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Savor Blends Sephardic Food, Music and Recipes

Ladino singer/songwriter Sarah Aroeste and chef/teacher Susan Barocas have teamed up for a unique project designed to keep Sephardic traditions alive. 
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April 20, 2023
Ropa Vieja (cred: Genie Milgrom)

Ladino singer/songwriter Sarah Aroeste and chef/teacher Susan Barocas have teamed up for a unique project designed to keep Sephardic traditions alive.

“’Savor’ is a multisensory conversation between Sephardic music, food and history,” Aroeste told the Journal.

A combination of album and cookbook, “Savor” showcases the lives of Sephardic women through the food they cooked and traditions they sustained for hundreds of years. 

A combination of album and cookbook, “Savor” showcases the lives of Sephardic women through the food they cooked and traditions they sustained for hundreds of years. Each track is paired with a dish, along with a how-to video, prepared and presented by a female chef who emphasizes Sephardic culture.

“At its core, there are 10 songs that have been curated in the Ladino language that focus on very specific and beloved Sephardic food items,” Aroeste said.

Organized by appetizer, main dish and dessert, there’s something for everyone in the “Savor” experience.

Aroeste and Barocas started working on this project in early 2022, but they met pre-COVID at a Shabbat dinner party. 

“We connected for many reasons, but primary among them was that we both have grandparents — Susan’s grandmother and my grandfather — from the same small town in the Balkans that was destroyed during World War II,” Aroeste said. “That immediately bound us together.”

Susan Barocas (cred: Bonnie Benwick)

Barocas said they also both share a deep connection to their Sephardic heritage, along with a drive to share it.

“We’re both kind of missionaries in a way when it comes to Sephardic culture, history, food and music,” Barocas told the Journal. “We just really want to share this, preserve it and pass it on.”

During the pandemic, musician Aroeste started developing the Zoom series “Cook & Sing,” where she would cook Sephardic recipes while singing Ladino songs. For instance, if she was making almond cookies for Passover, she could draw from a variety of Ladino songs about almonds and almond trees.

At the end of the second year of the pandemic, Aroeste had an entire repertoire of songs about Ladino food and decided to make an album. As she put it together, she realized it could be so much more with it, so she reached out to chef Barocas.

They really explored the potential for this project together. “It was a wonderful creative process,” Barocas said. Each song on the “Savor” album relates to a specific food, such as grape leaves, chicken soup and eggplant, and is paired with a recipe from a female, Sephardic-leaning chef. These chefs, including the Journal’s Sephardic Spice Girls, created cooking videos that also explain the history of the dish.

Sarah Aroeste (cred: Aleksandar Georgiev)

“The songs are not just songs,” Aroeste said. “They are stories that give a glimpse into Sephardic Ottoman life and what it was like in particular for Sephardic women who were the culture bearers of the songs.” 

For instance “Ke Komiash Duenya,” track eight on the album, has origins from Bulgaria. Aroeste explained that it’s a cumulative counting song that enumerates what the lady of the house eats on each night of Passover, similar to “Twelve Days of Christmas.”

“The song starts after the third evening, likely a tradition from Spanish Crypto-Jews to throw off the Inquisition,” she said. “[It] includes ‘cows with rice’ as what the lady ate on the seventh night.” 

The recipe that goes along with this song, Ropa Vieja, has connections to Inquisition history. Plus, the chef who presents it, Genie Milgrom, is a Crypto-Jewish descendant and genealogist. She is the author of “My 15 Grandmothers,”  which traces her ancestry to her Sephardic roots.

“As is true with Sephardic cuisine in general, in this one dish we have so much history,” Barocas said. “What started as part of an overnight Shabbat stew in medieval Spain traveled to the New World with those who fled the Inquisition, staying connected to their Judaism through food traditions they brought with them.”  

There are so many different layers to these songs and corresponding dishes, people can enter this conversation from whatever way suits them best.

“If you’re a foodie, you might glom onto the recipes and the cooking demos,” Aroeste said. “If you’re a world music enthusiast, you might pick up music first.” 

The idea is for people to understand the inherent connection between the food, music and history, and then enjoy a delicious Sephardic meal.

On Sunday April 23 at 4 p.m. PT, Aroeste and Barocas are hosting a virtual release party, where attendees can sample the music, meet the chefs and more. Register online: https://bit.ly/SavorRelease.

“Savor” is available as an album with a booklet of photos, recipe summaries, song lyrics and translationsm or as a digital download, which includes the music, liner notes, recipes and videos. Learn more at SavorExperience.com.

 

Genie Milgrom’s Ropa Vieja

Shredded Beef with Rice
2 cups full-bodied beef broth, preferably
homemade, store-bought if necessary
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, small diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
2 cups tomato sauce
1 Tbsp white vinegar
1 Tbsp cracker meal or matzah meal
¼ tsp Bijol spice mix (traditional) or
sweet paprika or ground annatto or saffron
Salt to taste, either plain or Genie’s mix

To serve
3 large red pimentos*, cut in strips
Cooked rice

Cook the flank steak in the broth until tender, usually a few hours on low on the stove or in a crockpot. Remove steak from broth, let cool and separate into shreds or threads using two forks. With some of the smaller pieces, your hands work best.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium, then add the onion, garlic, red pepper and green pepper and stir to blend. When this mixture is soft and lightly browned, add the tomato sauce and simmer together for 10 minutes. Add the shredded meat, pimentos, vinegar, cracker or matzah meal, Bijol or other spice you are using and salt to taste. Cook on medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes until the flavors have blended. Serve on top of rice with marinated pimentos on the side.

Genie’s Special Salt Mix

In a food processor, pulse together with a couple cups of kosher salt a lot of fresh thyme and rosemary, a little lemon juice and fresh garlic.

*Pimento is a sweet red pepper that has been cooked and marinated.

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