Rosh Hashanah Recipes: Moroccan Fish, Apple Cake

Bay Area chef shares favorite Israeli-Moroccan dishes.

Chef Daniella Bensimon. (Courtesy)

Food brings people and stories together. As a chef, I often incorporate the stories of my heritage in my cooking.

I grew up speaking Ladino in the Greek and Turkish Sephardic Jewish community in Seattle, WA. I learned to cook primarily from watching my mom. She taught me how to make bourekas, a Sephardic delicacy similar to an empanada.

In my family, the High Holy Days are a time of celebration and togetherness. My mom, brother and I always craft a special menu for our family gatherings. Every year, instead of the traditional Israeli honey cake for dessert at Rosh Hashanah, we would make tipsy apple cake. The recipe comes from Israel and has the addition of brandy and spices.

My Aunt Mathilde Ben Amara is the oldest daughter out of nine children. She was supposedly very “wild,” and my grandfather Jacob decided to marry her off young. She made aliyah from Morocco with her husband and had five children. She is known as the best chef in our family.

I remember my Aunt Mathilde teaching my mom and me how to make Moroccan fish. I’d had Moroccan fish before, but nothing compared to the way my aunt Mathilde makes it. She tells me my Moroccan fish is authentic, and that makes me very proud. She always adds a bit more garlic at the end and steams it with the fish. Every time I make Moroccan fish I feel a connection to her, my father and our Moroccan-Israeli Sephardic heritage.

As I’ve developed more as a chef, I’ve done many iterations of Moroccan fish and apple cake, but my favorite recipes are the ones we made as a family. While I’m disappointed that COVID has kept me from being with my family for Pesach and is stretching into the High Holy Days, I’m warmed by the opportunity to offer Rosh Hashanah catering for local Bay Area families and individuals.

Below are two of my favorite Israeli-Moroccan Rosh Hashanah recipes. Enjoy!

Moroccan Fish

(Courtesy of Bensimon)

Ingredients

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
8 garlic cloves, divided (4 minced cloves and 4 sliced)
1 red bell pepper, cored, sliced
1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Large handful fresh cilantro (about 1 cup fresh cilantro)
1 1/2 lb salmon fillet pieces (about 1/2 inch in thickness)
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 lemon, sliced into thin rounds

Directions

    1. Sauté garlic, chickpeas & bell pepper in a sauté pan with olive oil.
    2. Add spices, lemon and cilantro.
    3. Cook sauce for 5 minutes.
    4. Remove sauce from the pan and put in a bowl.
    5. Sear salmon fillets in the same pan.
    6. Add sauce to the fish and simmer for 10 minutes or so.
    7. Serve with lemon wedges and fresh cilantro.

Israeli Apple Cake

(Courtesy of Bensimon)

Ingredients

5 apples, cored and chopped into 1in pieces, no need to peel the apple
6 tablespoons brandy (whiskey, rum or bourbon can be used as substitutions)
2 cups sugar (1.5 cups for a less sweet cake)
1/2 cup avocado oil (olive or grape seed oil are great substitutions)
2 eggs
2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon salt

Directions

      1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
      2. Chop apples and set aside.
      3. Mix brandy, sugar, eggs and oil together in one bowl.
      4. In a separate bowl mix the dry ingredients including flour, baking soda, spices and salt.
      5. Add both together and mix until you have a smooth batter.
      6. Fold in apples.
      7. Add to a greased 9×9 pan and bake in the oven for 1 hour. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Chef Daniella Bensimon was born in Israel and emigrated to Seattle, WA as a baby. Her culinary tastes have been inspired by a variety of influences, including her rich Moroccan-Jewish heritage, Seattle’s Greek & Turkish traditional Sephardic community, Seattle’s world-famous Pike Place Market, the shuk (open-air market) in Jerusalem, and local California cuisine. Bensimon is offering Rosh Hashanah catering in the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit her website for details.

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