Friday, September 22, 2006

Happy New Year

I have a feeling that I need to explain a bit about why I stick in the religious explanations...

I wasn't brought up with any kind of religious education, formal, informal or otherwise. And the fact that I live in Israel isn't because of any religious fixation - it is because of noses. I am not religious in any possible sense of the word whatsoever. The only religious tenet that I believe in is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". But because I live in a country where religion is of such importance - Islam, Christianity and especially Judaism - I learn something new almost every day.

The Jewish religious stuff affects me the most, mainly because the big holidays are all public. Having been born and raised in N.America, it is weird for me not to have Christmas, Easter, New Years or Thanksgiving, let alone the summer-day-off-a-month deal that the nice Canadian government implemented to take pity on its citizens who have to suffer through the long cold winters.

A big "for instance" is Shevuoth - it came as a bit of surprise that there was a holiday all about cheesecake. Who knew?

So Rosh haShana is the sweet holiday, for me, for the less Pavlovianly inclined it's New Year ... There are a number of traditions attached, the main one being to eat slices of apple dipped in honey signifying the sweet year to come. Another is to eat pomegranates, which signify prosperity and prolificacy as well as righteousness. The rumour about pomegranates is that they all have the same number of seeds, no matter the size. I Wiki'd this and they say 613. I have never counted.

The one thing all holidays have in common here is a festive family meal. I alternate between SistR's and my dad's cousin's daughter and her husband's family (they are actually the closest relatives I have here in Israel). The way I work it is I go to whoever asks me first. Such fun to be so popular.

This holiday, my cousin was quicker. So tonight she and her family picked me up for the drive out beyond the airport to the family in law's.

There is never, ever any moderation applied when it comes to festive family dinners in Israel, and even more specifically at my cousin's in-law's. I am still new enough at this blogging biz to forget to be obsessive about taking food pictures, so it was only at dessert that I remembered to snap away.

To sum up dinner, firstly, the picture is of the dinner tables this is in a private home, not a hall, hotel or a restaurant. Please note the glass apothecary jar filled with apples {the work of one of the nieces}. .

A nephew had prepared a huge platter of apples soaked in schnapps and honey that was laid out in perfect concentric circles. Once the synagogue goers had returned, this was the appetizer with which, along with Champagne or wine, we toasted the New Year.

After the ubiquitous temper tantrum by one of the many kids attending, dinner was served. There were green beans cooked with tomates, a beetroot and grilled summer squash salad, a mixed green salad with sunflower seeds, mashed potatoes topped with golden brown fried onions, baked chicken, stewed beef with mushrooms, meatball stuffed dumplings with sweet potatoes, regular potatoes and zucchini, enormous platters of grilled vegetables, eggplant with tehine, faux chopped liver and herbed bread, and meatballs cooked in a beer sauce.

My contribution was a tabbouleh. And everybody commented on it {note the pride in my typing}.

Usually I make a dessert of some sort: lemon tart, Pavlova, truffles, but as my oven is only hot or hotter with no intermediate or low temperatures, and as I was feeling not particularly sweet, I had decided to make a tabbouleh using an idea I got from Diana restaurant in Nazareth. This is probably one of the most divine salads I have had, not just of the tabbouleh genre, but generally speaking. And it is so simple to make.

What you need is:

  • 2 big bunches flat leaf parsley
  • 1/4 bunch mint
  • 1 very big, very red pomegranate
  • 8 inches of cucumber (I use Israeli cucumbers - they are a bit like English cukes, but smaller, and more dry and dense and sweeter) peeled and seeded if necessary
  • 6-8 green onions
  • 1/2 - 1 cup quinoa (I only use the lesser amount even though I like it better than bulgur)
  • lemon juice (fresh only - if you only have reconstituted it just doesn't work) 2-3 juicy ones, depends on their size and how sour you like things
  • xvolive oil - the wilder tasting the better
  • salt

Start off by getting the seeds out of the pomegranate - I usually sit in front of the tv and do this, I couldn't be bothered with the water method, and this way I catch up on the news.

  • Chop the parsley and mint until fine (but not dust, you want to be able to see a bit of leaf).
  • Slice the onions as thinly as possible into rings.
  • Dice the cucumber into small cubes (about the same size as the pomegranate seeds) - the small blade of a mandoline works perfectly

You can actually do this part the day before - just make sure that you put it in a ceramic or glass bowl, not plastic, and put the cucumbers at the bottom, then the pomegranate seeds, onions and lastly the parsley/mint. Cover with plastic wrap that doesn't touch the greens, and put it in the fridge.

Just before you serve, sprinkle with salt, pour lots of olive oil on and then squeeze in the lemon, mix thoroughly and then taste - it will probably need a bit more salt, more lemon juice and ALOT more olive oil. This salad can take a surprising amount of oil without feeling greasy - if it has a dry feeling in your mouth then you need more oil. It's olive oil, so other than the calories, it is good for you.

and how often do you eat a cup of chopped parsley at one sitting?

After all that food, I don't know how we found room for dessert, but we did. Fruit salad with passionfruit, apples, nectarines and peaches, melon, raisins and sugar fried pecans {deadly}, chocolate yeast buns, two different kinds of honey cakes prepared by two different aunts, and a really delicious poppyseed cake prepared by another niece.

So Happy New Year and happy Friday.

Oh, and for those of you wondering what I meant when I said I was here because of the noses: when I first arrived here I felt at home, everywhere I looked there were interesting noses, noses of character, noses in abundance and abundant noses. I'm not saying I have a great whacking honker sitting in the middle of my face {my self-portrait's nose is actually a bit too long}, but I am very fortunate not to have inherited...


Paz said...

Happy New Year and Happy Friday! I love your meal! Very interesting about the pomegranites.


aja said...

Happy New Year and Happy Friday back at you - but don't worry - I say January New Years greetings too... 8^]

Paz said...

I love to celebrate all the various New Years! ;-)


aja said...

We don't really get Kwanza here, but in my neighbourhood we have the 3 major religions, plus some offshoots of Christianity - Greek and Armenian Orthodox specifically.

So there is always something being celebrated here.

I am all for celebrations 8^}