Watch as my mom, Kaye Israel, puts the finishing touches on her burekas. As she always says, you taste with your eyes first. Give it a try with your next batch.
I posted about Burekas earlier……now let’s bake some!
An absolute favorite in any Sephardic household…and to any guest at a Sephardic table…is the bureka!
A flavorful, savory, tasty filled pastry that can simply melt in your mouth! Each community has their unique varieties; each family, their favorites! Our “Rhodesli” family, (from the Island of Rhodes, currently Greece, but in the times of our family, a Turkish or Ottoman possession) loves this moon shaped pastry, filled with a “conduchu” (filling) of rice and cheeses, as well as those filled with a mouth-watering mixture of sautéed eggplant, onions and tomatoes!
My grandmother was always baking burekas in the kitchen, along with lots of other homemade goodies! I remember my mom and her aunt spending hours preparing and baking these treats, and the amazing aroma that filled the house when I got home! As our sons have grown, Grandma’s burekas have been a favorite for snacks, special meals, breakfast….even in their lunch boxes! I think they are my husband’s favorite Sephardic treat. They are flavorful, delicious and definitely filled with love!!!
Now that I am learning the art alongside my mom, I can absolutely appreciate the work, skill and patience that goes into making them.
My mom came to bake today and we made burekas of both kinds. The house smells heavenly! I am learning from her the joy of baking and of sharing these very special treats!!! Here we share her recipes and some of her tips on making them. Let us know what you think!
Begin by making the filling.
Kaye (Hasson) Israel’s recipe for Rice/Cheese Burekas
5 C Water
1 tsp Salt
8 oz Cottage Cheese
2 C Rice
1 C Feta Cheese
1-1/2 C Romano Cheese
(Optional) Parmesan instead of Romano
½ to 1 C Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
4 Lge Eggs (5 to 7 if smaller)
Bring water and salt to boil. Add 2 Cups rice (rinsed and drained), cover, and keep on a simmer flame until all the water is absorbed. (Prox 30 minutes constantly watched.).
Remove from flame; allow to cool!
Mash rice w/potato masher; Add cheeses and eggs and continue to mash. Mixture should be damp, not dry.
Kaye (Hasson) Israel’s Recipe for Bureka Dough
3 C Ice Water
2 1/2 C Oil
1 tsp salt
10 – 12 C Flour. (11 is about right)
Fill measuring cup with ice cubes, add water to 3 C mark on measuring cup. In large mixing bowl, add mix of water and ice, oil and salt. Let stand for as few minutes for water to get ice cold before beginning to add flour. Continue to mix. As flour begins to take on elastic consistency of dough, remove ice cubes. Knead until dough is not sticky and has the consistency of a pie dough.
Separate dough into 4 portions. Pinch off “walnut” sized balls and place on a work surface. Work each ball in the palm of your left hand (if you are right handed). Use your right hand to tuck the dough under and into itself, working to make it a smooth ball. As balls are formed, place them on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Once all the balls are prepared and the dough has had a chance to “rest,” begin by placing 6 balls on work surface. Using your fingers, press out the dough; then, with a small rolling pin, make oval shaped, flat forms.
Using a tablespoon or small scoop, scoop filling into the middle of the flatten dough.
You can make a beautiful edge by pinching and rolling under the edges (see video clip). Or you can use a fork to crimp the edges with a nice, clean pattern. (Remember, you “taste” first with your eyes.).
Continue with all the dough. This recipe SHOULD make approximately 84 burekas. Place on parchment lined baking sheets. Using a pastry brush, “paint” with a wash made by beating an egg and 2 drops of water. Finish with a sprinkle of grated cheese. Bake in a 400 degree oven for approximately 30 minutes…or until golden brown. They are divine right out of the oven! Can be frozen and easily be warmed again in oven or toaster oven. (Note: Microwave makes them soggy. You can zap for a few seconds, then put them in an oven or toaster oven to warm). Great for a brunch…for a snack. Anytime is the right time for a Bureka!!!
