Worldly recipes served with a slice of Jewish history

Taiglach came along with Tina Wasserman when she moved to Dallas in the 1980s.

Wasserman didn’t actually transport clumps of the sticky pastries whose dough is wrapped around nuts and simmered in honey syrup. But among her most cherished possessions, she packed her recipe for this traditional Rosh Hashanah sweet hailing from Lithuania.

Until she served the dessert to her new friends, “no one had seen it down here,” said Wasserman, a cooking teacher, food columnist for Reform Judaism magazine and the author of “Entree to Judaism: A Culinary Exploration of the Jewish Diaspora.”

She then introduced the recipe in cooking classes. Before long, taiglach became part of the Jewish culinary scene in Dallas.

The story is typical of how Jewish foods have traveled around the world, says Wasserman, whose cookbook was written to educate readers about Jewish culture while providing recipes that tell Jewish history.

As Jews migrated from country to country, they carried their recipes, but they also adapted to the cuisines they encountered wherever they went.

“I wanted to create a link to our ancestry through food,” said Wasserman, who believes that such a connection keeps Judaism alive. “Food is the most direct connection in our brain to memory.”

She began assembling recipes for “Entree to Judaism” with a question: What makes a food Jewish from a historical viewpoint? Her conclusion: Kosher laws and Sabbath observance were the reasons for the invention and evolution of Jewish recipes.

For instance, Wasserman says that caponata, the popular Italian appetizer of simmered eggplants, tomatoes and peppers that can be made ahead and served cold or at room temperature, is a 500-year-old Sabbath dish. During the Spanish Inquisition when Spain occupied Sicily, 40,000 Jews fled to mainland Italy to escape persecution, bringing this recipe with them.

Each recipe in Wasserman’s cookbook includes its origins, when and why it was eaten, and who cherished it enough to bring the preparation method to a new part of the world. “I tried to put the foods we love into a context,” she said.

Ever wonder why some Ashkenazis eat kreplach at Rosh Hashanah? During the Middle Ages, Jews from Central and Eastern Europe sealed their wishes in pouches of dough and wore them as amulets. Because they didn’t want to waste this precious food, they put it into soup. “Most of our food customs come from the Middle Ages,” said Wasserman.

While Ashkenazis dip apples in honey to connote sweetness in the new year, Turkish Jews convey the same wishes by partaking in Dulce de Manzana, sweet apple preserves infused with rose water, the signature flavor of many Sephardic pastries.

Dulce de Manzana is the first of 20 dairy dishes Wasserman serves at the bagels and lox buffet she and her husband host at their home each Rosh Hashanah. For five years, the Wassermans have invited about 110 guests, including the five rabbis from their Dallas synagogue, Temple Emanuel, the fourth-largest Reform congregation in the country.

International Jewish foods featured in “Entree to Judaism” are found on their buffet table. Wasserman not only prepares each dish herself but also posts a small sign explaining its origin. Many of the deliciously exotic recipes hail from Sephardic countries.

One of Wasserman’s favorites is Syrian eggplant with pomegranate molasses, similar in consistency to baba ghanoush. Pomegranates are traditional at Rosh Hashanah because their seeds symbolize prosperity in the new year. The recipe works as an appetizer, hors d’oeuvres, first-course salad or part of a meze assortment, an array of appetizers typical of Sephardic cuisine.

“I’m all about connecting to the Jewish community at large,” said Wasserman, whose website Cookingandmore.com creates a community around food. “We’re a shrinking population who used to live everywhere in the world.”

The following recipes are from “Entree to Judaism.”

Dulce de Manzana (Apple Preserves)

Makes 3-4 cups

Try dipping challah into this sweet treat that Turkish Sephardic Jews eat to wish each other a sweet New Year.

3 cups granulated sugar

1 1⁄2 cups water

2 lbs. apples (Jonagold, Gala or Delicious)

juice of 1⁄2 lemon

1 Tbs. rose water or

1 tsp. vanilla

1⁄4 cup slivered almonds

Place the sugar and water in a 3-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.

While the mixture is heating, peel the apples and grate them by hand with a coarse grater. Immediately add the apples and lemon juice to the hot sugar syrup.

Reduce the temperature to medium and cook for 30-45 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is quite thick. Stir the mixture occasionally to prevent sticking.

