So much of Judaism revolves around storytelling. From parables to fables to Torah and Talmud, we learn and explore rituals, teachings and beliefs by sharing tales new and old. And how better to reinforce the moral of a story than with a little nosh?
Jane Yolen, an acclaimed storyteller, teams up with her daughter, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, to produce the new “Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook” (Crocodile Books USA).
With plentiful illustrations by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin, the book is colorful and appealing. Yolen retells folk tales — stories that beg to be read aloud — using food as a bridge between the everyday world and the holier and more fanciful one of the legends. The recipes are written in a style that would encourage children and adults to cook together.
The 18 stories with recipes are sometimes obvious matches, such as potato pancakes and “The Latke Miracle,” a story of a poor widow with seven children who offers hospitality to a stranger and finds there are ingredients enough to make latkes for all when she arrives at home.
Others are not as straightforward. In “The Demon Who Lived in a Tree,” a daily bowl of fresh-made jam placates the spirit of an evil, other-worldly bride. The recipe is for cheese blintzes served with fruit preserves.
The recipe below accompanies “The Pomegranate Seed.” In this story, a found seed saves the life of a hungry Jewish man who is caught stealing bread for his family. He declares to his captors that it is a magic pomegranate seed that will instantly grow a magnificent tree full of fruit, but only to one who has never stolen.
Even the sultan demurs from trying the seed since he has “taken entire countries from other sultans.” As a reward for the man’s cleverness, the sultan makes him the royal gardener and the Jew and his family are never hungry again.
Stemple’s recipe, adapted here for space, can be made either with a quick-cooking style of Moroccan couscous (usually available in packages in the supermarket) or the larger Israeli (pearl) couscous.
Pomegranate Couscous (Adapted from “Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts”)
2 Tbs. pine nuts
2 Tbs. margarine or butter
1 small onion, chopped
10 dried apricots, chopped
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1 cup water (if using Israeli couscous) or 2 cups water (if using Moroccan couscous)
1 cup uncooked Israeli or Moroccan couscous
1 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbs. chopped fresh mint
handful of pomegranate seeds (see note below)
On stove, heat a skillet to medium and toast the pine nuts. Shake the pan gently while the nuts cook so they don’t burn. After about 3 minutes, remove them to a plate to cool.
Melt the margarine or butter in a skillet over medium heat and add onion. Cook about 5 minutes until the onion pieces look sort of see-through, stirring often. Lower heat. Add the apricots, salt and cinnamon and heat through (about 1 minute). Remove from heat and set aside.
In a pot, heat 1 cup of water for the Israeli couscous or 2 cups for the Moroccan couscous. Bring to a boil. Add couscous. If using Israeli, cover and boil at low heat about 10 minutes until all water is absorbed, stirring occasionally. If using the Moroccan couscous, cover and remove from heat. Let sit 10-12 minutes until water is absorbed, stirring occasionally.
Fluff the couscous and add onion-apricot mixture, pine nuts, cilantro, mint and pomegranate seeds.
Note: If pomegranate seeds are not available, substitute dried cranberries.
Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. She blogs at www.clickblogappetit.com. Contact her at email@example.com.