Tuesday, April 10, 2007

And Who Said Jews Arn't Crazy??

From: Judy Lash Balint, Galilee Institute Scholar and Author of Jerusalem Diaries

Jerusalem: Midnight, just a few hours after the close of the Passover holiday, and it's near bedlam at the corner of Beit Hadfus Street in Jerusalem's Givat Shaul neighborhood.

Angel's Bakery that occupies that corner is awash in chametz-seeking Jews, eager to get that first taste of leavened bread after seven days of dry matzah.

It's definitely those orthodox Israelis whose tradition dictates the consumption of cardboard-style handmade shmura matza who are first in line to snap up the fragrant but plain long rolls as the bakery fires up after the holiday.

Even at this late hour, the line extends out of the store and down the stairs, almost to the street where desperate bread buyers who haveonly just finished putting away their Pesach dishes vie for the few available parking spots, leaving others to dispatch their kids while they stay in their cars and block the street.

Those in the know drive on a few blocks to competitor Berman's Bakery, where the parking is easier. Security guards scan the seemingly endless crowd that descends on the small store till the wee hours. Bakery workers are virtually mobbed as they emerge from the back every few minutes with baskets of fresh rolls. This year at Berman's there are two choices--long, plain white rolls or round, whole wheat scattered with seeds. Some people are buying dozens, while others stuff just a few of the warm breads into plastic bags and head for the cash register.

The four cashiers try to maintain a semblance of order and no one seems to begrudge the five or ten minutes spent in line since it's an opportunity to inhale the heady fragrance of freshly-baked bread.

For thousands of other Israelis, the close of Pesach means not only clamoring for bread but the beginning of the colorful Moroccan Jewish holiday of Mimouna. Call it a return to roots or a belated awakening of interest in our ethnic traditions. In recent years the Mimouna celebration has become one of Israel's most popular festivities, embraced by Israelis of all origins.

While no one can quite tell you why Mimouna is celebrated --some say it's to mark the passing of the father of the revered 12th century Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides (the Rambam) who died right after the conclusion of Passover--Moroccan Jews have used the occasion to throw open their homes for neighborhood parties to feast on freshly-made traditional pastries (muflettot), let loose and toast the end of Passover.

Here in Israel, where tens of thousands of Moroccan Jews settled during the turbulent 1950's and 60s, the parties have been elevated to a national status and expanded to parks and synagogues. The Mimouna celebrations are a mandatory stop for politicians of all stripes.

This year's main festivities took place in the Ashdod Opera House and provided an opportunity for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to issue a plea for unity in the face of "all the difficult things we have to deal with."

During the day, the Mimouna festivities will continue with large gatherings in parks in every city in the country, in every forest and in every clearing. The largest crowd is expected in the southern town of Netivot, home to the tomb of the Baba Sali, a revered Moroccan kabbalist rabbi.

In the words of the traditional Mimouna greeting: "Tirbakhuu-ve'tsa'adu," May you prosper and be successful.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I still have a few rolls to finish.

Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times by Judy Lash Balint (Gefen) is available for purchase from www.israelbooks.com

Mike Cohen adds: We Americans made Pizza...

More About The Mimouna:

For those who do not know, Mimouna is the folk-holiday celebrated by Moroccan Jews at the close of Passover. Unlike Passover which is charged with religious meaning, this is a festival devoted to the celebration of community, friendship and hospitality.

The holiday is celebrated by throwing open one's home to friends, neighbors and even strangers, by public parties and by sharing - a large portion of that sharing involving food. Be there no question but that Mimoua is encouraging of peace, kindness, courtship and human warmth. That many of the celebrants dress in traditional Moroccan garb makes the holiday seem somewhat "exotic" to those not raised in the tradition, but to those who take part, there is nothing at all exotic about the customs and symbols involved.
Whether in private homes, at neighborhood-wide parties, or even parties held in huge tents to which all are welcome, food plays a major role in the holiday, for there are few better ways of sharing than by breaking bread together. And what is shared is far more than bread for the festive tables will invariably be covered with white tablecloths and laded with milk or buttermilk, flour, eggs, honey, fruits, butter, sweets, dates, coins, beans and nuts. And then there are the dairy based mimouna specialties, mostly sweets - especially mofleta which is the first leavened bread eaten after the Passover holiday. No less a part of the celebratory aspects of the day are the music, singing, dancing and exchanging of visits.

Following is one recipe for the highly traditional mofleta and another for a nougat ice cream that will fit comfortably on any Mimouna or any other celebratory table.

Mofleta(Adapted from Claudia Roden's The Book of Jewish Food, Knopf, 1996)

3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. dry yeast
1 tsp. sal
t1/2 tsp. sugar
about 1 cup lukewarm water
2 Tbsp. olive oil
butter and honey for serving

In a bowl, combine the flour, yeast, salt and sugar.

Make a well in the center and add enough water to make a ball. Knead on a lightly floured board for 10 minutes or until silky and elastic using the heels of your hands. Turn into an oiled bowl.

Cover with a clean towel and let rest until the dough has doubled in size. Punch dough down.

Take pieces the size of an egg, and roll out as thinly as possible on a lightly oiled surface. Heat a small oiled, non-stick, skillet (a crepe pan is ideal) over medium-low heat. Fry each mofleta for 2 minutes. Flip over and cook another minute until both sides are pale brown. Wrap in a clean cloth to keep soft. Eat as soon as possible as they quickly become tough. Serve with a tub of sweet butter and honey to spread over.

Yields 20 pieces.

Nougat Ice Cream with Honey and Figs (Adapted from a recipe by the Roux Brothers)
40 gr. slivered almonds
60 gr. sugar
For the meringue:
30 gr. sugar
60 gr. clear honey
15 gr. glucose
3 egg whites
150 ml. heaviest possible sweet cream
60 gr. assorted soft candied fruits, diced finely
6 very ripe fresh figs
1 Tbsp. oil, for greasing

Preepare the nougat by spreading the almonds on a baking sheet. Place these in an oven that has been prheated to 200 degrees Celsius (400 Fahrenheit) until lightly colored, taking care not to let them brown too much.

Place the sugar in a saucepan and dissolve over a medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spatula until pale golden in color. Add the toasted almonds, stir well and heat for 10 - 15 seconds. Pour onto a lightly oiled baking sheet and let cool for 30 minutes. When completely cold, crush with a rolling pin.
To make the meringue: In a very clean pan combine the sugar, honey and glucose. Set over a low heat and dissolve, skimming the surface if necessary. Wash the inside of the pan with a brush dipped in cold water and then increase the heat. Insert a sugar thermometer into the mixture to check the temperature and when the temperature of the sugar reaches 110 Celsius (230 Fahrenheit, beat the egg whites until firm, add a pinch of sugar and beat until very stiff.
When the sugar temperature reaches 125 degrees Celsius (255 Fahrenheit), pour the cooked sugar into the egg whites, still beating at a medium speed. Once well mixed, continue to beat until the mixture is very smooth and has cooled to about 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit). Set aside at room temperature

Whip the cream until it holds soft peaks.
Pour the meringue into the cream, and then add the candied fruits and nougatine. Mix carefully and thoroughly, using a spatula. Divide the mixture between the 6 - 8 small cake tins or molds (about 8 cm in diameter and 3 cm. deep) Place in the freezer for 2 - 3 hours at least.

To serve, unmold the ice creams onto well chilled serving plates. Serve plain or with a creme anglaise spooned over.

(Serves 6 - 8)

Our Thanks to Daniel Rogov For His Insights!