Tag Archives: Egypt

What does your Seder Plate say about you and your politics?

Beet

The Passover story of the ancient Israelites fleeing slavery in Egypt for freedom in their homeland of Jerusalem has become a metaphor for human suffering in the modern day. As a result, the Seder has turned into a stage for political discussion about civil and human rights. In addition to the traditional bitter herbs, charoset, spring vegetable, shank bone, salt water, and egg found on the Seder plate, new symbolic foods are being added to express our individual views about gender issues, animal rights, racism, bigotry, and war. In the early 1980s, Jewish feminist and scholar Susannah Heschel stirred things up by adding an orange to her Seder plate to represent the “inclusion for lesbians, gays, and others who are marginalized by the Jewish community.”1  In 2014, Rabbi Marcus added a big tomato to her Seder plate to bring attention to underpaid/overworked workers in the agriculture/tomato-picking industry.2  To acknowledge powerful female leaders, many households now include a second cup of wine alongside the Prophet Elijah’s to remember the Prophetess Miriam who helped her brother Moses lead the Israelites out of the desert. And for vegetarians, a red beet (similar in color to blood) takes the place of the shank bone to represent the Paschal Sacrifice made the eve of the first Passover, while olives or an olive branch is used to symbolize the hope for peace in the Middle East. 

For your Seder this year, will you add something new to your Seder plate and make a statement about one of the many issues our society is struggling with today?
Please send me your ideas!

Footnotes:
1 Cohen, Tamara. “An Orange on the Seder Plate,” MyJewishLearning.com.
[Source URL (retrieved on 3/13/2017):
http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/an-orange-on-the-seder-plate].

2 Lipman, Steve. “The Tomato Finds Its Place on the Seder Plate,” JewishWeek.TimesofIsrael.com, 3/27/12 [Source URL (retrieved on 3/13/17): http://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/the-tomato-finds-its-place-on-the-seder-plate].

Advertisements

In Honor of Women’s History Month: The Ma’yan Passover Haggadah

Ma'ayanHaggadah_Outline_72dpi

©Cover Illustration by Jennifer Abadi

While doing my spring/Passover cleaning, I came across this women’s haggadah that I had once illustrated for Ma’yan, the Jewish Women’s Program at the JCC. In the mid ’90s, Ma’yan held their first annual feminist Passover Seder in New York City, which became a tradition that continued for many years. Since then feminist Seders have been held throughout the United States to call attention to the roles that Jewish women have played in our history, as well as to encourage female leadership in the future. In honor of Women’s History Month, commemorate Miriam — the sister of Moses — who helped the Israelite women while fleeing Egypt. Take a moment to reflect upon strong and positive female role models who strive to make a positive impact on women in modern society. As we approach the Passover holiday, think about what you can add to your Seder ceremony to make the Passover experience more meaningful and inclusive.

Revisiting the Egyptian Sofrito: Test 3 is the charm.

had neither tasted nor even heard of a sofrito until one year while visiting family in France, my husband and I were invited to the home of Dinah Franco — a Sephardic Jew of Egyptian descent. Sofreír in Spanish means to sauté or “lightly fry,” and in Spanish, Portuguese, Caribbean and Latin American countries, a sofrito is a type of sauce made by cooking a lot of garlic, onions, and spices with various vegetables for a long period of time over low heat, so that it can be used as a base for cooking meat, other vegetables, beans or rice dishes.

The following recipe is one that I recreated after having tasted Dinah’s, which combines nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and turmeric, with a lot of garlic and onions. When I was first developing this dish I focused on getting the right balance of seasonings and ingredients down on paper, and when I later tested my recipe I found that the result was more like a soup than a stew. In this most recent third attempt I used a lot less liquid to braise the meat and cooked it over a lower heat for a longer period of time. The overall result was a thick, rich sauce that took on the flavor of the meat, and more of what a true sofrito should be.

Beef_Sofrito_Step1_blog

STEP 1: Gather and prep your ingredients (3 pounds beef stew pieces, 4 cups onions, parsley, 1 to 2 cups coriander leaves and/or parsley leaves, 4 to 5 tablespoons garlic, spices, 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, black pepper).

