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“Quarantine,” the significance of the number 40, and Passover.

FaceMask

The word quarantine derives from the Latin word quadrāgintā and Italian quaranta meaning “forty.” But how did we get to the number forty as a reference to isolation? 

In his article “The Origin of Quarantine,” Paul Sehdev notes that one of the earliest references to the use of isolation as a strategy for limiting the exposure of a disease such as leprosy can be found in the Bible (although a minimum period of time is not specifically mentioned):

LEVITICUS 13:46: “As long as they have the disease they remain unclean.
They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.”

Sehdev goes on to explain that in the fourteenth century Europe first began adopting extreme measures of isolation in order to control the spread of the Black Plague. In 1377 a council in southern Italy declared a mandatory thirty-day isolation period called a trentino for those residing or visiting hotspots mostly affected by the Plague, threatening fines to anyone who even tried to visit the closed off area without license. The period of time was eventually extended forty days, thus changing the term to quarantino

While one can assume that the period of time had been extended out of necessity to more thoroughly contain the disease, why the number was changed to forty at this point in history to become an official term in our language today is curious. Perhaps this seemingly random number has roots in the three Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism where the number forty has particular significance:

In his article Mr. Sehdev goes on to note how the Christian practice of Lent — a period of “spiritual purification” — lasts for forty days, as mentioned in the New Testament:

MATTHEW 4:2 (Jesus fasting in the Judaean Desert): “After fasting forty days and forty nights he was hungry.”)

In Islam the number forty is mentioned several times in the Quran and believed to be the age when a person obtains his or her highest level of wisdom and intellectual maturity:

SURAH al-AHQAF, 46:15: “… When he comes of age and reaches forty years, he says, ‘My Lord! Inspire me to give thanks for Your blessing with which You have blessed my parents and me, and that I may do righteous deeds which please You, and invest my descendants with righteousness. Indeed I have turned to you in penitence, and I am one of the Muslims.”

In Judaism the number forty is written throughout the Torah as a number tied to change/transition, and renewal/purification:

GENESIS 7:4 (Noah and the flood): “For seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living thing I have made.”

EXODUS 34:28 (Moses and the Ten Commandments): “And he was there with
the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water.
And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.”

NUMBERS 32:13: “And the Lord’s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of the Lord, was consumed.”

During the Seder we retell the story of our ancestors the Israelites who were freed from bondage in Egypt and brought to the Promised Land of Canaan (the region in which today’s Israel is located). A trip that should have taken only forty days turned instead into a forty-year period of isolation as they wandered along with uncertainty. Perhaps as a people they needed to first go through this period of struggle together so that by the time they reached their final destination they were ready to embrace their new home and become the unified nation of Israel they were meant to be.

Many cities and states throughout the country and the world today have issued shelter-in-place orders and told their citizens to stay at home in order to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus. We are constantly told to keep our distance from others, even family members who may be most vulnerable to the disease. All shops, except for grocery stores and other essential businesses, are completely closed forcing many to work from home or lose their jobs. Students around the country are learning virtually online with their teachers, while healthcare workers are working around the clock to save thousands of lives. But one bright spot may be the number of people who have been reunited by phone or video with friends and relatives who they had lost touch with long ago.

The New York City quarantine officially began on Monday, March 23, and we are now only in our eighth day of isolation. I only hope during these weeks (or months) of uncertainty and fear that we too — like Israel — will all come out of this as a more unified nation and people than we had been going in.

Please take care of yourselves and be good to others.
And I’ll see you on day forty (May 1.)

BIBIOGRAPHY:

Paul S. Sehdev Department of Medicine, Division of Geographic Medicine,University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, 2002.

Salam Islam. “What is the Significance of Number Forty in Islam?”
Published 10/13/19
.

Aish HaTorah Israel Programs. Aish.com Torah portion:
“Ask the Rabbi: The Number 40.” March 29, 2020.

Happy Birthday Grandma Fritzie!

