When a food giant like Manischewitz, the iconic company that first mass-produced Ashkenazi food in the United States, is taken over by Moroccans and starts making couscous, it’s a signal that the cuisine of North African and Middle Eastern Jews is having its moment.
Sarina Roffe, a consultant, journalist and genealogist, is determined to seize that moment by translating her ancestors’ Syrian food ways directly into 21st-century technology: she’s created a Sephardi cooking app, scheduled to launch Aug. 15 for the iPhone. Plans for Android and iPad versions are also in the works.
While numerous Jewish recipe apps already fill the iTunes and Google Play stores, Roffe says hers is the first to focus on the Sephardi palate. Roffe had originally planned to write a cookbook and was preparing by writing down all the family recipes. Then she changed course.
“The modern-day cook looks at the Food Channel, Google searches or downloads apps,” she said. “It’s difficult and unwieldy to have another cookbook in kitchen.”
The app will offer some short instructional videos in addition to traditional written directions. Some of the recipes make everyday meals; others are more appropriate for Shabbat and holidays. Roffe has tagged each according to its level of difficulty and whether it is dairy, meat or pareve.
Foods featured include kibbe, which is made from ground meat or lamb with spices; lahamagene, which is similar to a mini pizza and basergan, a Syrian-style potato salad.
For $4.99, users get 150 recipes, but curious cooks can also sample a trial version with 10 free recipes.
About 100 years ago, Roffe said, an ancestor of hers ran a Lower East Side restaurant, the Egyptian Rose, patronized by Jews from Arab countries.
It was a place where people could “play sheshbesh (backgammon) and hang out with people who spoke Arabic.”
Roffe sees her app as a similar kind of meeting ground for Sephardi culture. She hopes to grow the collection by releasing updates, including recipes from other Sephardi Jews, especially Moroccans and Lebanese, and different holiday dishes that are unique to Middle Eastern Jews.
Maybe the latter-day Manischewitz family can be prevailed upon to contribute.