Passover Maakouda: Potato Frittata From The Maghreb

— by Ronit Treatman

One of the most popular street foods in North Africa is called Maakouda. It is a type of fritter, made from potatoes or eggplants, sometimes with fish, or cheese.  

Maakouda is the perfect snack for Passover. The basic potato maakouda is parve. It can be served hot, at room temperature or cold.

A verdant sauce, such as the South American chimichurri or Moroccan chermoula enhances the flavor of the Maakouda .

Recipes follow the jump.
Maakouda Batata (Potato Frittata)
Adapted from Christine Benlafquih

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

  • 4 large potatoes
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup minced cilantro
  • 2 eggs
  • olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 3 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  1. Cube the potatoes.
  2. Boil them in salted water until they are pierced easily with a fork.
  3. Drain the potatoes, mash them, and set aside.
  4. Cut up the onions.
  5. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy skillet.
  6. Add the onions.
  7. Sauté the onions for 10 minutes, until translucent.
  8. Mince the garlic and add to the onions.
  9. Sauté for one minute.
  10. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the spices.
  11. Pour the onion mixture into the mashed potatoes.
  12. Add the minced cilantro.
  13. Mix well.
  14. Add the eggs, incorporating them into the batter.
  15. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy skillet.
  16. Pour the batter into the oil.
  17. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.
  18. Place the skillet in the oven for about 20 minutes.

While the maakouda is baking, prepare the chimichurri sauce.

Chimichurri Sauce
Adapted from  Marian Blazes

  • 2 cups cilantro
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin, unfiltered olive oil
  1. Place all the ingredients in a food processor.
  2. Pulse until a paste forms.
  3. Process for a couple of minutes.
  4. Taste the chimichurri, and if necessary, correct the seasoning to your taste.

For a Moroccan twist, add 2 teaspoons of paprika, 1 teaspoon of ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon of saffron, and some cayenne pepper to the chimichurri.  This will transform it into a Moroccan sauce called chermoula.

Remove the maakouda from the oven, cut into squares, and serve with chimichurri sauce on the side.

Karpas Soup


Photo: Candice Eisner. ©Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

— by Ronit Treatman

Passover offers so many opportunities for creativity in the kitchen.  On point of inspiration is the Seder plate.  Its ingredients may form the basis of many satisfying dishes.  Chef Moshe Basson, the proprietor of Eucalyptus Restaurant in Jerusalem, has created a delicious spring soup centered on the karpas, or green vegetable, which is dipped in salt water at the Passover Seder.

This velvety soup begins with fresh celeriac (celery root). Some of the celery stalks are separated from the roots, washed, and displayed on the Seder plate, to be dipped in salt water. The rest of the celery stalks, leaves, and roots are blended with almond or coconut milk to prepare a rich and creamy soup. This versatile soup is inexpensive, easy to prepare, low fat, and vegan.  It complements almost any Passover meal.

Recipe follows the jump.
Karpas Soup
Adapted from Chef Moshe Basson

  • 2 large celeriac roots, with stalks and leaves
  • 2 potatoes
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup unflavored, low-fat almond or coconut milk
  • Ground nutmeg
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  1. Peel the potatoes and celery root.
  2. Dice them into small cubes.
  3. Pour the vegetable broth into a stockpot and bring to a boil.
  4. Add the potato and celeriac cubes.
  5. Boil the vegetables for about 30 minutes, until tender.
  6. Chop up the celery stalks and leaves.
  7. Add the celery stalks and leaves to the boiling soup for one minute.
  8. Remove the pot from the fire.
  9. Pour all of the contents into a food processor.
  10. Blend well.
  11. Add the coconut or almond milk.
  12. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, and ground nutmeg.

Road Safety in Israel

— by Flaura Koplin Winston, MD, PhD — See full article here.

As I traveled about Israel over the past two weeks, I captured some of Israel’s road safety work in action as well as daily life unfolding. In many communities there are dedicated bike lanes, separate from the vehicle and from pedestrians, but in areas where this isn’t possible, bikes either share the road with pedestrians (as in the photo to the right below) or with the cars.

There is a wide array of very creative and positive billboard signs to promote safety. The campaign from my friends at the Israel National Road Safety Authority has the tagline “Think Life” (Hoshvim Chaim).

Photo on the left is taken from an e-card by American Greetings.

President Obama’s Official Statement on Passover


Reprinted courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen

Michelle and I send our warmest wishes to all those celebrating Passover here in America, in the State of Israel, and around the world.

Last week, I visited the state of Israel for the third time, my first as President. I reaffirmed our countries’ unbreakable bonds with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres. I had the chance to speak directly with young Israelis about the future they wanted for their country, their region, and the world. And I saw once again how the dream of true freedom found its full expression in those words of hope from Hatikvah, lihyot ‘am chofshi be’artzeinu, “To be a free people in our land.”

Passover is a celebration of the freedom our ancestors dreamed of, fought for, and ultimately won. But even as we give thanks, we are called to look to the future. We are reminded that responsibility does not end when we reach the promised land, it only begins.

I am hopeful that we can draw upon the best in ourselves to find the promise in the days that lie ahead, meet the challenges that will come, and continuing the hard work of repairing the world. Chag sameach.

First Public Seder in Five Centuries on Portuguese Island Madeira

— by Jake Sharfman

Tomorrow, on an isolated island tucked away deep in the Atlantic Ocean, some 600 miles from the European continent and 300 miles away from Africa, a most unusual Passover Seder, sponsored by Shavei Israel, will be taking place. Thirteen Jews, many of them Bnei Anousim — descendants of Jews who were forcibly converted to Catholicism more than 500 years ago — will gather in Funchal, the capital of the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira, to celebrate the Exodus from Egypt. It will be the first public Seder held in centuries in a region that once had a thriving Jewish population until the Inquisition arrived, even in this remote location, so far from the mainland.

More after the jump.
The Madeira Seder will be led by Marvin and Danby Meital, an American-Israeli couple with a keen interest in crypto-Jewish history. Shavei Israel is sponsoring the Seder, providing funding to make it possible and also supplying the participants with specially designed Portuguese-Hebrew Haggadot. The Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel organization aims to help descendants of Jews across the world reconnect with the people and State of Israel.

“The holding of a Seder in Madeira is truly historic,” said Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund.

More than 500 years after the expulsion of Portugal’s Jews in 1497, the Bnei Anousim are returning to our people. Since Passover commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people from bondage, we feel it is especially symbolic to be holding a Seder for the Bnei Anousim in Madeira, for they too are now emerging from the spiritual captivity of the Inquisition.

Freund added that, “It is incumbent upon Israel and the Jewish people to reach out to the Bnei Anousim and facilitate their return. Through no fault of their own, their ancestors were torn away from the Jewish people. Our task now must be to bring them back.”

Marvin Meital, who will be leading the Seder together with his wife Danby, is originally from Boston and has had a passion for Portuguese ever since he came on a junior year abroad program in Israel in 1958. He had the choice to room with the other Americans on the course or with a separate group from South America. He figured he’d learn more Hebrew by hooking up with the non-English speakers. Instead, he fell in love with their language. He went on to teach Portuguese literature and language at the University of Wisconsin and, after making aliyah in 1974, at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem as well. The Meitals were sent several times to Portuguese-speaking Brazil as representatives of the Jewish Agency.

Marvin and Danby made a connection with the Bnei Anousim community several years ago when the couple was invited to Palma de Mallorca in Spain to help lead a group Seder for Spanish Chuetas, as descendants of Mallorcan Jews are known. (Marvin is also a trained Cantor.) This year, the Meitals wanted to do it again and they set their eyes on Madeira, a popular resort which sees about a million tourists a year and is an important stopover for commercial and trans-Atlantic passenger cruises.

But they had no guests. So they contacted Shavei Israel’s emissary to the Bnei Anousim in Portugal, Rabbi Elisha Salas. “We asked him if he knew of any Jews in Madeira,” Marvin explains. Rabbi Salas replied that he knew exactly the dinner guest who’d be perfect for the Meitals Seder table: a Bnei Anousim woman who has been studying with him in Belmonte. She jumped at the chance to join in and signed up, along with her three children. She then recommended another family. And another. “It kind of snowballed from there,” Marvin says.

The Meitals rented a hotel room with its own kitchen. The facility’s management has proved particularly hospitable. “They stocked our room with all new utensils; with pots and pans, and extra chairs for the guests,” Marvin says. “We’re bringing in the matza and wine from Israel, and all the plastic goods. We’ll go shopping for fruits and vegetables when we arrive.” (There’s no kosher food available on the island).

While Madeira has no real Jewish community to speak of today, there are traces of a more recent Jewish past. Attracted by the city’s wealth and natural advantages, Jews from Morocco arrived in 1819 and set themselves up in the cloth trade. More arrived as refugees from the First and Second World Wars. A synagogue was built in 1836, but it has long been closed and today houses a laundry and a café. A Jewish cemetery dating back to 1861 remains, perched on the edge of a cliff; it has fallen into disrepair and some graves have actually fallen into the sea.

True to Madeira’s prosperous past, the expected guests at the Meital’s Seder table come from their own impressive backgrounds. Danby Meital relates that in attendance will be a shipping magnate, a cartographer, a food and beverage industry executive, and one man who is actively studying Kabbalah “but doesn’t admit to being Jewish himself.”

With such a diverse group flying in from the mainland — Madeira is an hour and a half flight from the Portuguese capital of Lisbon — Marvin expects discussion around the Seder table to be lively. The narrative of the Exodus — which aims to bring alive “in every generation” the physical and spiritual transformation from constriction and slavery to joyous freedom — is one that is highly relevant for Bnei Anousim rediscovering their roots today.

“Pesach is a night of questioning,” Marvin says. “A time to ask. When anything goes and everything is new. We ask, why is this night different from all others? There’s a sense of wonderment here.”

And that is a fitting description for the 13 participants in Madeira’s first Seder in half a millennia.

Local Organization Helps Individuals Celebrate Passover

The Passover League of Philadelphia a not for profit charitable organization founded in 1933 with a mission to raise funds to help needy individuals and families celebrate the Passover holiday. It is supported by volunteers and many Philadelphia charitable organizations.

Seders funded by The Passover League are conducted at various community locations throughout the Delaware Valley. These Seders reach thousands of individuals who would normally be unable to celebrate the traditional Passover holiday. The Passover League serves Jewish veterans in various local hospitals. In addition, The Passover League helps fund the delivery of Kosher meals to homebound individuals and assists many people who are referred through crisis networks.

In order to make a donation, send a check to The Passover League, 215 N. Presidential Blvd, Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004 or call 610-660-0530.

Welcoming The Stranger

The Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN) has issued its 4th Haggadah Supplement entitled Welcoming the Stranger to the Land. According to JSPAN Vice-President and Philadelphia Jewish Voice board member Kenneth Meyers:

We were immigrants in Egypt.  And we have been immigrants many times since then, until we achieved citizenship on American soil. The Seder is a time to reflect on our experience and the plight of others who have not yet achieved their freedoms here.  Millions of undocumented immigrants have no path to citizenship or the full freedoms we take for granted.  Consider what their status forever does to their lives, and how we can help them and America fulfill our common aspirations.

Links to JSPAN’s previous issue oriented Haggadah supplements follow the jump.
Each year, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network develops issue oriented material each year you can use to enrich your seder. Supplements to the traditional Haggadah relate the biblical story of the Exodus to current events and issues.

  • The 2012 Freedom Supplement, comprised of 16 pages with illustrations, is now available without charge. The Freedom Seder Supplement celebrates emerging freedom movements around the world with poems, texts and prayers. Editors Stephen C. Sussman Esq. and Kenneth R. Myers Esq. have drawn from far-ranging sources, from Lord Byron to Tibet. Each of the readings includes suggestions keying it into the traditional Seder service.
  • In 2010 JSPAN released its first Supplement, entitled We were strangers, on the theme of immigration in history and in the United States.
  • In 2011 the JSPAN Supplement, This is the bread of poverty, brought the focus to hunger here and around the world. The 2012 “Freedom Seder” takes up the human longing for freedom that is spreading around the globe, and concludes with four resolutions that we as American Jews can meaningfully adopt.

JCPA to Host “National Hunger Seder” at US Capitol

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger will host Members of Congress, Administration officials, school children, and other national faith, anti-hunger and anti-poverty leaders for the National Hunger Seder on March 20, 2013 at the US Capitol Visitor’s Center.

The National Hunger Seder is an adaptation of the traditional Passover Seder, telling the story of the Exodus with emphasis on the moral imperative to end hunger in America. The National Hunger Seder is the kick off to the 5th Annual MAZON/JCPA Hunger Seder Mobilization taking place in 27 communities around the country, which are designed to encourage participants to advocate to restore the 5.1% cut to the WIC program mandated by the sequester.

After the jump: JSPAN issues a Haggadah Supplement on immigration.
Participants in the National Hunger Seder Include:

  • Rep. David Cicilline (RI-1)
  • Rep. Ted Deutch (FL-21)
  • Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-2)
  • Officials from the White House, the United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Health and Human Services
  • Representatives from National WIC Association, Food Research and Action Center, Congressional Hunger Center, Alliance to End Hunger, Center for American Progress, Bread for the World, National Council of Churches, US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Islamic Relief, American Jewish World Service, Bend the Arc, National Council of Jewish Women, The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, JCPA, MAZON, Jewish Primary Day School and more.

Meanwhile, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN) issued a Haggadah Supplement titled Welcoming the Stranger to the Land. “We were immigrants in Egypt.  And we have been immigrants many times since then, until we achieved citizenship on American soil”, said Kenneth Myers, JSPAN’s Vice President.

The Seder is a time to reflect on our experience and the plight of others who have not yet achieved their freedoms here.  Millions of undocumented immigrants have no path to citizenship or the full freedoms we take for granted.  Consider what their status forever does to their lives, and how we can help them and America fulfill our common aspirations.

The Supplement can be viewed and downloaded here.

Seder in Ribadavia: What Do You Serve After 500 Years?

— by Ronit Treatman

For the first time since the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, a Passover Seder is being hosted in Ribadavia. Ribadavia is a town in northwestern Spain, which during the Middle Ages had a thriving Jewish community. Some of the buildings from the old Jewish quarter are still standing, including its synagogue.  

Ribadavia’s Centre for Medieval Studies and its tourism department are embarking on a project to reclaim and teach about the town’s Sephardic heritage. This year, they are organizing a kosher Passover Seder. Historian Dr. Abraham Haim, whose specialty is the Sephardic world, is conducting it. The Seder will be preceded by a lecture entitled The Jewish Passover and Jesus’s Last Supper.  

More after the jump.
What is the recreation of a Sephardic Passover menu in the middle Ages?

  • Kosher wine
  • Matza
  • The ritual Seder plate
  • A soup of seven vegetables
  • Braised hake served over a bed of eggplant salad
  • Seasonal fruit salad
  • Assorted beverages
  • Coffee  

For those who are in the area this Passover, the seder will take place on March 25th at 8:00 PM, and will be followed by a tour of the Juderia (Jewish Quarter) of Ribadavia. The price for the dinner is approximately $40 per person. For reservations, email [email protected].

Counting the Omer: A Modern Revival of an Ancient Jewish Practice

Omer calendars for Israel and Diaspora courtesy of Judaica artist Jonathan Kremer.

— by Carol Towarnicky

As Passover approaches, an increasing number of modern Jews are preparing not only for their annual seders but also for “Counting the Omer,” an ancient practice of blessing each of the 49 days between Passover and the holiday of Shavuot.

An Omer is a measure of barley. In Biblical times, the Counting of the Omer marked the time between the barley and wheat harvests. Every night during that period, farmers would wave an Omer to plead for an abundant crop. Over time, the agricultural ritual was replaced by liturgy, and the counting became a way to mark the Israelites’ journey from bondage in Egypt to revelation at Mount Sinai. For the Kabbalists, the Jewish mystics of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Counting of the Omer became a time of spiritual exploration and cleansing, a way to prepare the soul for revelation. The mystics divided the time into seven weeks, with each week containing a specific spiritual quality. On each of the 49 days, two of the qualities intersect with each other, making each day is unique.  

After the jump: Rabbi Yael Levy’s book on the subject
Rabbi Yael Levy, founder of A Way In, a Jewish Mindfulness Center based in Philadelphia and author of Journey Through the Wilderness: A Mindfulness Approach to the Ancient Jewish Practice of Counting the Omer (Volume 1), has re-imagined the counting as a Mindfulness practice: paying attention not only to each day as it passes but also to the individual spiritual qualities that were assigned to it by the 16th century Jewish mystics.

“The counting helps us to pay attention to the movement of our lives,” says Rabbi Levy. “Counting the Omer helps us notice the subtle shifts in our lives, the big changes, all the yearnings, strivings, disappointments, hopes and fears.”

Journey Through the Wilderness is available in paperback through Amazon, and as an e-book via Smashwords and other e-booksellers. The publication includes daily blessings in both Hebrew and English and teachings and intentions for each day.

A Way In is also offering a range of online and social media support for individuals who wish to count the Omer, including free daily emails, blog entries and Facebook posts and insightful Twitter messages and reminders.

Rabbi Levy has been exploring the Mindfulness potential of Counting the Omer for more than a decade, in particular during time she spends each year backpacking alone in the red rock desert of southern Utah. She also leads an annual five-day retreat at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, that takes place at the end of the Omer 49-day period.  

Rabbi Levy points out that the Hebrew word for “desert wilderness” — midbar — is written the same as the word for “speaks” — medaber. “The mystics teach that when we leave our routines, habits and expectations and allow ourselves to go into the unknown, to traverse the wilderness of mind and spirit, we open ourselves to receive Divine guidance.”  

A relatively new development in Judaism, Jewish Mindfulness combines meditation, movement and spiritual practice that draws on Jewish text and tradition. As part of A Way In, Rabbi Levy leads twice-monthly contemplative Shabbat services, weekly meditation “sits,” retreats, classes and individual and group spiritual direction, plus an online community.  

A Way In Jewish Mindfulness program grew out of Rabbi Levy's work at Mishkan Shalom congregation, a Reconstructionist synagogue in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia where Rabbi Levy has been associated for 19 years. A graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Rabbi Levy has co-led retreats in Alaska for Jewish professionals through the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. She is also a spiritual director to rabbinical students in both the Reconstructionist and Reform movements and in private practice.