The dishes on Claudine Ostrow's holiday table comprise a United Nations of preparations and ingredients: black-eyed peas, lentils, angel hair pasta, cumin, coriander, saffron, lemon, artichokes and other foods not usually associated with Jewish cooking in the United States. For Ostrow is an Egyptian Jew whose grandparents formed a mini-United Nations themselves.

Her fraternal grandfather, who emigrated to Egypt from Odessa, married his half-Italian, half-Romanian wife in Italy. Her maternal grandfather was born in Jerusalem and moved to Egypt with his Moroccan wife. Her parents both were born in the land of the Pharaohs, and Ostrow spent the first four years of her life in Alexandria and the next 15 in Cairo.

In 1957, political tensions caused her and many other Jews to leave Egypt. After two years in Italy, she settled in the United States where she married Stephen Ostrow, current chief of prints, photographs and drawings at the Library of Congress.

Life in Cairo in the 1950s, Ostrow says, was easy, very much in the colonial mode. "My mother baked every afternoon, but the Moslem man cook prepared the meals. Although my mother came from an orthodox family, my father was from a non-practicing family, so they compromised. My mother kept a non-kosher kitchen but she observed the Sabbath. And Rosh Hashanah was special."

When Ostrow describes the high holy day feasts served at family gatherings in Egypt, she refers to the cooking of "my Oriental grandmother" and "my European grandmother" because their styles were so different. Her own Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur meals reflect her grandmothers' influence as well as that of her mother, whose cooking also incorporated many dishes of Egyptian origin.

For the Jewish New Year, a time of renewal and thanksgiving, Ostrow says her grandmothers cooked brains and tongue, "anything in an animal's head." This custom reflects the Jewish tradition that people who eat part of an animal's head will become leaders, not followers.

Fish, a symbol of life and fruitfulness, also was featured by both grandmothers. Her grandmother from Morocco cooked a whole salmon or red mullet with saffron, oil and cumin, while her grandmother from Italy made her fish European-style with dill mayonnaise sauce. There also was veal breast stuffed with potatoes, mushrooms and ground beef or veal roast stewed with lemon juice and potatoes.

"We always had lubia," Ostrow recalls, "a dish of black-eyed peas with onions, tomatoes and garlic that signified the hope of plenty for the new year. Sometimes there were artichokes stuffed with ground beef, and always we had megadarra. My Moroccan grandmother made hers of rice and lentils, and my Italian one mixed the rice with angel hair pasta."

Both of these are variations of the medieval dish, known as food of the poor, called Esau's porridge.

Pomegranates, their numerous seeds as symbols of abundance, were a holiday dessert staple during Ostrow's childhood. Food historian Waverly Root described how at Rosh Hashanah, Sephardic Jews still put out bowls of these ancient fruit, grown in Egypt since before the time of Moses and longed for, the Bible says, by the Jews during their wanderings in the desert. "If they turn out to be rich in seeds," Root wrote, "this is taken as a prediction that the appropriate member of the company will be blessed with many children."

Apples were combined with honey as a sign of the sweetness expected in the new year. Dates, which represent prosperity and abundance, were baked in little pastry pockets. Baklava and konafa (like the Greek kadaif, a shredded dough pastry) were favorites on the Oriental side of the family. But the little cups of belila, a dessert made of whole wheat berries stewed with milk, nuts, dried fruits and cinnamon, were Ostrow's favorite.

For Yom Kippur, a day of atonement and fasting, Ostrow remembers that both of her grandmothers believed in serving light food at the festive meal the night before and for breaking the fast. Before sundown on the eve of the holiday there was chicken soup, on one side made with lemon and egg like the Greek avgolemono and on the other with knaidlach (dumplings) made of matzo meal. Both grandmothers served meatballs, the one from the East flavoring hers with cumin, red pepper and saffron, the other preferring leeks.

Ostrow remembers eating dairy dishes to break the fast, particularly phyllo dough filled with cheese (like the Greek tiropita), scrambled eggs or fancy deviled eggs, and potato and red onion salad made with either mayonnaise or oil, vinegar and red pepper. Other favorites were sanbusaks, pie crust pastry filled with feta, cottage and cream cheeses, and rosquettes, small and crunchy crackers topped with sesame seeds.

Ostrow learned to cook some of these dishes from her mother, and she treasures the small notebooks filled with her mother's handwritten recipes for the dishes her grandmothers cooked. Ostrow uses the recipes for her own holiday meals, serving some of the beloved Sephardic childhood foods and a few dishes from her father's and her husband's Ashkenazi background.

"Back then," she says, "all the Egyptian Jews had mixed traditions. And all the traditions were incorporated -- Moroccan, Greek, Egyptian, Romanian, Austrian, Italian, French and Russian. I do the same because I've wanted to give my children a sense of history and tradition. And so do my Egyptian women friends in Washington. Some of them were my schoolmates in Cairo, believe it or not."

One of these schoolmates, Claudia Roden, a food writer now living in London, is hard at work on a cookbook chronicling the Middle Eastern Jewish food traditions Ostrow remembers so fondly, as well as the traditions of India, Asia and other parts of the world. BILILA (6 servings)

Serve bilila for dessert or as a breakfast cereal.

