In China, one of the most emblematic dishes for the Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrated throughout East Asia, is the mooncake, a beautiful sweet with a thin, chewy skin and a myriad of fillings. However, today we were introduced to an intriguing variety of mooncake unlike any other variety we had seen: Suzhou or “Su” style mooncakes. This style of mooncakes from the city of Suzhou in the Yangtze River Delta has a different kind of “skin,” instead consisting of a shell of undecorated, multi-layered, flaky puff pastry! The filling for Suzhou mooncakes can be either sweet or savory, which is atypical of other mooncakes. To prevent any surprises, a red mark on top often distinguishes the sweet mooncakes from the savory. The version I tried was filled with sweetened squash, nuts and black sesame, though red bean is also typical. If you would like to make your own savory version, Food 52 and the New York Times have versions stuffed with pork, while the Woks of Life has a sweet red bean version.
Category Archives: Holidays
Happy New Year! Bòn ane! And if you are in Haiti, Happy Independence Day! January 1st marks Haiti’s independence from France in 1804, as the culmination of the Haitian Revolution. This independence marked not only the end of French rule in Saint-Domingue (precursor to the modern state of Haiti), but also the end of slavery. On January 1st, to mark the sovereign nation of Haiti’s independence, it is traditional to eat Soup Joumou. Soup Joumou is made with calabaza squash, cabbage, potatoes, scotch bonnet peppers, pasta, and beef. So how did this soup become associated with independence? It is said that during the times of French rule, enslaved people were forbidden from eating this soup, however, once the country became free, this restriction was lifted. As a result, after independence, Soup Joumou became associated with freedom, in many senses of the word. The tradition of Soup Joumou lives on over two centuries later, and just a few weeks ago, the soup was given a protected cultural heritage status by UNESCO. The soup is also popular throughout the Haitian diaspora, and filmmaker Dudley Alexis made a documentary on Soup Joumou called “Liberty in a Soup” [trailer below]. Every family’s recipe is slightly different, so here are a few recipe versions from Epicurious, PBS and WLRN South Florida.
We are always looking for intriguing Christmas recipes, particularly where sweets are concerned, and for our latest holiday treat we turn to the Balkans, an area little visited on our ETW journey. In Bosnia and other neighboring areas, Christmas dessert is synonymous with hurmašice, a small, sweet vanilla and walnut cake soaked in lemon-flavored sugar syrup. These pastries remind us of the Indian Gulab Jamun, or Greek Loukoumades, also little cakes smothered in a sweet syrup. It turns out that hurmašice / hurmašica is similar to (or possibly a descendant of) the Turkish Kalburabastı. One of the signature features of hurmašice is the series of indentations on its top, made by pressing down on the cake with a grater. You can check out recipes from Recipes by Nana, Mediterranean and Me, and SBS to make your own, or if you would like step-by-step help, check out the video from Ingrid in Bosnia below. If you celebrate, we hope your Christmas is full of delicious sweets!
December 13 is St. Lucia Day, celebrated in various countries, but perhaps most prominently in Sweden, and Italy, specifically Sicily. In Sicily, the holiday is strongly celebrated in honor of St. Lucia blessing the island with a shipment of wheat after a long famine in the 17th century. Traditionally, the dish eaten on this day in Sicily was cuccia, a sweet or savory boiled wheat berry porridge, which is supposed to be the only form of wheat eaten on the day. However, to current palates, this is perhaps not the most exciting dish. In modern-day Palermo the most popular Saint Lucia food is now arancine! Arancine are delicious deep-fried rice balls filled with cheese and/or meat ragu that are popular year round in Sicily. In Palermo in particular, arancine is eaten with gusto on St. Lucia’s Day, and conveniently these rice-based treats do not contain much wheat (though they are typically breaded). In Palermo, too, the dish is always spelled arancinE in the plural, and arincinA in the singular, as opposed to arancini (pl) and arancino (singular) in Eastern Sicily and in much of Italy. This year we will be making cuccia, but perhaps next year some arancine would be in order.
November 2nd is the Day of the Dead, a remembrance day for deceased ancestors celebrated around the world. In Sicily, the day is called the “Festa Dei Morti,” and is celebrated with a number of unique, seasonal dishes. Far from being morbid or somber, some of the treats for Festa dei Morti are particularly colorful, including the realistic-looking marzipan fruits known as Frutta Martorana and the even more complex Pupi di Zucchero.
