Passover food customs are strong for those with Moroccan Jewish roots, where special dishes and traditions mark both the beginning and end of the holiday.
“At the onset there is a very big custom,” said Taliah Langer of San Francisco. “Everyone gathers near the father and he lifts the seder plate and swings it over everyone’s head. We all sing ‘In a hurry we left from Egypt.’ We do this three times.” Langer, whose mother is from Morocco, regularly cooks dishes from her mother’s tradition for family and guests at the new Chabad of Pacific Heights, where she is the rebbetzin. Her husband, Moshe, is the rabbi.
In Moroccan Jewish tradition, the seder plate would feature romaine lettuce or other greens for the maror (bitter herbs), and a haroset made from crushed nuts, dates, figs and raisins.
Diners would “sit on a lot of pillows, like kings,” Langer reminisced. Before the holiday began, candles would be lit. Then, “after the meal, we’d fill a big wineglass for Elijah and we’d go out to the front door carrying lit candles to pray outside and walk Elijah in.”
Langer said her mother’s seder meal might feature chicken soup with lots of vegetables, homemade matzah and grape wine, fish baked with lemons, tomatoes and onions, a meat and potato casserole, chicken cooked with zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes, sweet potatoes baked with fresh pineapple slices, and potatoes and onions sautéed in chicken fat.
The menu always included lots of vegetable salads — perhaps beet salad with chopped onions, carrot salad with lemon and salt or a cucumber, tomato and onion salad. Everything was prepared without oil and sugar for the duration of the holiday. Dessert usually was fresh fruit, but after the two seders, haroset would be eaten as an after-dinner treat.
Therese Levy, a speaker for San Francisco–based JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), left Casablanca 34 years ago, but her Passover menu still reflects the dishes she grew up with.
Her menu includes a fish course, soup with potatoes, leeks and fresh fava beans, chicken with lemons, and lamb with truffles. Dessert might be a cake made with nuts, eggs and coconut.
As Passover ends, Moroccans continue the festivities by celebrating Mimouna, the holiday that welcomes spring and marks the return to eating leavened products. They hold open houses and invite friends and neighbors over to eat sweets such as soft, white nougat, sweet jellied fruit preserves and mufleta, tasty pancakelike flatbreads served warm, dripping with honey and butter. Mufleta would be the first bread made after Passover.
“After dark, we would go to the grocery store and then we would make mufleta,” said Levy, whose family also served couscous with milk or buttermilk, another traditional Mimouna dish, especially savored because the Moroccan custom is to not consume dairy foods during Passover.
Mimouna preparations would start the last day of Passover in the afternoon by cooking treats that did not contain hametz, Langer said. “That night they would prepare lots of delicious foods and have freshly picked flowers to decorate.”
One custom was to have “a big bowl of flour and a small bowl of oil on the table,” she added. Traditionally, Moroccan Jews would also have five fresh fava beans and seven golden coins in the flour and have a live fish swimming in a bowl. Fruit, lettuce, sheaves of wheat, milk and other symbols of plenty would also grace the table.
Mimouna, thought to be named either in honor of Maimonides’ father or an Arabic word for good fortune, continues the next day with picnics and other celebrations.
Below are some recipes from JIMENA as well as some inspired by Moroccan traditions.
Sweet Potatoes with Pineapple
4 tsp. olive oil, divided
2 whole pineapples (about 21⁄2 lbs. each)
21⁄2 lbs. sweet potatoes (about 4 or 5, medium-large)
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1⁄2 tsp. ground black pepper
1⁄2 tsp. ground ginger
1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1⁄4 cup water
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with 1 tsp. of the oil. Cut the peel and eyes off the pineapple and core. There should be about 21⁄2 lbs. of usable fruit. Slice into 1⁄4-inch-thick rings. Cut each ring into thirds.
Scrub the sweet potatoes and peel if desired. Cut into 1⁄4-inch-thick slices. Mix salt, pepper, ginger and cinnamon in a small bowl. Layer a third of the sweet potatoes in the bottom of the baking dish. Top with half of the pineapple pieces. Sprinkle with half of the spice mixture. Top with another third of the sweet potatoes and the remaining pineapple pieces and spice mixture. Top with remaining sweet potatoes. Add water.
