Tag Archives: Seder

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

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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].

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

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©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.

“A Feast of History: The drama of Passover through the ages”

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In reading Chaim Raphael’s book, A FEAST OF HISTORY: The drama of Passover through the agesI came across the following description of the Seder ceremony, which I think sums up its role as a common (yet important) Jewish experience:

“The Seder has a unique quality, however, in that it is a ceremony which brings together — and always has throughout history — all kinds of people of Jewish origin, no matter what weight they normally attach to this in terms of belief, practice, political philosophy, social interests or family loyalties. Among our profusion of skeptical Jews … there are not many who will refuse to attend the Seder ‘on principle’ — as they might other Jewish observances. On the surface, nothing is committed by attendance.”

— Chaim Raphael
(Excerpted from: A FEAST OF HISTORY: The drama of Passover through the ages (with a new translation of the Haggadah for use at the Seder)Steimatzky’s Agency, Ltd. together with Weidenfeld Nicolson, London, 1972, pages 17-18.)

 Have a good Seder everyone!

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.

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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).

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.)

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STEP 6: Dinner is served.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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.

Are we ready for a Thanksgiving Seder plate?

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As I continue to work on my Passover cookbook, I am struck by certain parallels between Passover and Thanksgiving. Just as Thanksgiving is the most popular holiday enjoyed in the United States by Americans of all backgrounds (a billion-dollar industry with thousands of cookbooks around one food holiday alone!), Passover is the most loved of all holidays in the Jewish calendar celebrated by Jews from all streams of Judaism. Like Thanksgiving, Passover takes place with family and friends of all generations sitting around a big table (or two) at home, outside of any house of worship. For Thanksgiving, turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and sweet potatoes have become the symbols of the holiday, while matzah, charoset, gefilte fish, chicken soup (with matzah balls), eggs, and either brisket or lamb have become synonymous with Passover here in the United States.

The message behind each occasion also has some striking resemblances. While there may be a bit of a debate these days about the true story behind how Thanksgiving came to be, the overall mood or feeling around this festivity has become one of inclusiveness, sharing, giving, and last but not least: gratefulness. As immigrants from all backgrounds we reflect (if only for a tiny moment between bites of sweet potato pie and savory stuffing) about being lucky to live in “America,” and for having those who are special to us around to share the meal and essentially “break bread.” It also has become a time to pause and think more locally about those of us who are poor, sick, or struggling in other ways, and as a result many volunteer their time to soup kitchens providing free Thanksgiving meals to those in need. While retelling the story of the Exodus from the Bible, we express gratefulness for our ancestors being released from slavery in Egypt, making their journey through the desert to Jerusalem, and for us surviving as a people time and time again. In my interviews of individuals from all over the world for my Passover cookbook, many have shared with me their stories of making a concerted effort to invite any Jews into their home for the Passover Seders so that they would not be alone and would have a place to eat and “break matzah” with others. (And we can’t forget about the custom of setting out a glass of wine and opening up the door for Elijah, the prophet and eternal guest.)

Some individuals and Jewish organizations have even taken up this opportunity to take aspects of the Passover Seder and weave them into their Thanksgiving meals. During these meals, mini Haggadot or prayer booklets are distributed at the table to discuss the topics of “Struggle, Freedom, and Gratitude” as a universal concept.

Maybe this is the time to create a new Seder plate for Thanksgiving,
one that would include various foods to represent the following principles:

STRUGGLE: leeks, scallions (slavery, abuse, poverty, sadness)
LUCK: head of garlic (protection against evil)
FREEDOM & SHARING: pumpkin bread (sweetness/”breaking bread” with others)
GRATEFULNESS: cranberries/cranberry sauce (sweet & sour taste representing balance)
INDIVIDUALITY & STRENGTH: multi-colored carrots (various cultures/building roots)
HOPE: pumpkin (growth)

QUESTION: What would you put on your Thanksgiving Seder plate?

The Second Night: A Tunisian Seder

For the second night of Passover we went to a Tunisian Seder at Jennifer and Philippe’s on the Upper West Side. The photo below is of their beautiful Tunisian Seder plate, which includes a Tunisian style charoset (upper left portion of plate) that I made myself of apples, dates, almonds, toasted sesame seeds, and rosewater. The final paste I formed into small balls, then rolled in finely ground rose petals:

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The photo below shows Jennifer carrying the Seder plate around the table while circling each person’s head — a common Sephardic and Middle Eastern Seder custom. This ritual signifies good luck for the year to come, but more importantly connects each guest present to the story of the Exodus from Egypt:

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