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Congregation Or Ve Shalom in Atlanta isn’t just the oldest Sephardic synagogue in the southeast; it’s currently home to over 400 families in the greater Atlanta area and home of one of the stellar Sephardic Sisterhoods in the country.
The Sisterhood is known for their baking of Burekas and other Sephardic delicacies and treats throughout the year, leading up to the synagogue’s Bazaar and other opportunities for the community to stock their freezers with these delicious and memory evoking treats! They are also known as the publishers of one of the best known and loved Sephardic Cookbooks, ‘The Sephardic Cooks – Comé Con Gana’, a compendium of dearly loved recipes in the Rhodesli Sephardic tradition. First published in 1971, the book has been re-printed many times and can still be purchased by contacting the synagogue office at 404.633.1737 (the book is $25/copy to addresses in the USA…..check office for details)
Or Ve Shalom Sisterhood gathers each Tuesday to bake. Ladies who have come for years now bring their daughters and granddaughters to join in the tradition – a new generation learning the recipes and tips from ‘the pros.’ The great cookbook author and food critic Joan Nathan went to Atlanta to watch them and wrote about her experience in a wonderful piece for The New York Times (Read it here). The Atlanta Jewish Times (read it here) wrote about the community maintaining tradition through their baking, as well.
In February of this year at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, a short film was shown called ‘Tuesday’s are for Burekas,’ by Justin Newton. Take a look at it here.
Those of us who love them, always knew the Bureka was worthy of such fame. Thanks to the ladies of Or Ve Shalom for making sure the Bureka is getting its due!
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After Pesah….Time for baking! Here is my mom’s recipe for making Biscochos! (you asked ….here it is!) Biscochos are often called tea biscuits. We think of them as a “biscotti”, a crunchy treat! Biscochos are a bit sweet and are wonderful with your morning coffee (could be afternoon or evening coffee or tea or even milk, for that matter!!) If you’ve been to our home, my mom’s house, our synagogue, you’ve had my mom’s Biscochos. They are ‘twice baked,’ which gives them that extra crunch. A very special part of our cultural repertoire.
They’re made with love – that, you can definitely taste it!
Here’s the recipe. My mother takes great pleasure in sharing her recipes and techniques and having her ‘students’ excel on their baking journey. Give them a try! And let us know how you’re enjoying them!
1 Cup eggs
1 C sugar
3/4 C oil
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla flavoring
5 – 7 C flour
1 egg + 1 drop of water, beaten well
(alternative to sesame seeds: cinnamon and sugar or “sprinkles”)
These are my mom’s directions:
With electric mixer, beat eggs and oil in a mixing bowl. Add sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until well blended. Add flour and baking powder gradually, knead into a medium dough until no longer sticky.
*The ‘Cup’ method of method of measuring eggs is important. Eggs come in different sizes – Medium, Large, Jumbo. By measuring by the Cup, one is more likely to get a more uniform measure. It makes a significant enough difference. Get as close to 1 Cup as possible.
Place onto floured work area and finish kneading dough with additional flour as needed. Dough should not be sticky as long as you can handle it without it sticking to your hands.
Take walnut-sized pieces and roll down on table with palms of hands into a rope about 5 inches long and only 1/2 inch thick.
Press down with fingers to create channel;
Fold rope over and cut slits into the edge.
Join into a bracelet shape. Brush egg on top side.
Dip top side into sesame seeds. (or sprinkles)
If using cinnamon/sugar on top, no egg wash needed.
Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 12 minutes or until lightly brown. Remove from pan. Allow to cool.
After they are cooled, return to oven at 200 degrees for one hour. This is where they get that extra crunch – the all important ‘biscucharing’ process.
Now……time to sit down with a cup of coffee and a Biscocho and relax!
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Now that Pesah has ended, it’s time to begin baking again! Looking forward to having Biscochos in the house to share with friends and to have with a cup of coffee or tea ….ummm! What could be better!
