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America–A Beacon of Light

This week, we wanted to inspire you with fresh takes on old-fashioned favorites. 
[additional-authors]
June 27, 2024
Photos by Sephardic Spice Girls

My Moroccan parents embraced all the American holidays when we moved to Los Angeles in 1973. There were costumes for Halloween, a turkey feast for Thanksgiving and fireworks for the Fourth of July.

For our first few years in Los Angeles, they would take me and my brothers to see the fireworks at the beach.

As our family grew, with the immigration of my aunts and uncles and cousins, we would picnic at the park or have an American style barbecue with hot dogs, hamburgers, coleslaw and potato salad in my aunt and uncle’s back yard.

One year, my parents took me to the ultimate Los Angeles experience —the Hollywood Bowl Fourth of July Concert and Fireworks. After that, it became a tradition for us all to go to the Hollywood Bowl, where we would have a big picnic on the lawn. My mother and Aunt Clara would prepare perfect, delicious sandwiches and salads. My father would bring delectable desserts from the Beverlywood Bakery. Then we would enjoy the concert, high on a hill, surrounded by nature in the fading light of a summer’s day. The highlight would be the crescendo of the magnificent firework display. Those were magical nights, where we were proud to be part of this amazing country and thankful to be freely, openly Jewish.

As my parents and aunt and uncle grew older, the long walk from the parking lot, up that massive hill to the Bowl, was no longer feasible. We still made sure to gather at my aunt Clara’s house for a barbecue.

Some years, my husband Neil and I mustered up the courage to go to the Bowl. We would take a tablecloth, candles, wine and real wine glasses. Of course, I would bring delicious food. And a yummy dessert, reserved for the intermission with a thermos of hot Moroccan mint tea.

Last Fourth of July, my youngest cousin Raymonde, who always came with us to the Bowl, took her own teenage daughter. She wanted to share what she had loved so much as a young girl. They had an amazing time and they plan to return this year. It’s a big wow experience that sends chills down your spine. The sheer joy of thousands gathered under the stars, listening to the patriotic tunes and oohing and aahing to the spectacular fireworks is simply magical.

The sheer joy of thousands gathered under the stars, listening to the patriotic tunes and oohing and aahing to the spectacular fireworks is simply magical.

About 10 years ago, on the first Fourth of July in our new Beverly Hills home, we were surprised to see a stream of neighbors, some with lawn chairs and blankets, all marching in one direction. We asked where they were going and they told us they were going to see the fireworks. Well, that was all we needed to hear. We followed them to a nearby cul-de-sac where there were tons of people sitting in beach chairs and on top of cars waiting to catch the firework display from the Hillcrest Country Club.

We began a tradition of barbecuing in the backyard for our parents. As the sun set, we would drive my parents and mother-in-law to that secret block so they could watch the fireworks.

Fireworks always bring back those memories of family gatherings. And a feeling of gratitude to have been given the opportunity to immigrate to such a great country that gave us so much opportunity and allowed my family to live in peace and freedom.

Let’s talk about potato salad.

I grew up eating a variety of potato salads. There’s the Israeli version with Israeli pickles, peas, carrots and mayonnaise. I truly love it but it would definitely horrify my kids, so I have never made it for them.

There’s the one with mayo and hard-boiled eggs, which I also adore. But my husband won’t touch it, since he won’t eat anything that has white hard-boiled eggs. It’s actually comical that he will only eat huevos haminados, the Sephardic brown Shabbat eggs.

There’s the all-American version, which we get at the deli and that my kids totally accept.

But on my vacation in Spain a few years ago, something very funny happened to me. We ordered tapas and I was served a small bowl of potato salad. One bite and an old memory came to me. It was literally like watching a movie. I was sitting on the balcony at our home in La Place Bel Air in Casablanca eating lunch. And it was this same potato salad. Simple, cold and flavorful. Tender potatoes, parsley, celery, pickles, olive oil and vinegar dressing. No mayonnaise anywhere, just the creamy deliciousness of the potatoes, with the crunch of celery and pickles and the wonderful dressing.

This was my mother’s potato salad, a recipe that I had completely forgotten. I came home from Spain and recreated it for me and Neil one night. I excitedly told Sharon all about it and we were meant to make it for you. But we never did.

But we thought this is the perfect time to share this recipe. An opportunity to skip the mayo. Your perfectly refreshing summer potato salad.

