Tu BiShvat Tagine

Photo by Serena Epstein https://www.flickr.com/photos/serenae/

Tagine Clay Pot. Photo by Serena Epstein.

In Morocco, the Jewish community would celebrate Tu BiShvat by gathering for a collective feast. Tu BiShvat is the New Year of the trees as described in the Mishna. The wealthiest family would serve a delectable slow cooked meat and dried fruit dish called a tagine. It was named after the special clay pot used to prepare the stew. Traditionally it was prepared with chicken or lamb, dried fruits, and nuts. When the feast ended, every person went home with their hat filled with a gift of various fruits.
You may celebrate with your friends and family with a taste of North African hospitality this Tu Bishvat. On February 10th, when winter is in full force in Philadelphia, serve an exotic fruity chicken tagine. Send your guests home with a care package of fresh or dried fruits, just like the parnassim of Casablanca, Tangiers, and Tetouan.

Photo by Scottish Association of Geography Teachers https://www.flickr.com/photos/sagtmorocco/

Chicken Tagine. Photo by Scottish Association of Geography Teachers.

Chicken Tagine with Honey and Dried Fruits
Adapted from Cuisine Marocaine

Ingredients:

  • 6 chicken drumsticks
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 cup dried dates
  • 1 cup raw almonds
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 4 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of saffron threads
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot.
  2. Add the chicken and onions.
  3. Season with the ginger, cinnamon, saffron, salt, and pepper.
  4. Mix in the honey.
  5. Toast the almonds in a hot non-stick frying pan.
  6. Place the almonds in the pot.
  7. Add the dates, garlic, cilantro, and broth.
  8. Bring to a boil, cover the pot tightly with a lid, and lower the flame to a simmer.
  9. Cook for 30 minutes.
  10. Serve with fluffy steamed couscous.

Enjoy!

Introducing Sephardic Sweets

— by Janet Amateau

Cooked sweets — purees, compotes, marmalades, pastes, hard candies and whole preserves — are an important component of the Sephardic culinary tradition and social custom. Whole fresh and dried fruits, citrus peel, flower petals, seeds, nuts and even vegetables are transformed into confections of various textures, forms and colors, to be served, with tea or coffee, when folks come a callin’.  

My own grandparents and great grandparents favored sweets made from quince, almonds, apricots, citrus peel, rose petals, apples, dates, figs and sesame. Depending upon where in the Mediterranean you might be you’d also enjoy sweets made from lemons, pears, sour cherries, grapes, plums, tomatoes, pumpkin, eggplant — you name it. The Moroccan recipe in these pages for Berenjenitas en Dulce — candied baby eggplants — is a fine example. The list is endless.

The full recipe after the jump.
What makes these confections Sephardic per say is not only how they are prepared but how and when they were incorporated into Sephardic life. As with other Sephardic foods, many sweets, too, carry some specific symbolism or association with key events — holidays, weddings, circumcisions, baby namings, bar mitzvas, etc. They may represent sweetness, purity or, in the unique case of harosi (haroset), even the mortar of the Egyptian pyramids (at the religious school I attended, I was convinced those Ashkenazi ladies who made the haroset they served up really meant for us kids to eat mortar). But never mind that. When it comes from a Sephardic kitchen, harosi is rendered a luscious spoon sweet. Candied almonds may be served at weddings, masapan adds “sweetness” to all celebrations, And so forth. Others are perhaps more quotidian, though no less special, saved for social visits both planned and impromptu. Or for your own household, of course.

Everyone’s got their personal favorites and specialties, which keeps things interesting and provides ample opportunity for showing off your confectionary skills. Around our house my mother collected tangerine peels, as did her mother, to make dulse de mandarina — tangerine marmalade — studded with pine nuts. One of my great grandmother’s specialties was dulse de kondja’ — rose petal jam made only from deep red roses, picked only in the morning when the dew-covered petals are at their most fragrant. Most fitting for a woman from The Island of Roses. Grandpa was mad about bembriyo, quince paste, which he cooked up in batches each fall during that fragrant fruit’s very short season, as he’d seen his mother do before him. Old habits die hard. Lucky for me, quince paste is a household staple in Spain (where it’s called membrillo). It’s out of this world with semi-soft cheese.

