Tag Archives: Mimounah

Breaking the Bread “Fast” with Something Sweet: Mimounah arrives just in time

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Tomorrow night, Saturday, April 7th, 2018 is the last night of Passover when many of us will be breaking our week-long bread “fast” with something special. For North African Jews in particular it is time to prepare for the Mimounah celebration with a variety of pastries, sweets and confections. (For further explanation on this festival please go to my blog page.)

The following recipe was taught to me by Colette Nahon who grew up in Orán (the Spanish pronunciation, or Wahran — in Arabic), a city along the northwestern coast of Algeria where many Spanish people once settled. While the name mantecaos derives from the Spanish word mantequilla, meaning “butter,” or even more closely to the word manteca for “shortening” (which in Spain was usually pork fat), this Jewish/kosher version uses vegetable oil instead, making it something easy to serve following a meat meal. Because it contains flour, Colette usually prepares this specialty for the Mimounah holiday when flour products such as cakes, cookies, and breads are served to mark the end of Passover. Mantecados are a cookie commonly prepared for Christmas in the Iberian Peninsula (a region including Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Gibraltar, and a small part of France) and made with lard or butter. What is most interesting is that through this cookie one can trace the Sephardic lineage of the Jews who fled the Inquisitions during the very end of the 1400s and settled in Algeria, bringing this cookie along with them.

Recipe from “Too Good To Passover,” Section 1: Africa, Chapter 1: Algeria

Mantecaos (No-Butter Butter Cookies with Cinnamon)
(Parve)
Yield: Serves 15 / Makes almost 4 dozen 1-inch cookies

Ingredients:
1 pound all-purpose flour (about 3 level cups, but more accurate if weighed)
¾ cup sugar
1 cup vegetable or safflower oil
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Steps:
1. Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2. Combine flour with sugar in a medium size mixing bowl.

3. Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the oil. Mix well until all of the oil is absorbed and the mixture can easily be formed into a soft dough.

4. Scoop out one level tablespoon of dough using a measuring spoon or melon ball scoop, and gently roll it into a ball. (Note: It is important that the ball of dough not be larger than 1 level tablespoon, otherwise the baking time, texture, and final size will be affected.) Use your thumb to slide the dough out of the spoon and onto the parchment paper on the baking sheet. Leaving about 1 inch between each ball, continue to scoop out and roll dough until is finished.

5. Make a shallow indent in the center of each ball with your thumb and flatten them down ever so slightly. (If this makes the ball of dough crack a little around the edges, leave it! This — according to Colette — is what makes the cookie look homemade.)

6. Sprinkle the center of the dough (where the thumb print is) with about
1/16 teaspoon of cinnamon and bake on the top and middle rack of the oven until they begin to crack slightly along the bottom edges, and only the very bottoms are golden brown, 27 to 28 minutes on the middle rack and 25 to 26 minutes on the top rack.*

*(Note: These cookies should become a “sandy,” white color on the outside, and retain a pale, “snowy” color on the inside, with only the very bottoms slightly browned. Once fully cooled, the resulting texture should be a tiny bit crunchy on the outside and crumbly on the inside, which Colette says should “melt in your mouth.”)

7. Allow the cookies to fully cool and harden before serving, about 30 minutes. Store cookies between layers of parchment paper in an air-tight container at room temperature up to one week, or in the freezer up to one month. Bring to room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.

For another Mimounah recipe, see Moroccan Cigares aux Amandes

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Henna: Hametz for Passover?

