Between the two of us, M has the stronger love of pumpkin spice, and every Fall he has to get his fill of this seasonal flavor. What Americans now call pumpkin spice – a variable mix of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove – is similar to many spice blends around the world, and we just learned of another international pumpkin spice cousin: Neapolitan Pisto (Italian Wikipedia). The key ingredients of the Pisto spice blend are cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, star anise, and coriander. Pisto is a key component of the popular Roccoco and Mostaccioli (below) cookies, which are eaten around the Christmas holidays. Mostaccioli [recipe] are diamond-shaped spicy cookies coated in chocolate, and Roccoco [recipe] are ring shaped with candied fruit. Other Neapolitan holiday cookies like susamielli use Pisto as a major component. You can buy pre-blended Pisto in Naples, but we have never seen it for sale in the US. Fortunately, you can find recipes online like this one from SBS / Italian Street Food.
Category Archives: Holidays
Today marks the start of the Hindu celebration of Diwali, the festival of lights. The holiday is celebrated throughout India and the Indian diaspora, usually with festive foods and a variety of small sweet treats, called Mithai. However we were interested to learn that a popular alternative to Mithai in India is chocolate, and Cadbury chocolate in particular. Writing for the New York Times, Priya Krishna describes the long-seated dominance of Cadbury, a British confectioner now owned by the multinational brand Mondelez, and their sweet milk chocolate “Dairy Milk” bars, in India. The company first got its foothold in India during British colonization, and it is still the main player in the Indian chocolate market. While many other food categories are dominated by local companies, Cadbury has only been growing in recent years. While Cadbury may still be synonymous with chocolate in India, Krishna describes a small handful of artisan Indian and Indian-American chocolatiers are trying to beat the company’s monopoly in India and the diaspora with their innovative small-batch chocolates.
In Italian Cuisine, there are many special treats to commemorate Day of the Dead / All Souls’ Day / Commemorazione dei defunti on November 2nd. However, most of these are sweet – called in Italian “sweets of the dead” or i dolci dei morti – including pan dei morti, torrone dei morti, Frutti di Martorana, and ossi dei morti! Shockingly, from time to time, even the Eaters are in the mood for something a bit more savory. For that craving, we turn to the far northern Italian region of Lombardy, which celebrates Day of the Dead with Minestra dei Morti, or “Soup of the Dead.” This is a humble pork broth soup served with vegetables and chickpeas, typical of cucina povera or “peasant cuisine” meant to make humble ingredients stretch. The legumes, strangely enough also have connecttions with the dead, being linked with funeral rites and offerings for the dead since antiquity. Typically this recipe was made with a whole pigs head, coinciding with the typical season of the hog slaughter, though you can go for a more standard cut of pork nowadays. We plan to make the recipe from Memorie di Angelina this November 2nd.
Today marks the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, a day of renewal, celebration, and of course food! Honey-based or dipped foods are also a culinary tradition on this day, with the thought that they will usher in, and symbolize, a sweet new year. Searching for some Rosh Hashanah inspiration, we came across Jewish Food Society, a site that covers a diverse variety of Jewish foods from across the diaspora. We love that the site includes all of the different roots (and routes) the recipe went through to reach its current form, in the case of the Texan honey cake, a peripatetic path of Białystok, Poland > Manhattan > Houston. We were delighted to see an entire comprehensive Persian Rosh Hashanah menu on the site. The dishes, shared by Israeli cookbook author Rottem Lieberson, had the route of Tehran, Iran > Sha’ar Haliyah (near Haifa), Israel > Jerusalem > Tel Aviv. We are seriously tempted by Lieberson’s recipes including Fried Eggplant with Mint Vinaigrette, Rice with Barberries, Saffron and Potato Tahdig (seen below), and Toot (Persian Marzipan). Check out the Jewish Food Society’s impressive list of posts to discover more family recipes with roots from around the world.
