Sephardic Recipies from Thessaloniki

Sephardic Recipies from Thessaloniki

Cookbook of the Jews of Greece
By Nicholas Stavroulakis
Lycabettus Press, 1986

‘Traditional’ is always a difficult term to use when being applied to a kitchen. A truly gifted cook is of two sorts - either one who can doggedly follow an accurate recipe so as to re-create exactly the same dish or the more cavalier sort who can innovate and even introduce new and even eccentric twists to old recipes depending on the availability of ingredients or the dominant contemporary ‘culinary’ style. In the case of the cuisine of Thessaloniki this is especially true. For example it is obvious that many of the recipes are not in a direct transmission from the Iberian Peninsula. Any recipe that incorporates tomatoes, peppers, aubergines is obviously of a non-Iberian origin or at least not ‘traditional’ in the strict sense of the word as such vegetables and fruits were not introduced from the New World until some time after the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Recipes with Turkish names such as Borekitas, yaprakites, moussaka, baklavah, sotlatch, etc. reflect certainly the influence of local - in this case - Greco-Ottoman dietary tastes and style. Examination of pre WWII Sephardi recipe notes would indicate that until the dramatic and tragic events of the War the kitchen of Thessaloniki Jewesses was highly creative and innovative and was adapting French and to some degree Greek influences, as in preceding years High Ottoman cooking had been a paramount influence. It is only after the War that the re-emergence of a Sephardic kitchen takes place in Thessaloniki but it is highly atrophied and tends to steer away from imaginative twists and turns. The following recipes have been drawn mainly from pre-War sources.

It should be kept in mind that the format of a traditional Sephardi meal in the Near East and Balkans was quite different to that in the West. A celebratory meal would be quite elaborate with many small dishes none of which would in itself satisfy an appetite but all of which would make obvious the abilities of the cook, the prosperity of the house and together constituted a feast of quite extraordinary proportions. What we term ‘soups’ were served a times in order to moisten rice dishes. On ordinary days in a modest household the soup might be quite heavy and substantial and served with much bread would constitute a meal in itself. ‘Salad’ in the contemporary sense of the word was unheard of. A meal opened with a dizzying array of cold vegetables and pickles - beans, mashed aubergines with garlic and peppers, runner -beans and tomatoes, red beets, stuffed vine leaves, small pastries but all in such quantities so as to whet an appetite rather than satisfy it. Following there would be a suitable fish concoction. This would be followed by a pause during which fruit would be served - cold melon slices or even pears - in order to clear the palate for the next course, which would be of meat or poultry along with stuffed vegetables or pilaf, vegetable stews or even egg dishes. A meal seldom if ever ended with a dessert as we know it now. Dried and fresh fruits, nuts and shorbets might be served together. ‘Heavy’ sweets such as sotlach, baklavah or the like would have been served much later and more than likely away from the dinner table proper.

The following recipes have been chosen with an eye to contemporary eating habits in the West with hors d’oeuvres, soup, and a main course followed by dessert. In the preparation of the chicken soup after boiling the chicken and retaining the broth the chicken should be allowed to cool and then shredded from its bones and ground fine. The minced chicken replaces the beef in the recipe for ‘Albodingas’

Mezes - Hors d’oeuvres

An appropriate selection of the following should be made and served in small portions on a tray arranged centrally on the table.

Melitzanna salata Tarator (tzatziki) If there is a concern for kashrut keep in mind that Albodingas (cf. below) incorporate meat!).
Spinach Salad
Yaprakes or even Yaprakitas
Soup: Soupa de Huevos y Limon
Fish: Kristada This is a light dish.
Sazan en Salsa This is quite a heavy dish.

Fruit: Sliced chilled water or green melon or even raw cucumbers sprinkled with wine vinegar.

Albodingos (replace the beef with the boiled chicken from the soup noted above.) This would be appropriate with Sazan en Salsa.
Yuvetch de karne: This is quite a substantial dish and would be best with Kristada.

Rice (Served with the above meat dishes)
Arroz kon Piniones would be best with Yuvetch.
Arroz kon Tomatas. Best with Albodingos.

A liberal presentation of dried fruits - figs, dates, plums, sultanas or apricots.
Nuts - pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts and/or almonds.

Drinks: Ouzo diluted appropriately to taste with water was and is still liberally drunk before, during and after a meal. It and raki were the normal accompaniments. More affluent households would begin with ouzo, continue with wines (white and red) and end up with raki.