Berenjenitas en Dulce – Moroccan-Sephardic Candied Baby Eggplants

Notes:

  1. The recipe takes anywhere from 6 to 9 hours to prepare; if you’re a fan of slow foods, this one’s for you.
  2. This recipe is by Liticia Benatar (born in Casablanca, living today in Caracas) and comes from Dulce lo Vivas by Ana Bensadon.
  3. The translation is mine, as are comments in parenthesis.

Berenjenitas en Dulce

Ingredients

  • 25 baby eggplants – as small as possible
  • 1.5 kilos (7-1/2 cups) sugar
  • 500 grams (1-1/2 cups) honey
  • crushed fresh ginger (according to taste)
  • 8 cloves
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • a few grains of allspice

Directions

  1. Poke the raw eggplants all over with a fork.
  2. Put them in a (large, heavy, enamel) casserole, cover with cold water and add the sugar.
  3. Boil for 10 minutes, lower the flame and simmer for 2 or 3 hours over a low flame.
  4. Remove from the heat.
  5. Make a (little sack) with a fine cloth or gauze and put in all the spices. Add the spices and half the honey to the casserole and return it to the flame.
  6. When the pot begins to boil, lower the flame and simmer over a low flame for 2 or 3 hours.
  7. Add the rest of the honey. The eggplants have to cook for another 2 or 3 hours more, until they turn very dark.

Janet Amateau is the creator of Sephardic Food, which explores Sephardic (Judeo-Spanish) food and the culture that it comes from.

Moroccan Judaism: A Culture in Danger

— by Youness Abeddour

Moroccan Judaism is a culture in danger. What was once a key part of Moroccan culture and society is now being forgotten and many people in Morocco do not even know that Jews still live among them. There is much confusion and even resentment caused by the massive Jewish immigration to Israel and many people now confuse terms such as Judaism and Zionism. This confusion and lack of information has caused many people to forget or to even look negatively on a people who were once their neighbors and a culture that is even now intricately a part of their own. This film seeks to resolve the confusion and to educate people about this history of a culture which cannot be separated from Moroccan culture as a whole.

More after the jump.
This documentary film, about 30 minutes, started as a university project. We had to produce a documentary film after finishing two semesters of “Documentary Filmmaking: Theory and Practice” at the university of Fez. Since I have been working on topics related to Moroccan Judaism since 2009, when I got my B.A. it was an automatic choice to work this time on an audio-visual project. The choice of the title came only in the last phases of the documentary. I wrote a proposal to the professor about what I intend to do in this film. It was accepted. Then I started shooting with a humble camera: Canon 12 Pixel HD. I travelled to different cities to have interviews with scholars on the field, including Casablanca in the Jewish museum where I filmed with the late Simon Levy. After I finished the interview with him, he invited me to project the documentary once it is finished in the Jewish Museum. Unfortunately he passed away before watching the final product. The reason why I decided to dedicate it to his eternal memory. Simon Levy, for those who don’t know, was the director of the Jewish Museum of Casablanca, the only in the Arab World. Not only that, but he had been an inspiration for me personally. He is one of a kind and his loss was very hard. I loved him like a father and him like a son. I am currently planning to project the documentary in the Jewish Museum as an hommage for him.

Youness Abeddour was born in 1989 in Fez City, Morocco. He obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in English Studies in 2009.  He completed a thesis on “The Presence of the Mellah in Morocco” and a Master’s Degree in 2012, as well as a Cultural Studies Major, with a thesis on “The representation of Moroccan Jews in Moroccan Cinema.” Youness Abeddour is the president of Mimouna Club of Fez. Mimouna Club is a non-profit organization that seeks to educate the Moroccan people about the Moroccan Jewish Culture and to encourage harmony between Jews and Muslims in the Moroccan context. Mr. Abeddour has been involved in Peace and Interfaith discussions in Morocco and Israel.

