Aniseed Biscuits from the Sephardic Jews Cuisine of Turkey

“Our cuisine is simple – no spices, no heavy sauces, no fancy decorations, not so much meat, a lot of vegetables ! A lot of aubergines and courgettes, in fact. We even have a poem, which explain the 40 different ways of preparing an aubergine dish “  – Orly Toledo 

The unique cuisine of the Sephardic Jews in Turkey is not only a representation of the many traditions preserved over decades but as well the story of a journey through different geographies, histories and cultures. It is a story of their interaction with Romans and Arabs on the Iberian Peninsula, leaving home and finding a new one, settling in the Ottoman Empire and their continuing struggle to preserve their identity in modern Turkey.

“It upsets me as it seems that our jewish heritage is being lost and taken over without any recognition for the jewish history.”

Expressed in simple and modest ways always prepared to the kosher rules, the Sephardic Jewish cuisine has developed over the decades to have an important role in Turkish food culture, though not well-known. For example one of the most popular street foods in Izmir, named ‘Boyoz’ a kind of pastry, stems from the Sephardic Jewish cuisine which Orly  remembers from her grandmother’s kitchen is often considered to be Turkish and the food of Izmir with its jewish heritage forgotten.

The recipe below is a traditional dish unique to the Ottoman Sephardi tradition, served at Jewish funerals: the Raki Chörek. This simple sweet bake prepared with Aniseed and a glass of Raki represents the bittersweet taste of life.

Orly’s Recipe of Aniseed Biscuits

125 g unsalted butter or margarine
100 ml water or milk
50 ml raki
120 g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp aniseed
plain white flour
1 egg yolk

Melt the butter/margarine on a low heat. Remove from the heat to cool. Add sugar and water/milk and mix together. Stir in the baking powder, sugar, aniseed, and raki and add the flour to make a dough . Add the flour a little at a time while mixing to give you a dough ball which is not sticky to the touch but is still pliable and soft. Flour your hands and taking a small hand full ,roll it out like a small swiss roll or sausage roll and then join the two ends together so you have a round biscuit with a hole in the middle like a doughnut. Place on an oiled baking tray. Egg wash the biscuits and sprinkle aniseed on them. Put in a heated oven at 200 degrees or gas mark 6 for 20/25 mins till they turn a golden brown. Take out of the oven and off the baking tray to cool.

* Thanks to Orly Toledo for sharing her thoughts and recipe with me.

* Photo by Sebnem Ugural