Supplements for later:
Sutlatch (Kazandebi)


Melitzanna salata Eggplant salad
Thessaloniki, Kavala, Drama

1 large eggplant
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons water
Juice of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil or yogurt, if necessary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Paprika (optional)

Sear the eggplant over an open flame on the stove, or over a charcoal or wood fire, until the skin has blistered and blackened, and the flesh is soft and pulpy. You will get a similar result in a very hot oven or under a broiler, but the unique taste is gone. Put the eggplant on a plate and, holding with a fork, strip away the skin. Drain off any liquid. Mash the pulp with the garlic and salt and pepper. Do not worry if a bit of charred skin remains; it only enhances the flavor.
In a separate bowl mix the tahini, water, lemon juice, and cumin until it has a very pale creamy consistency. Add to the eggplant and mix in well. If it is too thick, add a little olive oil, lemon juice. Spread out on a serving plate and sprinkle with parsley and paprika.
This is the traditional way of making melitzanna salata. The modern mixer or food processor not only does as well, it actually improves the recipe. Put all the ingredients in the mixer (except the paprika) and mix very briefly, or longer if you prefer a smooth consistency.

Tarator Cucumber-yogurt salad
Ioannina, Arta

Despite this use of the word here, tarator in Turkish refers to a sauce made with walnuts or pine nuts and vinegar. Similar recipes usually are called Tzatziki in Greek or Cacik in Turkish.
2 cups yoghurt, drained
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1-2 cucumbers, very thinly sliced and drained
Salt and Pepper
Drain the yoghurt in a sieve lined with cheesecloth or a linen napkin. Beat the yoghurt until it is very creamy. Add the garlic and mix in well. Add the cucumber and chill before serving. Makes about 2 cups.
A variation from Thrace includes a tablespoon of fresh chopped mint. Mix all ingredients as above. Melt 2 tablespoons butter, add to it 1 teaspoon paprika, and stir in well. Immediately remove from the heat and pour over the salad. This is very good served with rice.
Another variation from Thessaloniki adds a tablespoon each of olive oil and vinegar, a teaspoon each of mint and parsley. Mix well, chill, and serve garnished with mint, parsley, and a little paprika.

Salata de spinaka Spinach salad

Fresh spinach
Fresh button mushrooms
½ cup walnuts, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons wine vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon sugar
1½ teaspoons dry mustard
Salt and pepper

Wash the spinach well, cut off the stems, and break up the leaves. Arrange in a salad bowl, slice the mushrooms over the top, and sprinkle with chopped walnuts.
Put the rest of the ingredients into a small jar withy a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously until well mixed. Pour over the salad and mix well before serving. Makes about 1/3-cup dressing.

Fijolettes/ Fasolakia Broad beans/Fava

1½ - 2 lbs. green beans
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons celery leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper
Lemon juice

Clean the beans and cut off the tips. Break them into 4-5-inch lengths. In a heavy saucepan saute the onions in olive oil until transparent. Add the beans and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, garlic, salt and pepper, and just enough water to cover the beans. Sprinkle the celery leaves over the top and cook, tightly covered, over low heat until tender. Sprinkle with lemon juice and serve either warm or cold. Serves 4-6.

Yaprakes Stuffed grape leaves
Common throughout Greece

Yaprak is the Turkish word for leaf. Yaprakes are usually made of grape leaves stuffed with a variety of fillings. There are also variations using cabbage leaves. Romaine lettuce, and, in Yaprakites de merenjenna, thin slices of eggplant. Yaprakes of grape leaves have always been a favorite of Jews throughout the Near East; they are also a favorite of the Greeks, who call them dolmas, or dolmades. In Turkish, dolmas means, specifically, stuffed vegetables. See also Yaprakites de sardela.

If you use fresh grape leaves, soak them in very hot water for 5 minutes. If brine-packed, wash them well.
Saute the ground beef in a little olive oil until lightly browned. Remove from the heat. Add the rice and salt and pepper, and mix well.
Lay out a grape leaf with the stem toward you. Put 1 tablespoon of the meat mixture at the point where the veins branch out. Starting with the stem end, roll up the yaprak, tucking in the sides carefully to make a tight packet. Oil a deep stewing pot with 1-tablespoon olive oil and pack the yaprakes closely together in one layer. Cover with plain leaves and sprinkle with mint. Add another layer of yaprakes, cover as above, and continue until the filling and leaves are used up. Fold any protruding leaves down flat and cover with a heavy ovenproof plate. Simmer over low heat, tightly covered, for 1 hour. Remove from heat and take off the plate.
Preheat oven to 350o. Arrange the yaprakes in a well-oiled baking dish. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and a little liquid from the pot. Bake at 350o for about 30 minutes, or until almost all the liquid has been absorbed. These can be made in very large quantities, and served either warm or cold. Makes about 30.

