Most Philadelphians associate rhubarb with pie. Rhubarb is a vegetable, yet it is treated as a fruit in our cuisine. Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews cook rhubarb as a vegetable, adding a sour note to fish and lamb dishes. The first local crops of rhubarb are ripening now, so it is a good time to experiment with someone else’s grandmother’s recipe.
Rhubarb originated in China over 3,000 years ago. The Chinese used it as a medicine to treat constipation. Islamic traders brought it west over the Silk Road beginning in the 8th Century. In the 14th Century, Rhubarb traveled to the ports of Aleppo and Smyrna, and from there it was exported to Europe. It was so highly prized that it was much more expensive than saffron, cinnamon, and opium. The first place where rhubarb was cultivated in the United States was Philadelphia, in John Bartram’s garden. It was nicknamed the “pie plant” since the most common method of preparation was to mix it with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and flour and bake it in a piecrust.
One of the more ancient savory recipes for rhubarb is from Persia. In Farsi rhubarb is called reevas. Here is a recipe for a lamb stew with rhubarb that was served to cleanse the blood and purify the body.
Khoresht-E-Reevas: Rhubarb Stew
Adapted from Middle Eastern Kitchen by Ghillie Basan
1 lb. cubed lamb
2 lb. rhubarb, sliced
2 onions, chopped
1 bunch fresh mint, chopped
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, chopped
3 tbsp. olive oil
Heat 2 tbsp. of oil in a heavy pot.
Add the onions, stirring until they are golden-brown.
Stir in the meat.
When the meat is brown, pour in enough water to cover it.
¿Qué se necesita para encontrar un amor duradero? Tu B’Av, el 15 del mes de Av (las 24 horas siguientes a la noche del 6 de agosto de 2017) es la fiesta judía del amor, un día auspicioso para los solteros judíos para reunirse con su bashert o alma gemela. Resistencia, flexibilidad y firmeza son tres atributos de las personas que mantienen matrimonios exitosos. El lekaj o torta de esponja es como un matrimonio largo. Se ha horneado en Israel desde antes de la fundación del estado moderno en 1948. Este simple y honesto pastel refleja lo que debe ser un amor verdadero y duradero.
Tu B’Av es una antigua fiesta judía para arreglar casamientos. Durante el período del Segundo Templo (530 AEC – 70 DEC) las mujeres solteras vestían de blanco y bailaban en los viñedos. Esperaban atraer a un marido. Esta tradición ha sido revivida en la Israel moderna. Muchas mujeres visten de blanco, y algunas todavía bailan en viñedos. También utilizan las tentaciones de la cocina para encontrar el amor.
Wonder Pot. Photo by Yoninah
Nada dice “amor” como un pastel hecho en casa, recién salido del horno. Una torta de esponja israelí es la elección perfecta. Se ha horneado en Israel a pesar de todas las dificultades. Durante el período de austeridad de los años cincuenta, los suministros de alimentos eran escasos y la mayoría de la gente no tenía hornos. El problema del horno se resolvió con el Sir Pele o Pote de Maravilla. Un pote de maravilla era una cacerola de Bundt adaptada. Podría cocer sobre un quemador. Otro reto era el racionamiento de los alimentos, lo que significaba que todos los ingredientes para el pastel no estaban disponibles. Las amas de casa israelíes inventivas descubrieron una manera de sustituir cosas que no podían obtener, como huevos, y servir su torta de austeridad y café de todos modos.
La torta de esponja es una parte tan integral de la vida en Israel que una receta fue publicada por el Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores. Puede servirla llana o con crema batida y fresas en rodajas.
What does it take to find lasting love? Tu B’Av, the 15th of the month of Av (the 24 hours following the evening of Aug. 6, 2017) is the Jewish holiday of love, an auspicious day for single Jews to meet their bashert or soulmate. Resilience, flexibility, and steadfastness are three attributes of people who maintain successful marriages. The lekach or sponge cake is like a long marriage. It has been baked in Israel since before the foundation of the modern state in 1948. This simple, honest pastry reflects what a true and lasting love should be.
Tu B’Av is an ancient Jewish holiday for matchmaking. During the period of the Second Temple (530 BCE – 70 CE) unmarried women would dress in white, and dance in the vineyards. They were hoping to attract a husband. This tradition has been revived in modern Israel. Many women wear white, and some still dance in vineyards. They also use the temptations of the kitchen to find love.
Wonder Pot. Photo by Yoninah
Nothing says “love” like a home-baked cake, fresh out of the oven. An Israeli sponge cake is the perfect choice. It has been baked in Israel despite every hardship. During the period of austerity of the 1950s, food supplies were short and most people did not have ovens. The oven problem was solved with the Seer Pele or Wonder Pot. A Wonder Pot was a retrofitted Bundt pan. It could bake over a burner. Another challenge was food rationing, which meant that all the ingredients for the cake were not available. Inventive Israeli housewives figured out a way to substitute things they could not get, like eggs,and serve their austerity torte and coffee anyway.
Sponge cake is such an integral part of life in Israel that a recipe was published by the Foreign Ministry. You may serve it plain or with whipped cream and sliced strawberries.
Lag B’Omer marks the end of the 49-day period of counting the days between Passover and Shavuot. Historically, the counting begins on the day an omer (unit of measure) of barley was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem and ends on the day before an omer of wheat was brought to the Temple. In Israel, it is celebrated with picnics, bonfires, and barbecues. How can you combine the ancient Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer with an all American twist? Throw a hot dog bar party!
