Archive for the 'Sephardic traditions' Category

25
Jul
11

Aromas of Aleppo


Poopa Dweck‘s magnum opus is far more than just an ethnic cookbook. In its pages, the author lovingly brings us the history, the culture, the flavors and aromas of over 2500 years of Syrian Jewry.

As the author tells us in the Preface, the book…

…features dishes that are both disarmingly familiar, exotic, and, above all, healthful.

My community represents a link to a forgotten past. It is one of the few Jewish communities to live through the rise and fall of Moorish Spain and the Ottoman Empire and survive as a modern people in the West while maintaining its venerable traditions. Our soulful culture, with its fervid, tuneful songs and communal celebratory feasts, is at its most vibrant during the Sabbath, holidays, and life cycle events. One of the most artful representations of Aleppian Jewish culture is our food, whose story I have yearned to tell.

By coincidence (is there really such a thing?!?) I was playing Rabbi Moshe Tessone‘s CD Odeh La’El!, as I became engrossed in this coffee table sized, art-book quality tome. The writing is informative and fun, the evocative photography (the colors, the settings, the lighting, the angles, bespeak of a certain rusticity and a sedate elegance at the same time) and the recipes truly introduced me to a world which – as an Ashkenazic Jew – I barely knew. Between this beautiful book and the music I felt transported to another time, to an enchanted region, far from the hustle and bustle of New York and – at least for the moment – life seemed beautiful, simple and far more pure…

Looking through the old photographs, looking at the author’s family, looking at the recipes pictured, almost made me feel as if I was partaking of a holiday meal at her table.

While loeafing though the book I just had to immediately try a recipe. On page 162 I found one that called for some of my leftover matzah meal and tamarind concentrate, which I’d picked up in the nearby Sephardic neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Keftes

Tamarind-Stewed Meatballs

Meatball dishes such as keftes are a tradition all over the Middle East. Some regions use turmeric and others use sumac or lemon and mintas flavoring accents for similar meatballs. Aleppian Jews like to use a combination of tomato sauce and tamarind, the proportions of which can vary according to a family’s preference.

Meatballs:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons matzah meal
  • 1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Sauce:
  • One 6 ounce can tomato paste, or two 8 ounce cans tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon ou (tamarind concentrate, page 41), homemade or store bought
  • Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  1. To make the meatballs, combine the the beef, eggs, matzah meal, salt and Aleppo pepper. Mix well by hand. The mixture should be loose and moist so that it can best absorb the sauce and retain a velvety texture. Shape the meat mixture into walnut-size balls.
  2. To make the sauce, combine the tomato paste, ou, lemon juice, salt, 1 cup of water, and, if desired, sugar, mix well.
  3. In a large ovenproof saucepan, brown the meatballs, one batch at a time, in the oil over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes per batch.
  4. Return all the meatballs to the saucepan. Pour the sauce over the meatballs and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes to thicken sauce and allow the flavors to integrate thoroughly.

Variation

For a tangier sauce, increase the ou by 1 1/2 teaspoons and increase the water by 1/2 cup. Or omit the ou altogether for a lighter, more refreshing sauce, especially if you are serving another dish with ou.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Enjoy, gentle reader, enjoy! Sifrah daimeh – “May your table always be plentiful”

CS

13
Jun
11

A Very Special Shabbat at the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation


Between family events, Shavuos and then Shabbat I was away all week in another state. I couldn’t wait, however, to share my experience of a very special Shabbat.

On the Shabbat prior to Shavuot (Parshat Nasso) I stayed by some good friends who are members of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation (325 East 75th Street, New York, NY 10021). Having grown up in Uruguay with a lot of Sephardi cronies, attending a shul – here in Brooklyn – where we have quite a few Persian members, I was somewhat familiar with non-Ashkenazi rites, or so I thought…

A weekday Schacharis... Photo by: Irving Schild

On Friday eve - erev Shabbat, as everyone was reciting the Shir Hashirim together, there was a certain electricity in the air. The recitation wasn’t just a word mouthing exercise, the fervor was palpable! Each chapter was led by a different member of the kehilla, each picking up where the other left off, without skipping a beat. The tfilllot and their haunting, lilting melodies transported me to another era, to another place. Shabbat eve’s meal consisted of Moroccan and Latin American dishes, a delight for the eyes, the nose, the palate. For the first time in many a decade, a major part of the conversation was in Spanish, I loved it. All that, however, was just the appetizer for what was about to come. The tfillot on Shabbat day introduced me to even greater depths of feeling. Never since I returned to the US in 1977 – after 10 years in Eretz Yisroel – did I get to join other kohanim on a Shabbat for the birkat kohanim on a regular Shabbat, not once but twice! Though the melodies were far different from any I was used to, there was something indescribably beautiful in the voices, the words, the emotions. Many time I was left full of awe after the blessings, but never before, here in chutz la’aretz, have I felt so much like a true descendant of Aharon HaKohen.