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©Noam Sienna: “A Contemporary Piece with the Hebrew Alphabet”

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Noam Sienna about his research and discoveries regarding henna in the Middle East and Mediterranean, and he shared some interesting things about the practice in the Jewish communities with regards to Passover:

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©Noam Sienna: “A Contemporary Interpretation of Moroccan Style”

In Jewish communities, henna was not done during Passover, but rather right before. Because henna is made from dried and ground henna leaves (and not a grain product), it is not technically chametz or leaven. But it seems that because the process to make the henna dye resembles the making of dough for bread, it was considered to be analogous to chametz and therefore not permitted during the Passover holiday. Anthropologist Erich Brauer observed among Kurdish Jews in the 1940s that when making henna, they mixed henna powder with water and kneaded it in a bowl with sumac, an acidic spice; it was then left to sit for several hours or overnight to allow the henna to break down into a strong dye. Even though no rising or fermentation process took place, this process was referred to as hamirit hinna (‘henna’s yeast’) and therefore seen as inappropriate for Passover. In effort to use up their henna, early on the 14th of Nissan (the morning of the eve of the Seder) Kurdish and Moroccan Jews would apply it to their hair, hands, and feet, which would generally last one good week — the length of time of the holiday. 

Henna also occasionally appeared at the Mimounah — a unique North African festival immediately following Passover. (Perhaps it doesn’t appear more often because they had painted themselves right before the holiday, and therefore, their hands would still have had the stains.) Passover begins the fifty-day countdown to Shavuot (a harvest festival also commemorating the giving of the Torah), and on Mimounah there was a ritual of sending henna between boys and girls around the age of five, to mark the beginning of what was seen as an ‘engagement’ period between them and the Torah that would culminate in Shavuot. This union would be played out between a young boy and a young girl, whereby the family of the ‘groom’ would send henna, candies, and jewelry to the family of the ‘bride’ on Mimounah, followed by a mock ‘wedding’ on Shavuot (with the hope that perhaps one day when they are older — God willing — they will actually get married).”

For more information, please check out Noam Sienna’s blog and website:
Eshkol haKofer and Henna by Sienna

Back to Bread: Moroccan Cigares aux Amandes

CigaresAmandes_BlogPassover has passed over and we are now back to eating our favorite breads, cakes, cookies, crackers, and yes, pasta. For our break fast (from bread) we decided to have a simple pasta with sauce and cheese (other choice was pizza), a cold beer, and some delicious Moroccan pastries called, Cigares aux Amandes, which are a specialty served during Mimounah, the festival celebrated at the end of the Passover holiday. Below is a recipe that I later developed after having first learned them from Fatima, a Moroccan woman I met while visiting my husband’s family in France. Because France has a large North African population from Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, one can easily purchase store-bought leaves of dough in a package to roll and fill and make these cigares, but in the U.S. I have only seen them in some of the more specialized Middle Eastern stores in places like Queens and Brooklyn. Instead one can make a version that using the Greek style of thin phyllo pastry, which also rolls well but is a bit more flaky and delicate to work with.

Cigares aux Amandes: Moroccan Phyllo “Cigars” with Almonds
& 
Honeyed Orange-Blossom Syrup
(Yield: Serves 12 / Makes 2 Dozen Cigares)

 

For Filling
1 cup blanched whole almonds
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 small egg or ½ large egg, lightly beaten
1 to 1½ teaspoons orange-blossom (flower) water

For the Cigares Using Phyllo Dough:
2 sticks sweet, unsalted butter, melted
½ pound phyllo dough (half of a 1-pound box), thawed according to package directions
2 to 3 cups vegetable oil, for frying

For the Cigares Using Feuilles de Brick:
6 pieces of feuilles de brick
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
¼ to ½ cup canola or vegetable oil, for frying

For the Syrup:
1 cup clover or orange-blossom honey
2 teaspoons orange-blossom water

For Serving (Optional: may choose which you prefer):
Confectioner’s sugar
Ground cinnamon
Sesame seeds


PREPARING THE FILLING:

1. Pulse together whole almonds and sugar in a food processor until finely ground into a meal.

2. Add ground ginger, cloves and cinnamon and pulse together again to blend.

3. Add eggs and orange-blossom water and pulse one last time to make an almond “dough” that is
soft and paste-like. Set aside.

FILLING, ROLLING, AND FRYING (using phyllo dough):
4. Unroll the phyllo pastry dough on a countertop and gently smooth out with dry hands. With a kitchen scissors or very sharp knife, cut the phyllo widthwise—along the short end—into three strips, making two of them about 7 inches wide. Place the strips on top of each other to form one stack and cover with a damp towel to keep the dough moist. (Cover and set aside the leftover, thinner strip of phyllo just in case you have some leftover filling at the end.)