Beef_Sofrito_Step2_blog

THE SPICES: 1/4 teaspoon cloves, 1 teaspoon ginger, 2 teaspoons turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg.

Beef_Sofrito_Step3_blog

Beef_Sofrito_Step4_blog

STEP 2: Brown the meat in a large heavy-bottomed pot with a little oil over high heat, then pour into a separate bowl along with all of its liquid.

Beef_Sofrito_Step5_blog

STEP 3: Add a few tablespoons of oil to the same pot (no need to wash) and cook onions over medium-high heat until soft and transparent, but not browned. Add the garlic and while stirring, cook for 30 seconds.

Beef_Sofrito_Step6_blog

STEP 4: Add the spices, salt, and pepper, mix, and cook over medium heat for about 1 minute.

Beef_Sofrito_Step8_blog

STEP 5: Return browned meat and all of its liquid plus about 1 cup cold water to the pot. Add the chopped herbs and mix well. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a medium-low heat, cover, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Uncover and cook an additional 1/2 hour until sauce has reduced and meat is so soft it can be easily cut with a spoon. (Note: If you like, you can scatter a few cups of potato pieces over the top and cook it with the meat for the last 1/2 hour as well.)

Beef_Sofrito_Step9_blog

STEP 6: Dinner is served.

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving and Passover: Celebrations of freedom and new beginnings

Matzah_Cranberries_Thanksgiving

Yesterday a friend asked me if I would be posting something in my blog about Thanksgiving, and my immediate response was no. (After all, it’s only about Passover.) But then I got to thinking and realized that not only could I write something that linked the two celebrations together, but that I absolutely should. (See an earlier post about creating a Thanksgiving Seder plate.)

Like Passover, the Thanksgiving festival itself takes place not in a temple of worship, but directly at the dinner table amongst family and friends. One of the nicest things about Thanksgiving is that it is a national holiday (specifically American/Canadian), celebrated by all faiths and backgrounds. While Passover may be a Jewish holiday, it is probably the only one celebrated by all levels of Jewish observance, from the most secular to the most traditional.

Each celebration coincides with the harvest — Passover in the spring, and Thanksgiving in the fall — where special foods available during each particular season are central to the meal. During Thanksgiving we go out of our way to prepare dishes that utilize foods native to the Americas, such as corn, cranberries, turkey, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and pecans, which over time have become symbols of the holiday itself. During Passover, varying Jewish communities make a special effort to prepare foods using fresh spring produce, such as a variety of greens, herbs, vegetables, and fruits, while matzah (the unleavened bread symbolic of Passover), is often incorporated into dishes as well.

Finally (and most significantly) each of these two holidays is an opportunity for us to teach our children (and remind ourselves) about important moments in our history when people were persecuted for their differences and forced to flee for a better, more open life. For the Pilgrims it meant traveling for two treacherous months by sea from Europe, to an unknown life in the New World, for the chance to to worship freely and live life in a new way. And for the Israelites the Bible tells of how enslavement in Egypt forced them to wander through the “wilderness” or desert for forty years just to escape the wrath of the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, in hopes of rebuilding their lives in the Promised Land.

In summary, Thanksgiving as well as Passover represents the will to free oneself from an oppressed life, as well as the strength to start anew, despite the many obstacles and difficulties that might be encountered along the way. During this holiday season when we think about what we are thankful for, let us remember not only those in the past who have succeeded in finding and building a freer life,
but for those today who who have only started their journey.

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

ShmuelLegesse2_blog

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.)

Cleansing your sins for Passover? It’s time to start preparing.

“My mother never wanted a cleaning lady to help (for Passover) because she believed that wherever you were cleaning your chametz, you were also cleaning your avonot — your sins. She used to tell my older sister who was not yet married, ‘Clean more, more, more and the chattan (groom) will come faster.'”