Today marks Juneteenth, the day when news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, over two years after the proclamation had been issued on January 1, 1863. This year, Juneteenth celebrations are especially poignant across America. Though initially most popular in Texas, celebrations commemorating Juneteenth have spread throughout African-American communities in the US, incorporating regional foodways along the way. A dish from the African Diaspora Gullah community in the South Carolina lowcountry and sea islands that is perfect for any Juneteenth celebration is the Benne wafer. Benne wafers have deep roots in African cuisine, and their name comes from the Bantu language group word for sesame seed. After being brought over from Africa, sesame was cultivated in the South Carolina lowcountry by enslaved Africans. The African-American Gullah community created and popularized these cookies using the fruits of the sesame crop, and they are now a staple of lowcountry cooking (and can be either savory or sweet). Benne wafers are easy and delicious to make at home, and you can try sweet recipes from King Arthur Flour, Simply Recipes and Serious Eats. You can also make a savory version of Benne wafers, like these recipes from Edna Lewis and Toni Tipton-Martin. I tried the Simply Recipes version (the result of which you can see below) and we love them!
Since the start of quarantine, many in America have been far away from their families, but paradoxically, many have also returned home and are closer to their families than ever. This includes photographer Eslah Attar, who moved home during quarantine to her parents’ house in Ohio. While there, she has learned a score of family recipes from her Syrian mother, which is especially significant during the celebration of Ramadan. The end of Ramadan, Eid-al-Fitr is this weekend, and is marked with an especially large feast to mark the end of a month of fasting. This NPR article features Attar’s photographs of some of the many delicious, fast-breaking sweets her mother has taught her to prepare including Baklava, knafeh, and maamoul (as seen below).
Baklava (layered phyllo sweets with syrup and nuts), Knafeh and Maamoul (date cookies) are popular throughout the Middle East, and anywhere with a Middle Eastern diaspora, and every country and family has a slight variation. Baklava is definitely common in the US, and maamoul date cookies are not unfamiliar to the American palate, but Knafe gives and entirely different taste experience. We grew to like knafe (also spelled knafeh, kunafeh, and kanafeh) when we were in Egypt. This surprisingly hearty dessert is composed of crunchy, shredded Phyllo (semolina is also used in Egypt) with a cheesy center (typically Akawi cheese, though Mozzarella can be substituted), topped with a rosewater or orange blossom-tinged sugar syrup, and pistachios. I know this description is not doing knafe justice, but it really is delicious. Here are some Levantine knafe recipes from: Cook for Syria, Food 52, The Cooking Foodie, and Chef Tariq. Eid Mubarak!
Today is Haitian Flag Day, commemorating the official adoption of the Haitian Flag on May 18, 1803, just before the country’s declaration of independence from France on January 1, 1804. Haitian Flag Day is celebrated throughout Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora, and remains a potent symbol of unity and identity. This festive holiday is the perfect occasion to dig in and try some Haitian recipes. And while not particular to Flag Day, this is a great time to try a Haitian dessert classic, Dous Makos (aka Haitian Fudge).
Dous Makos is a spiced fudge composed of different flavored layers arranged in stripes of tan, brown and red (which is somewhat reminiscent of a flag, though that was not the original intention). The major flavors in Dous Makos are vanilla, anise, nutmeg, cinnamon and cocoa, though you may see other combinations. Fernand Macos, a Belgian entrepreneur, created Dous Makos in 1939 in the town of Petit-Goâve, and has spread in popularity since then. It is not hard to make on your own, and utilizes ingredients you may already have in your pantry including condensed milk. You can find recipes from versions from Haitian Cooking, L’Union Suite and Manje Ayisyen. Island Vibe Cooking, below, has a video on how to make mini Dous Makos in muffin tins. If you need a quick fix, you can even buy some Dous Makos pre-made from Bonbon Lacay in Brooklyn!
