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Shared by Victoria Granof

The 500-Year-Old Sephardic Recipes That Brought a Network of Cousins Together

Shared by Victoria Granof

Victoria’s “nonie,” Victoria Rachel, serving a spread of Sephardic recipes at her home in West Hollywood, California in the 1980s.
Victoria’s “nonie,” Victoria Rachel, serving a spread of Sephardic recipes at her home in West Hollywood, California in the 1980s.

The 500-Year-Old Sephardic Recipes That Brought a Network of Cousins Together

Family Journey

Spanish Empire (present-day southern Italy)Çanakkale, TurkeyChicago
Los AngelesNew York City
5 recipes
Beef-Filled Bourekas

Beef-Filled Bourekas

About 40 borekas1 h active + 8 h inactive

Ingredients

For the masa (dough)

  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 5 cups all purpose flour 

For the beef filling

  • 1 pound ground chuck beef
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon matzo meal or breadcrumbs
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 uncooked egg

For egg wash

  • 2 eggs
Keftes (Leek and Beef Patties)

Keftes (Leek and Beef Patties)

4-6 portions2 h

Ingredients

  • 4 leeks, trimmed, halved lengthwise then crosswise, and rinsed of all sand
  • 1 pound ground chuck beef
  • ½ cup matzo meal or breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

To finish

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup matzo cake meal or flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup canned tomato puree
Stewed String Beans With Tomatoes

Stewed String Beans With Tomatoes

4-6 servings1 h

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh string beans, trimmed and cut in half crosswise if they’re very long
  • ½ cup canned tomato puree
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup water

For garnish (optional)

  • 1 lemon
  • Ground aleppo pepper
  • ¼ bunch of fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Spinach Fritada

Spinach Fritada

4-6 servings1 h

Ingredients

  • 1 pound/ 12 cups tightly packed raw spinach, roughly chopped
  • 7 eggs, beaten
  • ¼ cup matzo meal or breadcrumbs
  • 2 cups grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 ½  teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Sour cream or yogurt for serving
Travados de Muez (Sweet Walnut-Filled Bourekas)

Travados de Muez (Sweet Walnut-Filled Bourekas)

About 50 travados1 h and 30 min + resting, baking and cooling time

Ingredients

For the dough

  • 2 cups Mazola corn oil
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 7-8 cups all purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda 

For the filling

  • 3 cups raw walnuts, finely chopped
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ -1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 eggs, beaten (reserve a tablespoon for assembly) 

For the syrup

  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup honey
  • ¾ cup water
  • Juice of ¼ lemon 
Recipes
1
Beef-Filled Bourekas

Beef-Filled Bourekas

About 40 borekas1 h active + 8 h inactive

Ingredients

For the masa (dough)

  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 5 cups all purpose flour 

For the beef filling

  • 1 pound ground chuck beef
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon matzo meal or breadcrumbs
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 uncooked egg

For egg wash

  • 2 eggs
2
Keftes (Leek and Beef Patties)

Keftes (Leek and Beef Patties)

4-6 portions2 h

Ingredients

  • 4 leeks, trimmed, halved lengthwise then crosswise, and rinsed of all sand
  • 1 pound ground chuck beef
  • ½ cup matzo meal or breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

To finish

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup matzo cake meal or flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup canned tomato puree
3
Stewed String Beans With Tomatoes

Stewed String Beans With Tomatoes

4-6 servings1 h

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh string beans, trimmed and cut in half crosswise if they’re very long
  • ½ cup canned tomato puree
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup water

For garnish (optional)

  • 1 lemon
  • Ground aleppo pepper
  • ¼ bunch of fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
4
Spinach Fritada

Spinach Fritada

4-6 servings1 h

Ingredients

  • 1 pound/ 12 cups tightly packed raw spinach, roughly chopped
  • 7 eggs, beaten
  • ¼ cup matzo meal or breadcrumbs
  • 2 cups grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 ½  teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Sour cream or yogurt for serving
5
Travados de Muez (Sweet Walnut-Filled Bourekas)

Travados de Muez (Sweet Walnut-Filled Bourekas)

About 50 travados1 h and 30 min + resting, baking and cooling time

Ingredients

For the dough

  • 2 cups Mazola corn oil
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 7-8 cups all purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda 

For the filling

  • 3 cups raw walnuts, finely chopped
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ -1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 eggs, beaten (reserve a tablespoon for assembly) 

For the syrup

  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup honey
  • ¾ cup water
  • Juice of ¼ lemon 

Food stylist Victoria Granof remembers cousins from a vast family network in France, Venezuela, Peru, and the U.S. appearing at her dinner table in Los Angeles when she was little. The visiting relatives, “were always modified by their parent’s names,” she explains, like aunt Regina’s Albert and aunt Alegra’s Albert.

In her family, newborns are named for the living — a tradition common in some Sephardic communities — meaning many relatives share their names. Her great-great-grandmother was Victoria Sarah, while her great-grandmother was Rachel Victoria, her grandmother Victoria Rachel, her mother Leah Victoria, and she is Victoria Leah. “It’s really complicated,” she concedes. 

It wasn’t just names that were shared across this family tree, it was recipes, some from southern Italy when it was under Spanish control, and others from Turkey where her family lived for generations. 

Victoria remembers a particular dinner when her cousin Arlet came to visit from Paris. Victoria’s mother made an elegant, mid-century American meal, while her grandmother, who she called nonie, brought a second dinner of Sephardic recipes in Corningware over to the house — much to the embarrassment of Victoria’s mother who thought it wasn’t sophisticated fare. 

The Sephardic food was left in the kitchen, at first, and “There was kind of a disconnect there until that food came out,” Victoria explains. When it was served, it was clear that everyone at the table was family, she adds. It sparked memories that Arlet shared of other relatives making the same recipes and the days after World War II when they replaced expensive walnuts in sweets called travados de muez with more economical breadcrumbs. 

Victoria didn’t always speak the same language as the relatives who visited, she says, but they felt united by the food.

“We ate, that’s how we communicated.” 

The recipes like those for spinach fritada and meat-filled bourekas were nearly “unchanged for 500 years,” she says. They’re “almost exactly unchanged to what you would get in Spain or Portugal today.” Though, she adds, the name changed from empanadas to bourekas when the family, like many Sephardic Jews, moved to the Ottoman Empire. Others likely joined the family repertoire in Turkey like stuffed grape leaves called yaprak and leek and beef patties called keftes. 

Victoria learned to make them from her grandmother growing up and when she lived a block away from her in her 20s. Determined to pass them on to the next generation, Victoria started to write a cookbook for her nieces after her grandmother passed away. As she made the recipes, though, some didn’t taste the way she remembered them. She called her uncle and asked what she was doing wrong. He asked about her ingredients. She had replaced fatty meat from the supermarket with grass-fed beef, and sourced the best vegetables she could find. That was the problem, he said. It’s not how Victoria’s grandmother cooked. 

“It never occurred to me that better isn’t better,” she says. Some things simply aren't meant to be changed. 

Photo by Armando Rafael Photography and Food Styling by Victoria Granof.