Whether you are lighting a bonfire or cooking on your grill, here is your game plan. Set up a buffet, and let your guests express their creativity. Mix and match rolls, sausages, condiments, and crunchy chips.
“Did you drink limonana when you were a kid?” people ask me. The answer is no. Lemonade with mint (nana in Arabic) was popular in Syria and Turkey. Israel discovered limonana serendipitously, as a byproduct of an experimental advertising campaign.
Advertisements were not placed on the sides of buses until the 1990s in Israel. The first experimental ads were for a soft drink that did not exist. The advertising agency named it Limonana. After two weeks, customers and stores started demanding the Limonana. The company had to admit that the Limonana was just a made up product.
Several enterprising restaurant proprietors identified an opportunity, and created a slushy lemonade with fresh mint. The soft drink manufacturers took notice, and started bottling limonana. Now, it is possible to find lemonade with mint, limonana slush, smoothies, yogurts, and sorbets. My favorite way to enjoy limonana is to make a slush. Nothing will cool you down faster on a hot day!
1 large lemon, juiced
4 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
1 bunch (one handful) fresh mint sprigs
1/4 cup water
3 cups ice cubes
Prepare a simple syrup by cooking the sugar and water until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
Place the simple syrup, lemon juice, ice cubes, and mint leaves in a blender.
Process until you have a smooth, slushy concoction.
Israelis traditionally party on Independence Day, Yom Haatzmaut, with a mangel, or Israeli barbecue. They season their meats with traditional Middle Eastern spice mixtures. The huge aliyah of Jews from Argentina has also brought recipes from one of the best cuisines of South America to Israel, including Argentinian parrillada, or barbecue.
When the sun sets on May 1, the celebrations — and the grilling — will begin.
For the meat:
2 lbs. beef steak or chicken
whole black peppercorns
1 head of garlic
6 tbsp. olive oil
pinch of nutmeg
4 tbsp. white wine
Mash everything except the meat with a mortar and pestle.
Pour the sauce over the meat.
Allow the meat to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
One of the staples of the Tunisian table is the fourma, or molded noodle dish. Cooked noodles are mixed with spiced meat or vegetables. Eggs are beaten and used to bind the noodle mixture. The casserole is baked and served at any meal, hot or cold. The Jews of Tunisia have a special fourma recipe that they prepare for Passover.
Tunisian Jews eat kitniyot (grains and legumes) during Passover. The starch in the Passover fourma is rice, which has been carefully picked over and cleaned to make sure that there is no chametz in it. Those of you who don’t eat kitniyot during Passover may substitute the rice in the recipe for boiled, diced potatoes or matza farfel.
Photo by Shvann https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Shvann
Jews have lived in the Central Asian city of Bukhara since the reign of King David. One of their unique Purim specialties is an intricately decorated flatbread called Kulchi Ravghaniy. Flatbreads have been baked in Bukhara for over 12,000 years, and are described in one of the world’s oldest written stories, The Epic of Gilgamesh. In Bukhara bread symbolizes life. Jews celebrate the life of Queen Esther and the Jewish community by serving these festive loaves during the Purim feast.
Uzbek Chekich (Bread Stamps). Photo: etsy
Bukharan Jews prepare a rich dough for Purim, flavored with sheep’s tail fat. Sheep’s tail fat or tallow is the Bukharan equivalent of schmaltz. After the yeasty dough has risen, it is divided into balls. Each ball of dough is rolled out, and decorated with a bread stamp or chekich. These stamps perforate the dough, allowing the steam to escape from the bread as it bakes, and prevent the center of the bread from rising too much.
The bread is baked in a tandyr oven. This is like a brick pizza oven. It is built of stone or clay. Wood is burned in the central chamber of the oven. The dough is slapped onto the hot walls of the oven to bake. The bread is ready when it falls from the wall onto the floor of the oven.
Photo by Arthur Chapman
Bukahran Tallow Flatbread: Kulchi Ravghaniy
Adapted from Classic Central Asian Jewish Cuisine and Customs by Amnun Kimyagarov
3 1/3 cups flour
1 cake fresh yeast
2/3 cup sheep tallow
1 tsp. salt
Dissolve the salt in some warm water.
Place the yeast in 1 cup of warm water.
Heat the tallow in a pot.
Pour the flour into a bowl.
Create a depression in the center, and pour the warm tallow and yeast in it.
Knead the dough.
Add the salt brine.
Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel, and allow the dough to rise for 3 hours.
Punch the dough down after every hour.
Divide the dough into 2 balls.
Allow them to rise for 25 minutes.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Roll each ball out into a ¼ inch thick circle.
Make a decorative pattern with a bread stamp or fork.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Cove a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and place the bread on it.
In Morocco, the Jewish community would celebrate Tu BiShvat by gathering for a collective feast. Tu BiShvat is the New Year of the trees as described in the Mishna. The wealthiest family would serve a delectable slow cooked meat and dried fruit dish called a tagine. It was named after the special clay pot used to prepare the stew. Traditionally it was prepared with chicken or lamb, dried fruits, and nuts. When the feast ended, every person went home with their hat filled with a gift of various fruits.
You may celebrate with your friends and family with a taste of North African hospitality this Tu Bishvat. On February 10th, when winter is in full force in Philadelphia, serve an exotic fruity chicken tagine. Send your guests home with a care package of fresh or dried fruits, just like the parnassim of Casablanca, Tangiers, and Tetouan.
Chicken Tagine. Photo by Scottish Association of Geography Teachers.