For the uninitiated, a Biscocho is a round ‘tea biscuit’….a twice baked (think biscotti) treat.
For those who don’t bake, don’t have someone to make them for you, don’t live close to one of the wonderful Sisterhoods who make them….you’re finally in luck!!!! Biscochos are now commercially available online! Yep….even on Amazon!
Sarah’s Biscochos, the passion project of Dr. Linda Gettinger-Dinner, are being baked in a commercial kitchen in Sunrise, FL and shipped to arrive at your door within two to three day!
Starting with memories of the wonderful Sephardic delicacies made by her maternal grandparents who came from Isantbul and Izmir, and the unforgettable, twice baked, crispy and crunchy Biscochos made by her mother Sarika, of Blessed Memory, Linda set out to keep the tradition and taste alive!
“As a tribute to our Mother and Grandma —from the Old World, to the New World, to YOUR World— we offer you a taste of love, tradition, and sacred memories deliciously prepared as the best of Sephardic specialties!” And she’s doing it with a twist….offering gluten-free, sugar-free, chocolate chip and fancy sprinkles options to the mix!
Visit her website Sarah’s Biscochos. Or look her up on Amazon. They look delicious!
Kudos, Linda, for bringing our traditions and special treats to the mainstream market! Wishing you muchos y buenos and much success as you grow!!!
Passover is around the corner! We are getting busy cooking (and listening to some Passover music and some traditional renditions of the HAGGADAH in the Rhodesli Tradition by Neil Sheff, to get us in the mood! Listen along with us!)
While listening today, I was remembering the Birkat Amazon as I had learned it in Seattle, “Ya Komimos.” Thanks to my Facebook friend Louise Chiprut Berman, I immediately had the words at my fingertips. I could hear most of it in my memory, missing a line or two. Asking on Facebook, Bryan Kirschen was able to post Hazan Isaac Azose singing it exactly as I remembered! AH, such happy memories…..and the wonders of Facebook!
Cooking with my Mom. Making Keftes de Prassa….a family favorite. We serve Prassa (leek patties) at Pesah as they are a spring vegetable. We also serve them at Rosh Hashanah as part of the ‘yehi ratzonis’ – the Rosh Hashanah Seder.
Our family makes them without meat…..a good option for the vegetarians at your Seder. (some have the tradition of adding ground beef to their leek patties.)
This is my mom’s method for Keftes de Prassa.
1 large onion – chopped
8 medium stalks of leek
2 tblsp matzah meal
1 C mashed potato or 1 C mashed potato flakes
pepper to taste
*optional pinch of red pepper flakes
Prepare leeks. Cut 1/4″ from top and bottom.
Cut in half vertically.
Soak and clean leeks throughly. (leeks, by nature, often have a good amount of fine dirt between leaves. Make sure to clean carefully) Soak, rinse, soak again (2 – 3 times).
Cut into 1/2″ pieces.
Boil cut leek and chopped onion in a pot of water ( covering mixture), until vegetables are soft and limp. Boil Potato separately until soft.
Drain (squeeze out) all liquid. Add additional ingredients. Blend into an even leek-onion-potato mixture. Shape into patties.
Fry : 2/3 C oil
Fry on medium heat until both sides are slightly browned.
Drain on a paper towel. Divine freshly made…..can be frozen, sealed tight.
Defrost and place on a cookie sheet and warm in the oven at 300 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until warmed throughly.
Love hearing what you’re making and doing for the holidays. Stay in touch with us here and on Facebook at ‘Bendichas Manos!’
~ Kaye & Marcia
2 C blanched almonds
1 C sugar
2 eggs…whites only
Grind blanched almonds to near a fine consistency.
Mix in a bowl with sugar.
Add egg whites to almonds and sugar. Mix until biscuit-dough consistency. Using a tablespoon or metal scoop, drop 1″ apart on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10 minutes in a pre-heated 350 degree oven.
Allow to cool completely before handling. Will harden as they cool.
Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Jewsih victory over the Greeks in 165 BCE.
