Remembering Passover in Forgotten Places

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Cookbook author Jennifer Abadi accomplished something remarkable.

In publishing Too Good To Passover: Sephardic & Judeo-Arabic Seder Menus and Memories from Africa, Asia, and Europe, she compiled more than just Passover recipes. She documented the rituals and experiences of Jews from 23 countries such as Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Gibraltar. It took Abadi nine years to interview more than 100 people, who shared the world of their youth.

Abadi began her journey when she wrote A Fistful Of Lentils: Syrian-Jewish Recipes From Grandma Fritzie’s Kitchen (Harvard

Common Press, 2002).

“I created a functional cookbook,” Abadi said. “But I also told the story of Jewish life in Syria, the story of my family.”

In Too Good To Passover, she broadened her canvas, documenting Jewish life in multiple countries. Because most American Jews are Ashkenazi, hailing from Eastern and Central Europe, they are unfamiliar with Jews from lands perfumed by spices.

“Most Jews only know their own customs and foods,” Abadi said, explaining that each chapter begins with someone’s Passover memories. “Readers get a sense of what it was like growing up in Morocco, for instance. They can flip to the chapter on Egypt and learn what they did there.”

Readers can explore Too Good To Passover and never prepare a recipe, engrossing themselves in virtual travelogues instead.

The book evolved into capturing disappearing communities, depicting Jews who departed in droves from the Arabic world, Africa and parts of Europe.

“I preserved the customs of these communities for the future,” Abadi said. “Food is what’s left to tell the story of Jews once they leave a place.”

Some of the people Abadi interviewed have died or are elderly. She conducted research at the right time because the window for hearing their stories is closing.

Each spring brings a new spate of trendy Passover cookbooks. But Abadi had a higher calling in writing hers.

“My hope is that when other cookbooks come and go, mine will last,” Abadi said. “Along with authentic Jewish recipes, my book preserves vanishing worlds so they will not be lost.”

All recipes are copyrighted by Abadi and are excerpted from Too Good To Passover.

Moroccan Salade à l’Orange (Sliced Orange Salad with Olive Oil, Black Olives, Ground Cumin and Coriander) | Pareve

Serves 10 to 12

  • 4 to 5 small garlic cloves, minced and mashed to a paste with ⅜ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ to ¾ cup extra-virgin  olive oil
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon orange blossom water, optional
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • 1½ teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 24 small clementine oranges (or 12 mandarins, if not in season), peeled, then cut into ¼-inch-thick rounds
  • ¼ cup minced fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
  • ¾ cup thinly sliced black olives

In a small bowl, stir together the garlic paste, oil, orange blossom water (if desired), cayenne, ground coriander and cumin.

Arrange the orange slices on a serving dish, drizzle them with the dressing and sprinkle the salad with the fresh coriander and chopped olives.

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Zeroah (Evelyn Rahmey’s Syrian Lamb with Garlic, String Beans and Allspice) | Meat

Serves six to eight

For Garlic Rub  (about ¼ cup):

  • ½ cup peeled garlic cloves (about 10 very large)
  • 2 tablespoons grape seed, vegetable or safflower oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (reduce to a teaspoon  if using kosher meat)
  • ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1½ to 2 teaspoons allspice

For Lamb:

  • 7 pounds lamb shanks (about 5 large)
  • 2½ pounds fresh string beans, rinsed, tips pinched off and discarded
  • For Serving:
  • Syrian white rice or simply boiled and sliced potatoes

Adjust your oven rack to the lowest level and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Combine all the garlic rub ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it becomes a rough oily paste. Scoop it out with a rubber spatula and place it into a small bowl.

Rinse the lamb shanks well under cold water and pat them dry with a paper towel. Rub each lamb shank generously with the garlic paste and place them into a large Dutch oven or roasting pan. Cover with a lid or two sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil and bake on the bottom rack of the oven for  1½ hours.

Uncover the pan and remove the shanks temporarily by placing them onto a plate. Add the string beans, mixing them gently with some of the juices in the pan to coat. Return the shanks to the pan by arranging them on top of the string beans. Drizzle them with some of the juices from the bottom of the pan then re-cover and continue to bake all together for an  additional hour.

Uncover and once again spoon some of the juices at the bottom of the pan over the tops of the lamb shanks and string beans. Return the cover and bake for another 30 minutes to 1 hour, or until the meat comes easily off the bone using an ordinary fork and string beans are soft.

Remove the shanks and serve them in one of two ways: My way: The lamb shanks rest whole on top of the string beans on a platter or plate. Aunt Evelyn’s way: The meat is removed from the bones and mixed with the sauce and string beans, then served on a platter or in a bowl. Have guests serve themselves by spooning some of the meat, string beans and sauce over rice or simply boiled potatoes.

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Walnut Ghribah (Egyptian Flourless Toasted Walnut Cookies with Pecans, Dates and Cinnamon) | Pareve

Yield: About 18 macaroons

For Macaroons:

  • 1¼ cups walnuts
  • 1¼ cups pecans
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar, date sugar or maple sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Egg whites from 1 large egg (about 3 tablespoons)
  • ¼ teaspoon “kosher for Passover” vanilla extract
  • 5 large medjool dates, pitted and cut into large pieces

For Decoration:

  • 1 cup raw pecans

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place the walnuts and pecans into a baking pan and toast for 15 to 20 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 to 10 minutes to ensure that the nuts toast evenly. Remove the pan from the oven and reduce the heat to 375 degrees. Cool the nuts completely to room  temperature, about 15 minutes.

Pour the toasted and cooled nuts, sugar and cinnamon into a food processor and pulse until a soft meal is formed, about 30 seconds.

Add the egg whites, vanilla and half of the cut dates and pulse the mixture once again until a soft paste is formed, an additional 30 seconds.

Pour the batter into a mixing bowl and mix in the remaining half of the cut dates with a spoon until all of the ingredients are fully  incorporated and the  batter is a soft, thick  consistency.

Drop one level tablespoon at a time (less is better: don’t take too much or the macaroons will be too big) onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper an inch apart (do not press down to flatten the macaroons). Stick a single raw pecan vertically into the center of each  macaroon as decoration (push them about halfway in so that they don’t fall out after baking  and cooling).

Bake the macaroons until the peaks and edges become a medium brown, around 15 minutes (they will still be slightly soft in center but will harden upon cooking). Cool completely, then arrange on a serving platter or plate. Store in an airtight container between layers of wax or parchment paper in refrigerator (for up to 3 days) or freezer (for up to a month).

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