Being vegetarian, we find a lot of the variety in our diet comes from cuisines from around the world. We love Indian, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, and most other “ethnic” foods. We also like to cook traditional Jewish foods, and due to the extent of the diaspora, we can often find Jewish foods from these distant lands and cultures. Like Jewish music, Jewish food borrows heavily from the surrounding culture, but it always maintains something of its own identity. Religious dietary laws have a huge impact on ingredient use and food combinations, so there will be no Veal Parmigiana or seafood dishes. Jewish cuisine also keeps an eye on the Sabbath, and slow-cooked stews (cholents) are common, since they can provide a hot and filling meal without the need to cook on Shabbat.
One dish we have come to enjoy is the Sephardi pastel. This is a double-crusted savory pie often served on Shabbat, the two crusts echoing the two loaves of challah that accompany the Friday evening meal. There are several delicious traditional fillings. This one is for spinach.
(recipe from Gil Marks’ book Olive Trees and Honey)
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- 1/4 cup lukewarm water
- 2-1/2 tsp white vinegar
- 3/4 tsp table salt
- about 2-1/2 cups flour
In a medium bowl, beat together the oil, butter, water, vinegar and salt. Gradually work in enough flour to make a soft dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Do not overwork it. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- 20 oz thawed frozen spinach, squeezed dry (or about 9 cups fresh, stemmed and cooked)
- 1/4 cup butter or olive oil
- 10 – 12 scallions, sliced, or 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup (5 oz) crumbled feta cheese
- 3/4 cup (6 oz) cream cheese, room temperature
- 3/4 cup (3 oz) shredded kashkaval, Gouda or Muenster cheese
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg or 1/4 cup fresh dill
- 3/4 tsp table salt (to taste)
- ground black pepper, to taste
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the scallions and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cooked, chopped spinach. Remove from heat and let cool. Stir in the cheeses, eggs, nutmeg, and seasonings.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a large baking dish (eg. a quiche pan or an 8-inch baking pan).
Form a large ball out of two-thirds of the pastry and a smaller ball out of the remaining third. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the larger ball into a 1/4-inch thick round and fit it into the prepared dish. Spoon in the filling. Roll out the remaining pastry and place it over the filling, crimping the edges to seal. Cut several slits in the top to vent the steam. Brush with beaten egg mixed with a bit of water and sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired.
Bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling is set, about 40 minutes. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.