Yesterday at sunset marked the start of 2020’s Ramadan, which will be quite a different celebration given that large gathering are not allowed in many countries. One of the most important parts of Ramadan is usually communal, the nightly breaking of the fast with a special meal known as Iftar. Even though we are not able to gather together, we can still make some pretty tasty treats for fast-breaking celebrations. One cookie reserved for special occasions like Ramadan is the flower-shaped Moroccan chebakia (also spelled shebakia or known alternatively as mkharka) that is deep fried, and glazed with honey and sesame seeds. The preparations for chebakia start in the weeks before Ramadan because it is so labor-intensive, and large quantities are required for Iftar celebrations. In French, the name for these cookies is la rose des sable, which translates to “rose made out of cookie.” The shape of the cookie is pretty intricate, so we found it helpful to watch Cooking with Alia’s video demo. You can find recipes for Chebakia from Spruce Eats, Cooking with Alia and My Moroccan Food. Maroc Mama even has a gluten-free recipe. At Iftar, chebakia is traditionally served with harira, a tomato soup, giving a really interesting sweet/savory twist.
One of the national cuisines we are really missing in quarantine is Ethiopian, and it is one we have never tried to make at home (sounds like we should though!) A major food holiday is coming up in Ethiopian cuisines: Easter (Fasika), which is celebrated on the Orthodox calendar, and falls on April 19th in 2020. During Lent (tsom in Ethiopia), many Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia abstain from eggs, meat, and all dairy. This makes the Easter feast all the more special, with a wonderful feast set out for all including meats, sweets and home-made honey wine, tej, and beer, tella. Saveur has a great photo essay with Fasika-worthy recipes served over injera bread (pictured below), which would be great at any time of the year: Spiced Clarified Butter (Niter Kibbeh), Collard Greens with Onions and Fresh Ginger (Gomen), Slow-Cooked Spicy Chicken with Hard-Boiled Eggs (Doro Wat), Sizzling Spiced Beef (Siga Tibs), and Beef Tartare with Spiced Clarified Butter (Kitfo). One dish that is unique to Easter Time is Defo Dabo, a honey-tinged bread, and here is a fennel and orange version from The Guardian.
When you think of Mexico, it is unlikely that you think of its rich Jewish food tradition. However, there have been Mexican-Jewish communities for centuries, starting with those who fled the Spanish Inquisition, to more recent immigrant communities from the Middle East and Europe. Mexican-Jewish cuisine was first brought to our attention when we learned about Masa Madre, a bakery combining it’s owners’ Jewish and Mexican roots in Chicago. America is now home to many with Jewish-Mexican heritage, and home cooks and restaurants across the country have developed Seder menus to celebrate the first night of Passover with a Mexican flair. Jewish influence in Mexico comes from both Sephardic (Iberian and Mediterranean) and Ashkenazi (Central and Eastern European) traditions, providing a wide range of culinary traditions and hybrids. If you are looking for some inspiration, Chef Julian Medina shares his recipes for Matzah Tostada Yucatan Style, Chipotle Brisket and Matzoh Ball Soup. Roberto Santibañez brings recipes for Lamb and Guajillo tamales, along with tropical charoset, and chocolate-covered poached pears. Santibañez’ Rosa Mexicano restaurants even offer a dedicated Mexican Passover menu. Paty Jinich, a Mexican-American with Eastern European roots has long been cooking crossover Jewish-Mexican fare. Here is Jinich’s recipe for Nana José’s Chocolate Pecan Cake (flourless for Passover). Masa Madre also has a special offering for Passover in 2020, Flourless Café de Olla Cake (seen below), which you can get delivered nationwide for a limited time!
This Tuesday is Mardi Gras, the end of Carnival, known as Martedì grasso and Carnevale in Italian. Fried foods are often the most traditional choice for Carnival around the world, stemming from an attempt to use up all the decadent sugar and oil before the austere time of Lent. Fried foods are also popular in Italy, including the omnipresent Chiacchiere, but in Naples they have their own, slightly different culinary tradition. Migliaccio is the typical Carnival cake in Naples, and is a relatively light, crustless cake made with ricotta and semolina, flavored with lemon. If you are in Naples you can sample Migliaccio at many bakeries including the stalwart Gambrinus. If you are not lucky enough to be in Italy, here are recipes from Manu’s Menu (pictured below), Foodellers, and Gourmet Traveller. There are many variations of Migliaccio, and it is popular in communities in Italy and the diaspora. We even found a version from Memorie di Angelina that doesn’t include ricotta.