—Rachel

The first Fourth of July that I can remember was the bicentennial in 1976. I was a flower girl at the wedding of my uncle Menashe to my new aunt Geraldine. 

It was winter in the Southern Hemisphere, so my white georgette dress had a Peter Pan collar with red trim, three red velvet buttons and a beautiful red velvet bow at the waist. 

My uncle Uri and aunt Sally, who had moved to Los Angeles flew back to Sydney with my cousins Jonathan and Joel. As part of the wedding gift, they brought a pale blue commemorative plate that was inscribed with the image of the Declaration of Independence. I remember being fascinated by the old-fashioned cursive writing and awed by the history and importance of the occasion. 

Some years later, my family also emigrated to Los Angeles, and we began celebrating the Fourth of July with family barbecues. In American history classes, I learned the true impact of that incredible document and the amazing American exercise in freedom and equality. 

When I became engaged to Alan, my new sister-in-law Brigitte informed us that as a medical resident, her hospital duties only permitted her to leave St Louis in July. That left us a very tight window of marriage dates because of the three weeks leading up to Tisha b’Av, when marriages are not permitted. 

Our wedding anniversary is the third of July, so the Fourth of July has even more wonderful associations for me. 

Fittingly, our first celebration of the Fourth of July as a married couple was a Sheva Bracha barbecue in Neil and Rachel’s backyard. I am still honored and grateful that she hosted our two families and our close friends. 

Rachel and I are truly likeminded in never missing an opportunity to host friends and family. (Rachel really does these things in a spectacular way and I don’t know where she gets the strength. I’m much more relaxed and laissez-faire in my approach to cooking and hosting.)

Rachel and I are truly likeminded in never missing an opportunity to host friends and family.

At any barbecue, the steaks, the hamburgers, the hotdogs and the chicken are definitely the stars of the show. But there’s not that much variation in the way they are prepared. Throw it all on the grill, slather with ketchup, mustard and relish and it will do. It’s the sides that lend themselves to creativity in the kitchen. 

This week, Rachel and I wanted to inspire you with fresh takes on old-fashioned favorites. 

My beautiful and talented daughter-in-law Rachel, who has a Moroccan and Tunisian background, also makes this no mayo potato salad. It really is refreshing and flavorful and we all love eating it when she hosts us for dinner. 

It pairs perfectly with my latest obsession, an apple and fennel slaw. This salad features a combination of licorice fennel, crispy, tart apple and crunchy purple cabbage, garnished with sliced almonds and sweet, chewy dried cranberries, and dressed with a creamy, tangy, mustardy dressing. 

What could be better than these two healthy salads to celebrate this country’s birthday!?!

G-d bless America and a Happy Fourth of July!

—Sharon 

SPANISH POTATO SALAD

3 pounds red or Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled & washed

 ½ medium red onion, finely chopped

 3-4 celery stalks, including leaves, finely chopped

 ½ cup finely diced dill pickle

 1 handful fresh parsley

 6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

 4 Tbsp red wine vinegar

 1 tsp sea salt

Black pepper, to taste

 

Fill a large pot with cold water, then add the potatoes. Boil potatoes over medium high heat for 15 minutes.

To test doneness, insert a sharp knife into a potato. It should feel soft but still be firm. Remove from fire and drain water out. Allow potatoes to cool for 15 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil & red wine vinegar until well mixed.

Peel the potatoes, then cube into 1 inch bite-size pieces.

Return potatoes to the pot and the onion, celery, parsley and olive oil & vinegar dressing. Season with sea salt & black pepper, then gently toss together until potatoes are well coated. Taste to adjust seasonings.

Transfer to a serving dish. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Store in refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Apple & Fennel Slaw

Dressing:

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

For the salad:  

1 small purple cabbage, shredded

1 fennel, finely sliced

1 green apple, finely sliced

1 Honeycrisp apple, finely sliced

1 cup slivered almonds

1/2 cup dried cranberries

In a small bowl, whisk together mustard, sugar, salt, pepper and oil. When the ingredients are well combined, add the vinegar and whisk until dressing is a smooth consistency.

In a large bowl, add cabbage, fennel, apple, almonds and cranberries.

Pour dressing over the vegetables and toss well.

Serve immediately.


Sharon Gomperts and Rachel Emquies Sheff have been friends since high school. The Sephardic Spice Girls project has grown from their collaboration on events for the Sephardic Educational Center in Jerusalem. Follow them
on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food. Website sephardicspicegirls.com/full-recipes.

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