Pupi di zucchero means “sugar puppets” in Italian, and these edible, brightly-colored treats are formed in molds in the shapes of Italian folkloric characters, including knights and dancing girls. The tradition of actual pupi marionettes, particularly in Opera dei Pupi performances, is a major Sicilian art form dating from the 13th Century, and is still visible (in diminished form) throughout the island, particularly in Palermo. The origins of the sugar versions of pupi, and how they came to be associated with the Day of the Dead, are relatively obscure, and various historians place them as having French or Arabic origins. I haven’t ever seen these sugar treats outside of Sicily, so those of us outside of the island will just have to enjoy the visuals!
April 14 or 15 is celebrated as Pahela_Baishakh (also spelled Pohela/Poila Boishakh), the start of the New Year in Bangladesh (April 14) and across some eastern Indian states (April 15) with significant Bengali populations. Pahela Baishakh is traditionally celebrated with large processions with floats (especially in Dhaka), but in both 2020 and 2021, Covid has sent the merriment and public celebrations indoors. However, you can still use the occasion of Pahela Baishakh to make a Bangladeshi feast. One of the most iconic dishes for New Year is panta ilish, a dish of soaked rice (panta bhat) and fried “Hilsa Herring”/ilish fish. If you want a bit more inspiration for a complete feast, you can find entire Pahela Baishakh menus on Whisk Affair, India Today, and With a Spin.
We are very familiar with sweet carb-y options on the Italian Easter table including the colomba, marzipan lambs, and pastiera. However, we are excited to learn about some more savory Easter dishes popular in Italy. In Central Italy, one version of this Easter bread goes by many names including Pizza di Pascua, Crescia di Pasqua, and Crescia al Formaggio. Crescia al Formaggio (as it is known in the Marche region, literally translating to cheese growing/rising) is a leavened, dome-shaped bread filled with an assortment of cheeses, including Parmesan. This bread is traditionally baked on Good Friday, and is then eaten on Easter, especially with a side of charcuterie. While we might not have enough room to make this cheesy bread this Easter, we think it sounds like a delicious treat year-round. Check out recipes from King Arthur, Our Italian Table, MA Kitchen, and She Loves Biscotti.
This weekend is the Persian New Year’s festival of Nowruz, falling on March 20, 2021. Earlier on the blog, we have talked a little bit about the festive savory dishes eaten on Nowruz. However, in doing our research into what we should make, we also came across these intriguing cookies – make with chickpea flour, and flavored with rosewater and cardamom – Nan-e Nokhodchi (or shirini nokhodchi)! We have to admit that we have never incorporated chickpea flour into cookies (or sweet dishes) before, so we are very excited to try these someday. Plus, chickpea flour is naturally gluten free. Here are some tasty recipes for Nan-e Nokhodchi from The Washington Post, Ahead of Thyme and The Delicious Crescent.
Today at sunset marks the start of the Jewish holiday of Purim, which commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman. Many of the treats enjoyed on Purim have to do with Haman in some way, including the more-famous, triangular, filled Hamantaschen cookies. Fazuelos, fried dough formed into a spiral shape, are also a popular Sephardic Jewish Purim recipe, found in Italy, Morocco, Israle and Turkey, among other places. These fried dough treats go by many different names throughout the Mediterranean: Fazuelos, fijuelas, deblas, or orecchie di Ammon. The last of these, the Italian name, “orecchie di Ammon,” gives a clue to why they are so popular on Purim, since this name literally translates to “ears of Hammon” in Italian. You can find recipes for fazuelos at Kosher Cowboy and Jamie Gellar (who provides the video below.).
I hope those who celebrate had a wonderful Christmas. We have been partaking in some serious rest and relation these past two weeks, and since we are unable to travel, the blog is relatively slow. However, we wanted to drop a fun Christmas-related tidbit that we have been meaning to share a while now. Did you know that KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) is associated with Christmas in Japan? It is the result of a long-running publicity campaign, first started by a Japanese franchisee Takeshi Okawara in 1970. The festive KFC “party barrel” of chicken served as a stand-in for the American turkey dinner. Colonel Sanders even looks like Santa, an association made in Japan as part of the marketing campaign, that you can see below! This special proved to be popular, and soon caught on across the country. Now there are hundreds of KFCs in Japan, and the long-running association between fried chicken and Christmas in Japan is set in stone.
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!