Tis the season for Easter and for some Passover. Passover celebrates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt and is a holiday every Jewish household looks forward to all year. The focus of the entire evening is the recitation of the Haggadah which weaves symbolic foods and the consumption of wine throughout the ceremony. My husband likes to affectionately call Passover the Jewish Thanksgiving and always has fond memories of the celebration with his family as a child.
Most Jews celebrating Passover in the United States follow a culinary tradition that is largely Ashkenazic, or eastern European. The foods are derivative of the cuisines of the area and tend to focus on lots of root vegetables, meat and in general heavier foods. The Jews who come from the mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East fall into a category of cuisine called Sephardic. Again, this particular tradition stems from the cuisines of these countries, which tend to focus much more highly on seasonal vegetables, lots of spices, seafood and are generally lighter.
While I was working on my Master’s Degree in Anthropology, one of the classes I took was Magic, Witchcraft and Religion. My final project for the class was to create a secular Haggadah, invite a bunch of friends and family to our home and host a Passover for them serving only Sephardic Moroccan cuisine. While Morocco is approximately 95% Muslim, the country has had a long legacy of Jewish presence dating back to the Spanish Inquisition, during which Jews fled en masse from Spain and ended up in Morocco. These Jews settled all over and were welcomed by the Moroccans who to this day will tell you that the finest cuisine of their country is that of the Jewish Moroccan population. In fact, while in Fez we actually visited the Jewish Mellah or quarter where many Jews still reside peacefully with their Muslim neighbors.
Another interesting fact about Moroccan Jewish cuisine is that it is the most requested cuisine by soldiers of the Israeli army. What makes it so unique?? Well a couple of factors. First of all, Moroccan cuisine in general is extremely unique in that it represents a fusion of flavors from all over the world. Everyone and their uncle has tried to occupy this country because of its strategic location at the mouth of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, only 60 nautical miles from Spain. As is to be expected whoever came to Morocco brought with them their own foods and traditions some of which ended up becoming a part of the cuisine of Morocco. The French brought pastries, the Spanish rice and most importantly, the British brought with them tea, which is now the national beverage of the country. When Jews arrived from Spain, they brought with them their own culinary traditions which were then adapted not only to the foods that were available in Morocco, but to incorporate Moroccan flavors and cooking techniques such as Tagines.
Perhaps my favorite tale of the fusion of cultures in Morocco with regards to the Sephardic Passover is that of Haroseth. Haroseth is a food symbol that during the Passover Seder or meal is used to symbolize the mortar used by the Jews to construct the pyramids. It is generally a mixture of dried fruit and nuts that can be spread on Matzo or unleavened bread. In Morocco there was a historical traditional confection called Majoun. Majoun are little balls that are made of dried fruit and nuts and was historically used as a vehicle for cannabis. When Jews arrived in Morocco they noted the similarities of the two dishes and adapted the Majoun accordingly by eliminating the cannabis and adding wine, which of course is prohibited in Muslim culture, but perfectly acceptable in Jewish culture. Here is a recipe for these delicious little confections.
1 cup pitted dates
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1 teaspoon Freshly Grated Nutmeg
1/2 Tsp Ground Cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2-3 Tbl orange flower water
1/2-1 cup Manischewitz Kosher Grape or Blackberry Flavored Wine
Sesame seeds for garnish
Place all the ingredients in a food processor. Process to combine, adding wine as needed until the mixture forms a smooth paste. Remove from processor and place into the refrigerator for approx. 30 mins to harden. Roll into approx. 1/2 inch confections and garnish with sesame seeds. Keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.