A favorite story is the Miracle of the Oil. The Jews went to reclaim and restore the Temple in Jerusalem after it had been defiled and left in ruins by the Greeks. There was only enough oil left to rekindle the candelabra that was to burn throughout the night each and every night. It would be several days before more oil be be procured and prepared. By virtue of a Miracle, the oil burned for 8 days and nights, until more oil was available.
To commemorate the Miracle, we prepare foods cooked in oil for the holiday of Hanukkah. Favorites are latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (filled donuts), and in our family, burmuelos (fried dough).
Growing up, I had never had latkes. Our Hannukah treat was always burmuelos – light, fried dough pillows bathed in a light, sweet syrup that is absolutely devine!
Made from a yeast dough, it takes some time for the dough to rise and be ready to fry. My mom will make the dough ahead of time and after dinner, drop the dough by spoonfuls into hot oil, watch them puff and turn a golden brown as she prepares the honey syrup. Once the burmuelos are ready, she will bathe them in syrup and we’ll eat them, warm and fresh! Divine, indeed!
Below is the recipe. Give them a try…..and enjoy!
My Mom uses the recipe from the cookbook,
- The Sephardic Cooks – Come Con Gana
compiled by the Sisterhood of Congregation Or Ve Shalom in Atlanta, GA.
1 tsp yeast
1/2 C and 1 1/2 C warm water
pinch of salt
3 C flour
oil (for frying)
Soften yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. In mixing bowl add dry ingredients. Add yeast mixture, egg and remaining warm water. MIx well. Allow to rise in covered bowl in warm place for 2 hours.
Fill a quart pot with 3 inches of cooking oil. Allow to get very hot.
Drop a teaspoon of soft dough into the hot oil.
Remove with slotted spoon when golden brown. Bathe in syrup.
1 C sugar
3 Tblsps honey
1/2 C water
Boil together until sticky. Pour over burmuelos.
A wonderful message about the Miracle of Hanukkah shared by Craig Taubman:
“The miracle of Hanukka is not that the oil burned for 8 days. The true miracle? That someone was inspired to light the light in the first place!”
Let us be inspired!!
I had the delightful treat to be in Judy Zeidler’s kitchen last week when she made fresh homemade ricotta chesse. Growing up, ricotta was a staple in our Sephardic kitchen. Used in recipes such as our quajados and served with olive oil with home made bread…..ricotta, with it’s velvety smooth texture is a certain favorite. I was tickled when Judy told us she was making it for us!
With her permission, I’m printing her recipe today in hopes that you might include it in your Shavuot menu.
Judy’s Homemade Ricotta Cheese
1/2 gallon whole milk
1 cup cream
2 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons lemon juice
Heat the milk, cream and salt over meadium heat until it is about to boil.
Add the lemon juice, stir a few times and when the mixture begins to curdle, remove from the heat. Let curds rest for a minute or two.
Using a slotted spoon, skim the Ricotta curds from the whey and place them in a colander or wire sieve lined with cheesecloth. Drain for 15 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature, with a drizzle of honey.
(Marcia’s note….it was delicious with a drizzle of honey. At our house, we would likely drizzle with a bit of olive oil and perhaps a squeeze of lemon).
Try it and let us know how you enjoyed it!
Thank you to Judy Zeidler for this wonderful recipe. Check out her book, ‘Italy Cooks,’ which has this and other wonderful recipes and stories from her travels in Italy, as well as her other creatively delightful cookbooks by visiting http://www.judyzeidler.com.
As we celebrate the receiving of the Torah, we share an array of dairy dishes….boyos, burekas, quajados, sutlach, cheeses of all sorts, (thus, Ricotta!)….and our friends share blintzes, cheese kugles, knishes, etc. As mother’s milk (dairy) nourishes a body to grow; so, too, Torah nourishes our souls.
Wishing you all a joyous and meaningful Shavuot….and delicious treats to go along with it!