Left to right: Adele Abadi, Grandma Fritzie, Abe Abadi, and Great-Grandma Esther Nahum Abadi, 1923.

In 1923, an eight-year-old Syrian girl, her mother, and her younger brother and sister boarded a ship from a port in what was then Palestine (established as Israel in 1948) and made the thirty-day journey across the Atlantic to come to America. That little girl was my beloved Grandma Fritzie, who became an artist, and never forgot the sights, tastes, and sounds of her first days in her new “Promised Land.” Years later I spent time cooking with her to learn and preserve all of her delicious recipes from Aleppo so that my own family could continue to prepare these dishes in the future.

Today is her birthday and I am thinking of preparing M’jedrah
rice and lentils — in her honor (please see recipe below).
Happy birthday Grandma Fritzie!

Grandma Fritzie in her art studio on West 23rd Street, NYC, 1955.
Four women in a boat,” by Grandma Fritzie, 1950s.
Still life by Grandma Fritzie, 1950s. 
Still life by Grandma Fritzie, 1963.

M’jedrah:
Rice and Lentils with Fried Onions
Yield: Serves 8

For Rice and Lentils:
2 cups dried brown lentils, rinsed in cold water then drained
2 ½ teaspoons salt
2 cups long-grain white rice,
soaked in cold water for 10 minutes then drained

For Serving:
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 to 3 cups thinly sliced yellow onions (about 3 medium)
2 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter, cut into tiny bits
1 recipe Cucumber-Mint Yogurt Dressing (Leban; recipe following)

  1. In a heavy medium-size saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil over high heat. Add the lentils and cook 10 minutes over a medium-low heat, uncovered, until the lentils are halfway cooked and somewhat chewy in texture. Remove from the heat.
  2. Drain the lentils over a strainer, reserving all of its liquid.
    Combine the reserved liquid with enough water to equal 3 3/4 cups,
    and pour it into the same saucepan. Add the salt and drained rice, and mix. Bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered.
  3. Once the rice is boiling, add the drained lentils, and stir twice gently so as not to mush them. Boil, uncovered, until the liquid appears mostly absorbed and reaches the level of the surface of the rice and lentils, about 3 to 5 minutes. Cover tightly; reduce the heat to its lowest possible level, and steam until the rice is soft but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Once rice is tender, gently stir by folding from the bottom to the top. Keep covered at room temperature until ready to serve. (Note: If you need to reheat before serving, pour rice and lentils into an ovenproof, heavy-bottomed pot, cover, and warm in a preheated
    250 degree F. oven until warm, about 20 to 30 minutes.)
  4. 30 to 45 minutes before serving, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat and fry the onions until very brown (almost black!) and crispy, about 25 to 30 minutes. Arrange the rice and lentils on a serving platter or bowl and pour the fried onions and their oil over the top. Do not mix. Dot the top with the butter and serve at once. Eat with several spoonfuls of this yogurt dressing (leban) on top of each individual serving.

Leban m’Naa’na: Cucumber-Mint-Yogurt Dressing
Yield: Makes About 2¼ cups

2 cups plain whole milk yogurt (low fat or nonfat yogurt can be substituted)
1 tablespoon dried mint leaves
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 cups peeled and finely chopped or coarsely grated Kirby cucumbers, excess liquid drained

  1. Place the yogurt in a small bowl and stir until creamy.
  2. Add the dried mint by crushing it between the palms of your hands.
  3. Add the garlic powder and salt and mix well.
  4. Fold the cucumber into the mixture, cover, and chill until serving time; it will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 days.

Now available online on Amazon in the U.S. as well Amazon in the following countries:

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Learning a Ramadan favorite from Hanan Rasheed to kick off the month-long holiday.

