Traditional Gibraltarian holiday recipes

These recipes have been prepared for centuries, and the holidays would simply not be the same without them.

Gibraltar (photo credit: AYA MASSIAS)
(photo credit: AYA MASSIAS)
The month of Tishrei brings us the most important and meaningful days in the Jewish calendar. In preparation for these days, I start fantasizing about the wonderful traditional holiday recipes of my “hometown,” Gibraltar. These recipes have been prepared for centuries, and the holidays would simply not be the same without them.
A few days before Rosh Hashana I meet with my mother and Fatima, our Moroccan cook (Fatima has been cooking for us for 40 years and knows all our traditional holiday recipes by heart), to organize the food shopping list as well as to plan exactly what will be served at each and every meal of the holidays.
A little while ago I was visiting my grandparents’ house, looking through some very old religious books, and one extremely old siddur caught my eye.
The book belonged to my father’s grandfather and dates back to 1867.
Inside this book I found a small piece of paper and, to my astonishment, on this paper was a handwritten recipe for the first day of Rosh Hashana. It blew my mind to see that it was the exact same recipe that will be served at our Rosh Hashana table this year, too! The paper read (translated from Spanish):
First course: vegetable soup with beef bones.
Second course: veal meat balls served with baby zucchini, peas and baby potatoes.
Dessert: sweet potatoes with cinnamon sticks and cloves in syrup.
So today I would like to share with you three traditional holiday recipes of the Gibraltarian Jewish community, the first of which will be veal meatballs, usually served on the first day of Rosh Hashana; the second will be Fatima's amazing lamb couscous, which we prepare for the first day of Succot; and my last recipe will be delicious, holiday-special honey biscuits.
The writer is a trained chef, former owner of restaurants in New York and Jerusalem, and runs Yaya Food & Travel Ltd. (gourmet kosher Jewish heritage and culinary tours in Spain, Portugal, Provence, Gibraltar, Sicily and Morocco).
Serves 10
■ 1 kg. prime, fresh, minced veal
■ 1 small onion, finely chopped
■ 1 small carrot, finely chopped
■ 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
■ 1 celery stick, finely chopped
■ 1 egg
■ 1 slice of brown bread (preferably wet), finely chopped
■ 1 tsp. turmeric
■ 1 tsp. cumin
■ 1 tsp. sweet paprika
■ 1 tsp. mix of Moroccan spices
■ 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
■ 1 liter beef or chicken stock
■ 1 cup mixed fresh herbs (rosemary, parsley and coriander), finely chopped
■ 500 gr. baby zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise
■ 100 gr. frozen peas
■ 500 gr. baby potatoes, peeled
Start by mixing the minced veal with the egg, turmeric, cumin, paprika, bread and half of the fresh herbs, salt and pepper. Mix very well until you have a nice paste going, and then start rolling the meat into little balls about 4 cm. across, placing them all in a tray.
Pour your olive oil into a large pot and, when hot, add the meatballs one by one and cook them until nice and brown. Remove them and leave to rest.
In the same pot, fry the onion, carrot, garlic and celery.
When the mixture is brown, add the stock and, when boiling, add the meatballs one by one.
Cook for 30 minutes and then add the zucchini, peas and baby potatoes, salt and pepper. Leave to cook on medium heat for one hour. Serve very hot. Just before serving, sprinkle the leftover fresh herbs and drizzle a little olive oil; if you happen to have truffle oil, even better.
Serves 10
■ 1 large, fresh lamb shoulder (around 1½ kg.)
■ 1 kg. instant couscous (makes life easier)
■ 2 liters chicken stock
■ 500 gr. cooked chickpeas
■ 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
■ 10 shallots
■ 6 carrots, peeled and whole
■ 500 gr. pumpkin, chopped in big pieces
■ 1 small cabbage, washed well and cut in 4
■ 10 baby zucchini, whole
■ 100 gr. peeled baked almonds
■ 100 gr. raisins
■ Sea salt and pepper
In a big pot, start by boiling the lamb, shallots, carrots, pumpkin, zucchini, chickpeas and cabbage. Make sure the lamb is covered with at least one liter of the stock.
When vegetables are soft, remove them and place in a Pyrex dish. Sprinkle the almonds and raisins on top of the vegetables, and 1 hour before serving drizzle the olive oil on top of the vegetables and place for 30 minutes – or until almonds are nice and crispy – in a medium-hot oven.
Add the second liter of stock into the pot with the lamb and chickpeas and boil until the lamb is very soft and the meat is coming off the bone.
Put the couscous in a second Pyrex dish, cover with boiling water and cover it with Saran (plastic) wrap.
Leave for 10 minutes. Once the couscous has absorbed all the water, separate the couscous with a fork and, by rubbing with your hands, drizzle with olive oil and add salt and pepper.
For serving, use three deep Pyrex dishes. In one we serve the vegetables, in one the sliced lamb with the stock and chickpeas, and in the last one the couscous.
The order for serving in each plate is first the couscous, topped with the vegetables with almond and raisins, and then a nice chunk of lamb, all covered with the stock and chickpeas. In Gibraltar, like in Morocco, we like to sprinkle cinnamon and sugar in each plate.
Makes 24 biscuits
■ 1 cup all-purpose flour
■ 1 cup sugar
■ 1 cup olive oil
■ 4 eggs
■ 4 Tbsp. honey
■ 3 tsp. ground cinnamon
■ 1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda
■ 1 tsp. ground ginger
■ 1 tsp. vanilla essence
These biscuits are extremely easy to make. Mix all the ingredients together. Once well mixed, add enough flour to make a nice dough, not sticky but easy to work with. Make small, oval shapes with the dough.
With a fork, press on top of the oval shapes. Place in a baking tray and bake for about 25 minutes in a medium- to-hot oven, 200°. Then leave to cool and sprinkle with icing sugar before serving.