Tag Archives: renewal

Passover: The True Jewish New Year?

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt,
‘This month shall be for you the beginning of months;
it shall be the first month of the year for you. 1
Exodus 12:1-2

I must admit I was surprised to learn that Rosh Hashanah — meaning, “Head of the Year” in Hebrew, does not actually take place at the beginning of the Jewish year. According to the lunar based Hebrew calendar, Rosh Hashanah is a festival that occurs on the first day of the “Seventh month” of Tishrei. While Passover, which begins on the fifteenth day of the month of Nisan (some time between mid-March and mid-April on the modern Gregorian calendar) is known as the “First Month” of the year according to the Torah.

While it is not entirely clear why Rosh Hashanah has become the accepted date for celebrating the new year culturally among Jews, it is possible that it has to do with ancient agricultural cycles, and the beginning of the fall harvest. As part of the Rosh Hashanah tradition, we choose to wear clothes that are white and new, and eat autumn foods that represent abundance, health, and happiness for the coming year. Similar to Passover, many Sephardim will arrange a special Seder plate including foods that symbolize overall good luck.

The Passover holiday takes place in the spring season — a period of change and renewal. The festival represents the redemption and rebirth of the Israelite people brought out of slavery to freedom, and their arduous journey to the “Promised Land” (then known as Canaan — an area that included modern day Israel) to ultimately become the Jewish nation. During Passover, we clean our home from top to bottom, buy new clothes, and prepare foods that include new green vegetables. A special Seder plate is arranged using foods that symbolize suffering, freedom, and thanks and devotion to God.

Whether spring or fall, both holidays represent new beginnings.
And the hope for a happier, healthier, and better time to come.

Shana Tova.

1 Exodus 12:1-2. Translation from the New Annotated Oxford Bible: With the Apocrypha.
Revised Standard Edition, Oxford University Press, New York, 1973, p. 80.

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Nargesi: A pie in love with itself.

NargassiFlower_blog

The name Nargesi comes from the Farsi word (Narges) for the Narcissus plant or daffodil, a sunny springtime flower (with either bright yellow petals and a deep orange center, or bright white petals with a deep yellow center) that has come to symbolize rebirth and renewal. This river bank flower is named after the Greek God Narcissus known for his extraordinary beauty, who subsequently drowned while admiring his reflection in a pool of water. Over time the term “narcissist” has come to define someone consumed with his or her own physical appearance or ego.

In my research on this dish I came across photos where instead of the eggs being scrambled with greens and herbs (as done in this recipe), the eggs were cracked open and poached directly on top of a bed of sauteed greens and onions, which visually resembles the Narges flower over leaves. I learned this unusual recipe from my friend Simona Shokrian, whose family would serve this for Passover. The resulting dish is more like a hearty frittata, mixed with herbs, spinach, and tiny meatballs, that you cut into wedges like a pie. Naima Abrishami suggests to sprinkle with lemou Omani (crushed Persian dried limes) to add a slight tangy flavor before serving.

Nargassi_6A_blog

Nargesi (Persian Egg “Pie” with Leeks, Spinach, Turmeric, and Tiny Meatballs)

YIELD: SERVES 6 TO 8

INGREDIENTS

For Meatballs:
1 large (1/2 pound) white onion, pureed in food processor (should have about 1 cup)
1 pound ground turkey (dark meat better since it has some fat) or beef

For Nargesi:
2 tablespoons grape seed, safflower, or vegetable oil
1½ cups coarsely chopped yellow or white onions (about 1 large)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white or freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin (optional)
1 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley leaves
1 cup finely chopped coriander leaves or 1/3 cup tarragon leaves
½ cup finely chopped dill leaves
4 ounces coarsely baby spinach leaves (about 7 loose cups)
2 cups coarsely chopped leeks (use dark green and white parts only) rinsed in cold water and drained, or 1 cup coarsely chopped chives
¾ cup hot water
6 large eggs, lightly beaten

For Serving (optional):
2 tablespoons ground or crushed lemou Omani (dried Persian limes)
or 1 to 2 whole lemou Omani, ground in food processor

STEPS:
1. Drain the excess liquid from the puréed onions and mix with the ground meat in a medium bowl.

2. Heat a large 5- or 6- quart pot with oil over high heat for 1 minute. (Note: Your pot should be about 9 or 10 inches wide, but no more or the final pie will be too thin!) Add the chopped onions and cook until soft and transparent, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the salt, pepper, turmeric, and cumin (if desired) and mix well. Cook 1 minute.

4. Reduce to a medium-low heat. Wet your hands lightly with cold water (to prevent sticking) and taking only 11/2 teaspoons of the meat mixture, form it into a small, smooth meatball the size of a large cherry. (Meat will be very soft and wet, so be gentle.) Drop the meatball into the pot and continue until all of the meat mixture has been used up. Cover pot and steam until solid and cooked through, about 20 minutes.

5. Drop in the parsley, coriander (or tarragon), dill, spinach, and leeks (or chives) and cover.
Steam until the herbs and spinach have wilted and softened, 10 minutes.

6. Pour the hot water over the top and mix gently so as not to break meatballs. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover, reduce to a medium heat, and cook for 15 minutes. Uncover and cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. (Eggs will cook too quickly if added to mixture when very hot.)

7. Once nargasi has cooled, re-warm over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Gradually pour in the beaten eggs while gently mixing with a spoon to distribute evenly. Partially cover and steam over lowest setting until eggs have solidified but are still soft and slightly wet in the center, 35 to 40 minutes.

8. Score and scoop out large pieces of the nargasi and arrange in layers onto a serving platter or plate. Serve warm with lemou Omani on the side for individuals to sprinkle on top of each serving, as desired.

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?  

OUT with the OLD and in with the NEW: Time to throw out the old spices!

Spices_Down_Sink_blogMy students often ask me, “How long can I keep my spices?” This is a hard question to answer as throwing out your spices on a regular basis to replace with fresh ones can be very expensive. But one thing I will say is if you are going to do it only once a year, right before Passover is the ideal time!

Passover is all about spring and renewal, and your Seder dinner should reflect that with all fresh ingredients and spices. Many individuals that I interviewed from various countries (such as from India, Iran, Morocco, or Libya) explained that one of the first and most important things prepared in advance for the holiday were the spices. They were bought from the market as seeds, picked clean, washed, dried, and freshly ground all in honor of the holiday feast. The result? The food just tasted different. Better. Fresher. And to match a home that has been cleaned from top to bottom, the spices also had to be new.

So today, in honor of this tradition, I decided to go down to Kalustyan’s on 28th and Lexington Avenue to purchase some new spices to make sure that I would be getting rid of the old ones. If you haven’t been to this store yet, you definitely should. It’s a beautiful place, almost like a specialty food museum, and you will find yourself getting lost in all of the unusual spices, rices, sauces, and dried fruit. I walked in just for spices, but here is what I walked out with:

Roasted ground cumin (usually buy regular, but thought I would try the roasted)
Ground coriander (A staple in my house along with cumin)
Fenugreek seeds (for making Yemenite soup and Hilbeh sauce)
Turmeric (Generally need for Persian dishes)
Hazelnuts (To test my Sephardic Mustachudos cookie recipe for Passover)
Bokharian Sweet & Sour Persian Dried Plums (hope to use with Bukharian soup recipe next time!)
Whole wheat & white Moroccan couscous (for Mimounah break-fast party last night of Passover)
Tiny dried rosebuds and crushed rose petals (for Tunisian charoset recipe)
3 bags frozen fava beans (for helping my friend to make Tunisian M’soki on 2nd Seder night)

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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.

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