The joys (and tribulations) of making homemade date honey.

Silan_DateSyrup_3_blog

Silan (also known as Ha’lek) is an an ancient Babylonian date honey or syrup that many Iraqi Jews today prepare as their form of charoset for the Passover Seder. Unlike other date charosetsSilan  requires a tedious process of boiling down, squeezing, mashing, and straining until you reach the proper consistency. I knew that the Iraqi chapter of my Passover cookbook would not be complete if I hadn’t tackled this recipe myself, and after speaking to various individuals about Silan, I was intrigued (and sufficiently warned): “It’s a lot of work and you need an enormous amount of dates to give you just a few cups of the syrup,” one Iraqi man told me. “Make sure that you enlist the help of a strong man to help you squeeze out all those dates,” replied one woman. And lastly, “I made it once and it was a disaster. I had to throw my shirt out afterwords — what a mess,” said a third younger woman. But the overwhelming response from those who grew up with Silan was simple: “There’s absolutely nothing like it. It’s divine. It’s pure liquid gold.” My challenge had been set.

One quiet morning (while both kids were at school) I set out to the task of making pure date honey for the first time (at this point I was basing my recipe upon the taste of the store-bought kind from Israel, and detailed descriptions from various Iraqi Jews I had spoken to). I combined several pounds of Medjool dates with water in the largest pot I could find, and brought it all to a boil over high heat. After cooking it down for an hour, I removed it from the heat to cool just long enough for me to handle squeezing the pulp in a sack of cheesecloth to extract the juice (I could see where it required a bit of strength!). This precious liquid was then returned to the same large pot and cooked down another full hour until it reduced to about half. The result was a rich, decadent syrup like a cross between honey and black strap molasses. It was divine, and I had to admit that the Baghdadi Jews had won the battle of the date charosets with this one. (Bravo!)

Note: For more on Silan, please see my August of 2013 post.

SILAN (Baghdadi Date Honey with Chopped Almonds, Hazelnuts, and Walnuts)
Yield: Serves 15 to 20 / Makes 2 1/2 CUPS

INGREDIENTS:
For Date Honey:
3 1/4 pounds Medjool or regular dates, pitted (or 3 pounds total without the pits)
18 cups cold water
4 to 8 large pieces of cheese cloth, for squeezing out liquid
Fine mesh strainer with mixing bowl underneath

For Serving:
2 cups toasted walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios (or blend), cooled and coarsely chopped

STEPS:
1. Place pitted dates in a very large 5- or 6-quart pot with the water and bring to a boil over very high heat. Reduce to medium-high heat and skim off and discard the foam with a large spoon.
Boil, uncovered, for 1 full hour.

2. Layer a large, fine mesh strainer with 3 large pieces of cheese cloth (it should hang over the sides by at least 6 inches so that you can gather them up and tie it into a sack). Place the strainer lined with the cheese cloth over a large bowl and pour the hot dates with all of its liquid over it. Gather the ends of the cheese cloth up and twist it into a large sack. Allow the dates to cool long enough for you to be able to squeeze the liquid out by hand, about X minutes.

3. When cool enough, squeeze the sack of date pulp as hard as you can to extract any further liquid that can come out. Discard the sack and all of the date pulp and return the pot with the date liquid to the stove. Bring to a second boil over high heat, reduce to a medium-low heat, and continue to boil, uncovered for 1 hour 15 minutes.

4. Remove from from heat and cool completely before pouring into one or two jars. Seal tightly and store in a cool, dry place or at room temperature for up to 1 month.

5. To serve, pour into small glass or decorative bowls and allow individuals to serve themselves.
You may also mix in the chopped nuts or serve them on the side. Serve as you would any type
of charoset.

Dutch Matze? Everyone’s getting ready!

Matzah_Dutch_SarahAbrams_blog

©2015 Photo taken by Sarah Abrams

My friend Sarah Abrams just returned from a trip to Holland and sent me this photo of matze in the supermarket. The packaging differs from our square boxes here in the U.S., and the matzahs there are round and appear much smaller. 

Ethiopian Kit’ta: Matzah that’s made to order.

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Shmuel Legesse

One cold January morning, I ran down to meet with Shmuel Legesse and learn how to make Ethiopian style matzah. In Ethiopia, matzah is made just like it it had been done for the first Passover when the Jews were fleeing Egypt through the desert: By hand. And FAST. In each home, the women form an assembly line to produce each matzah one at a time, diligently following the 18-minute time limit from start to finish. After the flour, salt, and water have been mixed, the dough is quickly formed, rolled out into a pita-like size, and placed onto a flat clay pan called a Mitadt. The bread then bakes in this pan until it is crispy and browned on both sides, and brought to the table to be eaten immediately. The resulting bread is more like a thick cracker that is slightly pliable, with a taste that is nutty and earthy.

(Known as Kit’ta in Amharic,
and Kicha/Kitcha in the dialect of Tigrinya).

Kita_Matzah13_blog

YHAFESECA KIT’TA (Soft Ethiopian Passover Matzah)

Yield: Makes One 8- or 9-inch matzah

Dry Ingredients:
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Wet Ingredients:
2 teaspoons black sesame oil (not light brown Asian kind) or sunflower oil
2 ounces cold water

For Baking in Pan:
1 tablespoon black sesame oil or sunflower oil

STEPS:
1. Combine the dry ingredients in a medium size bowl.

2. Begin heating an 8- or 9-inch skillet (preferably non-stick or cast iron) over a medium-low heat.

3. Mix wet ingredients with the dry ingredients. Once liquid has been fully absorbed,
gather dough into a small ball.

4. Grease your hands with a little oil and briefly pound the ball with your fist in the bowl,
then quickly press ball down with your palm into a disk about 4 inches wide.