Send Obama A Message!


— by Rabbi Avi Shafran

The Obama administration considers Israel a sponsor of terror — at least according to Dick Morris, the disgraced ex-advisor to Bill Clinton, and a host of self-styled “conservative” media. The news was shocking — well, maybe not to the clever folks who knew all along that the president is a secret Muslim, but certainly to the rest of us.

What turned out to be the case is that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency maintains a list of 36 “specially designated countries” whose immigrating citizens get extra scrutiny because their nations “promote, produce or protect terrorist organizations or their members.” Note the word “or.”

“Produce,” in this context, means that terrorists reside in the country. Thus, countries like the Philippines and Morocco, along with Israel, are on the list. Approximately a million and a half Israeli citizens are Arabs-many of whom have ties to Arab residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. So no, with apologies to Mr. Morris et al, the U.S. does not consider Israel a terror sponsor.

What makes some people all too ready to misrepresent such things is that many Americans, especially in the Jewish community, have deep concerns about President Obama’s Middle East policies. My personal view is that these concerns are overblown. While I realize there are other opinions, as far as I can tell Mr. Obama’s positions on building in the settlements and on the terms of Israel-Palestinian negotiations have been American policy since long before his presidency.

Even doubters of Mr. Obama’s good will, though, should recognize the import of the administration’s declared readiness to veto any U.N. Security Council resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood. That stance risks the U.S.’s international political capital and may even, G-d forbid, come to threaten Americans’ safety. Might it speak more loudly about the president than his opposition to new settlements?

Speaking equally loudly is what happened on September 9, when Mr. Obama acted swiftly to warn Egyptian authorities that they had better protect Israeli embassy guards in Cairo besieged by a mob. When Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minster Barak were unable to reach the apparently indisposed Egyptian military leader Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spent hours hounding the Egyptian, finally reaching him at 1 AM to let him know that if anything happened to the Israelis, there would be “very severe consequences.” Egyptian soldiers protected the hostages until an Israeli Air Force plane safely evacuated them.

Mr. Netanyahu later recounted that he had asked for Mr. Obama’s help and that the president had replied that he would do everything he could. “And so he did,” testified the Prime Minister.  

It may not be meaningful for many, but I was struck two days later on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks when the president, betraying his Islamic beliefs (joke!), chose for his reading at the New York ceremony the 46th chapter of Tehillim. The one including the words (in the White House’s translation):

“Though its waters roar and be troubled… there’s a river whose streams shall make glad the City of G-d, the holy place of the Tabernacle of the Most High.”

And:

“The God of Jacob is our refuge.”

Whatever our takes on this or that statement or position, hard facts are not up for debate.

Let’s not forget some such facts:

  • The Obama administration has provided more security assistance to Israel than any American administration;
  • he has repeatedly declared (first in 2009 in Cairo during his speech to the Arab world) that the bond between the U.S. and Israel is “unbreakable”;
  • his Secretary of State lectured Al-Jazeera that “when the Israelis pulled out of Lebanon they got Hezbollah and 40,000 rockets and when they pulled out of Gaza they got Hamas and 20,000 rockets”;
  • his State Department has condemned the Palestinian Authority’s “factually incorrect” denial of the Western Wall’s connection to the Jewish people;
  • and much more.

Last week, in the lead-up to a Congressional election in Brooklyn  in which Jews had ample other reason to vote against the Democratic candidate, some ads presented the contest as an opportunity to “Send Obama a Message”-which some Jews took to mean an angry message about Israel.

Many thoughtful Jews, though, have a different message for Mr. Obama:

"Thank you."