When my younger brother Danny was bar mitzvah many years ago, he kept telling my mother that he wanted to invite Saeed to the party. My mother had no idea who Saeed was, but my brother insisted that Saeed was his friend and he had to be there. Needless to say, Saeed was at the party. Saeed and his family were members of Kahal Joseph Congregation, Los Angeles Iraqi synagogue, which my family also attended.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, many young singles would gather at “Kahal” for the Sephardic Educational Center’s Classes for the Masses. Lifelong friendships were created. Many couples met and married, including Neil and Rachel Sheff and our good friend Molly who married Saeed Jalali. They were neighbors in Westwood. Neil Sheff became vice president of the board of Kahal and Chairman of the Religious Committee. Molly headed up the Talmud Torah. Saeed became the assistant Chazan, alongside the beloved longtime Chazan Sassoon Ezra.
Over the years, we prayed at Kahal Joseph together and we celebrated many milestones and happy occasions there. My youngest brother Nathan’s bar mitzvah. My son Ariel’s Brit Milah. And the bar and bat mitzvah’s of Molly and Saeed’s children and Rachel and Neil’s children.
Every year, the sisterhood, led by the current President Yvette Dabby, had the most fantastic community Purim bake. Out of the ovens would come hundreds of delicious, crispy date-filled cookies called baba tamar, fragrant doughy pillows of cheese sambusak, flaky walnut-filled cigars called malfouf and dainty almond macarons.
All those old world Iraqi pastries are chametz, except for the macarons. Tikva Iny’s recipe results in delicately flavored (cardamom, cinnamon and rosewater) and deliciously chewy and slightly crispy bites. In a world that has gone gaga for gluten-free all year long, this is a simple recipe for a deliciously, sophisticated cookie.
By the way, you can still hear the beautiful melodies of Chazzan Saeed at Kahal Joseph. And you’ll most likely be greeted with a warm smile by my baby brother, Rabbi Natan Halevy.
Based on Tikva Iny’s recipe
3 cups Almonds ground finely, or almond flour
1 cup sugar
3 egg whites
1 tsp cardamom
1 Tbsp rose water or 2 tsp almond extract
Separate 3 egg whites from egg yolks in two bowls, you will not be using the yolks.
With a fork beat egg whites until fluffy, add the sugar and continue to beat by hand until sugar has dissolved.
Add the ground almonds or almond flour, and combine.
Add the spices and combine.
Add the rose water or almond extract and combine.
Make walnut size balls and place on parchment lined cookie sheet, three to a row.
Place an almond on top and press down.
Bake at 350 degrees until just turning golden about 10 minutes (keep an eye on them, as every oven is different)
Rachel Sheff and Sharon Gomperts have been friends since high school. They love cooking and sharing recipes. They have collaborated on Sephardic Educational Center projects and community cooking classes. Follow them on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food.