The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic word ramida meaning “be burnt, scorched,” referring to the first time the holiday was supposedly observed which was a summer month.1

Qatayif_1

The Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which takes place in the 9th month of the Islamic (lunar) calendar, is marked by the first sighting of the new moon or crescent (hilal) and lasts 28 to 30 days for all the phases of the moon. Because the estimated start date for Ramadan 2019 is Sunday, May 5th, Muslims all around the globe will begin to look for the first glimpse of the new moon around May 3rd in order to determine the official start to the holy month of fasting. Some will look to their local imam for the official announcement while others may follow what is declared by the Judicial High Court in Saudi Arabia. Once the official announcement has been made, Muslims will call friends and family members to congratulate them with “Koulu am weh entoum salameeneh,” meaning “Many happy returns” or “Ramadan kareem” (“a great/generous Ramadan”).

During this month-long holiday Muslims worldwide will fast from dawn until sunset each day in order to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by the angel Gabriel — an act that is considered to be the fourth of the five pillars of Islam. (The five bases of the Islamic faith are as follows: shahada [confession/declaration of faith], salat [prayer], zakat [almsgiving/charity], sawm [fasting, especially during the month of Ramadan], and hajj [pilgrimage to Mecca].2

Between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan, adults are expected to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual relations. (From sundown until sunrise the next morning they can continue with their normal routine, and fasting is mostly waived for the young and adults with certain issues related to health.)

The emphasis of the holiday is on self-sacrifice, charity, gratitude, and reflection. Ramadan  is not only a month of fasting and prayer, but a period of spiritual healing and devotion to Allah (God). It is a time to feed the hungry and the poor, and catch up with family and friends.2

Eid al-Fitr (“festival of the breaking of the fast”) begins with the first sighting of the new moon on the first day of month of Shawwal marking the end of the fast of Ramadan. The festival lasts for three days and is a period of prayer, giving, and forgiveness. During this period Muslims will celebrate by giving gifts to family members and donations to charities, wearing new clothing, and feasting on a variety of savory and sweet dishes.Family members, friends and neighbors will wish one another Eid Mubarak meaning “have a blessed festival.”

Ramadan is like the arrival of the most special guest — aziz — someone whom you prepare and wait for all year long from one Ramadan to the next.

— Hanan Rasheed

I met Hanan Rasheed, a Palestinian-American, in February of 2019 while teaching a cooking class at ICE (the Institute of Culinary Education of New York). She was a culinary arts student at the time and came into my class to introduce herself after seeing my cookbook “Too Good To Passover: Sephardic & Judeo-Arabic Seder Menus and Memories from Africa, Asia and Europe” on display outside the classroom kitchen. Two days later we were sitting down together in a café discussing our equal love for Middle Eastern food and culture, and figuring out ways to bring people together through it.

Hanan is the creator of “Healing Table” where she prepares Middle Eastern themed pop-up dinners in order to bring individuals from all faiths and backgrounds together. A big part of what motivates her to organize these dinners is conflict resolution between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims, through their shared history of food and culture.

On Friday, May 3, 2019, Hanan came to my Upper West Side apartment to talk about her memories of Ramadan as a child while growing up in the West Bank village of Dibwan, and to show me how to prepare Qataiyif (a stuffed and baked pancake with walnuts and cinnamon that is dipped in rose water syrup). The recipe reminded me of the Syrian version in my cookbook A Fistful of Lentils pronounced Atayif, which is fried then dipped in the syrup.

The following is a photo journal with the recipe that she showed me.

Hanan Rasheed’s Qatayif ma’eh Juz
(Walnut-Stuffed Pancakes with Cinnamon, Cardamom,
and Lemon-Orange Blossom Water Syrup)

Yield: Makes about 3½ dozen four-inch pastries

INGREDIENTS:

For Pancake Batter:
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon yeast
5 cups warm water (¼ cup for yeast mixture + 4¾ cups for main batter)
2 cups semolina
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons warm milk

For Walnut Filling:
1½ cups raw walnut halves
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons sweet/unsalted butter, melted

For Rose Water Syrup (Ater):
2 cups sugar
2 cups cold water
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons orange blossom water

For Frying, Baking and Serving the Pancakes:
4 to 5 tablespoons vegetable oil,
for greasing the skillet and brushing the pastries before baking

