Tastes of the kitchen of the Sefardic jews of Greece

Joined Jul 24, 2001
I am holding with strong feelings a book that is just published in Greece.

Nina Benroubi, "Tastes from Sefardic Thessaloniki", Recipes of the Jews of Thessaloniki-Greece.

I have been doing nothing but narrating the culinary stories of my Jew grandmother who lived before the WWII in beautiful Thessaloniki, the great port in Northern Greece, the "Madre d'Israel" the mother of Israel ,so this book means a lot to me because it brings back from the fumes of the kitchen the figure of my beloved grand-mother and her character , a character that was shaped in the kitchens of the Greek Jews.

The Sefardic Jews came to Greece after their expulsion from Spain in 1492, the year that Christofer Colombus discovered the New World and they lived and prospered until the War when they were completely anihilated in the camps. 70.000 of fellow greek citizens were lost and only 1047 made it back home.

After their expulsion from Spain they settled in Greek Macedonia in masses and the famous city of Thessaloniki became their base.

They brought with them apart from the traditions of Spain the traditions of the Arabs as well and they settle to the second most multi-culti city of the known world.

The author of the book , Nina Benroubi, one of the very few Sefardic Jews that live still in Greece decided to collect in a book her culinary memories before they dissaper in the fog of oblivion.

The book starts with an Introduction to the culinary tradition of Sephardims.

Fish was maybe the most important ingredient in the kitchen of Sefardims. As you know the fish has an important role in the festivity of Peshach, so, the " peshe en salsa" was a very popular dish. Minced meat and lamb were important ingredients as well.

The Sefardic kicthen was characterized by the absence of garlic and the very prudent use of spices. As the author Anriette Asseo suggests : " the Sefardic kitchen had nothing to do with the vulgar, spicy cuisine of Northern Egypt, it was classy and sophisticated. A thin phyllo and feta of excellent quality were enough to reach perfection"

But the queen of the Sefardic cooking was the Eggplant ( merendjena) ! Sefardims have learned to cook with eggplant by the Arabs in Spain and they brought along with them their recipes. Many Greek recipes with eggplant were introduced or originaly launched by the Jews.

Sefardic Jews were speaking the Ladino language, an idiom of Spanish.So if the names of the recipes will seem spaniard to you you will be right! :)

So there is a pat of thelist of the recetas ( recipes)

Supas ( Soups)
Masa al Kaldo
Supa del zarzava

Salatas ( salads)
Salata verde
Salata de patata
Salada de meredjena

Uevos ( eggs)
Uevos haminados ( famous sefardic dish)
Uevos con tomat i kezo
pure de spinaka con uevos

Pasteles ( pies)
Pastel de merendjena con carne
pastel del kezo
Borekitas de merendjana

gizados ( casseroles with oil) arreynados ( stuffed vegetables)
Peshes ( fish) , keftikas ( meat balls), karnes ( meat) Dulsuras ( sweets, deserts)

I will certainly post some of the recipes as well :)

PS I found my new signature in the book
Joined Jul 31, 2000
That is a very cool new signiture Athenaues, and thank you for sharing some excerps from your new book,it's great to be able to feel closer to family through reading there history.

Your post prompted me to look to some of my books to learn a little of what you wrote, I found a great deal of imformation on the Jews of Thessalonika.
I know you have this book Athenaues,I hope you don't mind I quote a little from Kochilas great book The Glorious Foods of Greece
Jewish communities have existed in Greece from the remote antiquity.Nikos Stavroulakis,in his bookThe cookbook of the Jews of Greece ,writes that there may have been individual Jews,in not Jewish communities,living in Greek citie as far back as the 6th century BC,and the first centuryBC there were jewish communities all along the coast of Asia Minor and in many Aegean islands.By the 4th century AD when christianity became the offical religion of the roman Empire,the Jewish communities became more isolated.When the empire split,the inhabitents in it's eastern reaches remained proud of there Roman heritage,and thus the jews of the Byzantine Empire called themselves Romaniotes. It was a name that was adapted by Jew and christian alike,and to this day a rather poetic reference to the essence of greekness is stilled called romaniosyni

The Romaniote jews formed the majority of the Jews in Greece until 1492,when the thousands of sephardic jews fleeing the persecution of the spainish inqusition arrived. The Sephardic Jews settled in several cities,but maily in Thessaloniki,the pearl of the orient. They differed from the romaniote brrethern,mostly in being more cultured and educated.By 1613 they constituted %68 of the population of Thessaloniki.The cities life blood pulsed to the rythems of Jewish mores and custums. Up until the begining of the 20th century,most of the cities commercial life stopped at dusk on Fridays. ladinio,a combination of Spainish,Greek and turkish,was spoken throughout the city. My own father-inlaw, a Greek christian who happened to have grown up in the Jewish quarter of Thessaloniki, still speaks a smattering of it.
Thriving jewish like in Thessaloniki meant that the community was an intergral part of the tapestry of what was then one of the most cosmopolitian cities in the world. Thessalonikian Jews had much contact with both Ottomans and Greeks,as well as with all the othe people of the Balkins and anatolia who made up the cities melting pot in it's hetday. The foods of the Jews in Thessaloniki forged a kind of hybrid cuisine,mirroring their close ties not only with othe ethnic and religius groups but with the Jewish communities elswhere in the Ottoman Empire.And,ofcourse,running like an undercurrent in all their cooking was the Spainish influience of the past.
Claudia Rodin in her essay on Thessaloniki in The book of Jewish Food ,points out that the Jewish cuisine in Thessaloniki was never grand. One of the favorite foods was the white bean.Typical Jewish dishes sound suprisingly like the food one still finds in Thessaloniki today.Piaz ,for example,a white bean salad with olives,onions and parlsey,is still a favorite taverna fare.Beef and chicken stews with cracked wheat hark back to the most ancient Greek foods,ones brimming,in fact,with ritual and religiuos signifigence.Stews that combine meats with nuts and pulses were also a favorite of the jewish tables,but they were-and still are-dishes found readily amoung chistian cooks,too,although names would often differ,with Spainish or Ladino names for many of the same dishes prepared by christian cooks.Jewish cooks developed a plethora of savoury pies,also mirroring the regions overall cuisine, for if there is one thing that is clearly Greek and entrenched in the Greek cook's psyche it is the wealth of Pites (savoury pies)that are made all over the country.Amoung the Jewish communities,though,one finds passover reditions of the dish:While many Greek savoury pies call for leavening in the pastry,Jewish cook's developed recipes with matzo which they mixed with water to form a kind of dough.
The Spainish echoes in many of their traitional recipes can still be precieved.Amoung the most well-known such dishes are the haminados, eggs cooked over onion skins for many hours,and the many Frittadas (baked omlettes)still cooking amoung Thessaloniki Jewish communities.
In one of the Greatest tragedies of the 20th century,most of that community was departed to concentration camps in Poland in 1942 and 1943. Of the 55 thousand Jewish inhabitants of thessalolinki before the war,there are only a few thousand left.Few of those who survived the camps returned to the pearl of the Orient,moving instead to America,Israel and elsewhere.

From,The Glorious Foods of Greece PG,202
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