My great Aunt Lee Saias Nissim was what you called classy. She wore her hair neatly tied back in a bun, boasted a pearl necklace, and dressed in lofty fashion. She was 89 years old when she passed away last year. My nana Arlene (her niece) always speaks of her so highly and tells me how she was one of the great hostesses of her time. She was always ready to entertain company whether it be friends, family or even strangers. Lee was known to have enough food to feed an army (literally). She hosted dinner party's to sergeant's and generals at the nearby military base where she and her husband Marcel lived . Nana Arlene recalls a large white ice box coined "the coffin" in her home that was stock full of homemade meals. Like my nana she was Sephardic (Jewish Greek) and so her cooking reflected her culture. She made lemon egg drop soup, challah and babka, spinach pie, matzoh brie, and poached fish with egg sauce.
Back in 2008 she invited me to her small apartment to make spinach borekas with her. Luckily, I filmed the whole event. I remember her soft and gentle compliments as I tried my hardest to wrap the spinach stuffing in the phyllo dough. It was a true honor to cook alongside this family legend. These little triangles of heaven where always a hit at family gatherings. She also made Roscas, which are short bread rings sprinkled with sesame seeds on top. Their a sweet and simple treat to end a grand Greek meal. The recipe was given to me in a large white binder that contained her other famous dishes. The recipe and photograph collection was a momentum from the funeral my grandparents had attended. Lee's family said she would have wanted everyone to have a copy of the book so we may carry out her legacy. In order to pay tribute to the great hostess, I made her cookies for dessert the other night. As I pleaded for her help (as I trudged through the incomplete recipe), I could tell she was smiling (and laughing) at my attempt to make them. The Roscas came out just as my taste buds had recalled. Visibly smooth on the outside with an unexpected crunch on the inside. The traces of vanilla and toasted sesame linger warmly in your mouth. As good as they were, they will never be like she had made them.
By baking from the book I realized that food meant something to Aunt Lee. Food and cooking has its own personal meaning to all of us and to her it meant company. To her food brought people together, it proved we are never truly alone. Wherever food may be you always find someone to share it with. That's why Lee sought home-cooked meals as being important. It brought the family right back to her front door.
Eat in good company,
Aunt Lee's Roscas
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup vegetable oil
1 or 2 eggs for wash
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
Preheat the oven to 350F
Beat sugar and oil together with an electric mixer until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla. With the mixer on low, start to incorporate one cup of flour at a time. Continue to add 5 to 6 cups until the dough is soft and pliable. Separate it into two balls of dough, then let them rest for 15 to 20 minutes.
Quarter each ball. Roll out one quarter of the dough into a log with a width of about 1 inch. Evenly cut the log into 2 inch logs. Loop each "mini" log into a small circle (like you would a bagel). With a paring knife make slits on the top of each cookie. Repeat with the remaining dough. Transfer to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and brush each cookie with egg wash. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Let cool.