Thursday, March 01, 2007
These days we're a bit excited, foodwise; we've managed to convince all our family, which lives in the North, to come have the Passover Seder with us in Tel Aviv! Usually in our family, as for many families we know, the younger folks go hang out with the older ones. The parents or grandparents put up the holiday at their house, and the thirtyish folks come as guests.
Last year, we had the Seder here in Tel Aviv, and though a good time was had by all, we were afraid it was too much to ask for folks to drive all the way here on a holiday evening. However, it seems they enjoyed it so much that they want to come back - if anything, they were concerned whether it wasn't too much for us to have them over! It certainly isn't. In holiday times, small apartments seem to expand and make more room for rowdy, happy guests.
Everybody's enthusiasm is interesting in light of the fact that, at our place, they can't really expect large trays (or small trays, for that matter), of juicy meat; we serve a vegetarian meal. Our only concessions to tradition are my grandma's fish balls and her clear chicken broth. Last year, someone brought a dish of fish, we forgot to serve it, and when we remembered, no one wanted any! They were quite happy with the lovely array of spring vegetables and fruit on the table. It's important for us to have a beautiful, colorful display of seasonal local vegetables, because we see Passover, first and foremost, as a Spring festival. We like to read the story behind the holiday, of liberation and freedom, as a metaphor for, or a parallel to, the liberation of the Earth and Her children - trees, bushes, flowers, roots - from the winter cold, and the freedom to bloom and ripen.
The reason I exhaust you, kind readers, with all this theological and familial information, is because plenty of the recipes that will show up in this blog for the next month or so are "practice sessions" for the Seder meal. Some of them are things we made last year, and some are things we'll try this year for the first time.
One humble but flavorful vegetable dish was a mix of celery and Shiitake mushrooms in a gentle, herb-flavored sauce. Here's how we made it last year.
Celery and Shiitake Mushrooms in Broth and Soy
1 tbsp canola oil
3 garlic cloves
1/2 inch piece of ginger
1/2 tbsp of Thai Curry, or fresh ground red pepper
large head of celery, with about 10 fresh, green celery stalks
10 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup vegetable broth
3 tbsp good quality soy sauce
A few stalks of parsley, sage and thyme
Place mushrooms in a small bowl, and pour hot water on them. Leave to soak for about twenty minutes.
In the meantime, you can prep the other ingredients: remove celery stalks from head, wash well, and cut into small, 1/3 inch pieces. Chop up the parsley, sage and thyme. Slice up the ginger and garlic cloves (bear in mind that, when feeding large crowds, some will dislike the ginger, so if you'll need to fish it out before serving, do not chop it too thinly).
Heat up the canola oil in a wok, add garlic cloves, ginger and Thai curry or red pepper. After about a minute, when kitchen becomes fragrant, add the celery stalks. Move them around the wok for a couple of minutes. Then, go back to your shiitakes, squeeze them well and keep the liquid. Slice 'em up and add to the celery stalks. After a couple of minutes, add to the wok broth, soy, herbs, and as much of the mushroom water as you like. It'll be very flavorful.
Stir and cook for another ten-fifteen minutes, or until celery is soft and nice, and most of the liquids have been absorbed.
The art above is by Arthur Szyk (see more beautiful and interesting Judaica at http://www.szyk.org/szykonline/index.html)