5. Place the dish of melted butter beside you. Working with one strip of dough at a time, gently peel off a single layer of phyllo and place it vertically before you on a clean work surface. Re-cover the stack of phyllo with the damp towel.

6. Using a pastry brush, coat the entire strip lightly with melted butter.

7. Take 2 to 3 teaspoons of the almond filling and roll it out into a long, thin sausage, about the width of the phyllo dough before you. Place the almond sausage about 1/8 of an inch from the bottom of the phyllo strip.

8. Roll tightly from the bottom to halfway to the top, then turn the sides into the center and continue to roll to resemble a long, thin cigare. Brush the edges with butter and place on a platter or plate. Continue rolling the pastries in this fashion until all of the filling has been used up.

9. In a medium sized saucepan, heat the oil until very hot. Depending upon how large your saucepan is, deep fry 2 to 4 cigares at a time until they become a medium brown color. (Gently twirl each cigare around in the hot oil to make sure that all sides are evenly coated and fried.)

10. Place each deep fried cigare onto a platter covered with a paper towel to soak up the excess oil and place 2 to 4 more cigares into the saucepan for frying.

11. Position a cake rack over a plate. Combine the honey and orange blossom water in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the honey has dissolved and becomes a thin liquid. Reduce heat to low. Gently pick up one fried cigare at a time with a tong or chopsticks, and dip it into the syrup to coat all sides. Place onto the cake rack for the excess syrup to drain onto the plate below. (Note: if you want to sprinkle with the sesame seeds do it at this point so that they stick onto the syrup.) Continue dipping all of the cigares into the syrup in this manner and allowing them to sit on the rack until they fully cool to room temperature.

12. Serve cigares stacked in a pyramid shape or in criss-crossed layers on a small platter or plate. If you like, you can lightly sprinkle the tops with a little confectioner’s sugar and/or cinnamon before serving.

FILLING, ROLLING, FRYING (using Feuilles de Brick):
4. Using a kitchen scissors or sharp knife, cut one leaf of dough into quarters so that you have four equal triangles. (Leave the dough attached to the paper it comes with to make the cutting easier.)

5. Peel one triangle of dough away from the paper and place flat on the countertop or table in front of you with the apex or pointy corner of the triangle facing up, and the wide base closer to you on the bottom.

6. Take 2 to 3 teaspoons of the almond filling and roll out into a long, thin “sausage,” about 4 inches wide. Place the almond sausage horizontally on the dough about 1 inch from the top or pointy tip of the triangle. (You want the almond sausage to be centered from left to right so that there is about one inch from the pointy top, as well as the left and right edges.)

7. Roll tightly from the top to halfway to the bottom, then turn the sides tightly into the center and continue to roll to resemble a long, thin cigare.

8. Dip your finger into the egg white and brush just enough along the inside edge of the dough to seal the cigare closed. Place cigare onto a plate and continue to fill and roll in this manner until all of the dough has been used up.

9. In a medium sized skillet, heat ¼ cup of the oil over high heat until very hot (when you sprinkle a little cold water into it and it crackles, then it is hot enough.) Depending upon how large your saucepan is, fry 4 to 6 cigares at a time until they become a light golden brown color, about 2 minutes. (Gently shake your skillet to make sure that all sides are evenly coated and fried in the hot oil.)

10. Place each deep fried cigare onto a platter covered with a paper towel to soak up excess oil and place 4 to 6 more cigares into the skillet for frying, adding more oil if needed.

11. Position a cake rack over a plate. Combine the honey and orange blossom water in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the honey has dissolved and become a thin liquid. Reduce heat to low. Gently pick up one fried cigare at a time with a tong or chopsticks, and dip it into the syrup to coat all sides. Place on the cake rack for the excess syrup to drain onto the plate below. (Note: if you want to sprinkle with the sesame seeds do it at this point so that they stick onto the syrup.) Continue dipping all of the cigares into the syrup in this manner and allowing them to sit on the rack until they fully cool to room temperature.