Rabbi Benchimol, the Congregation’s Rav, gave an inspiring drasha (but even this was only a forerunner of things to come) weaving golden threads, from Sephardi and Ashkenazi sfarim, into a stunningly rich tapestry.

After Mussaf was over we had kiddush. The previous evening I’d been warned that this particular kiddush was rather a meager one… Meager? By what standards?!?!? Like most of the members, I had challah at the kiddush, there was no need for further lunch. They dare call this meager?!?

Before mincha Rabbi Benchimol gave a shiur, again the wealth and breadth of his lamdut reminded me of a large treasure chest bursting with precious stones, with gold, with silver. Not only does he know his mekorot but his way of meshing them together, his insights, had us all enthralled as we listened and eagerly picked up every pearl pouring forth..

The seudah shlishit, was a veritable feast again, but by this time I expected it to be… and it didn’t disappoint. The warmth of the predominantly Moroccan congregation, the depth of the feelings evoked, tfillot that left me feeling feeling humbled but inspired, made this a Shabbat I will long treasure. One Ashkenazi member of MSC told me – in response to my question as to what brought him to a Sephardic bet knesset - “I find myself emotionally drawn to this minyan!” Frankly, I’m starting to feel the same way…

CS

18
May
11

Hillula d’Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness


Last evening, SYR and I had the privilege to be at Sidney and Tammy Cohen‘s (partners at 18 Restaurant) apartment in Manhattan. We were there to commemorate the Hilula (yohrtzeit, as we ashkenazim call it) of Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness. I had never heard of this custom until I got Tammy’s email last week… How I wish I had known of it earlier in my life!

Among walls covered with portraits of a very young Baba Sali (whose haunting eyes seemed to pierce right through me) and Chagall like paintings, the crowd, the tfilot, the candles, the food, made it all very special…

Dips galore, mashed potatoes, fish, couscous, chicken, beef and more...

Who was Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness? The Babylonian Talmud, in Tractate Gittin 56a relates:

As he [Nero] came close, he shot an arrow towards the east and it fell in Jerusalem. He then shot an arrow to the west and it fell in Jerusalem. [He shot] towards the four points of the compass and it fell in Jerusalem. He then asked a [passing] boy, “Tell me the verse [from Scripture] you learned [today].” He [the boy] said, “I will place my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel [Ezekiel 25:14].” He [Nero] said, “The Holy One, blessed be He, wishes to destroy His House and lay the blame on me.” He [Nero] ran away and became a proselyte. From him came Rabbi Meir.”

Rabbi Meir, the descendant of a former Roman emperor, eventually became a staunch supporter of Bar Kochba‘s rebellion against the Romans. Why was he called Meir, when tradition says that his name was either Nahori or Misha? “Meir” means “Illuminator,” as someone who illuminated the mind’s eye of students and scholars alike to give them an understanding of both the Written and the Oral Laws, he came to be known as Meir.

“Ba’al Haness” means “Master of Miracles,” why was that name added to him? It is related that on a certain occasion when a pack of wild dogs ran over to tear him apart, Rabbi Meir cried out: “Eloka d’Meir aneini – God of Meir answer me,” the dogs retreated. The Roman guard of a brothel was about to be hanged for having taken a bribe. He was bribed so as to allow Rabbi Meir‘s wife (Bruriah‘s) sister to escape (while still untouched) from the brothel where the Romans had condemned her to live her life in shame (after they killed her parents, the saintly R. Chananya ben Teradyon - one of the 10 martyrs we mention in the kinot of Tisha B’Av – and his wife). As the noose was tightened around the guard’s neck he cried out, “God of Meir answer me,” the rope tore – to everyone’s amazement – and the guard was saved!

Harav Raphael Benchimol, rabbi of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation, very eloquently told the evening’s participants that the specific date 14th of Nissan (Pessach Sheini). was a very propitious time for asking Rabbi Meir Baal Haness to intercede in one’s behalf. As I walked around the room, I heard touching, gripping stories of people’s prayers being answered. Even over this last weekend in Providence, RI, I heard one such story…

Rabbi Benchimol: "If you need anything, or if you have lost your way, Rabbi Meir Ba'al Haness will help you find it..."

After Ma’ariv, people lit candles – on a specially set up table – while saying twice, “Eloka d’Meir aneini,” as each silently concentrated on his/her requests…

The emotions, the fervor, were contagious...

Meeting friends and friendly strangers, praying with them mincha and later ma’ariv, listening to the Rabbi’s divrey Torah, pouring out my heart as I concentrated on my personal requests – while lighting my candle – the delicious food, the drinks, made this a very inspiring and enchanted evening. Thank you Sidney, thank you Tammy.

Eloka d’Meir aneinU! God of Meir, answer US all!

CS




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