Who are we?
Born in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1978. During the Covid pandemic Noam decided on a career change after working 21 years as a tour guide, and will soon begin teaching Judaism and Hebrew at the Lauder Ort Jewish Elementary & High School in the city. Noam says that he grew up eating his mother’s food who, to this day, takes great care in preserving the Jewish-Sephardic culinary traditions – the origins of Jewish Bulgarian cuisine. Delicacies such as fritas de prasa (leek fritters) and bourekas are some of Noam’s favorite dishes as well as grilled kebab, “the only dish I know how to make myself” – and haminados (brown eggs) served in the synagogue with a shot of arak. We grew up with neighbors who celebrated Easter, “Noam continues, “and I remember that they used to paint the eggs in a variety of colors while we dyed ours brown. We would then hold a competition which tasted better.”
Born in 1979 in Sofia, Chani is an accountant at an Insurance Agency. “When we got married, Chani did not know how to cook at all – but I’m lucky,” laughs Noam, “mom and Dad taught her how to prepare all the dishes served at home – and thus I fulfilled every man’s dream: my wife cooks just like my mother. I can now attest that Chani has surpassed her teachers.” Although she excels at cooking Bulgarian delicacies, Chani herself prefers ethnic dishes such as Kibbeh and Malawach, which she mastered with the help of relatives in Israel.
And their children:
Born in 2010 in Sofia, Mira will soon start 5th grade at the Lauder Ort Jewish Elementary & High School. Her parents affectionately call her “Papona” which translates to ‘eater’. “She’s one who loves to eat and enjoys every bite,” says Noam. Her favorite food she loves to eat the most – hummus. Despite her young age, Mira already enjoys helping her mother in the kitchen.
Born in 2012 in Sofia, David will soon commence 3rd grade at the same school his older sister attends. “David has a problematic relationship with food which explains why he’s as thin as a stick,” his parents say. “But several days ago, David asked us for roast lamb and he ate it properly, with a few slices of bread – because eating without bread is like not eating at all. I think he is starting to be a real person,” Noam says with pride.
Where was the photo taken?
Although the Baruch family’s Sofia kitchen is tiny, they spend much of their time there. “The kitchen is Chani’s kingdom,” Noam explains. “When she is in the kitchen – we do not go near there, because it is a sacred place. If Mira wants to help her mother, then by all means. But in the kitchen, Chani is the queen and Mira the princess.” According to Noam, the kitchen holds a special place in the heart of every Bulgarian Jew. “We are known as lovers of good food and life.”
Our family kitchen
“When I guided tourists from Israel, they would always ask me in amazement ‘Where is all the delicious Bulgarian food?’. They assumed that everyone in Bulgaria eats the same food served in Bulgarian restaurants in Israel,” says Noam, “But there is a difference between Jewish- Bulgarian food and Bulgarian food. There are dishes that Bulgarians do not know at all, such as masapan (marzipan), for example.”
And so, Chani and Noam preserve the Sephardic-Jewish flavors according to their family’s culinary traditions from their tiny kitchen, and pass it on to their children. “Sephardic-Jewish cuisine is such that we do not throw anything away. Probably because in the past the Jews were not particularly rich. When we cook zucchini, for example, we also make from the skins a soup called Kashkarikas. I was taught that there is no such thing as leaving food on the plate.”
The house recipe: Pastel (beef & eggplant pie)
30x40cm (15.75 x 10.5-inch) baking dish
The pastel is a beef and eggplant pie which Noam affectionately calls “pastelico”. The Baruch family prepares this dish on weekdays as well as for Shabbat and festive holiday dinners, such as Rosh Hashanah. Back in the day they would knead the dough themselves but these days they use store-bought puff pastry which shortens the preparation time. The pastel recipe was passed down from generation to generation and is much loved thanks to the pleasant aromas that fill the house and whet the appetite of anyone nearby.
1 large eggplant, weighing about 500 grams/1lb
500 grams/1lb ground beef
100ml/ 3.4 fl oz lukewarm water
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
800 grams/ 1.75lb store-bought puff pastry
For the topping:
1 egg, beaten
30 grams/ 1- ounce sesame seeds
- Roast the eggplant: Preheat the oven to 200C/ 400F.
- Prick the eggplant several times using a fork and transfer to the oven for 30-40 minutes.
- Peel the eggplant, place the flesh on a cutting board and finely chop.
- Prepare the filling: combine the beef and water in a bowl. Heat the oil in a pan. Add the meat, mix well and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 20 minutes, while continuously stirring.
- Stir in the chopped eggplant and cook until all the water evaporates completely. About 15 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 180C/ 375F and line a deep baking dish with parchment paper.
- Place a sheet of the puff pastry in the baking dish and pour the filling over it in an even layer. Cover with another sheet of pastry and use seal the edges with your fingers.
- Use a sharp knife, cut the pastry into squares, brush with a beaten egg and sprinkle sesame seeds on top.
- Transfer to the oven and bake for 30 minutes, until golden.
Edited by Ofer Vardi, Photography by Tzvety Friedman