At Passover, whatever’s on a Sephardic Seder plate makes its way into the meal, too, and onto the table throughout the entire week. In my family, harosi is one of the holiday’s most treasured extended pleasures.
Making the harosi each year was one of my grandpa’s favorite cooking projects, as far back as anyone could remember. He made huge batches of it – huge! – with real loving care for both the tradition and for the family. At the Seder we always placed several generous bowls of it around the table to enjoy through the meal, and afterwards, Papú would gift each of us a jar or two – labeled with our names, and swaddled lovingly in acres of paper towel and rubber bands – so we could each keep spreading the love throughout the weeklong holiday. We spread it on matza. We spread it on cake. On cheese. Over ice cream. On spoons – it’s great straight from the jar. Ottoman Sephardim eat spoon sweets, and harosi is one more. Continue reading
I’m thinking about artichokes today, because it’s Passover and in our family – in many Sephardic and Italian Jewish families – artichokes are a traditional component of the Seder dinner. No religious significance there, it’s just a delicious little luxury that’s available in the springtime.
Edible artichokes have been around a long time, though they nearly went extinct and were scarce during the Middle Ages. But they were brought back through cultivation by the Arabs and reintroduced to the world during the Renaissance, thanks to the Italians and surely more than a few Jewish traders. Catherine de Medici went crazy for them in the late 1400’s, and they’ve been considered a luxury every since. An interesting little tidbit I read says they were brought to her in Florence from Naples, and also “showed up in Venice as a curiosity.” It’s not so curious if you know anything about Jewish communities of the Italian Renaissance. Continue reading
La Voz de Galicia announced last week that on March 25 the Galician town of Ribadavia will celebrate its first Passover Seder in 500 years, in the Sephardic tradition, in a restaurant in the Jewish quarter.
Ribadavia is actually a place I’ve wanted to visit for some time, because my grandfather’s ancestors were from Galicia, though I don’t yet know which specific town or place. It wasn’t until after his funeral that I thought to ask whether that side of the family knew where in Spain they’d come from. “Galicia,” said my great uncle Ben, just like that. They’d known all along. Uncle Ben was only 92 then, sharp as a tack, and lived to be 101. I should have asked more questions.
I was actually planning to visit Ribadavia in the summer of 2001, but I got invited to the wedding of friends in Ireland – so close! – and went there instead. (The marriage didn’t last, but it was hands down one of the best weddings I’ve ever attended.) Continue reading
Sodra is broken-up matza soaked in chicken broth, with eggs and lemon added to the mix in typical Sephardic fashion, maybe dressed with some cheese or a little garlic. It’s an obscure dish, even among Sephardim, included in a couple of Sephardic cookbooks but ignored by most, and not without reason. Don’t be offended, sodra lovers; read on.
Because it’s a traditional dish I see a reason to honor it as a piece of Sephardic heritage, but to be blunt, sodra is just mush. Pablum. Pap. A holiday dish made by people who were either desperately poor, or desperately lacking in culinary skill and imagination, which is the far less likely of the two possibilities.
While there’s no shame in poverty, I see no reason to glorify it or its byproducts, either. Poverty stinks. Going hungry seriously stinks. And certain habits are better left behind when they’ve outlived their necessity. Like prison food. Or Ramen noodles. Continue reading