Yaprakites Stuffed eggplant
Thessaloniki, Komotini

The slender purple, or paler purple-streaked eggplant of the Mediterranean is best here. The deep purple eggplant is also good, although if it is very fat, you should cut the slices in half.
8-10 eggplants, about 8 inches long
Olive oil
½ lb. ground beef
½ cup pine nuts
1 medium onion, finely grated
1/4 cup matsah meal
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
3 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper

Cut off the ends of the eggplants and slice them lengthwise into thin strips. Put in a large dish, salt them, and cover with a heavy plate for 30 minutes. Then wash and drain them, and dry between two towels. Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a frying pan and fry each strip gently until slightly brown on both sides. Remove and drain on a paper towel.
In a large bowl mix well the meat, pine nuts, onion, matzah meal, eggs, mint, and salt and pepper. Break off small, pullet-egg-sized pieces and pat into oblong shapes.
Preheat oven to 350o. Take a slice of eggplant and carefully wrap one of the meat balls in it. Take care not to overlap the eggplant; if the slice is too long, cut it off and use later. Pack the yaprakites closely on the bottom of a well-oiled baking pan in one layer, seams down. Arrange over them any remaining eggplant slices and cover with the tomato slices. Sprinkle liberally with olive oil and salt and pepper, and about 1/4 cup water. Bake at 350o for 45 minutes. Remove, sprinkle with parsley, and serve either warm or cold. Makes approximately 15-20 yaprakites.

Soupa de huevos y limon Egg-lemon soup

This soup is traditionally served after the fast of Yom Kippur.
1-3 lb. chicken
Juice of 2-3 lemons
1 cup rice
3 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon flour
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley
Clean and wash the chicken well. Put it into a large stewing pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Remove the scum and fat on the surface. Cover the pot tightly and cook for about one hour, or until tender. Then remove the chicken from the stock, put in a large serving dish, sprinkle with lemon juice, and set aside while you make the soup. The chicken may follow as a second course or be saved for another purpose.
Bring the stock to a low boil, add the rice, and cook until tender. While the rice is cooking, beat the egg yolks with the teaspoon flour until creamy. Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper and put in the top of a double boiler. Cook over barely simmering water, stirring constantly. Still stirring, slowly add tablespoons of the stock until a very thin sauce is formed. Remove from the heat. Beat the egg whites until fluffy and fold them into the sauce. Cool for a few minutes and then add to the stock pot. Be careful not to let the soup boil, or the eggs will curdle. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve with additional lemon wedges. Serves 4.

Kristada Fish fillets with egg-lemon sauce

6 fillets of haddock or cod
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
2 eggs
4-5 garlic cloves, crushed
Juice of 2 lemons
½ cup white wine
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
Turmeric (optional)

Gently saute the fish fillets in butter or olive oil until they are golden brown. Remove and arrange in one layer in a large shallow pan with a tight-fitting lid.
Mix together and beat well the eggs, garlic, lemon juice, wine, and salt and pepper. Pour over the fillets and cover very tightly. Simmer gently over low heat until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 minutes. Garnish with the parsley, and serve to 6.
Some cooks add a generous pinch of turmeric to the egg mixture. This brings out the lemon flavor and adds a rich color.

Sazan en salsa Carp in walnut sauce

The following recipe is a common one for Passover. Variations appear in that section.
1 large carp, 6-8 lbs., or 6 fillets, about 2 lbs.
Lemon juice
Olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup wine vinegar
½ cup black currants and raisins
½ cup walnuts, chopped
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
Sal and black pepper

Clean and fillet the fish. Rub the fillets well with lemon juice, sprinkle with salt, and let sit for an hour or longer in a cool plate. Then remove the fish and reserve the marinade.
Heat 2-3 tablespoons olive oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the fish until well browned on both sides. Remove and set aside.
Saute the onion in the remaining oil in the pan for about 5 minutes. Add the reserved marinade, the wine, lemon juice, vinegar, currants, raisins, and walnuts. If the mixture is too thick, add more wine. Stir in well and simmer gently until a rich sauce is formed. Carefully place the fillets in the pan, baste them with the sauce, and cover the pan tightly. Simmer for 15 minutes over low heat. Remove the fillets to a serving dish. Pour the sauce over them and garnish with parsley and black pepper. Serves 6.

