color, is a sweet spread made from coconut milk, eggs, pandan leaf, and sugar.

Teh tarik (pulled tea) is black tea and condensed milk poured back and forth repeatedly between two cups. This not only mixes it thoroughly, but gives it a thick frothy top and cools it to a perfect drinking temperature.


Step Two: Hunt & Gather



Hong Kong Supermarket
Gathering ingredients at Hong Kong Supermarket Monchong (157 Hester Street, New York NY 10013)

Step 3: Food Oragami


Instead of being served by the piece as they are in the United States (i.e. 6 dumpling appetizer), dumplings are sold by the pound in Asia. They are not served or thought of as a first course/starter in Asia, but as the meal. That said, when making your own dumplings, estimate 20-30 per person for large appetites and 10-15 for lighter ones.


Arielle and Brenda
Good friends and fellow karateka: I love these ladies!




  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1 tablespoon fermented rice cooking wine (Shaoxing)
  • 1 tablespoon lite soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese five spice
  • 1 inch knob ginger, finely minced
  • 1/2 medium napa cabbage, finely minced
  • 6 shitake mushrooms, finely minced
  • 6 scallions, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 package dumpling skins (about 42)

Dipping sauce:

  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • chili oil, to taste
  • pepper, to taste


  1. Squeeze the cabbage with your hands to get as much water out as possible.
  2. Mix together the ground cabbage, pork, rice wine, soy sauce, Chinese five spice, ginger, mushrooms, scallions, and salt.
  3. Drizzle in the olive oil a little at a time while mixing until the filling is shiny looking and holds together.
  4. Fill the dumplings, being sure to seal every seam well (use water to wet the folds to help stick the dough together). Be ambitious and try folding the traditional pleats, or save yourself aggravation and simply fold and seal similar to ravioli. Place on a plate dusted with flour to keep the dumplings from sticking to the plate or to one another.
  5. Boil a large pot of water. Gently place dumplings in a single layer in the pot (boil in batches if necessary). When the water returns to a boil, pour in a cup or so of cold water. Repeat once more (wait for the rolling boil, add another cup of cool water) and after the third boil, remove the dumplings. The dumplings should be floating by this point.
  6. Mix dipping sauce ingredients and serve with the hot dumplings!


❤️️ The warmest thanks to Arielle and Brenda for their friendship and hospitality. ❤️️


Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeño Poppers

Let me see you say no to these perfect bites of spicy, melty, bacony heaven…

jalapeno popper


This quick and easy appetizer/hors d’oeuvre is perfect for holiday entertaining.


  • 1/2 cup cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 12 jalapeños, halved lengthwise, seeds and membranes removed
  • 12 slices bacon


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
Mix cream cheese and cheddar cheese together in a bowl. Fill each jalapeño half with the cheese mixture. Put halves back together and wrap each stuffed pepper with a slice of bacon. Arrange bacon-wrapped peppers on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake in the preheated oven until bacon is crispy (about 15 minutes).

Recovery Hummus

Because I need some post-Thanksgiving recovery:



  • 6 oz dried chickpeas (soaked overnight and boiled until tender – or use a 15oz can)
  • The juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ½ c broth or water
  • Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon paprika (optional)
  1. Place all the ingredients (except oil and paprika) in a blender and blend until smooth.
  2. Add paprika and olive oil and serve.

Halloween Mason Jar Luminaries

Mason Jar Luminaries



mason-jar-luminaries_02 mason-jar-luminaries_03

These luminaries are an easy-peasy, economical, and kid-friendly activity. These are quick to make and I found all of the supplies at my local dollar store.

For, the Jack-O-Lantern luminaries, I decoupaged clipart of faces and orange tissue paper to the inside of mason jars. I used Mod Podge, but I believe Elmer’s glue diluted with water would also work. Simply let your design dry then place a battery-powered tea “candle” in the jar.

The spider web luminary centerpieces are even more simple: wrap webbing around the jars before placing the lights into the jars. Voila!


Super Thick Brownies, 4-Ways

Fudgy, super-thick, decadent brownies.
4 easy variations to the batter base to suit every craving + mood. 

There are days when only baking (and more truthfully, devouring) a slab of warm, chocolatey goodness will set things right again.

Combined with a fit of mercurial indecision and a wild burst of energy, these days yield FOUR pans of brownies (and very happy neighbors).

S'mores Brownie



  • 18 oz (3 cups) chocolate chunks, divided
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1-1/4 cups white sugar
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. Melt the butter and pour over 2 cups of the chocolate chunks, the white sugar, and the brown sugar. Mix until combined.
  3. Add the eggs to the mixture one at a time, mixing after each addition.
  4. Add the vanilla.
  5. Mix together the dry ingredients separately, then add to wet mixture. Don’t over mix!
  6. Incorporate the remaining chocolate chunks (1 cup).
  7. Spread into a buttered 9×13 pan. Top with additions if desired (see notes below).
  8. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until center is set. Do not use the toothpick test – it will result in overdone, dry brownies!


