Monday, December 19, 2011

A family heirloom

Have you met Señor Del Mundo?
If you speak Spanish or Ladino you might be appalled by this question that actually asks if you met your maker or in Hebrew "Adon Olam" aka God.  For years I heard my grandmother speak about this guy on many occurrences. I thought he was a friend of hers from abroad called Mister Delmundo. My Ladino improved as I grew up and I believe only when I got to school I finally realized who the mysterious Señor was.  I still think he's my grandmother's pal.

My mother's mother was born on board of a ship sailing the Black Sea from Istanbul (than Constantinople) to Constanta in Romania. She was born to a Sephardic family that according to household myths were direct descendants of Jews deported from Spain.  She married an Ashkenazi from The Ukraine but never abandoned her Sephardic heritage and especially the food. She had a fascinating life story: born in the era of The Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires and living to see the fall of Communism, tiny cell phones and emails. I didn't know all this about as a child, I only knew her as my "safta". She lived with us and helped in my upbringing. She was a very important figure in my life and a major impact on my nutrition. In short, she spoiled me. She had her clever way to feed me stuff that otherwise I would not touch. For example in order to make me eat spinach and cheese she would bake an Inchusa. I loved inchusa, never refused a slice. Throughout my childhood and rebellious adolescence inchusa was the taste of comfort. Now my mother makes inchusa from time to time reminding us of my grandmother that is still very present in our lives although she passed away 15 years ago.

I ate inchusa all my life but only recently I've discovered its origins. This was thanks to my acquaintance with Gil Marks and his Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. There I discovered that Inchusa is a traditional Sephardic tart containing a sweet or savory filling. The name originates from the Spanish enchusa, an herb from the borage family that was primarily used in the tart but later replaced with spinach. The custard was originally baked without a crust. To prevent it from sticking to the baking pan some flour was mixed with oil and the thick spinach and egg mixture gratin was spread over the top and baked.

The Sephardic culture and the Ladino language are slowly disappearing though there are efforts of preservation; the number of Ladino speakers is dropping steadily. I don't speak it to my kids though I grew up on it, my grandmother spoke very little Hebrew. Recently I've met two lovely ladies that have Turkish grandmothers and are trying to keep their legacy through food, and cooking. Liz and Ariella made me realize that making my kids inchusa or other Sephardic foods is a way of keeping my Sephardic legacy.
I baked inchusa for the first time last week and it was a great success. I made the gluten-free version (something my grandmother never heard of). My middle child got a school project. She has to bring something to class for "show and tell". It needs to be related to our family history and to combine something of Jewish history. My brother suggested I'll bring an inchusa, which is our true family heirloom.

1/2kg spinach leaves without stem and washed, chopped.
150gr Feta cheese
3 eggs
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons of flour (corn mill for the gluten-free version)
2 tablespoons grated cheese (either cachkaval or parmesan)
Salt and pepper.
Heat the oven to 180 centigrade.
Oil and flour a 22cm round tin or Pyrex
Mix all the ingredients till the mixture is unified. Pour to the tin and bake till a crust is formed.  


  1. oh yum Why didn't you start making this sooner? Your grandmother would be proud of you

  2. I love this and try to make it regularly. Lovely to have this from those important to you, pass down those stories. Happy Chanukah.

  3. Thank you Simcha and Sarah.
    As I grow old and my kids grow up I find important to preserve traditions and memories of my family and especially the food.

  4. Yael, this post really made me smile. My grandmother made the same thing but called it fritada de spinaca. It was delicious. She used kashkaval and/or farmer's cheese, and her recipe is more or less the same. So important to keep these recipes alive.

  5. Nice! We make something similar, but it's called mina de espinaka and it's a Passover dish (with matzo instead of flour). One of the shop owners in the Levinsky shook gave me a recipe that's nearly the same as yours, but she also called hers mina.