Albondigas al buyor Meat croquettes in tomato

1 lb. ground beef
1 small onion, chopped or grated
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup matsah meal (or 2 slices bread, crusts removed,
soaked in wine vinegar, and squeezed dry)
Olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Put all the ingredients for the croquettes in a large bowl and mix well. Form small oblong balls and fry gently in 4 tablespoons olive oil until

Yuvetch de karne Beef stew with eggplant
Drama, Soufli, Didimoticho

2 large eggplants cut into 2-inch cubes
Olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 lbs. stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
½ teaspoon cinnamon
4 whole allspice
2 bay leaves
4 large tomatoes, chopped
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon paprika (or 2 more tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped)
Juice of 2 lemons
Salt and pepper

Soak the eggplant for 30 minutes in heavily salted water. Rinse and dry well and saute gently in 1/4 cup olive oil until they begin to brown. Remove and reserve them.
Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan and saute the onions until transparent. Add the meat and brown on all sides. Stir in the cinnamon, allspice, bay leaves, tomatoes, and salt and pepper. Stir in well, cover tightly, and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, return the eggplants to another pan and heat them in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the water and paprika (or extra tomatoes). Reduce to a sauce. Add this to the meat and cook for 30 minutes more over low heat. Add the lemon juice and serve. Serves 6.

Arroz kon spinaka Spinach pilaf

2 lbs. fresh spinach
Olive oil
1-2 large onions, finely chopped
3 large tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup water
1/4 lb. rice (approx. ½ cup)
Salt and pepper

Wash the spinach. Cut off the stems and use for making Yaprakites, or boil them in a little water and serve separately with olive oil and lemon. Chop the spinach fairly coarsely.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot and gently saute the onions until transparent. In a heavy frying pan cook the tomatoes in 1 tablespoon olive oil until they reduce to a thick sauce. Stir in the sugar and water and simmer for 5 minutes more.
Add the spinach to the sauteed onions. Add salt and pepper, then the rice, and over this pour the tomato sauce. Add water to cover the rice to a depth of 1-1½ inches. Cook gently over medium heat until craters form on the surface. Remove, cover tightly, and set aside for 20 minutes.
To serve, place the serving dish over the top of the pot and, using both hands - with some assistance if your wrists are weak - turn the pot upside down to reverse the pilaf onto the dish. This was once made in a round-bottomed kazan so that the pilaf came out as a mound. Serves 4.

Arroz kon piniones Rice with pine nuts

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
½ cup pine nuts
1 cup rice, or 1/3 cup per person
3 cups water, approx.
Salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large pot, add the chopped onion and pine nuts, and gently saute for 5-10 minutes. Add the rice and water to cover to a depth of about 1½ inches. Add salt and pepper and boil gently until craters form on the surface. Remove from heat, cover tightly, and set aside for 20 minutes.
This is excellent served with chopped fresh mint sprinkled over the top, or with the following yogurt sauce: Melt 4 tablespoons butter, add 1 teaspoon paprika, and stir this mixture into 1 cup yogurt. Serves 3-4.

Sotlatch / Kazandibi

4 cups milk
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup rice flour
Bring the milk to a boil in a large saucepan. Add 1 cup sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Remove from the heat, or simmer for a few more minutes to reduce and thicken. Cool slightly.
Put the rice flour in a small deep bowl. Mix water into it with your fingers, as in Sotlatch I, though the mixture should not become liquid. Add slowly very small amounts of the now warm milk, stirring constantly, until you have a thick liquid. Continue adding milk and mixing with a wooden spoon until there is no danger of lumps forming. Then add the remaining milk and return to the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it is thick and creamy and will evenly coat the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat.
Sprinkle the bottom of a wide saucepan that will heat evenly with the remaining ½ cup sugar. Cook over low heat until the sugar has caramelized. Remove from the heat and cool. Then pour over it the mixture of milk and rice flour - do not stir - and put the pan over a very, very low heat. At this point the disadvantages of the modern kitchen become apparent. Traditionally, the pan would have been placed over a charcoal brazier with an almost extinguished fire. The heat would cause a slow evaporation of the liquid and, as a crust formed on the top, it was gently cut into with a knife to allow the liquid underneath to escape. This process might go on for several hours, or until the sotlatch had become quite thick and a rich golden brown color. The alternative method now is to put the saucepan over very low heat and stir gently, never touching the caramelized bottom, until the sotlatch is reduced and thickened and will coat the back of a spoon evenly. Remove from the heat and cool. The top can be sprinkled with praline before serving. Serves 6.