5. Place disk into the heated skillet and being careful not to burn yourself, gently press disk down
until it fills the size and shape of the pan. Using a dinner fork, press the back of the tines all over
the surface.

6. Raise heat to a medium-high flame and continue to cook until bottom becomes flecked with very dark brown spots, about 5 minutes. Flip bread over and cook second side an additional 3 minutes until browned. Remove from heat and serve immediately. Continue to prepare additional matzahs, one at a time (or if you can keep track of time, two at a time in two separate skillets.)

Still Time to Save Your Skins! (Huevos Haminados are coming.)

Eggs_Brown15_blog

AKA: Ouevos Haminados, Uevos Haminados or Güevos Haminadavos.

Two months before Passover, Deanna Marcus starts saving her onion skins (yellow, white, and red), while June Hersh remembers her mother telling the produce man to save them for her in anticipation of the holiday. Huevos means “eggs” in Spanish, and the word Haminados comes from the Hebrew word Cham meaning, “hot.” In the Sephardic world Huevos Haminados (browned whole eggs in the shell) are baked all year round, served alongside such pastries as cheese or potato borekas, or baked in the Shabbat stew known as Chamin/Hamin. When slow-cooked, the onion skins turn the whites of the eggs inside into a beautiful beige color, imparting a delicate caramel flavor. Shade and intensity of the egg’s color inside and out will depend on the quantity of the onion skins and coffee used, the variety of onions, and the length of time they cook (in the Yemenite tradition some add red wine vinegar as well). For Passover, one of the browned eggs is used for the Seder plate, while the rest are served as the first course to the dinner. The bottom line is, if you plan to prepare these delectable treats, you need a ton of onion skins. So start collecting now!

HUEVOS HAMINADOS (Browned Eggs with Onion Skins, Olive Oil & Coffee Grinds)
Yield: Serves 6 (Makes 6 Brown Eggs)

INGREDIENTS:
1 tablespoon coffee grinds
8 to 10 loosely packed cups onion skins (just the outermost thin brown layers)
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups cold water
6 large white eggs

STEPS:
1. Combine all of the ingredients except the eggs in a medium sized mixing bowl.

2. Create a nest at the bottom of a medium sized,
heavy-bottomed pot with half of the onion skin mixture.

3. Gently place the eggs on top of the onion skins,
then cover them with the remaining half of the onion skins.

4. Bring water to a boil over high heat and boil the eggs for 5 minutes.

5. Lower heat to the lowest setting on your stove, cover with a tight-fitting lid,
and steam the eggs until the shells obtain a caramel-brown color on the outside,
about 4 to 5 hours minimum. (Note: These eggs traditionally were slow-baked in the oven overnight,
so if you have the time you can do it that way or keep cooking the eggs on the stovetop for about
10 hours total.)

6. Rinse off the eggs and cool to room temperature before serving at the seder meal.
Leftover eggs may also be refrigerated to be eaten the next day as a delicious snack or
as part of a lunch.

Un Kavretiko: “An only kid” in Ladino

Today’s post on the blog Bendichas Manos talks about Passover songs in Ladino. The words for Had Gadya (Un Kavretiko, in Ladino) are written out, along with a link to download Passover songs in Ladino. These are special songs to get you in the mood for preparing for Passover.

Enjoy!

Podcast: “Passover Portraits: Intimate Stories, Secret Cuisines & Sacred Rituals”

Please tune in for my interview about Passover stories and rituals on
“Secret Cuisines & Sacred Rituals” with Vilasi Venkatachalem!
Friday, March 13th, 8am PT, 10am CT, 11am ET.

 

Going Green for Passover: It’s all about fresh ingredients in Indian cooking

Passover is almost synonymous with spring, and in Indian Jewish cooking all herbs, vegetables and fruits used for the holiday must be fresh and not dried. Foods that are naturally green in color are especially popular as they represent the freshness of the spring season (and the overall spirit of “renewal”). During this time, fresh turmeric root (resembling ginger root) replaces the ground kind, and young, unripe green mangoes (which have a pale yellow/white flesh and are a bit sour and crunchy in texture) are plentiful and used in salads, sauces, and chutneys.

GreenMango_TurmericRoot2_blog

Fresh turmeric root (left), green mango (right).

Unfortunately it was not easy to find an actual Indian green mango, so instead I used the hardest most unripe one I could find and created a salad adding fresh coriander, mint leaves, and green chili peppers for flavor as well as color. The combination of ingredients was based upon what Sharona Galsurkar described to me — a young woman whom I was most lucky to meet and interview for my cookbook while she was visiting New York City from her native Mumbai.

MangoSalad2_blog


Kairi Chi Koshimbir 
(Green Mango Salad with Green Chilies, Mint, Coriander, and Dates)

Yield: Serves 6 to 8 / Makes 5 cups

INGREDIENTS:
3 large unripe, firm mangoes (2 3/4 to 3 pounds total), peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

(Note: If you can find the true unripe “green” mangoes in a Indian grocery,
then peel and coarsely grate instead of cubing)

1/4 cup fresh coriander leaves
1/3 cup coarsely chopped  fresh mint leaves.
2 to 3 teaspoons finely chopped green chilies (optional: add to taste!)
1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
15 regular pitted dates (not soft Medjool), sliced into strips about 1/8 thick
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons date sugar (or to taste, depending upon how sweet or sour mangoes are)

STEPS:
1. Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and let marinate at room temperature for 1 hour.

2. Serve at room temperature in a decorative bowl or small platter.
Store in air-tight container in refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Eshkol HaKofer

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