Since I grew up in a half-Sephardic household, traditional Jewish foods meant to me something different from what they meant to my mainly Ashkenazi Hebrew school classmates.
Sephardim are Jews that settled in Southern Europe and Northern Africa after the Diaspora . Ashkenazi Jews are from Eastern Europe and Russia, and they make up the vast majority of the American Jewish population.
As opposed to heavily Russian-influenced Ashkenazi fare, Sephardic food takes on a Mediterranean flavor, borrowing traditions from North African Muslim communities and Southern Europe. It uses lots of lemon, olives, olive oil, lentils, lamb, chickpeas, nuts, and fresh and dried fruits. Sephardic cuisine, to me, does more with spices, heat and flavors than Ashkenazi cuisine.
So while my mostly Ashkenazi schoolmates were eating gefilte fish , kugel , and matzoh ball soup, my French Moroccan mother was serving up boulettes (stewed Moroccan meatballs), salade cuite (cooked red pepper and tomato salad served cold) and triangles (deep-fried, salty, triangle-shaped French pastries stuffed with beef). The star of the show was always a fresh Moroccan-style couscous with all of the trimmings: baked squash, turnips and carrots all sprinkled with cinnamon, slow-cooked chickpeas and a lamb-stewed gravy.
I’ve only really mastered one of my mother’s classic Sephardic recipes, but it happens to be the easiest to make, and I’ve also found it to be the easiest to make for vegetarians.
If you’re looking for a new, hearty fall recipe, I recommend attempting to make a tagine. A traditional Moroccan stew, tagine is usually a slow-cooked meat dish made in a traditional clay pot. There are lots of different varieties of tagine including lamb with prunes and nuts, and chicken with olives and lemon.