Friday, August 7, 2020

Vegan Sephardic Shabbat Dinner





Tonight is Shabbat (our Sabbath begins) and I made a Jewish vegan dinner "Sephardic" Style. Our dinner may remind you of Greek or Arabic cooking and that is because my husband and his family came to the US from Egypt in August of 1966. The food that I cooked for tonight's dinner are recipes that I learned from my Middle Eastern mother-in law. Recipes included at the end of the post.





Why Did My Husband Leave Egypt?


In 1966 tension grew between Israel and its bordering countries: Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. As this tension grew and war was imminent, life in Egypt (and Syria, Jordan, Libya, Iran, Iraq, and Ethiopia) became very difficult for the hundreds of thousands of Jewish residents who were born and lived in these Arab ruled countries.

My husband was sixteen years old at the time; he was the oldest of five children. As tension grew, mobs roamed the streets shouting "death to the Jews". Like in Nazi Germany, (except this was the late 1960's), Jewish homes were attacked, Jewish businesses were nationalized by the government, bank accounts frozen and unattainable, and innocent Jewish men were being hung in the town square as spies. The Jews knew they had to leave their homes, their synagogues, their possessions, and flee for their lives. 

At sixteen, my husband was beat up on his way home from school numerous times by fellow classmates for being Jewish, his father's International children's clothing store was taken by the government, and every day in the street mobs of incited people were become more threatening and dangerous. Although my husband's family had had a nice life for many many generations in Egypt, life was no longer good or safe for the Jews in Arab lands, and if they were lucky, there were able to flee.

Where did he go? 
Since 1948, just as the Arab families fled their homes and their lives from Israel, equally as many Jews had been fleeing their homes and their lives in Arab countries. In 1966 prior to the declaration of war with Israel, My husband with his four younger siblings, ranging in ages from 1 year to 15 years, and his parents, prepared to leave. Quietly, kind of like the story from The Sound of Music, they simply disappeared on a ship out of Port Said going to France. There they had relatives who helped welcome the new stateless refugees.

Go and "Never to Return"
Although they were not allowed to take their money, jewelry, or anything of monetary value out of the country, they were permitted to go!! They brought with them clothing, family photos,  
However, their passport was stamped, "never to return" - 

It was a bittersweet time. On one hand, Egypt was the only country they ever knew- they spoke Arabic, cooked Middle Eastern food, listened to Arabic music, enjoyed the beautiful beaches, the modern city of Cairo (at the time) that was home to many a variety of ethnic groups such as Armenians, Greeks, Italians, Jews, and Coptic Christians who all lived together enjoying prosperous businesses, country clubs, and extensive social lives.


1957 at the beach in Ras El Bar in  Egypt 
On the other hand, Cairo was changing and there was no tolerance for anyone who wasn't muslim, especially Jews. Slowly they all started to flee the country. The Jewish men and older boys who did not escape prior to the war were arrested and imprisoned for many years until finally outside help was able to negotiate their freedom at quite a large financial cost. This money was raised by relatives and other Jewish sympathizers. 

In Egypt, my husband had attended a French Catholic school partly because it was a stellar education and partly because it was not safe for Jews to attend public schools where "hatred of the Jewish infidel" was taught as part of the daily curriculum.

This is a tourist boat that takes families down the Nile- The boat was called "Sudan" ... Families would get off and have picnics and then sail back down the Nile.
When did he come to the US?
I met my husband in 1970. He had arrived to New Jersey after first living in France for less than 1 year. His father had a brother in New Jersey who helped them financially settle in the area as well as a refugee organization called "Hias". In those days, government assistance was not an option nor available to refugees.


My Husband's Middle School Photo 1958
The name of the school was "College de la Salle"
It was not a college of course but a middle school ..

"Strangers in a Strange New Land"
Initially life was very hard for them in the USA. They didn't speak the language, they were a big family, and felt isolated, poor, and misplaced. However, they were determined to regain their dignity despite being stripped of everything they owned as well as their self respect.



5 years living in US- 

They arrived with very little and both parents worked 2 jobs. My husband age 18 (finishing his senior year of high school) and his brother age 14 were expected to find work on weekends and after school to help out just to put food on the table. My husband and his brother will tell you that they know first hand what it was to go without food and be very hungry. 