While the mixture is cooking, toast the almonds in a 350-degree oven for 4 minutes, or until lightly golden. Set aside.

When the mixture is thickened (it will get thicker when it cools), add the rose water or vanilla. Place in an open container until cool. The toasted almonds may be added to the mixture at this time or sprinkled on top as a garnish just before serving. Refrigerate until serving.

Syrian Eggplant with Pomegranate Molasses

Serves 4

Finding out that the great Jewish cooks of Aleppo, Syria, used this molasses with eggplant intrigued Wasserman to explore this stunningly delicious combination often served with pita bread.

1 medium eggplant (11⁄2 lbs.)

2 Tbs. pomegranate molasses

2 large garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed through

a garlic press

1⁄4 tsp. dried crushed red

pepper flakes

3 or 4 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

kosher salt to taste

pomegranate seeds for garnish

  (optional)

Roast the eggplant over a grill until all sides are charred and the eggplant is soft and deflated.

Remove to a colander, slit open on 1 side from stem to bottom. Let the juices run out for 10 minutes, or until it is cool enough to handle.

Remove the skin and stem and discard them.

Place the eggplant pulp in a clean bowl, cut in all directions with a knife and fork, and continue to mix with the fork, until no long strings of eggplant remain.

Add the pomegranate molasses, minced garlic and red pepper flakes and combine thoroughly.

Slowly add the oil as you whip the eggplant mixture with a fork until a smooth emulsion or spread is formed. Season with salt to taste.

Spread the mixture on a 9-inch plate and make a slight well in the center. Drizzle with a little more olive oil, and sprinkle with some pomegranate seeds.

Serve with pita points or crackers.

Lubiya (Sephardic

Black-Eyed Peas)

Serves 8

This Ethiopian recipe is a consistent winner at Wasserman’s Rosh Hashanah buffet. She prepares triple the amount but still finds there are no leftovers.

3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, diced into

1⁄4-inch pieces

2 large cloves of garlic, minced

11⁄2 cups of water

3 Tbs. tomato paste

1 lb. fresh or frozen black-eyed peas

1⁄2 tsp. cumin

salt and freshly ground pepper

  to taste

Heat a 3-quart pot over high heat for 20 seconds. Add the olive oil and heat for another 10 seconds. Add the onion and garlic and sauté over medium heat, until onions are lightly golden.

Add the water and tomato paste, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Add the peas and cumin and cook covered for 1 to 2 hours, or until the peas are tender. It might be necessary to add a small amount of additional water to the pot if the mixture looks too dry. Conversely, if the mixture is too soupy, continue to cook uncovered, until some of the liquid has evaporated.

Remove from the heat and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature. Serve alone or over rice.

Sweet Potato–Pumpkin Cazuela

Serves 8-10

Instead of using pumpkin, this festive casserole from Puerto Rico can be made with carrots, a traditional Rosh Hashanah vegetable.

2 Tbs. unsalted butter or

margarine

2⁄3 cup granulated sugar

1⁄3 cup dark brown sugar

2 Tbs. all-purpose flour

1⁄2 tsp. salt

2⁄3 cup unsweetened canned coconut milk

2 eggs

1 can (15 oz.) unflavored pumpkin pureé or 1 lb. fresh carrots, cleaned, sliced and steamed until tender

1 can (29 oz.) yams in light

   syrup, drained and mashed

1⁄4 cup water

1⁄8 tsp. ground ginger

2-inch piece of stick cinnamon,

   broken into pieces

1⁄4 tsp. fennel seeds

3 whole cloves

Place the butter or margarine in a 2-quart glass bowl and microwave for 45 seconds.

Whisk the sugars, flour and salt into the butter to combine. Whisk the coconut milk into the mixture until thoroughly blended. Add the eggs and combine.

Add the pumpkin purée (or carrots) and the mashed yams and whisk until a smooth batter is formed.

Combine the water with the spices in a small glass cup and microwave on high for 11⁄2 minutes. Let the mixture steep for 5 minutes. Strain the spiced water through a fine mesh strainer into the sweet potato mixture and stir to incorporate.

Butter a 2-quart casserole and pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Bake covered in a preheated 350-degree oven for 1 hour. Serve immediately.