Who is Stella? A remarkable woman from across the world who recently published the most stunning coffee table cookbook with tasty recipes and fascinating stories titled, Stella’s Sephardic Table. I asked Stella a few questions to help you understand what kind of book this is and she eagerly shared a few of her favorite recipes with us too.
I was fascinated by your rich history that you shared in the book, can you give our readers a quick little teaser of where you come from and why you wrote this book?
I grew up in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, a world away from Rhodes Island, Greece and Turkey – the birthplaces of my parents. From an early age I was immersed and deeply drawn to the soulful cuisine and enduring culture of the Jews of Rhodes – the Rhodeslis.
I was further inspired by the tales of my great grandfather, Yaacov Capouya, a Rabbi of Rhodes. Watching my mother cook I became fascinated by her Ottoman Sephardic prowess. I was also prompted by the successful multiple reprints of a concise cookbook I co-authored - “Sephardi Cuisine”, published by our Community in Zimbabwe.
In the 1980s my children Claude and Monique Levy left Zimbabwe to further their studies in the US, where they still live and are blessed with children. On my frequent visits they urged me to document and update our Rhodesli family recipes more fully and include our customs that are slowly vanishing.
My intention in writing this book was to dedicate it as a tribute to the Jewish women of Rhodes who were exterminated by the Nazi genocide in 1944.
When did you first learn to cook?
Ironically it was only as a newlywed that I frantically learned to cook. Until then I had been pursuing a career in economics!
What is your earliest cooking memory?
My earliest cooking memory was as a young child, sharing mealtimes with three generations of extended family and often friends. As my sister and I entered our house back from school, enticing aromas of our Ottoman Sephardic cuisine permeated with smells of a simmering lentil stew or fragrant cumin from sizzling kebabs being char grilled. The heady scent of rosewater wafting from a sublime rice pudding bubbling on the stove would also often greet us. These familiar smells could have been from the kitchen of my ancestors from the old city of Rhodes. It was however, that of my home set in tropical Africa.
What is your favorite recipe? Will you share it with us?
It is impossible to have one favourite recipe from such a culinary wealth that dates back from Medieval Spain and that of the Levant. A family favourite, loved by my 86-year old mother right down to her great grandchildren, is meatballs poached in a fresh tomato sauce. This makes a wonderful dish for a casual family gathering, served with a Spanish fried rice pilaf and a green salad.
What do you feel is the most important recipe for it’s historical significance? Will you share it?
From a historical significance the scrumptious array of savoury pastries that hark back to Medieval Spain showcase an important section of our home cooking. In particular are the crispy turnovers, called bourekas. These enticing pies are made with a cheese pastry encasing a variety of delectable vegetable fillings evolved from the empanadas of the Spanish Moors. In the 15th Century the Jewish Iberian exiles blended this pie with the Turkish borek to create the popular and acclaimed bourekas, now found throughout the Middle East and Israel. Of all the savoury pie
making they are the quickest and easiest to prepare.
For someone new to Sephardic cooking, what is a good dish to start with?
The pea stew, eggs poached with tomatoes, or fried marinated fish may be good Sephardic dishes to begin with.
Here is a recipe of pan fried fish fillets marinated in a lemon, garlic and fresh herb sauce which is an easy dish that can be made hours or even a day ahead. Chill in the fridge to allow the flavours to meld and return to room temperature before serving. I like to prepare this on a Friday ready to be served for the Saturday Sabbath lunch with a potato salad.
Thank you so much to Stella for sharing this amazing story and cookbook with all of us. I know we will all enjoy this sampling of recipes, but to really get the full experience, I recommend buying the book -Stella's Sephardic Table.