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Passover in Morocco:
A story of East meets West
By Linda Morel
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
February 26, 2001
NEW YORK-- "When most Americans think of Morocco, they envision Casablanca," says Dani Moyal, discussing the mix of Muslim and French cultures among Jews in her homeland.
Although she was born in Fez, her husband hails from Casablanca, the city immortalized in the classic film of the same name starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
Jews inhabited Morocco for at least seven centuries before Arab settlers arrived. Many of them came from the Iberian Peninsula following the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492.
For the most part, Muslims have peacefully coexisted with Jews for more than 1,000 years in this north African nation on the Mediterranean Sea, which grants Jews full rights as citizens.
"Influenced by Muslim culture, our traditions are strong," says Moyal, describing the Asian jewelry and caftans that Jewish and Muslim women wear. At weddings, brides run henna through their hair and don ornate handcrafted gowns embroidered with gold thread.
At sundown after the eighth day of Passover, it is Muslims who bring the holiday to a close, starting a unique festivity called the Mimouna (pronounced Me-moo-na). Muslim friends return flour to Jewish homes by arriving with enough cakes, cookies, pastries, breads and crepes to cover a dining-room table. Carrying wheat from the field, they drape branches around picture frames and mirrors, and on chandeliers and tables.
"The Mimouna is more fun than you can imagine," says Moyal, explaining that Jews leave their front doors open all night. They go from place to place, stopping to enjoy sweets and tea, before moving on to the next family or returning home to receive guests.
Moyal said that some people spontaneously stay and party at the last home they visit.
Although Mimouna celebrations haven't caught on in New York, where Moyal now lives, in France, Canada and Israel, they are big events, equally popular among Ashkenazi Jews who are invited to join in by Moroccan friends.
Because most Mimouna confections call for flour, they are unsuitable for Passover consumption. But one of the most cherished recipes, zabane (pronounced za-ban), is made with whipped egg whites and sugar, beaten until the gooey consistency of caramel is achieved. Served in a bowl, zabane is a pareve confection, eaten with a spoon.
"At every house, guests debate if the zabane is too hard or too soft, and who made the best batch. It's very typical of the Mimouna," says Moyal.
Moyal, who has dark hair and brown eyes shaped like almonds, switches back and forth between English and French with ease. During 40 years of French colonial rule in Morocco, which ended in 1956, French Jews opened French schools, instilling their language in local Jews and educating them in European ways.
Perusing recipes in the cookbook "La Cuisine Juive Morocaine," written by Vivane et Nina Moryoussef, Moyal waxes poetic about the fresh vegetables and cilantro that flavor the dry fava bean soup, served on the first and second nights of Passover.
Although Ashkenazi Jews forgo starchy beans and grains during Passover, Sephardi custom permits people to partake in beans and rice during the holiday.
Sharing her aunt's recipe for charoset, Moyal describes how ground walnuts, almonds, dates and raisins are rolled into bite-sized balls and placed inside lettuce leaves.
She's wildly enthusiastic about lamb with white truffles, the signature dish of Moroccan Jewish cuisine.
"Moroccans would kill for this delicacy," says Moyal describing an aromatic stew, served not only at Pesach, but also at weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, parties and on Shabbat.
While white truffles are often difficult to find in this country and can be pricey, sometimes $25 a can, white potatoes can be substituted with excellent results. One reason they are so expensive is that conditions must be perfect to produce a good crop, explains Moyal, an importer of Devico Foods, a line of Moroccan specialties sold at Israeli and Middle Eastern markets.
In February, when white truffles mature, they erupt from the ground like popcorn. Dogs are used to sniff around for this exotic plant, which usually grows under oak trees.
If there are no white truffles available at Passover, Moroccans go crazy. Last year, there was a shortage due to bad weather, and Moyal received calls from people begging her to get them just one can; they were willing to pay any price.
Reminiscing about Passover food evokes poignant memories of seders from long ago. Although Moyal has lived in America for two decades, in recent years she has started to really miss her homeland, where her parents still reside. Like them, much of Morocco's Jewish population consists of couples whose grown children have emigrated to other countries.
In 1948, there were approximately 250,000 Jews in Morocco; today the population has dwindled to between 2,000 and 5,000.
"Morocco is something that's a part of me; it's very rich," says Moyal, who is traveling home with her husband and three children for Passover.
At the seder, as she recites "Next year, in Jerusalem," she will be overjoyed to be with her family in Fez.
1 cup each: pitted dates, raisins, blanched almonds & walnuts.
2 Tbsp. grape juice
1. Place dates in food processor. Using metal blade, grind until dates are broken into tidbits the size of raisins.
2. Add remaining ingredients and process until nuts are finely ground and mixture clumps together.
3. Roll into balls ½ inch in diameter.
4. Serve balls wrapped in lettuce leaves. Make matzah-charoset sandwiches by placing charoset ball between two small pieces of matzah and wrapping lettuce around it.
Yield: 50 balls
DRY FAVA BEAN SOUP
1 lb. soup meat (chicken, beef or veal)
1 lb. each: carrots, turnips, & leeks, cleaned and diced
1 lb. dried fava beans
4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced into small pieces
4 stalks celery, diced
½ tsp. tumeric
Leaves from a bunch of cilantro, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
2 quarts water
Place all ingredients in a large pot and simmer on a low flame for two hours
or until beans are soft. Stir frequently to
mash potatoes and to prevent ingredients from sticking to pot.
from bones and shred into soup before
Yield: 8 servings
LAMB WITH WHITE TRUFFLES
16 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup olive oil
6 lbs. lamb cut for stew
Salt & pepper to taste
12 bay leaves
2 tsp. ground tumeric
3 cups water
2 (15.8-oz) cans white truffles, drained and rinsed-or 6 lbs. miniature
white potatoes, peeled
1. In a large pot, saute garlic in olive oil for one minute or until transparent.
2. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer on a low flame for 90 minutes or until meat is soft.
3. Remove bay leaves and serve.
Yield: 8 servings
4 egg whites
3 Tbsp. sugar
Beat ingredients with an electric mixer until egg whites are very stiff, the consistency of marshmallow fluff. Place in a bowl. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts or peanuts. Keep at room temperature until ready to serve.
© JTA Inc., 2001. May not be reproduced without written permission.