12. Serve cigares stacked in a pyramid shape or in criss-crossed layers on a small platter or plate. If you like, you can lightly sprinkle the tops with a little confectioner’s sugar and/or cinnamon before serving.

The Moroccan Mimounah Celebration: The final night of Passover

Mimounah_Table_BlogCelebrated at sundown on the eighth or final day of the Passover holiday (the seventh day for Reform Jews and those residing in Israel), Mimounah is a unique custom observed by the North African Jews of Moroccan origin to mark the conclusion of Passover. During this celebration any foods forbidden during Passover are consumed as a way of symbolizing “freedom” (such as sweet leavened cakes and breads) over “slavery” (the unleavened matzah). Many Moroccan Jews believe that after fulfilling their week-long holiday of Passover, the gates of heaven will open wide (during Mimounah) so that God may hear the prayers of the faithful and bestow abundance and prosperity in the coming year.

On this special night, a festive table is covered with a white tablecloth and adorned with foods representing spring, prosperity, abundance, fertility and overall good luck. Because Moroccan Jews once refrained from eating dairy during the Passover holiday (most likely because KLP/Kosher for Passover dairy was once unavailable) dairy products are the highlight of the post-Passover Mimounah meal, and meat is therefore avoided. A pitcher of buttermilk or milk is placed in the center of the table, along with white candles and a small bowl of flour to symbolize purity. Since the number five (chamsah, in Arabic) is believed to bring good luck in the Middle East (referring to the Five Pillars of Islam for the Arabs, or the five books of Torah for the Jews), the flour is topped with five of each of the following: silver coins, eggs, beans and dates. Some hosts will even go so far as to display a live fish swimming in a fish bowl to represent good luck and specifically fertility. In addition, green stalks of wheat, beans, nuts and lettuce leaves are placed on the table to invoke abundance, while several small plates of honey, sweets, fruits and preserves are served to represent spring and to ensure a sweet year.

Tajine aux Pruneaux (Moroccan Stewed Prunes with Onions, Cinnamon, Sugar, and Toasted Whole Almonds)

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When I first tasted this dish prepared for me by Renée Tangy I was amazed at how simple, yet delicious it was. The sweet, soft prunes almost melt in your mouth, while the crunchiness of the toasted whole almonds adds a nice balance in texture. Although it may seem to be more like a dessert, the addition of sautéed onions gives a certain savory flavor making it a perfect side dish for roasted chicken, lamb, or any other kind of meat. You may also prepare the prunes over steamed couscous for the Moroccan festival of Mimounah at the end of the Passover holiday.

For Prunes:
2 pounds pitted prunes
(about 2 dozen jumbo size)
3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped yellow onions (about 1 1/2 medium)
2 teaspoons orange or lemon zest
1 cup orange juice
¼ cup vegetable or chicken stock
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 to 4 tablespoons brown sugar

For Serving:
1 cup blanched, whole almonds

1. Place prunes into a medium sized bowl and fill with warm water to cover. (If you are using prunes in the can they may already be very soft and moist, so do not soak or they will become too mushy when cooked; Skip to step #2). Soak for 15 minutes to soften prunes, then drain.

2. Heat a large skillet with the oil for 1 minute over high heat. Add the chopped onions and cook until golden, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the prunes and mix well with the cooked onions. Lower to medium heat and cook
10 minutes, stirring every few minutes to prevent burning.

4. Combine the zest, orange juice, stock, cinnamon, and sugar in a small bowl and mix well. Add to the prunes and cook over medium heat until prunes become very soft, about 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally and taking care not to break up the prunes.

5. Place almonds onto an ungreased baking tray and bake in a 350 F. oven for 15 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature, then toss with the cooked prunes.

6. Serve hot as a side dish to lamb, veal, or beef.

Yield: Serves 8 to 10 (Makes About 4 Cups)

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