~ Bendichas Manos
As Yom HaShoah is upon us, we want to share a few opportunities to understand the Sephardic experience during the Holocaust. May we always remember….May we never forget.
‘The Longest Journey: The Last Days of the Jewish Community of Rhodes’ can be rented online from Vimeo and viewed.
It is a ‘must-see’ for those wanting to know the story of the tragic end of the hundreds years old community that existed in Rhodes.
‘The CDEC and the Shoah Museum of Rome present: THE LONGEST JOURNEY. RHODES-AUSCHWITZ (2013) a film by Ruggero Gabbai, historical research by Liliana Picciotto and Marcello Pezzetti.
On July 23, 1944, the Nazis deported almost the entire Jewish population of the island of Rhodes, while the Italian authorities that had been in charge of the Island from 1912 until the Armistice of September 8, 1943, stood by. It was late in the war, and German capitulation seemed imminent, yet the Nazi commanders did not hesitate to inflict the longest journey their criminal machine had ever planned, on this small, vibrant community nestled in this faraway island. The journey took 24 days under harrowing conditions, an atrocious transition from the Mediterranean sun to the grey hell of Auschwitz.
The Longest Journey weaves together testimonies of some of the few Jews to have survived Auschwitz, focusing on Stella Levi, Sami Modiano and Albert Israel.
The survivors, along with the film crew, returned to Rhodes from their respective lives in New York, Rome and Brussels. Each one with a powerful cinematic presence, the three recount memories of family and communal life, interactions with the local Greeks, Turks and Italians, cultural transitions, as well as the tragic last days of their community. The film provides a kaleidoscopic view of Jewish life in Rhodes under Italian dominion before the War.
Through the lens of these narrators, their early lives in Rhodes unfold as a sort of ‘paradise lost.’
See it now, on Demand
‘Trezoros: The Lost Jews of Kastoria’ is airing on PBS stations across the United States THIS WEEK- check your local listings. ( These are a few we saw listed. Check local listings.
South Florida, Thursday 8:30 pm
San Francisco, KQED, Friday 9:30 pm
Los Angeles, Wednesday KCET 6:30 pm
“The documentary chronicles life in the picturesque town of Kastoria, where Jews and Christians lived in harmony and friendship for over two thousand years. The title Trezoros is the Ladino/Judeo/Spanish term of endearment meaning “treasures.” The film takes the audience on a journey from the joyful innocence of the pre-war years through the heartbreaking struggles of the Holocaust, to a unique place in time and history highlighting a Greek Jewish culture lost forever.
In October 1940, the peaceful life of the community changed forever with the invasion of Greece by Axis forces. Initially occupied by Italy, the Jewish community remained, but after Mussolini fell from power, the Nazis took control of the town, eventually gathering all the residents in a single day, and sent them to concentration camps.
Using never-before-seen archival footage, Trezoros vividly brings to life just one of many Jewish communities that had existed in Greece for centuries and even millennia before the end of World War II. The film is a story told by its survivors, with interviews filmed on location in Kastoria, Thessaloniki, Athens, Tsur Moshe, Tel Aviv, Miami, and New York.
Directed by Lawrence Russo, and co-directed and produced by Larry Confino, the film was widely praised on the film festival circuit with screenings in London, Cannes, Melbourne, Sydney, New York, and Los Angeles. Russo co-founded the independent studio The Shooting Gallery (Laws of Gravity, Sling Blade) and directed the Emmy-nominated PBS short film series ShortCuts. Producer/Co-Director, Confino is the Founder of Synapse Productions and Executive Director of ImageRescue, Inc. Based in New York City, Confino has produced documentaries and commercial projects on a multitude of subjects around the world.
Trezoros is an inspiring story of survival that resonates universally and is of particular interest to Jewish and Greek communities worldwide. The poignant story of one family’s experience helps honor the memory of the once vibrant community and reminds us of man’s inhumanity to man and also of the enduring spirit of the people who survived the horrors of the war. As George Santayana wrote in The Life of Reason, 1905, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Check your local listings for the PBS schedule.”