12 September 2009

Sephardim: Breaking the Yom Kippur fast

Bagels, lox, cream cheese, cheese cake were all on my family's break-the-fast menu in New York.

Imagine my surprise in Teheran - when arriving at my in-laws after that first Yom Kippur - I was first handed a glass of ice-cold faludeh-e-sib, a grated apple, honey and rosewater confection, followed by hot fresh barbari bread and butter, along with a cup of tea. Most people broke the fast at home with this and then went off for dinner to whichever relative was holding the major bash. In Los Angeles, it was the same.

I already knew I wasn't going to get my traditional bagels and cream cheese as Teheran had no bagel bakeries. Once everyone appeared at the table from wherever they had worshipped - or not - the meat meal appeared.

The meal, as do all good Jewish holiday meals, included chicken soup - Persian-style, with those sublime gonde (ground meat balls of roasted chick-pea flour, grated onion, turmeric, salt, and lots of pepper and the spice that really made it amazing, cardamom), with more good Persian bread and green herbs. We didn't eat gonde at the pre-Yom Kippur meal as they are too peppery and would leave us thirsty all during the fast.

Linda Morel, on JTA, offered her take on the Sephardic-style break-fast.

While Morel says she generally follows my familiar childhood tradition, this year she looked into Sephardic customs, and she offers recipes from some of my favorite cookbooks. While some Sephardic communities eat dairy, others (like the Persians) are carnivores.

"A Drizzle of Honey: The Lives and Recipes of Spain’s Secret Jews” by David Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson cites meat menus, meat and poultry, followed by the Conversos who lived undercover in Spain.

In “Jewish Food: The World at Table” Matthew Goodman mentions the Sephardic custom of breaking the fast with chicken soup.

In Greece and Turkey, avgolemono is chicken broth with egg and lemon with rice. Moroccan Jews make Lemon Chicken with Olives.

“The Jewish Holiday Kitchen,” is by Joan Nathan, who likes chicken couscous and a soup called harira with stew meat, fava beans and lentils. In Algeria, there's Chicken Tagine (stew) with Quinces.

“The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews” by Edda Servi Machlin, has a delicious sweet-and-sour fish recipe that I've made. I have both volumes of this book and use them frequently.

"The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York," by Claudia Roden, includes a pumpkin puree that is yummy and indicates its origin in Ferrara, Italy.

Morel didn't go into Persian traditions, so here's my take on it. Persian break-fasts include anything and everything, from kuku a kind of thick egg omelette made with green herbs or potato or with chicken, eaten room temperature (and also great for picnics). There will be chelo (white steamed rice) or polo (the same rice mixed with herbs or vegetables), and over the chelo will be ladled various stews with meat or chicken.

In Teheran, fall fruits were quince and pomegranate, so we often had khoresht-e-beh (quince stew), with sliced sauteed quince in a tomatoey-lemony sauce with meat or with chicken, or the Persian classic, khoresht-e-fesenjan, with its ground walnut-and-pomegranate paste sauce in which chicken or turkey was cooked until it disintegrated into shreds. And there was always the chicken soup in which the gonde had been cooked.

If you are looking for the best Persian cookbook ever published, it's "The New Food for Life" by Najmieh Batmangelich. The photos show you what a dish should look like after it's cooked, which also helps those dealing with a new cuisine. Her recipes are nearly fool-proof and authentic, as are the quantities, which may seem somewhat excessive to those of Ashkenazi heritage. Leftovers (ha!) - if there are any - freeze very well, so don't worry.

Morel provides several recipes, such as Avgolemono (Lemon-egg chicken soup), Pesce All 'Ebraica (Italian sweet-and-sour fish), Djadja Zetoon (Lemon Chicken with Olives) and Zucca Disfatta (pumpkin puree). If you have any of the cookbooks named above, there are many more articles and interesting notes on other holiday foods.

If you're invited elsewhere for the break-fast and thus free from the responsibility of creating and cooking a break-fast to remember, these recipes are also great for Sukkot!

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