Spending time with Safta by making her food, and an Israeli Potato Salad recipe (no mayo)
My grandmother lives on through her culinary legacy
This week I had a chance to make a big batch of my Israeli grandmother’s famous cookies
From my childhood view, my Safta Carmella lived in the kitchen. After my parents split up, my dad brought me to his Israeli homeland every summer. It was steeped in culinary culture and so different from my life in New York City. It involved mornings in the hot yet airy, 60’s printed kitchen, helping my grandmother prepare lunch (a combination of four to five rotating salads, warm pita, “hoomoos,” pickles and olives). Eggplant in various preparations, string beans, okra, potatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, carrots, fruits, LOTS of tomatoes, all found their way into the dishes, some were cooked, and most were served cold. After lunch, the side kitchen door flew open, giving way to a small garden and laundry lines, so that she could feed scraps in deli containers to the scraggly neighborhood cats (they scared me.) After time at the beach, my dad and I would come home to another feast of salads, usually accompanied by eggs, mujadera, lentil soup or my favorite, chicken schnitzel.
Preparing her food this week (I also just made a batch of her adored potato salad – olive oil, lemon and pickles – the Israeli way) I nostalgically reconnected with her.
The famous cookies.
When guests would come, Safta would offer her cookies with tea. These were strategically always at the ready. She would carefully remove a partially prepared loaf from the freezer, unwrap and finish up her mother Dina’s prized recipe. They were always a hit. My dad’s cousin later went on to market them as “Almondina,” what’s now a big business run by my cousin (the “Dina” in there representing my great-grandmother).
Hearing about an Illuminoshi Israeli dinner, I knew I had to make her cookies. Spending hours in my small apartment kitchen practicing her signature dish was like spending hours with her. I heard her saying “careful, don’t let them burn!” and I felt the warmth of pride as I pulled the golden crisps out of the oven and packed them up in little baggies to share.
I wanted to post the recipe here, but as I am sworn to family secrecy, I can’t. This one comes pretty close though if you want to give it a try!
My hope is that people act on opportunities to connect to their ancestry through food. Our history, the good, the bad, and the ugly, can be incredibly empowering and our ancestry can serve as a source of inborn strength. Food holds some of the great culture baring traditions and preparing the food of our family – and eating it – fills us with their support.
Her Israeli Potato Salad is dang good too!
To make it, you need:
-a few (4-6) small potatoes (medium red, Yukon gold or Kennebec potatoes are great but really any potatoes will work)
-a couple of eggs (2 is good), hardboiled (more than 8 minutes cooking time) and peeled
-some olive oil (about a tablespoon and a half)
-1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
-half a lemon
-some sliced pickles (if you don’t have any, put some sliced cucumbers in a white vinegar, salt and water mixture for a few hours or overnight – do whatever amount taste good to you, I like to have some in each bite)
-fresh herbs are nice if you have them (parsley and dill a traditional, but rosemary, tarragon or basil can be tasty too!)
Wash the potatoes,
Cut them into approximately 1 inch pieces,
Boil them in salted water until tender,
Run them under cold water,
Toss them with a generous amount of olive oil, salt, and lemon juice,
Mix in the pickles,
Chop up the eggs and mix those in too.
Taste it! Does it need oil? Salt? Lemon? Adjust it!
This salad tastes even better after sitting for a bit. Just taste again to see if it needs anything.