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Shared by Esther Serruya Weyl

130 Years in, a Brazilian Community’s Shabbat Recipes Live On

130 Years in, a Brazilian Community’s Shabbat Recipes Live On

Family Journey

SpainMoroccoBelem, Brazil
Montevideo, Uruguay and New York City
5 recipes
Roasted Pepper Salad

Roasted Pepper Salad

6 servings30 min

Ingredients

  • 3 red peppers
  • 2 yellow peppers
  • 1 green pepper
  • ½ onion, thinly sliced
  • ½  cup olive oil + 1 tablespoon
  • 1 spoon white vinegar 
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cumin 
  • ¼ bunch cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Fumaça (Roasted Eggplant Dip)

Fumaça (Roasted Eggplant Dip)

4 to 6 servings30 min

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg yolk 
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar 
  • 4 sprigs cilantro, roughly chopped
  • ½ teaspoon olive oil
Cojada (Potato Casserole)

Cojada (Potato Casserole)

4 to 6 servings1 h 30 min

Ingredients

  • 3 large russet potatoes 
  • 7 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided 
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped 
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin 
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Almoronía (Baked Chicken and Eggplant)

Almoronía (Baked Chicken and Eggplant)

4 servings1 h 30 min

Ingredients

  • 1 pound chicken thighs, skin-on bone-in
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 large eggplant, cut into ¼ inch slices crosswise
  • ⅓ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • ¼  cup honey
  • ¼  teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼  teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Dafina (Slow-Cooked Stew With Brisket, Potatoes, and Dumplings)

Dafina (Slow-Cooked Stew With Brisket, Potatoes, and Dumplings)

4 to 6 servings1 h active + 16 to 24 h inactive

Ingredients

For the beef bone and brisket marinade

  • 2 beef bones with marrow, 3 inches long each
  • 1 ½ pounds brisket or stew meat, cut into 2 inch cubes
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt

For the Café de Massa (Dumplings)

  • 1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup water 
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

For the Dafina stew

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Marinated beef bones and brisket
  • 2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½  teaspoon granulated sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 4 to 6 eggs
Recipes
1
Roasted Pepper Salad

Roasted Pepper Salad

6 servings30 min

Ingredients

  • 3 red peppers
  • 2 yellow peppers
  • 1 green pepper
  • ½ onion, thinly sliced
  • ½  cup olive oil + 1 tablespoon
  • 1 spoon white vinegar 
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cumin 
  • ¼ bunch cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
2
Fumaça (Roasted Eggplant Dip)

Fumaça (Roasted Eggplant Dip)

4 to 6 servings30 min

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg yolk 
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar 
  • 4 sprigs cilantro, roughly chopped
  • ½ teaspoon olive oil
3
Cojada (Potato Casserole)

Cojada (Potato Casserole)

4 to 6 servings1 h 30 min

Ingredients

  • 3 large russet potatoes 
  • 7 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided 
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped 
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin 
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
4
Almoronía (Baked Chicken and Eggplant)

Almoronía (Baked Chicken and Eggplant)

4 servings1 h 30 min

Ingredients

  • 1 pound chicken thighs, skin-on bone-in
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 large eggplant, cut into ¼ inch slices crosswise
  • ⅓ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • ¼  cup honey
  • ¼  teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼  teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
5
Dafina (Slow-Cooked Stew With Brisket, Potatoes, and Dumplings)

Dafina (Slow-Cooked Stew With Brisket, Potatoes, and Dumplings)

4 to 6 servings1 h active + 16 to 24 h inactive

Ingredients

For the beef bone and brisket marinade

  • 2 beef bones with marrow, 3 inches long each
  • 1 ½ pounds brisket or stew meat, cut into 2 inch cubes
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt

For the Café de Massa (Dumplings)

  • 1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup water 
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

For the Dafina stew

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Marinated beef bones and brisket
  • 2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½  teaspoon granulated sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 4 to 6 eggs

When Esther Serruya Weyl was little, Shabbat afternoons in the city of Belem, in the north of Brazil along the Atlantic coast, were spent at synagogue and then around tables where families celebrated over pots of dafina, a slow-cooked Shabbat stew or feijoada, a staple of Brazilian cooking made with stewed beans and meat. Esther, who is now an extern at the prestigious Hudson Valley restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns, recalls those Saturdays warmly. “We would stay [at the synagogue] because someone would always offer a big lunch for the community,” she says. They would set up tables wherever there was space for the feast and everyone was welcome. 

“After eating all that lunch, we would still go to our families’ homes,” Esther adds. ”Mostly everyone would go to their grandmother’s house or mom’s house and there would be a very very big [second] lunch.” Her grandmother, who was also named Esther, would make a whole fish with coconut milk, a recipe that was her own invention. When it was too large to fit in the oven, she would take it to the baker and have it cooked there. After the fish course, she would serve meatballs, or albondigas. There were also Shabbats when dafina or couscous was at the center of the celebration and weeks when her grandmother made amoronia, a layered dish of chicken, onions, and eggplant spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon and sweetened with a touch of honey. After the meal, Esther’s family would spend the entire afternoon together at her grandmother’s home, until sunset and the end of Shabbat arrived. 

Her family is part of a Jewish community that’s lived in this region of Brazil since the 1890s, but traces their roots to Morocco and to Spain before that. “I don't know who was first or why,” Esther says about the relocation to Brazil. Some came seeking opportunities in the area’s rubber industry. Approximately 300 Jewish families, she says, came to north Brazil to build a new life across the Atlantic. 

Today there’s a rabbi and more than one synagogue. But at the start, these Jewish families strove to maintain their traditions, keeping kosher law to the extent they could without a rabbi or a shochet, someone who performs the kosher slaughter of animals. Shabbat always remained sacred. In Esther’s community, four blessings are recited over dishes on the Shabbat table, sometimes over salads, other times, over fish, vegetables that grow in the ground, an olive, and another over a cracker. 

And, cooks like her maternal grandmother kept traditions from Morocco alive in the kitchen, regularly preparing dafina, a smoky eggplant dip the community calls fumaça, roasted pepper salad, and cojada, a potato casserole — a recipe that appears in a notebook she kept. Esther remembers sitting on her grandmother’s lap as she would cook, but never helping with the cooking when she was little. It was only after her grandmother passed away that she started to explore her recipes. 

In 2017, Esther tracked down a woman named Sandra who had cooked for her grandmother when she was older and asked her to teach her the family recipes she remembered. Even 20 years later, Esther explains, Sandra remembered the recipes clearly. 

Esther invited her entire family over for a meal of her grandmother’s recipes. “My mom told me that for ages she hadn’t seen everyone reconnect in a shabbat lunch like that. Since my grandma died… we don’t eat lunch together anymore,” Esther explains. That meal was an exception and “It was really really beautiful.” 

Esther's Shabbat spread including dafina, cojada and roasted pepper salad.
Esther's Shabbat spread including dafina, cojada and roasted pepper salad.
Shaar Hashamaim Synagogue in Belem, Brazil, founded in the late 19th century.
Shaar Hashamaim Synagogue in Belem, Brazil, founded in the late 19th century.