Cover pan with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour until potatoes and pineapple are cooked. Remove foil, brush top with remaining oil and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes or until top is lightly browned and potatoes and fruit are tender.
Salmon Steamed in Foil
Serves 8 as a first course
2 lbs. salmon filets
1⁄2 tsp. of salt
1⁄4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbs. minced lemon zest
1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
2 cups diced tomatoes
1 cup diced onion
4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1⁄4 cup chopped fresh basil or cilantro
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Remove silver skin and any remaining bones from the salmon. Slice into 8 equal pieces. Mix salt and pepper together with lemon zest and garlic.
Take a strip of aluminum foil about 16 inches long. Fold in half with shiny side up, so it’s a rectangle about 8 inches long. In the middle of each double strip, place a salmon piece. Scatter 1⁄4 cup tomatoes and 2 Tbs. of onions on top. Sprinkle with 1⁄2 tsp. of lemon juice and an eighth of the salt and pepper mixture. Scatter 1⁄2 Tbs. of the fresh herbs on top.
Seal packet by folding long edges of foil together, rolling down and crimping. Repeat with shorter ends, making sure the packet is well sealed. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Place foil packets on baking sheets and cook for 25 minutes (see note below). Open one of the packets carefully to check to see if fish has cooked through and vegetables are cooked. (Watch for escaping steam and hot liquid.)
Note: The timing of cooking the fish depends on the thickness of the filets. A 3⁄4-inch filet takes about 25 minutes. Adjust according to the thickness of the fish. The fish will continue cooking in the foil packages until unwrapped, so if you are holding the dish a while before serving, slightly undercook the fish.
Moroccan Carrot Salad from JIMENA
1 tsp. cumin seeds, optional
2 tsp. coriander seeds, optional
2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
3⁄4 cup finely chopped onion (about 1 medium onion)
2 cups thinly sliced carrots, steamed until just beginning to soften and drained
1⁄4 cup fresh orange juice (about 1 medium orange)
2 tsp. honey
salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro, plus sprigs to garnish
If using the cumin and coriander, put the seeds in a pan and dry-fry on a medium heat for 2 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
Heat 1 Tbs. of the oil in a fry pan, and cook the onion until soft. Add the carrots and orange juice and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring or tossing occasionally. Put the carrots and onions in a bowl and gently toss with the pan roasted spices (if using), honey and remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let cool to room temperature and mix in the chopped cilantro. Garnish with cilantro sprigs and serve at room temperature.
Mufleta from JIMENA
Makes 20 pancakes
4 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄2 tsp. salt
11⁄2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. instant, rapid rise or bread machine yeast
13⁄4 cups warm water (100-110 degrees)
vegetable oil for frying
Combine flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl. Mix. Slowly stir in warm water. Keep stirring until shaggy dough forms. Finish mixing by hand until all the flour is incorporated and knead until dough is smooth and pliable, about 5-10 minutes. Cover with a cloth towel and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 to 11⁄2 hours. (Note: timing depends on ambient temperature.)
Oil hands and divide dough into 20 balls. Place balls on greased tray or plates, cover and let rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour until they are about 50 percent larger. Working on a flat surface, use your fingertips to first flatten and then stretch out one ball of dough into a thin, round, flat disk, about 1⁄16 inch thick and about 5-6 inches in diameter. Small rips or holes are OK. Prepare a second ball of dough the same way.
Heat a thin layer of oil in a heavy fry pan. Slip the first disk into the pan. Cook for a minute on one side and then flip it over with a spatula. (Note: this will be the only mufleta that will be fried on both sides.) Lay the second disk on top of the first, prepare the next ball of dough, flip the pancake stack again so the uncooked dough is in contact with the oil. Lay the third prepared disk on top of the other two. Prepare the next ball of dough, flip the stack again so the uncooked mufleta is now on the bottom, place the fourth disk on top. Repeat with remaining dough, adding oil to the pan if needed. Serve hot. Traditionally the mufletas are spread with butter and honey and then folded into quarters.
Pancakes are best eaten warm, served with honey and butter or with preserves or other toppings.