Friday, April 6, 2012

Passover, Gastronomically

My mother used to say that we, in our family, are gastronomic Jews, but I think that most are, to be honest.  Food - and fasting, on the appropriate days - plays a crucial role in the practice of the Jewish faith.  As the dustjacket of Food and Judaism, a collection of essays, explains, "For Jews, food has been a means of exclusion, persecution, and assimilation, by the larger society.  Equally important, it has been an instrument of community, reparation, and renewal of identity."

Because of the patterns of the diaspora, Jewish food in America is thought of as mainly Ashkenazi, or Eastern European; elsewhere - in France, for instance - it is predominantly Sephardic, or Spanish and North African.  Especially on holidays, Jews celebrate their faith with food, and it is usually the food of our ancestors that we turn to for our rituals.  Joan Nathan, a celebrated cookbook author and authority on Jewish food, writes in The Jewish Holiday Kitchen, "For many people of all ethnic groups, holidays are the last ties binding them to their family and their traditions.  Whether or not they have adopted standard American daily fare, they turn to traditional, ethnic food for the holidays.  This is even more true for the Jews, given the importance of our dietary laws and the table-centered rituals involved in the Sabbath and holidays."

In this day and age, though, Jewish recipes are shared all around the world, and traditions are borrowed from cultures our ancestors could have never dreamed of experiencing.  As we embrace our ever-expanding global community, we take comfort in both the old and the new - or, in other words, in our old and in someone else's old.  Exchanging recipes brings us closer together and acknowledges our shared religious and cultural history; regardless of whether we speak Yiddish, Ladino, or Hebrew, we are all of one faith.

For my seder, therefore, I've gathered recipes from all over the place: from my mother, of course, from the New York Times, from The Hunger Games, and from classic cookbooks and cooking magazines.  "Passover," explains The Jew and the Carrot, "maybe more than any other Jewish holiday, calls on us to individualize our holiday experience - we are celebrating our freedom from slavery."  I'll share my seder menu with you, and below that will explain charoset - with a recipe, obviously!


brown rice

Charoset is one of the symbolic items on the seder plate.  It represents the mortar that the Jews used while toiling in slavery for the Egyptians.  I find that Ashkenazi charoset can, often, taste like something you might actually find at a building site, so I make a Sephardic variation that my mother taught me:


pitted dates, chopped
golden raisins, chopped
purple raisins, chopped
almonds, slivered
walnuts, halved
grated ginger
sweet red wine
assorted spices to taste (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, etc.)

Use quantities according to taste; the honey and the wine serve to bind the ingredients into a paste.  Mix all together - do not puree, you want it a bit chunky, though you can use a food processor to chop finely - and serve at room temperature with matzah and, if you're feeling daring, grated horseradish..

I hope you have a lovely Passover - or Easter, as the case may be, but that post comes tomorrow - and remember: next year in Jerusalem!

1 comment:

  1. Happy Passover! I did eventually find a Waitrose in Brighton that had a whole 2 shelves of Passover food, but it had everything I needed.
    Happy Matzah Munching!



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