— Sonia Arusy (Tunisian)

MorgueFile_sunset2_blogThe holiday of Passover in truth begins today, when we sweep up fallen Hamantaschen crumbs from Purim and start the methodical process of cleaning out our homes from top to bottom. Back a few generations ago, the act of cleaning was taken very seriously in eastern countries. In wealthy homes in Morocco (where hiring help was affordable), individuals were paid to remove ALL of the stuffing from every pillow and mattress, pick it clean, stuff it back in, and sew the cases back up. Some individuals from India noted that their walls were all freshly painted, and their floors stained, while in Ethiopia it was commonplace to break all of the pottery (including bowls, cups, plates, and pots) from the past year and buy new ones beginning with Passover. In Egypt and Lebanon, copper pots were brought to specialists who would clean and polish them until they became almost white in appearance, a process called imbay’yid (meaning, “to whiten” in Arabic). And overall in many of these communities, it was essential for the whole family to go to a seamstress or tailor a few weeks before the Seder to get measured for new clothing, which was often made of a white cloth.

What is most interesting is the connection of cleaning one’s house to cleansing one’s soul. As with most Jewish rituals, the physical act of observance is often tied to something deeper, higher, and more spiritual. There is an old saying, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” which is derived from a basic principle mentioned throughout the Bible. In the passage Exodus 19:10 (Oxford Annotated Bible), the Lord tells Moses: “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready by the third day; for on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” From this we learn that in order to receive God, it is important to cleanse oneself on the outside as a step towards spiritual purification (for the inside). During the weeks and days leading up to Passover we take the time to cleanse our homes and ourselves so that by the eve of the Seder we are ready to receive God once again, and remember how our ancestors were once freed to start anew.

Question: How do you prepare for the coming holiday?  

The Paschal Sacrifice: Going in on the whole lamb

Lamb_BW_blogRecently a good friend of mine emailed me a photo of a lamb with only the subject line: “Want to share one with me?” My first thought was she wanted it as a pet, but after a few emails I understood that she needed to know if I would share half of it with her (the meat, that is). My first reaction was one of discomfort. A whole lamb reserved just for us? It felt wrong and sad (and the cute and fuzzy photo she had sent didn’t help). But then I thought about God’s commandment to the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb the night before their big exodus from Egypt, and how since then its consumption has become such an integral, even holy part of the Seder meal. I also thought about the stories from several individuals who recalled their traumatic experiences as children: “One spring my father brought home a lamb, who then became our pet. We would feed it and play with it in the backyard. But then one month later (the day before the Seder) the shochet arrived at our door and we knew what was going to happen. It was a terrible experience,” shared one individual from Iran. “My sisters, and brothers and I used to keep him on our terrace and feed and pet it. Then one day it was gone and it wasn’t until the Seder meal that we understood. It was very hard for us,” shared another from Morocco. In fact it was not uncommon in the Middle East for several family members to go “wholesale” and order an entire lamb that they could share for the holiday week, while others in poorer communities might have shared one between several families. The main thing was that you ate some amount of lamb to fulfill this mitzvah of the sacrifice (and remember our ancestors’ freedom from Egypt).

Now that Passover is upon us, and my freezer is filled with half of a lamb, I feel more pressure to find and develop appropriate recipes for each piece. It’s not the same thing as simply going to your local butcher and purchasing a few (“anonymous”) pounds of the same cut. There is some responsibility now in using every piece and not letting any go to waste. Corny as it sounds, going in on the whole lamb feels much more personal.

The Seder

A Simple Passover Haggadah

Eshkol HaKofer

Sephardic & Judeo-Arabic Seder Menus and Memories from Africa, Asia and Europe!

too GOOD to PASSOVER

Sephardic & Judeo-Arabic Seder Menus and Memories from Africa, Asia and Europe!

In my Iraqi Kitchen: Recipes, History and Culture, by Nawal Nasrallah

Sephardic & Judeo-Arabic Seder Menus and Memories from Africa, Asia and Europe!

Bendichas Manos

a blog about living, cooking and caring in the Ladino tradition

KOSHER LIKE ME

COMING SOON

my madeleine

Sephardic & Judeo-Arabic Seder Menus and Memories from Africa, Asia and Europe!

A Kosher Christmas

'Tis the Season to be Jewish

%d bloggers like this: