Shabbat Dinners Entice with a Taste of Israel

By Laurel Fairworth

Photo by Shiran Pasternak https://www.flickr.com/photos/gingi0/

Photo by Shiran Pasternak https://www.flickr.com/photos/gingi0/

Sitting around a table and sharing a meal is an easy and natural way to connect with people of backgrounds different from one’s own. That’s why the Israeli American Council (IAC) has launched Shishi Israeli, an Israeli version of traditional Shabbat dinners taking place over the next several months in Center City, the Main Line, Elkins Park and Cherry Hill, NJ. It is hoped these Shabbat celebrations will help bridge the gap between American Jews and the Israeli community. Yoni Ari, IAC Executive Director of the Philadelphia chapter, says, “Friendships and the understanding of each other’s culture can take place while breaking bread and jointly savoring the Friday night tradition.” These Shabbat evenings are open to all, especially to Israeli Americans unaffiliated with a synagogue. Ari continued, “Shishi Israeli is not religious, but rather it is a joyous cultural experience showcasing an Israeli flair with food and music.”

The Friday night events feature singing, dancing, and of course copious amounts of ethnic cuisine. A traditional dinner consists of Moroccan style fish, chicken with fruit, and meatballs with hummus. “Israelis love a big table laid out with all the courses served at the same time. That way they can eat whatever they want depending on their mood,” explained Ari. “This is the typical Jewish way to welcome the new week.” It is hoped that the program will be a magnet for many families from both the Israeli and American communities, creating meaningful and during connections.

Special emphasis will be placed on the next Shishi Israeli scheduled for February 10, 2017. In honor of Tu Bishvat, donations will be collected to plant trees to replace those burned in the recent forest fires that swept Haifa. The following dinners are March 17 in Elkins Park, March 31 at Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia and early April at a date to be determined in south New Jersey. All of the events are in partnership with local groups which means each is unique. However they will have in common the same Israeli zest for life and Middle Eastern culinary flair.

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!