1 cup unhusked whole wheat berries

1 cup hot milk

1 cup mixed nuts (walnuts, pine nuts, almonds)

1 cup raisins, plumped in hot water and drained

2 tablespoons sugar or to taste

1/2 tablespoon cinnamon

Place wheat berries in a saucepan and add water to cover. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour or until tender. Drain water. Add milk, nuts, raisins, sugar and cinnamon. Bring to a boil. Serve hot or cold. EGYPTIAN FISH (6 servings)

1/4 cup oil

2 1/2- to 3-pound mullet, cleaned, with head and tail left on (or substitute bluefish, mackerel, salmon, trout)

4 garlic cloves, mashed

Pinch of salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

Juice of 1 or 2 lemons

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add fish and garlic and brown quickly, one minute on each side. Sprinkle with salt, cayenne and saffron. Add lemon juice. Cover and simmer over very low heat 15 minutes or until flesh flakes easily with a fork. If sauce is too thin, add fine dry bread crumbs to thicken to desired consistency. BOILED TONGUE (8 servings)

1 pickled tongue, about 4 pounds

2 onions, sliced

4 carrots, sliced

Wash tongue and place in a saucepan with water to cover. Add onions and carrots. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until very tender, about 3 hours. Remove tongue and peel while still hot. Cool and slice thinly. Pure'e vegetables with liquid and pour over tongue. SANBUSAKS (Makes 30 pieces)

In her book "A Book of Middle Eastern Food" (Vintage, 1974), Claudia Roden says that for centuries the recipe for the sanbusak dough was given as "one coffee cup of oil, one coffee cup of melted butter, one coffee cup of warm water, one teaspoon of salt. Add and work in as much flour as it takes." Claudine Ostrow follows her mother's handwritten instructions, almost identical to those Roden describes. "You do it by feel," she explains. Roden's more precise measurements for the dough are combined with Ostrow's filling for this version. FOR THE FILLING:

1/2 pound feta cheese

1/4 pound cottage cheese

1/4 pound cream cheese

1 egg, beaten

5 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, dill, mint or chives

White pepper to taste


1/2 cup oil

8 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup warm water

3 1/2 cups flour, sifted

1 egg, beaten

To make filling, crumble feta cheese with a fork and combine with cottage cheese and cream cheese. Add egg, herbs and pepper. Refrigerate until needed.

Place oil and butter in a small bowl and heat over boiling water until butter is melted. Add salt and warm water and pour into a large bowl. Add flour gradually, stirring slowly with your hand, until the dough forms a soft, rather greasy ball. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons more flour if needed. Handle dough as little as possible. Refrigerate for 1/2 hour. Pull off walnut-sized pieces and flatten them out as thinly as possible with a rolling pin or between the palms of your hands. Place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of half of each circle. Fold the other half over to make the traditional half-moon shape. Pinch edges closed with fingers.

Place on baking sheets. Brush with egg. Bake in a 400-degree oven 15 minutes or until pale golden. Serve hot or cold. Or freeze sanbusaks before baking. To cook, proceed as above. CHICKEN SOFRITO (8 servings)

4 pounds chicken (either a whole roasting chicken or chicken pieces)

Salt to taste

1 lemon, halved

1/2 cup oil

1 to 2 cups boiling water

4 cloves garlic, minced

Juice of 2 lemons

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

Rub chicken all over with salt. Rinse well. Rub chicken inside and out with lemon halves. Heat oil in a large skillet and brown chicken on all sides. Transfer chicken to a dutch oven. Add water, garlic, lemon juice, cayenne, cumin and saffron. Cover and simmer until tender, about 2 hours, adding water as needed. Serve hot. To serve cold, remove chicken from bones, skim fat from cooking liquid, pour over chicken and chill. MEATBALLS WITH LEEKS (6 servings)

1 pound ground beef

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

2 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

Salt and pepper to taste

2 pounds leeks

Oil for frying

Combine beef, bread crumbs, eggs, cumin, saffron, salt and pepper. Discard outer leaves of leeks and trim tops and bottoms. Wash thoroughly to remove sand. Chop finely and add to beef mixture. Form into sausage-shaped rolls. Heat oil in a skillet and fry meat until brown. MEGADARRA (Lentils and Rice Casserole) (6 to 8 servings)

1 cup lentils

4 tablespoons butter

4 onions (1 chopped and 3 sliced)

Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups rice

4 cups chicken broth or water

4 tablespoons oil

Wash lentils, place in a saucepan and add water to cover. Cook 45 minutes or until just tender. Drain lentils. Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter, add the chopped onion and fry until brown. Add fried onion, salt and pepper to lentils. Heat remaining butter in a saucepan. Add rice and brown lightly. Add lentil mixture and broth. Cover and cook over low heat, adding more broth if needed, until rice is done, about 20 minutes. Heat oil in a skillet and fry sliced onions until very brown. Place lentil mixture on a serving platter and garnish with fried onions. HAMOD (Chicken Soup with Lemon) (6 servings)

8 cups homemade chicken soup

3 medium potatoes, cut in large chunks

Juice of 2 to 3 lemons or to taste

Heat soup. Add potatoes and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Add lemon juice and heat. The soup should have a pronounced lemon flavor.