Common throughout Greece

3/4 -1 lb. sweet butter, melted
2 cups mixed blanched almonds, walnuts,
and pine nuts, finely chopped
3 tablespoons sugar
25 sheets fylla (approx. 1 lb.,)
A well-chilled syrup (see below)

Prepare the syrup well in advance and chill it thoroughly:
1½ cups sugar, or ½ cup sugar and 1 cup honey
½ cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Rose water or a pinch of cinnamon (optional)
Dissolve the sugar in the water. Boil over low heat until a thin syrup has formed. Remove from heat, add the lemon juice, and chill for several hours. If you use rose water, add it when the syrup is cold.
Prepare the filling:
Add ½ lb. melted butter to the nuts, then add the sugar, and mix well.
Preheat oven to 350o.
Butter the bottom and sides of a baking pan large enough to hold the fylla, approximately 12x20 inches. Put down the first sheet, brush well with melted butter, and repeat with 11 more sheets. Spread the filling over the top sheet and cover with the rest of the fylla, putting them down one by one and buttering each as before. Using a sharp knife, score the surface of the baklava into lozenge shapes or squares. Stick a whole clove in the center of each. Bake the baklava at 350o for 30 minutes, then turn up the heat to 475o and bake for 15-20 minutes more, or until a rich golden brown. Immediately pour the well-chilled syrup over the hot baklava. Cut through the scored lines into serving pieces. The yield will depend on the size you cut them, and the size of your own and your guests’ appetites.
Baklava are often made in miniature.

Ravani Semolina cake in syrup

Ravani is found in a great number of variations among all Greeks, as well as Turks. Essentially it is a cake that is soaked in syrup and served cold. It is best eaten a day after preparation and is excellent topped with heavy or whipped cream. It is also served often during Shavuoth. The syrup should be made in advance and chilled.

3 cups each sugar and water
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon rind

To make the syrup: mix the sugar, water, and lemon rind together in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a medium, simmer and cook until a syrup forms that will evenly coat the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and chill.
11/4 cups medium semolina
2 tablespoons flour
10 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons sweet butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350o. Mix the semolina and flour together. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar and lemon rind until they are very creamy. Beat the whites separately until they are stiff and form peaks. Fold the whites into the yolk mixture, and then stir in the flour and semolina. When well mixed, stir in the melted butter and pour the mixture into a buttered baking pan, 9x12 inches and at least 3 inches deep. Bake at 350o about 45 minutes - 1 hour, or until golden brown.

Asuplados Meringues
Rhodes and other Sephardic communities

5 egg whites
1½ cups sugar
25-30 almonds, blanched and halved

Beat the egg whites with a whisk until they are very stiff and form peaks. Add the sugar and beat until it has dissolved and is well mixed into the whites. Alternatively, you can beat the egg whites and sugar together from the start.
Preheat oven to 300o. Butter a baking sheet. Drop the mixture from a tablespoon into mounds on the sheet. Press half an almond into the top of each. Bake at 300o until they are slightly rose - colored, but not browned, about 20 minutes. Makes 25-30.


½ cup almonds, blanched and finely ground
6 tablespoons sweet butter
1 cup coarse semolina
1 ½ cups milk
1 cup sugar
Vanilla extract to taste
In a large heavy pot melt the butter and add the almonds. Cook, stirring, until the almonds are golden brown. Then stir in the semolina and lower the heat. Stir over a very low heat for about 30 minutes.
In another saucepan bring the milk to a boil and add the sugar and vanilla extract. When the sugar has melted, add this to the semolina and almonds, and return to the heat. Reduce to the lowest possible heat and cover the pan tightly. Cook over this minimum heat for about 30 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed.
Press the halva into a large decorated mold, or into individual small ones. Before serving, unmold and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Makes 4-6 servings


Cookbook of the Jews of Greece
By Nicholas Stavroulakis
Lycabettus Press, 1986