On Shabbat morning, after synagogue, Sephardic Jews traditionally sit down to a meal called a desayuno (Spanish and Ladino for “breakfast”). The meal is relaxed and casual, a brunchy spread of savory pastries, frittata-like egg dishes, fried eggplant, rice pudding, cheeses, olives, and shots of the anise-flavored apéritif ouzo (known as arak in Arabic).
This year, while dreaming up a menu for my Yom Kippur break fast, my thoughts turned to this festive Sephardic meal. I certainly enjoy an Ashkenazi-style break fast with its sweet noodle kugels, seeded bagels and smoked fish platters. But whenever possible, I also love to use the holidays as an opportunity to explore something less familiar. Centered around light dishes and finger foods (many of which can be purchased), and composed of recipes that are easy to prepare in advance and reheat quickly when needed, a desayuno checks all the right boxes.
From boyos to bourekas, Sephardic cuisine is hardly short of savory pastries. My standout favorite, however, are the lesser-known bulemas — plump coils of dough most often filled with spinach, cheese or eggplant. They are made with a supple yeasted dough that rests in an oil bath before being rolled out and filled. As the bulemas bake, the slick of oil creates a crackly outer shell that incases the tender pastry and filling within.
With their lovely spiral shape (they resemble miniature loaves of round challah), bulemas are symbolically appropriate to serve during the season of Jewish New Year. I filled mine with a mix of salty and creamy cheeses, along with hint of bright basil and lemon zest, which is not traditional but is so very good. Right now, two batches of bulemas are hanging out in my freezer. When the sun sets on Yom Kippur and the day of fasting, singing and spiritual aerobics is over, they will be ready.
Cheese and Basil Bulemas
For the dough
1½ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup warm water (about 110˚ F)
2½ cups bread flour, plus more as needed
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
For the filling
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 large shallots, halved through the root and thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1¼ cup ricotta cheese
20 basil leaves, roughly torn
½ teaspoon (tightly packed)finely grated lemon zest
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese, about ¾ of a cup
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1) Stir together the yeast, sugar and water in a medium bowl. Let sit until foaming, 5–10 minutes.
2) In a large bowl, stir together the 2½ cups of flour and salt. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the yeast mixture, then pour into the flour. Stir until the dough starts to come together, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding a little more flour, if needed, until it is smooth and elastic, but not sticky, 8¬–10 minutes. (You can also knead it in a standing mixer fit with the dough hook on medium speed, 5 to 8 minutes.)
3) Pour the 1/3 cup oil into a large, shallow baking dish. Divide the dough into equal-size pieces (I typically get 18–20 out of a batch) and roll into balls. Place the balls in the oil, and turn to coat. Cover the baking dish and let stand about 30 minutes.
4) Meanwhile, make the filling. Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a medium sauce pan set over medium heat. Add shallots and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, 5–6 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to the touch.
5) Mound the ricotta in the center of a large, clean dishtowel, wrap it up and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Transfer ricotta to the bowl of a food processor along with the basil, lemon zest, and a generous amount of black pepper. Process until smooth. Stir in the feta and parmesan.
5) Assemble the bulemas: Preheat the oven to 375˚ F and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Lay another piece of parchment paper on a flat surface. Working with one ball of dough at a time, place ball on top of the parchment. Using your fingertips and a rolling pin, stretch and roll into thin, 7-inch diameter rounds. Spread 2 rounded tablespoons of filling in a line along the edge of one side of the dough round. Roll up the dough tightly like a jelly roll, starting with the filled side; gently stretch the roll with your finger tips to lengthen slightly. Starting from one end of the roll, coil it onto itself, tucking the end underneath.
6) Place the coils on the prepared baking sheets and brush with the egg wash. Bake until golden brown, 30–40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week (or freeze for up to 3 months). Reheat in an oven or toaster oven at 300˚ F until warmed through, about 10 minutes.
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Leah Koenig is a contributing editor at the Forward and author of “The Little Book Of Jewish Appetizers,” and “Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen,” Chronicle Books (2015).