2 half sheets or large baking trays lined with parchment paper

3 tablespoons sweet/unsalted butter, melted,
for brushing the outsides of the stuffed pancakes

1 pastry brush

2 tablespoons finely ground pistachios, for sprinkling on top of pastries before serving

 

DIRECTIONS:

Prepare the Pancake Batter:

  1. Combine 1 tablespoon of sugar, yeast, and 1/4 cup of warm water in a small bowl. Place in a warm location and let sit for 10 minutes or until bubbles form on the top (the sugar and warm temperature helps to activate the yeast).
  2. In a medium sized mixing bowl combine the semolina, flour and salt.
  3. Pour the yeast mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix well.
  4. Add the 3 tablespoons of warm milk and the remaining 4¾ cup of warm water and whisk together into a smooth batter. Pour mixture into a large blender and pulse until very smooth (if necessary blend in batches). Pour mixture back into your bowl, cover, and let sit for 20 minutes at room temperature. Meanwhile prepare the walnut filling and syrup.

Qatayif_2

Qatayif_3

Prepare the Walnut Filling:

  1. Place the walnuts, sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom into a food processor and pulse just until walnuts are coarsely ground, 15 to 30 seconds.
  2. Pour mixture into a small bowl and combine with the melted butter.
    Set aside and prepare the syrup.

Prepare the Syrup:

  1. Combine the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring to a slow boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to a medium-low heat and simmer for 15 minutes until sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture has turned into a light syrup.
  2. Remove the syrup from the heat and mix in the rose water. Set aside to cool and start to cook the pancakes.

Cook the Pancakes:

  1. Lightly grease a medium sized non-stick skillet with oil and warm over a
    medium heat for 1 minute.
  2. Mix or whisk the pancake batter. Using a ¼-inch measuring cup, scoop out ¼ cup of the batter and pour into the hot skillet. Cook until the bottom is golden brown and the top is soft but feels dry to the touch, about 2 minutes. (Note: You will only be cooking the bottom side; you want the pancake to be cooked enough so that it has a nice golden color on the bottom but remains pliable enough to fold and stuff in Step #12. If the pancake is overcooked and dries out it will break when folded and will not seal shut along the edges.)
  3. Remove the pancake and place onto a piece of parchment paper with the cooked/golden side down. Cook a second pancake in the same fashion then stack it on top of the first pancake on the baking sheet. (Note: When you stack the second pancake on top of the first it should be flipped over so that the golden side is up facing you, and the white side with the bubbles is on the bottom. This helps to keep the pancakes soft until you are ready to stuff and fold them.) Continue to cook and stack the pancakes, 1 to 3 at a time, until all the batter has been used up.

Qatayif_4

Stuff the Pancakes:

  1. Place one pancake on the countertop or a clean cutting board so that the white/bubble side is facing up. Put 2 tablespoons of the ground walnut mixture in the middle of the pancake and spread it out into a horizontal line from left to right. (Note: Be careful to keep the nuts away from the edges of the pancake or you will have trouble sealing it closed in the next step!)
  2. Fold the pancake up from the bottom to create a semi-circle shape, and pinch the edges together so that the pancake is sealed shut. (The topside of the pancake should be a little softer and slightly sticky enough to hold the pancake together.) Place the stuffed pancake onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper and continue in this manner until all the pancakes have been filled.

Qatayif_5

Qatayif_6

Qatayif_7

Bake and Serve the Pancakes:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. As oven heats up, brush the top of each stuffed pancake with the melted butter.
  2. Place the baking trays on the bottom and lower-middle racks of the oven and
    bake until slightly crispy on top, about 15 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven and immediately dip each pastry into the cooled syrup to fully coat. Cool for 10 minutes on the parchment paper. Serve warm or at room temperature arranged on a platter or plate sprinkled with the ground pistachios as decoration.

Qatayif_8

Qatayif_9

Sahten!


