Sunday, February 23, 2014

Passover 2014

I have been hosting the family's Seder for a few years now, so to some extent the guests are stuck with what I make. Last year, I announced that the 2014 Seder would be sephardic, incorporating foods from at least five Mediterranean countries. (There are many to choose from: Persia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Italy, Turkey, France, Lebanon, Morocco, Yemen, Libya, Israel (and though not Mediterranean, India). One of the main reasons for this is my love for rice and lentils, which are prohibited during Passover by Ashkenazi tradition but permitted by Sephardic tradition: a flexibility I plan to exploit to the fullest. The family seemed enthusiastic about the experiment.

Maybe I'll make this crusty Persian rice, one of the world's great dishes
So for ten months I have been thinking about this project, and have begun to try recipes. My sources for recipes and inspiration are many:
  • Claudia Roden's amazingly readable, comprehensive and scholarly The Book of Jewish Food - this is one of the best cookbooks of all time - and The New Book of Middle Eastern Food
  • Jennifer Abadi's A Fistful of Lentils, which is focused on Syrian Jewish food, and her terrific blog
  • Poopa Dweck's Aromas of Aleppo
  • Joan Nathan's Jewish Cooking in America and My Search for Jewish Cooking in France
  • Yotam Ottolenghi's Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, Plenty and Jerusalem
  • Louise Shafia's The New Persian Kitchen 
  • Nur Ilkin and Sheila Kaufman's The Turkish Cookbook
  • Ôscan Ozan's Sultan's Kitchen: A Turkish Cookbook
  • Paula Wolfert's The Food of Morocco
  • Mourad Lahlou's New Moroccan
To study Sephardic/Middle Eastern food is to go on a cultural journey as much as a gastronomic one. I have learned much about the migration of Jews to and from Spain, as well as the varied histories of the Jews in the other countries mentioned above. All interesting and many surprises.

The downside to all this, even if I cook a great Sephardic meal, is that we will not get to enjoy some old favorites, notably my sister-in-law's spectacular matzoh ball soup (great soup and balls) nor my mother's very American style but delicious haroset.

I will report back as the planning and meal unfold.

Bobby Jay

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