Today is January 6th, the Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day, which traditionally marks the end of the Christmas season in countries that celebrate (see Mexico, England, Poland and France). In Italy, the Epiphany is marked by the arrival of the witch, La Befana, on the night of January 5th. According to legend, the Befana initially did not follow the three wise men on their journey, and instead stayed home. Later, she had a change of heart, and tried to catch up with the three wise men on her broom, to no avail. To make amends, the Befana gives presents to children instead. Italian Children wake on January 6th to find that their stockings had either been filled with candy if they were good, or coal if they were naughty (or coal candy). We will be celebrating by eating the last of our Christmas cookies and candy. Don’t have any holiday cookies left? A traditional treat for Epiphany in Italy is shortbread cookies from Tuscany called Befanini. Here are befanini recipes from 196 Flavors, Food 52 and My Travel in Tuscany.
Linksmų Kalėdų! (Merry Christmas – in Lithuanian!) In Lithuania, the traditional Christmas Eve meal is called Kūčios, which includes 12 traditional dishes, representing both the 12 apostles and the 12 months of the year. The meal is typically meat and alcohol free, and includes such dishes as herring, kūčia (a sweetened grain dish), sauerkraut, cranberry Kisielius (Kissel) and sweet biscuits known as Kūčiukai in Poppyseed milk. The whole dinner is usually kicked off with the sharing of a Christmas Eve wafer, Kalėdaitis, which is much like a communion wafer. Draugas News has a list of Kucios recipes, as does the Maskoliunas Family project. Beyond the special food, there are other traditions celebrated including putting straws/hay under the tablecloth. The straws are then pulled out, and the state of the straws indicate the fortunes for the coming year.
Kucios Dinner by Send Me Adrift
Happy Hanukkah! Today is the 2nd day of Hanukkah and we are of course thinking of one of our favorite Hanukkah foods, babka. We have expressed our love here many times before for babka. However, sometimes you don’t want a whole loaf of babka (I assume it is possible), in which case you may be in the mood for rugelach, which we like to think of as a bite-sized babka substitute. Rugelach is a traditional Polish-Jewish sweet, basically a cookie rolled up with tasty filling – often cinnamon or chocolate – though any filling is possible! Unlike babka, which is brioche-based, rugelach is often made with a sour cream or cream cheese dough. Serious Eats has a compendium of various rugelach fillings, including a non-traditional red bean. Taste of Home, Tori Avey and Molly Yeh (chocolate sea salt and halva version picture below) have compiled even more versions!
Halva Rugelach by Molly Yeh
Happy Diwali! Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, started yesterday, October 27, 2019, but it is not too late to get in on some delicious treats to celebrate this holiday. Today, for Diwali, we will be making Soan Papdi (aka patisa, son papri, sohan papdi or shonpapdi), a North Indian confection with an amazing melt-in-the-mouth texture. Really, it is unlike anything I have had before, somewhat like cotton candy, but with flaky layers, often formed into cubes. You definitely have to experience it for yourself! This treat was first introduced to me by my friend from Delhi, who brought the treat back directly from a favorite sweet shop. Soan Papdi is popular throughout India, especially during festivals. With a base of ghee (clarified butter), gram flour and sugar, soan papdi is often flavored with cardamom, but you can now find it flavored any number of ways, including mango, pistachio or chocolate. Check out Steemit, The Times of India and Awesome Cuisine for Soan Papdi recipes.
