July 18, 2019

A Unique Spin on Sephardic and Ashkenazi Fare

Rosemary and Fig Rugelach with Caramelized Walnuts

Whether it’s lemon saffron matzo ball soup or garlic rosemary challah, food blogger turned cookbook author Samantha Ferraro (“The Weeknight Mediterranean Kitchen”) loves putting her unique spin on Jewish fare. The key, she believes, is to respect the recipe and still have fun with it.

“When I started my blog, I was really focused on understanding the classics,” Ferraro said. “I knew I liked to cook and I really wanted to revisit a lot of recipes that I grew up with. I wanted to do something more fun, more colorful and vibrant, because Jewish food is awesome, [but] sometimes it can be really simple.”

Born in Manhattan, Ferraro, 35, grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. When she was 14, her family moved to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, and then to Southern California when she was 21. Two years ago, together with her husband, Joe Ferraro-Shey, they moved to Bellingham, Wash. 

Samantha Ferraro

Ferraro’s mother is Sephardic and her father Ashkenazi. Ferraro found combining the culinary influences from both traditions made for the most interesting meals. For example, “Matzo ball soup is really simple,” she said. “But you can elevate it [by adding] something more exotic, like saffron or lemon peel. Everyone and their bubbe has a matzo ball soup recipe, so you can’t say yours [is better], but you can put a spin on it to make it your own.”

There are many latke recipes on Ferraro’s website, including one inspired by an Indian dish called aloo gobi. Ferraro took those flavors — turmeric, spicy chili and curry powder — and included them in her latkes. She then made a cilantro chutney to go with them. “Being inspired by other cultures and putting their flavors into Jewish food is delicious,” she said.

“I love how passionate Jewish people are about their food.”

— Samantha Ferraro

Then there’s one of her favorites: rugelach cookies. “My grandmother made them all the time when I was growing up,” she said. “It’s traditionally made with chopped nuts and some kind of jam filling in the middle, and you roll it up into this little croissant cookie.” 

Ferraro combines her Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions to create a variety of rugelach, including savory versions with ricotta cheese, herbs and Parmesan cheese. “Recently, I did a rosemary and fig rugelach to welcome the fall with a sweet, savory flavor,” she said.

Lemon Saffron Matzo Ball Soup

Ferraro started her blog, LittleFerraro Kitchen.com, in 2011. In it, she explores food and recipes from all cultures. She said she learned to cook from other people, from traveling, from inspiration and from trial and error. She would type up what she made for dinner, take pictures with a point-and-shoot camera and post them.

“I was just cooking random stuff,” she said. “I think my first recipe was [one with] tomatoes, because I loved tomatoes so much.”

As she continued to post, readers began commenting on her recipes. 

“The wonderful thing about Jewish food is that it’s so connecting,” Ferraro said. “I love how passionate Jewish people are about their food. That’s exactly what I wanted to do — connect with people over very similar recipes. It just kind of snowballed from there.”