His family never took a penny of government assistance and today 55 years later, all five children not only learned English, but worked to put themselves through college. They now have professional jobs, and good lives. 

My mother-in-law (who is still alive) always said, " they can take away your money and belongings, but they can't take away your education."She felt that with an education, you can always start over again.  She instilled that no matter how hard they had to work to go to school at night and do without, it was the most important thing they had to do- She is now 95 and in fairly good physical and mental health.

Always Look Ahead 
Although what happened to them was unjust, they knew they could never look back and only look ahead to build a new life. They do still daydream and talk about their wonderful lives in Egypt before they had to flee.

They brought their recipes: 
Some of their greatest cherished memories is the delicious food that they ate in Egypt, the wonderful Arabic music that they enjoyed, the beach front summers that they spent at Alexandria and Rus El  Bar, and the beautiful Sephardic synagogue where they socialized and prayed. 


We Met in New Jersey
I was only 21 ( he was 23) when we married in 1972.  He was in the USA three years at the time. His mother taught me how to make many of her treasured recipes for stuffed vegetables (mach-shi) such as stuffed peppers, stuffed grape leaves, stuffed eggplant, and stuffed onions. She also taught me about lentils and making a simple, but delicious red lentil soup. She made hummus from scratch, and a wonderful lentil dish called, ma-ga-dara (also called ma-jeed-era) which is made using brown lentils, caramelized onions, and rice.

Although they did eat chicken and meat, once they came to the US, money was so scarce, my mother- in- law cooked as frugally as she could to stretch a dollar to feed a large family of seven. Many of her recipes revolved around brown lentils, chickpeas, rice, potatoes and all kinds of vegetables, sometimes stuffed with rice and occasionally meat.  Once a week on the Sabbath eve they ate chicken.




Tonight for our Sabbath eve meal, I decided to make some of the recipes that my mother in law taught me over 40 years ago. They may be frugal but they are vegan, naturally gluten free, and delicious!

Links to the recipes: 

Egyptian Red Lentil Soup


Stuffed Peppers or tomatoes (Fil Fil Mach-shi)


Stuffed Eggplant- Recipe for next week


Rice with whole cumin seed


Mehalabeya ( Exotic yet easy corn starch pudding seasoned with rose water)


Homemade Family Hummus




This post was shared on Weekend Cooking at the Intrepid Reader where anyone can share a food related post.




39 comments:

  1. That looks like a really tasty meal...I am not a vegan, I guess I will never be, but it doesn't stop me from appreciating delicious meatless treats once in a while. I love esp. that lentil soup. Thank you for sharing them and the family story.
    Have a great weekend, Judee.

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    1. I think everyone can enjoy meatless meals or meatless sides with their meals. Some of the food is so tasty!

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  2. I really enjoyed reading your husband's story. There were many trials along the way but they have made a good life in their chosen home.

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    1. Thank you Marg- It was a long journey but my mother in law was a woman of strong faith and she used it to give her the strength to get 5 children to safety. Thank you for hosting Weekend Cooking each week!

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  3. i led a group of seniors here called Memory Keepers. We were recording what we know of the previous generations. You and your husband are fortunate you have knowledge of the lives in the ancestral land. Many people lose the knowledge and stories as the years go by. Such a rich heritage to be proud of!

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    1. Marie,
      That is another reason that we are recording it. My blog is a perfect place. Thanks for your comments. That is such a great idea for your group, Memory Keepers to record what they know about previous generations.

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  4. Thank you for sharing this family memoir, Judee. I have read the history of the Egyptian Jewish community (more than 2500 years of it!) and it was wonderful to learn about your own story, and how you remember it through food as well as experiences.

    be well... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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    1. Yes, when we read the story of leaving Egypt at Passover, My husband can relate. I guess it is a long history with Egypt!

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  5. When I first opened your post and saw the eggplant I was going to tell you how much I love any eggplant dish. But your husband's story blew me away. Thank you for sharing that story, what a piece of history which should be remembered by future generations of your family.
    And, I love the eggplant :-)

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    1. Yes, It felt good to write the story along with the recipes.

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  6. Wow what a story; reflective of so many Jewish families around the world and through history. Thanks for sharing this and the delicious food.

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    1. Yes, I feel that the story of Arabs who fled Israel is well known because they share their story. I feel that the story of the many hundreds of thousands of indigenous Jews who lived in Arab lands prior 1948 who were forced to flee their homes, also needs to be heard.