Cheesecake Brownies

  • 1 (8 oz) pack cream cheese
  • 1/3  cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup flour

Mix cheesecake batter from ingredients above. Swirl into the brownie batter in the pan, dragging a knife through the mixture for a marbled design. Bake.

Salted Caramel Brownies

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 stick (6 tbsp) butter
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Heat sugar on medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. As the sugar begins to melt, stir vigorously with a whisk or wooden spoon. Boil until a nice golden color is achieved, but be careful not to burn. Slowly add the butter, then drizzle in the heavy cream- slowly because the mixture can splatter like hot oil.  Remove the sauce from the heat and mix in the salt. Either top the raw brownie batter with the sauce then bake, or drizzle on brownies afterwards. The former will yield brownies with a baked in caramel flavor; the latter are messier but will retain the consistency of the sauce on top.

S’mores Brownies

  • 1 cup coarsely crushed graham crackers
  • 2 cups marshmallows

Sprinkle marshmallows and graham cracker pieces over brownies halfway through baking time (after about 15 minutes), returning to oven for remainder of baking time.

Alternately, spread half of batter in pan, top with graham crackers and marshmallows, then remaining brownie batter. Bake as normal.


Red, White, and Blue Mojito


This is a fruity, summery cocktail, not too sweet and just in time for election fever!

  • 2 oz white rum
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1 oz simple syrup
  • handful mint leaves
  • handful strawberries
  • handful blueberries
  • 1/2 can soda
  • ice
  1. In a glass muddle lime, simple syrup, mint, strawberries and blueberries.
  2. Add rum and stir. Fill glass with ice and top off with soda.
  3. Garnish with a skewer of strawberries and blueberries.

<<<<Watch the video instructions>>>>

Mojito Video


Lemon Cheesecake with a Gingersnap Crust


This lightly citrusy cheesecake is tall and decadent, creamy without being too heavy, and absolutely sure to impress. Both people who swore they hated cheesecake and those that hated lemons (who hates lemons?!) sang this cake praises.

It’s not difficult to make, but keep in mind that it does need to be made a day ahead of serving in order to chill.



  • 2 cups ground gingersnap cookies
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted


  • 5 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 7 large eggs
  • 3 cups (24 ounces) sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons (packed) finely grated lemon peel
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Lemon twists (garnish) – I used this recipe by blogger HomemadeToast



  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Stir the cookie crumbs and the butter in medium bowl until evenly moistened. Press the mixture onto bottom of 9-inch-diameter removable-bottom cheesecake pan. Use a tall pan (at least 3 inches) because this recipe makes a very tall cheesecake. Also, I like to line the bottom of cheesecake pan with parchment. Bake the crust until deep golden, about 12 minutes. Cool completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.
  2. Stack 3 large sheets of foil on work surface. Place same cake pan in center. Gather foil snugly around pan bottom and up sides to waterproof.


  1. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese in large bowl until smooth and fluffy. Gradually beat in the sugar, then the salt. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in the sour cream, grated lemon peel, and lemon juice. Pour the filling into the pan.
  2. Place the wrapped cake pan in large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come halfway up sides of the cake pan. Bake the cake until the filling is slightly puffed and moves only slightly when pan is shaken gently, about 1 hour 25 minutes. Remove the cake pan from water bath; remove foil. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 2 hours. Then chill uncovered until cold; cover and keep chilled at least 1 day and up to 2 days.
  3. Run a knife around the sides; carefully loosen pan bottom from sides and push up pan bottom to release cake. Place cake (still on the pan bottom, unless you’ve lined the pan with parchment) on a platter. Garnish with lemon leaves or twists.


Dominican Flavor


When I asked a friend to teach me how to make empanadas, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Four hours in, I had done so much eating, dancing, and laughing that my sides ached the next day, but we hadn’t even started the empanadas.

The real star was the pastelón de yuca, Liyibel’s favorite dish, beloved enough to have it served it at her wedding this past winter.

I think of pastelón as Dominican shepherd’s pie: a hearty comfort food made of layers of meat and a mashed starch, in this case yuca (cassava). Topped with melty cheese, it’ll give you the energy to dance Bachata all night!





Pastelón de Yuca y Pollo

Yuca Puree:


Morir Soñando

  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 cups evaporated milk
  • 2½ cups ice

Refrigerate the orange juice and milk until very cold. Add the ice to the milk and stir. Add sugar to taste. Slowly pour the orange juice in the milk, stirring constantly. Serve immediately.