23 September 2007

Family history is also gastronomic!

As we investigate our families, their roots and their traditions, gastronomy necessarily plays a big part.

Who hasn't heard about the debate about savory versus sweet kugel and the perpetual Litvak-Galitzianer debate about which is best?

Should matzoh balls be fluffy (my preference) or sink like cannonballs? Is the gefilte fish sweet or not?

And as Chanukah is coming up in a few months, there is the eternal discussion about the proper garnish for latkes: Nothing, salt, applesauce, sugar, cinnamon sugar or sour cream? Ketchup, maybe? Culinary traditions and holiday dishes can be a clue to our roots. In any case, they are a delicious area of research.

All this holiday work, preparing for family and friends, feasting and fasting and feasting again was somewhat tiring. I don't mind the shopping, love the cooking (but not the cleaning up), and before we know it, there's another holiday to prepare for.

Our holiday meals incorporate the traditions of our backgrounds: Ashkenazi, Persian and Sephardic Mediterranean - "fusion" would be the best description.

We break the fast with faludeh-sib, glasses of the traditional very refreshing Persian grated apple, honey, rosewater and ice confection; drink hot sweet tea (Earl Grey, of course), a piece of warm challah with butter. After everyone has relaxed a bit, my native Brooklyn bagels, lox and trimmings appear (this was never seen in Teheran, for sure!), where we generally stop. However, our post-fast guests - starving students - were still hungry, so they hit the pre-fast leftovers.

This year, the pre-fast dinner included Ashkenazi long-simmered chicken soup with matzoh balls, and then the soup as Persian abgusht over white steamed Basmati rice, polo havij (rice mixed with finely chopped sauteed onions and shredded carrots), Sephardic fidellos (noodle coils toasted, then simmered til they completely absorbed a delicious tomato sauce - an Island of Rhodes recipe from Seattle cousins) and served with armiko, chicken cooked in a tomato, lemon and cinnamon sauce.

Going back to last week's Rosh Hashanah dinner, I made my grandmother's chopped chicken liver, served alongside Persian Shirazi salad (finely chopped cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, parsley and mint, lemon juice-oil dressing). More chicken soup and matzoh balls over white rice, and also polo cheved va nokhod sabz (tons of chopped dill and tiny green peas mixed into white rice). Of course, we did the Sephardic seder over leeks, beets, pomegranate seeds, tongue and pumpkin. Leeks were made to a Sephardic recipe with tomato and onion, tongue was cooked Persian-style, and the pumpkin was an Italian recipe.

And to those who know and love Persian food, there was plenty of two varieties of tahdig (literally, "bottom of the pot") the crispy, crunchy golden bottom layer. The white rice (chelo) had the normal rice tahdig, while the polo (mixed rice) had golden crisp ovals of potato.

Now, what do I make for Sukkot?

Meanwhile, I just kicked back with a video from Roots Television about the Sockish immigration to America. Learn about some prominent sockish families, the ANKLETS, the NEEHIGHS, the TUBES (I'm not sure if they were included, but they should have been), and some famous Sockish celebrities. Click here.


  1. Schelly,

    I think that family food recipes are probably one of the least investigated part of our ancestry. And yet the food that our ancestors ate and enjoyed tell us a great deal about them.

    Kudos for a very interesting story, and I enjoyed the Sock Puppet video you linked to.


  2. Janice,

    Food plays such an important role in our family lives: holiday traditions, family favorites and more. It shows how people have adjusted, incorporated and celebrated ethnic traditions,

    We should perhaps do a Carnival of Genealogy on this topic. It should bring some delicious results.

    Always looking forward to your comments.