The Scent of Orange Blossoms features Sephardic cuisine from Morocco. The writers are both Moroccan, Kitty Morse born in Casablanca and raised in the United States, and Daniele Mamane born and raised in Fez, where she continues to live. This is a treasure of North African Jewish cuisine. Like every cookbook I love, it is as much a lesson in cultural and historical insights as fabulous recipes.
One thing I had never even heard of before was the existence of the dialect Haketiya, which was “a colorful blend of archaic Spanish, Moroccan Arabic, and Hebrew” that was used exclusively in Tangier and Tetouran.
Broken down by courses and also menu suggestions for major holidays, the recipes are an excellent guide to Moroccan Jewish life, especially highlighting the tremendously warm relationships between Muslims and Jews throughout centuries of peaceful and productive interplay. Today there are an estimated 7,000 Jews living in the country, compared to the 1960s, where the Jewish community of Fez alone was around 15,000.
One lovely tradition is highlighted, Mimouna, a Jewish celebration unique to Moroccan Sephardim. Pronounced mih-MOO-na, it is a feast celebrated on the last night of Passover. On this night, Muslim families “offer their Jewish friends or neighbors a lump of starter dough, eliminated from Sephardic pantries during the weeklong celebration of Passover.” The gesture is one of community and friendship, a much-appreciated starter for a return to leavened products. Nightfall brings the party with visits to the homes of neighbours, friends, and extended family members.
Suggested recipes for the festivities include couscous with onion and raisin confit; Roasted chicken with orange juice; Sephardic pancakes and fresh, seasonal fruit. All while the Arabic greeting of tarbehu! is used by all, which literally means ‘may you win!”, in hopes that you will be successful and happy.
Suzanne Amsellem of Silver Spring, Maryland, told the Washington Post in 2003 that, “between the food, wine and tea there are, of course, blessings. ‘My father would sit at the head of the table with the bowl of milk and the green leaves of lettuce,’ says Amsellem. ‘Length of days and long life and peace they shall add to you,’ he would say, quoting several passages from Proverbs in English, Hebrew and Arabic. And then he would dip a romaine leaf in the milk and touch your forehead. You’d get milk on your face, and everyone would laugh — a good beginning to any successful new year.” Read more here.
Kitty and Danielle have complied a lovely collection of recipes that are rooted in hundreds of years of Jewish life unique to Sephardic Morocco. The Chard Salad with Preserved Lemon is one example of terrific recipe that captures the spirit and place so very well, and also manages to meet modern tastes brilliantly.
Chard Salad with Preserved Lemon : Blettes Aux Citrons Confits
In season, a salad of Swiss chard is part of every Shabbat meal. Chard is one of the vegetables that receives a special beraha (blessing) during Passover. Fassis (Fez Natives) create a light snack by sandwiching a spoonful of the tangy salad between two pieces of crisp matzo. Substitute preserved kumquats for the lemon if you prefer.
- 3 tablespoons, virgin olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (12-ounce) bunch red chard, stemmed and chopped
- 1 (12-ounce) bunch white chard, stemmed and chopped
- Rind of 1/4 preserved lemon, finely diced
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- Lemon slices, for garnish
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. add the chard leaves, a handful at a time. Using two wooden spoons, toss them until wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Proceed in this manner until all the leaves are used. Add the lemon rind, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Toss to blend and transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with lemon slices and serve at room temperature.