My sister and I may be cut from the same cloth, but we are different in many ways. My mother was an Ashkenazi Jew and my father was Sephardic. Both branches have their own food that defines their culture. For the Ashkenazi the most obvious would be matzo ball soup. For the Sephardic Jews the food would be couscous. The term “cous-vous” was a term coined by my family to explain the differences between my sister, Remy, and I when we were children. Remy is “vous-vous”, not only for her look and style, but also because of her palate. I am “cous-cous” because of my deep identification with my Tunisian roots and my more exotic palate.
Growing up I had a knack for languages. By the age of thirteen I was speaking French fluently, and my parents started sending me to stay with my father’s family in France for the summer. I immediately identified with the culture of the Sephardic half of my family. I ultimately finished high school in Israel, where I lived with my father’s sister, Hana. Since Hana grew up in Tunisia speaking French it became our common language. By the time I graduated high school I was also fluent in Hebrew, which allowed me to communicate with all of my family there. I became deeply immersed in my family’s Sephardic traditions and culture, a great deal of which came through cooking special dishes for the holidays with my aunties.
Remy is very different. Though we look similar and sound very much alike, she is fair skinned with honey colored hair and big blue eyes. I have an olive complexion, dark hair and green eyes. As a child she didn’t pick up languages as easily, which in some ways limited her ability to absorb the culture as I did. Our palates our also quite different, and although she does love Tunisian food, her tastes run more toward classic American dishes. We both love us some matzo ball soup, though.
Initially, Remy and I planned on just making peanut butter and jelly cookies, but when I got to her house she told me about her brilliant idea to make this entry about “cous-vous.” We decided to make a Middle Eastern orange and pistachio cookie to represent the “cous-cous,” while the PB&J would be “vows-vous”. Her big baby boy, Mason, joined us in the kitchen. He makes a wonderful “cous-vous” mascot, and if size is any indication (his nickname is McWhopper) I am sure he is going to LOVE cookies soon enough. Especially his momʼs.
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1 stick butter
1/3 brown sugar
1/3 white sugar + more for rolling 1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
Jam of your choosing. We used raspberry.
Pre heat oven to 375 degrees
Using a hand mixer, blend the peanut butter with the butter until smooth about 3 minutes.
Mix in the sugar with the peanut butter and butter mixture in two parts. Beat until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat more. In 2 parts add in the flour, baking powder and salt mixture. Mix until small balls form.
Using a tablespoon, scoop out some cookie mixture and roll it in a ball. Then roll the ball in sugar. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from oven and poke the center of the cookie with the end of a large wooden spoon. Do not puncture all the way through. Then add 1/2 tsp of jam to the center of each cookie. Bake for another 4 minutes. Remove cookies from cookie sheet and let them cool on a wire rack.
2 1/4 cups of all purpose flour + more for dusting
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 3/4 sticks unsalted butter- chilled and diced
1 cup superfine sugar or granulated sugar
1 cup coarsely chopped pistachios
1 tbs orange zest
1 egg lightly beaten
1 tbs orange blossom water
Pre heat oven to 325 degrees.
Line cookie sheets with wax paper. Sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl, then add in all of the butter. Using your hands, rub the mixture with your fingertips until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and gradually stir in the egg, orange zest, and orange blossom water. Combine well, but do not over mix. Chill dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, then roll out on a floured surface. Using a cookie cutter, cut out all of the dough. I used a 2.5 inch cookie cutter. Add about a teaspoon full of chopped pistachio to the middle of each cookie and bake for 25 minutes. When finished remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. This recipe is adapted from the most amazing cookbook The Lebanese Kitchen.