by Claire Rosenberg, Staff Writer
May 6, 2011
There are numerous services available which can keep one abreast of the Jewish calendar, but my personal favorite is provided by Chabad. While the Chabad website lists exact dates and ensures that I am aware of upcoming Chagim weeks in advance, I do rely on one other foolproof method as well…my stomach. It is no secret that food is a huge component of any Jewish individual’s connection to their faith, and as I will discuss here, it may just be the most meaningful component of the holiday celebration for many. While the cooling of temperatures and beginning of school cue most to the approach of Rosh Hashana, my craving for honey cake is another telltale sign. I always begin to envision bowls of matzoh ball soup before buds are on the trees, although I am admittedly thinking of pasta with the same endearment only hours into Pesach. Latkes and their accompaniments are expected on Chanukah…but does every family also recount the Maccabee’s miraculous victory de rigueur? I didn’t think so.
Food has in many respects replaced the historical foundations of Jewish Holidays as their focal point, becoming the most recognizable aspect for Jews and Non-Jews alike. A traditional meal is often the most accessible venue for numerous young professionals who do not belong to a synagogue, as well as for those who find themselves somewhat overwhelmed by the restrictions of traditional observance. Even if one does not keep strictly Kosher for Passover, the holiday options abound at all the large grocery chains, and with a simple soup mix, it is possible to bring an element of the tradition into your home. While Passover cuisine might be the most recognizable and easily accessible, it is admittedly, far from my personal favorite.
The counting of the Omer, which begins during Passover, leads to Shavuot, when we commemorate the day the Jews received the Torah from GD. While it does not get any of the cuisine publicity of a Passover or Chanukah celebration, I feel strongly that a celebration calling for the consumption of cheesecake should not be overlooked. It is traditional to consume copious amounts of dairy on Shavuot (with accompanying Lactaid for my fellow lactose-intolerant), and the thought has crossed my mind that relating our receipt of commandments to dairy products is a connection apparent only in Judaism, although with my sincere love for cheesecake and blintzes, I am far from demanding a reevaluation.
One of my favorite parts of the Jewish holidays is the opportunity to share my food customs with others, and in turn to be introduced to culinary treats from another’s tradition. One of my personal favorites is a recipe for homemade falafel, a treat that is great on Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), but delicious throughout the year. I have yet to achieve a product as ethereal as that of the booths in Machane Yehuda (the open air market in Jerusalem) but I have received compliments from Israelis; quite possibly the highest form of praise when fried chickpeas are in question. My go to rendition is loosely based on Joan Nathan’s version from The Foods of Israel Today, improved (in my opinion) through years of alternating successes and failures in preparation. I can only wish you the same in your falafel adventures; as I find experimentation to be the true mark of a Jewish Cook.
1 15 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 small onion, roughly chopped
4 tbs chopped fresh parsley
½ tsp cayenne (optional, I like a little kick)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp baking powder
¼ cup chickpea flour (regular unbleached white will work also, but I like the added flavor from the chickpea flour, also sometimes called Garbanzo flour or Besan)
S+P to taste
Vegetable oil for frying
One of the best parts of Jewish culinary traditions is how diverse they are, much like the Jewish families in which they originate. A Sephardic group might make a traditional rice dish for Passover, since that is permissible in their tradition, but you will not find such ingredients at my family’s celebration. I have had the pleasure of enjoying Shabbat with a friend’s Morrocan-Israeli family, and was introduced to numerous spicy salads and grains that they tie closely to the Sabbath, but which were unfamiliar to me. I was also introduced to centuries old Jewish culinary treats when I attended a Shabbat meal in Turkey, although the dishes I ate were quite new to me at the time. A powerful component of Jewish celebrations for me has always been our ability as a people to put our individual stamp on them, and to then share our edible family treasures with others. I cook Shabbat dinner for anyone who wishes to attend at my apartment every week, and while many of my attendees are not even Jewish, they all leave with an appreciation for the traditional Shabbat meal, won through whichever intrinsically “Jewish” food I choose to serve that week.
Claire Rosenberg is a staff writer for the New Vilna Review. She also writes for Examiner.com as the Hartford Jewish Examiner, teaches, does yoga, runs the occasional 5k, and has a Vegetarian food blog, www.bokchoybohemia.com. As of August 2011, she will be making her home in Jerusalem, Israel, where she will begin studying towards her Masters in Israeli Politics and Society at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Copyright Claire Rosenberg/The New Vilna Review 2011.
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