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  7. A beautiful story as well as gorgeous food.

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    1. Thank you Mystica. I appreciate your feedback and visiting my blog.

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  8. The spread looks wonderful. So satiating. Loved reading your story about your husband and their family coming to U.S. Judee, a large number of people in India too eat lentils, vegetables and potatoes but I never though they live frugal life. It's a lifestyle.
    Have a great weekend!

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    1. Being vegan, I eat a lot of lentils, vegetables, and potatoes and I enjoy them. I think they just happen to also be frugal as well. Balvinder, I'll be making your beet crisps today as I just got my air fryer. It was a great post , thanks.

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  9. Thank you for sharing this immigrant story. I am an immigrant too, but had a much easier time than your husband. It looks like you and I are about the same age.
    My parents had it hard when they came to Canada, but at least they spoke English so they didn't have that hardship to deal with. Although they settled in Montreal and had French to deal with.
    It was only after I grew up I realized how tight money was for them.

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    1. Yes, many people must deal with being immigrants and it is wonderful to see how they still are able to thrive.

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  10. Your shabbat dinner sounds similar to some halal meals I have had. In fact I shared an experience about Morocco with a customer that made me remember some old friends and I'll try and seek them out soon.

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  11. Oh Judee, thank you so much for sharing the story of your husband...very touching and inspiring.
    Have a great week ahead!

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    1. Juliana,
      Thank you for your kind words. Someone commented that it was a sad story with a happy ending. He has a good life now.

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  12. Thank you so much for sharing your husband's courageous story! I love hearing stories of tragedy turned to triumph!

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  13. A wonderful inspiring story. It both saddens and angers me as a baby boomer to see so much anti semitism in the world. Even in our country from so called " leading politicians".

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    1. Phil,
      The hatred scares me- hopefully it is just a minority of people who still find justification in blatently hating.

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  14. Recipes that come to you through your family are always so wonderful.

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  15. Thank you for sharing your husband's story and these recipes. It feels like I've gotten to know you better, Blog Friend!
    Thanks for sharing at http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2020/08/play-time.html

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  16. It is a sad story but with a happy ending. I am not a vegan but I do enjoy vegan food.

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  17. Beautiful old photos and a touching story

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  18. Enjoyed seeing your visit to Peabea Scribbles and leaving a comment so that I could come visit your blog. Enjoyed reading your story, and happiness that it worked out for them, and you. How great to have her recipes. Looks like healthy cooking. Have a great rest of the week and weekend.

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    1. Thanks for coming by. I enjoyed your blog. I do appreciate having the family recipes.

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  19. Judee
    What a fabulous post.Your sabbath dinner sounds an offering in itself. Intrigued by the journey of your husband and the bond that you and your mother-in-law shares. True,we need to record our journey for our future generations to thrive,they need to know where they come from in order to accept diversity and bridge the cultural differences. I'm so happy to learn that your family put together what they had and have made the best of what they could and have.Thanks for sharing the story and for sharing those recipes.

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    1. Thank you. Yes, it is a story with a happy ending, thank goodness. I do love the Middle Eastern cooking. The flavors are amazing and I like to keep up the traditions!

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  20. Really interesting post. What a great read! Your husband (and you!) have gone through a lot. Anyway, really nice pictures and, of course, recipe. Thanks.

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    1. Thank you very much. Yes, my husband went through a lot but it is all behind his memories.

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  21. what an incredibly difficult time your husband's family went through. and they came up trumps which is wonderful. thanks for sharing the story. the meal sounds delicious.

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    1. Thank you Sherry. It is very touching that so many people have taken the time to comment. Much appreciated

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  22. Judee, thank you for sharing your husband's family's amazing journey, and those wonderful family recipes. I am always inspired by people who not only survive after great difficulty, but thrive as they have.I’m featuring this post at the Hearth and Soul link party this week. Hope to ‘see’ you there! Take care, stay well, and I wish you a wonderful week!

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  23. What a bittersweet story of your husband's journey of strength and determination, Judee. People can be so cruel. Even here. I'm happy that your husband has found happiness, especially because of meeting and marrying you. Thank you for sharing your family's cherished recipes. Peace to us all.

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    1. Roz,
      Thank you for your kind words. I can't wait to make the fresh peach Bellini you posted this week!

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