Cooking The Sephardic Way
Sephardic Sisterhood Temple Tifereth Israel
Los Angeles, 1971
Sephardic Jewish practice finds its origins in the Iberian Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal in the late 15th century, who wound up primarily in North Africa, the Middle East, Greece, and Turkey. The first Sephardi Jews arrived in Los Angeles around 1850, but a larger wave of immigrants came in the early 20th century, particularly from Rhodes.
Often fleeing anti-semitism, many immigrants spoke Ladino, a language that uses the Hebrew alphabet but has much overlapping vocabulary with Spanish. There is some evidence that the prominence of Spanish in Los Angeles surprised but also helped early Sephardi immigrants.
Temple Tifereth Israel is the largest Sephardic synagogue in California, and one of the largest in the country. The Temple community has roots back to the 1920s, with an original building on Santa Barbara Avenue (now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) in the West Adams neighborhood of LA. In the 1970s, the era of this cookbook, the growing congregation needed a larger space and broke ground on its present day location at Wilshire Boulevard and Warner Avenue, in Westwood. The building was officially dedicated in 1981, with California Governor Jerry Brown addressing the gathered crowd.
Much of what has been historically celebrated as “Jewish cuisine” in the United States comes from the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition, with immigrants tracing ancestry primarily to Germany, France, and Eastern Europe - think Matzo Balls and hamantaschen. This cookbook has many wonderful examples of Sephardic recipes, particularly for Jewish holidays, which may be less familiar to a broader American audience, but which have been cooked here in Los Angeles for across centuries.
I have cooked from this book!
I've prepared a lot of Jewish food in my lifetime, but most of it has come from the Ashkanazi Jewish tradition of my German and Eastern European grandparents and great grandparents. Many of the recipes in this book, from LA's long-standing Sephardic community, were less familiar to me, personally. In particular, I was excited to learn more about the different food traditions for Jewish holidays.
Recently, for Purim, I made Pearl Roseman's "Heuvos De Haman or Folares," which this book explains is a Sephardic Purim treat for children. The name is reminiscent of an Ashkenazi Purim cookie called "Hamentaschen" as both names reference the villain of the biblical Purim story: Haman. However, the Heuvos De Haman is a more savory dish consisting of hard-boiled eggs in individual decorated, braided pastry baskets.
A similar Sephardic dish called “Ojos de Hama” (Eyes of Haman) also exists and is a challah-type bread with two hard boiled eggs on top. I have not found any overt historic links between this Jewish tradition and the Italian “Pane di Pasqua” (Easter Bread), which is also a braided bread with hard boiled eggs on top. The religious symbolism is completely different, but I do wonder if there is some historic/geographic link. Any culinary historians out out there know?