1. https://www.etymonline.com/word/ramadan

2. Bakhtiar, Laleh. Ramadan: Motivating Believers to Action: An Interfaith Perspective.
The Institute for Traditional Psychoethics and Guidance, Kazi Publications, Inc.,
Chicago, 1994.

3. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Eid al-Fitr.” [www.https://www.britannica.com/topic/Eid-al-Fitr],
Encyclopedia Britannica, inc., March 20, 2019, (Accessed April 25 2019).

IACP Finalist in Best Self-Published Cookbook Category!

IACPLogo 2.jpg

TooGoodToPassover_Cover_Front_72dpi_blog

“Too Good To Passover” has been entered as a finalist in this year’s Self-Published Cookbook Category! Winners will be announced at the IACP awards ceremony on May 18th in Santa Fe. Will keep you posted!

Remembering Grandma Fritzie

GrandmaFritzieAbadi

On May 22, 2001, Grandma Fritzie passed away on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
I have been thinking a lot about her lately.

Only a week ago I received an email by a woman named Francine in Tucson who had purchased  a lithograph by my grandmother at an estate sale.

After doing a search online Francine came across my website and information about the life of my grandmother. She was intrigued by her strong personality and drive to be a female artist in the sixties and seventies, and was reminded of her own Brooklyn born Italian-American family, with their large family gatherings that centered around great food. When I received this email with the photo of my grandmother’s lithograph, I was happy to know that her artwork was keeping the memory of her alive. 

Unfortunately Grandma Fritzie never got to see my cookbook “A Fistful of Lentils: Syrian-Jewish Recipes From Grandma Fritzie’s Kitchen” when it was officially printed in 2002. But I am so very grateful that I spent so much personal time with her while writing it. This book was what brought me into the world of recipe recording and teaching, and Syrian food was my first lesson.

 

Painting_Grandma_1

Painting by my grandmother hanging in my apartment, possibly a self portrait from the 1960s

Very recently I received a letter from the publisher that all rights to the cookbook had been reverted back to me. My first reaction was to feel sad because I thought that if my cookbook was no longer being printed, my grandmother’s, mother’s and family’s stories and recipes would be forgotten (which was the whole point of writing this book to begin with!). But then I realized this was an opportunity for me to take back my book and relaunch it with revised (and possibly even new) recipes. I have learned a lot about self-publishing this last year when “Too Good To Passover” was released in January, and it almost feels like “A Fistful of Lentils” has finally come back home to me in my care. 

By the end of this year I hope to relaunch a new edition to “A Fistful of Lentils” that will continue to keep my family’s stories and recipes, and the Syrian-Jewish culture alive. Stay tuned! 

 

 

 

Happy 70th Birthday Israel! My podcast with Steven Shalowitz on popular Israeli foods and their origins

SteveShalowitz_Podcast_JF_2_26_18

In honor of Israel’s 70th anniversary (April 18, 2018), I was interviewed by Steven Shalowitz to discuss popular Israeli food for JNF’s Podcast (the Jewish National Fund), IsraelCast. Tune in as we discuss the origins of shakshuka, borekas, felafel, hummus, halvah, the biblical herb za’tar, and shnitzel. (I will even talk about how pastrami became a Jewish-American deli favorite!)

Click here for JNF’s Podcast, IsraelCast
(Scroll down to “Episodes” and you will find it listed first as
episode 25, Culinary Expert Jennifer Abadi.)

Note:
In the second half of my talk I will also briefly discuss my new cookbook
Too Good To Passover.

 

 

A Matzah Mosaic Decorating Party!

The whole idea behind the Passover holiday is to get the kids involved. What better way than to have a matzah decorating party? Every year my kids enjoy decorating sheets of matzah that we give to our guests as gifts to take home with them after the Seder meal. Just melt chocolate and paint it on using pastry brushes, then stick on your favorite candies, sprinkles, or chopped up nuts and dried fruit. It’s fun for adults as well! Make sure that the chocolate has dried completely before placing into Ziploc baggies and storing in the freezer until ready to eat. You need only defrost about 20 minutes before.

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