Today marks Juneteenth, commemorating the day on which enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were finally told of the Emancipation Proclamation, on June 19, 1865, two years after it was issued on January 1, 1863. Since then, Juneteenth has been a celebrated by the African-American community as a day of celebration and reflection. Juneteenth is a state holiday in Texas since the 1970s, but there have been calls to make it a national holiday. One of the classic celebrations of Juneteenth is the family and community cookout, full of recipes passed down through the generations, along with new favorites. Many of the biggest celebrations of Juneteenth are still held in Texas, and Texan foodways and traditions have influenced what have become the iconic Juneteenth foods, as showcased by Chef Adrian Lipscombe’s Texan-tinged menu at the James Beard House. Nicole Taylor unpacks some of the food traditions of Juneteenth for the New York Times. The color red is a symbol of resistance, and red foods have become popular on Juneteenth for symbolic reasons, including red-tinted hot links, red velvet cakes, and red beverages.
Michael Twitty draws linkages between the popularity of red foods for Juneteenth and the foodways of West Africa. Says Twitty, “The practice of eating red foods—red cake, barbecue, punch and fruit– may owe its existence to the enslaved Yoruba and Kongo brought to Texas in the 19th century. For both of these cultures the color red is the embodiment of spiritual power and transformation.” Other traditions include tea cakes, a common sight on the Juneteenth table according to Etha Robinson. Ultimately, what is at the Juneteenth table is a reflection of the community cooking it, as highlighted by the four chefs in this Saveur article featuring chefs Carla Hall, Marcus Samuelsson, JJ Johnson, and Jerome Grant.
During Ramadan (Ramazan in Turkish), observant Muslims are encouraged not to eat between sunup and sundown. The big feast meal breaking the fast after sundown is Iftar, and this is traditionally a pretty lavish spread. However, less attention is sometimes given to Suhoor/Suhur, the pre-sunrise meal. In order to get through the day fasting, a hearty Suhoor is common. One of our favorite breakfasts is Turkish, so we were curious to learn about Turkish dishes for Suhoor. Turns out that for Turkish suhoor, hearty, filling dishes are the norm, including creamy kaymak cheese, the egg dish menemen and the baked macaroni dish makarna. Of course, these filling dishes may be accompanied by cheese, bread, honey, fruit, tea, coffee and anything else you may enjoy at a classic Turkish breakfast!
- Menemen Recipe from Chili Pepper Madness (pictured below)
- Menemen recipe from Serious Eats
- Menemen Recipe from Ye-Mek
- Firinda Makarna recipe from Binnur’s Turkish Cookbook
- Kaymak Recipe from Binnur’s Turkish Cookbook
The Jewish holiday of Passover has begun and lasts until next weekend. A major caveat to Passover cuisine is that is must be free of chametz, all leavened bread products. This has led to a proliferation of special kosher for Passover foods, and many creative uses for matzoh, which is unleavened. One of the most emblematic Passover dishes is charoset, a sweet mixture of fruit, honey and nuts, which makes a symbolic appearance on the Seder plate. There are literally thousands of recipes for charoset (some we have covered before), but there is a particular version from Morocco, called Tanzeya. Here is a recipe from Joan Nathan made with figs and spices like cinnamon and cardamon. New York Shuk sells pre-made tanzeya and has a recipe for charoset truffles (pictured below). Or if you want to go the simpler route, two matzoh sandwiched with charoset sounds pretty good to me!
Tomorrow, April 13, 2019, is the start of Burmese New Year celebrations – Thingyan – a Buddhist multi-day festival which culminates in huge celebrations for the New Year itself. Thingyan is also known as the “water festival” because during its celebrations, it is not uncommon to get completely drenched in crowds throwing and spraying water. This is said to be a representation of washing off the old year, and the cleansing aspects of the new year. But of course, one of the most important things is the food! A traditional treat for Thingyan is Mont Lone Yay Paw, glutinous rice flour balls stuffed with jaggery (cane sugar), boiled, and topped with coconut. You can find this treat at stalls called Sa Tu Di Thar all around public Thingyan festivities. Making Mont Lone Yay Paw is a group activity during Thingyan, and it has also turned into a haven for practical jokers: sometimes the sweet treat has a mystery, super-hot bird’s-eye chili hidden inside! Mee Malee has a recipe for Mont Lone Yay Paw, and you can learn how to make this dessert below in a video by Kothargi.