Friday, May 22, 2015

Celebrate Shavuot with Muhallabi

The Feast of Shavuot begins tomorrow evening, 23 May. It is customary to eat dairy foods, and each community has its own favourites. This recipe is popular with Iraqi Jews all year round.

Muhallabi -  Aromatic almond milk pudding (From Flavours of Babylon by Linda Dangoor)
 Serves 4 - 6
I litre almond milk
7 tablespoons cornflour
5 tablespoons sugar
2 whole cardamon pods
2 teaspoons vanilla essence 
2 1/2 tablespoons rosewater
Garnish: 1tablespoon finely ground cardamon pods
1 tablespoon pistachios

Mix cornflour with a little almond milk into a smooth paste.
Set aside.
Place a saucepan over medium heat. Combine the rest of the almond milk with the sugar and cardamon pods and slowly bring to the boil,stirring frequently.
Remove from the heat and pick out the cardamon pods. Add the cornflour paste and blend in well. Return to a low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. (about 15 mins). Be careful not to let the mixture stick to the bottom of the pan.
Remove from the heat and add the rosewater. Give it a good stir. pour into individual dishes or a large bowl and garnish.

Kahi: it is customary for Iraqi Jews to eat this dish at Shavuot:

It is dough  rolled out as thinly as filo, brushed with butter, then  folded like a handkerchief and fried. Then, icing sugar sprinkled on them.

Here is some useful background on the festival (My Jewish Learning):

On Shavuot, we celebrate the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai. According to Jewish tradition, the Torah has seventy “faces”, but is still one, unified Torah. Shavuot customs celebrate the gift of Torah, and show the same diverse presentation of a few unifying core ideas. Each Jewish culture is unique, and at the same time, integrated with the worldwide Jewish community.

There are many special foods for Shavuot, in different Jewish cultures. Dairy is popular because, when the Israelites in the desert received the Torah, including the kosher laws, there was no kosher meat yet available. Torah is compared to honey, so many traditional Shavuot foods are sweet, as well. Persian Jews make “Polao mastin” a dish made of rice and milk, and “koltcha shiri”, a dairy cake, while in Greece there is a special dairy porridge made with cinnamon called “sutlag”. In Poland, cheesecake is the traditional Shavuot dessert. Libyan Jews make necklaces strung with cookies or pretzels in symbolic shapes for their children. Iraqi Jews make “sambusak”, a savory pastry filled with cheese. The exact details of the menu are fluid—any interpretation of a dairy meal and dessert would be appropriate. This is an excellent opportunity to try out a new recipe, symbolic of our renewed relationship with Torah, or to take the time for an old family favorite, to celebrate your roots.

It is common for communities to prepare their synagogues for Shavuot with natural decorations. Greek Jews historically decorated their synagogues with green branches and a variety of flowers. Even today Bukharan Jews use red roses. In Poland, synagogues were decorated with flowers, branches, and paper cuttings called “reizelach”, or roses, in Yiddish. German Jews would place two flowering branches on either side of the Ark, as a symbol that Torah is our Tree of Life. Consider decorating your synagogue or home with local, in season, flowers and greenery.

Traditional communities hold a “Tikkun Leil Shavuot”, a night-time Torah study session which can last anywhere from a couple of hours to all night long. In some communities this is held in the synagogue, while in others, it is located private homes. People may recite specific passages from different traditional texts, while others prepare different topics, which change from year to year. Study is a potent way of renewing our understanding of Torah.

Shavuot is full of opportunities for communal gatherings and fun. Libyan and Moroccan Jews spray water onto passersby, because the Torah is compared to water, and our reconnection to Torah is a source of blessing.

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