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Sharing Mimouna With Neighbors — in Morocco and Virginia

Sharing Mimouna With Neighbors — in Morocco and Virginia

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Recipe Roots: Rabat, Morocco > Alexandria, VA > Fairfax, VA
Shared by Ruth and Gabriel Stulman

When Ruth Stulman was growing up in Rabat, along Morocco’s Atlantic coast, the end of Passover was celebrated with the entire neighborhood. Ruth would run from one house to the next greeting neighbors with terbah (from terbah u’tissad), an Arabic felicitation to wish one luck and success. Tables were dressed with crepes called mufleta accompanied with honey and butter, cookies made with walnuts and marzipan or pistachios perfumed with rosewater, and couscous infused with milk and cinnamon. “You have to take something at every house,” Ruth explains.

Freha. Morocco, 1954.

Freha. Morocco, 1954.

The celebration, called Mimouna, has Moroccan origins but is observed in other North African Jewish communities and in Israel. “Mimouna happens to be on the last day of Pesach, because that’s when the Jews crossed the sea,” Ruth adds. “It’s a moment of celebration and freedom.”

When Ruth’s family moved to the U.S. in the early 1970s they brought their Mimouna traditions with them, along with recipes from Ruth’s mother Perla and her mother Freha. A few, Ruth says, were likely picked up over the years in Morocco from neighbors. Women would gather before a big event like a Bar Mitzvah or wedding to bake together, sharing their recipes in the process.

In Virginia, unlike in Rabat where the Moroccan Jewish population was half a million strong and everyone joined in the Mimouna celebration, their family stood out among a community of largely Ashkenazi Jews. Perla still opened her doors, welcoming neighbors, members of their new synagogue, and friends to the party.

Perla in Fairfax, VA , 1998

Perla in Fairfax, VA , 1998

By the time Ruth’s son Gabriel was 12, she had taken over the family’s Mimouna celebration, hosting it in their Fairfax, Virginia home. Gabriel, who owns and operates a collection of hip, neighborhood restaurants in Manhattan (including one named Fairfax) recalls: “We did our best to keep my mother’s traditions and customs alive without having the community around.”

This year they will bring them to a Mimouna party we’re co-hosting at Fairfax restaurant (if you can’t make it, you can try Ruth’s recipes below). As for Ruth’s friends in Virginia, she says: “I have to tell them, ‘Guess what? No Mimouna [this year]. I’m going to be in New York.” Thinking it through, she decides she’ll host a belated celebration in her home — making sure no one is left without mufleta.

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Mufleta

Makes: 1 - 12-14” stack of mufleta with ~24 layers
Time: 1 hour + rising time

Ingredients
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package (2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 ½ cups lukewarm water
About ½ cup neutral oil
Melted butter for drizzling
Honey for drizzling

Preparation
1. Place the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low until combined. With the mixer running, slowly stream in the water. If it seems dry, add a teaspoon of water at a time until the dough just comes together.

2. Turn speed up to medium-high and mix for 10-12 minutes until the dough is uniform and supple. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

3. Pour the oil evenly over a rimmed baking sheet. Turn the dough out onto the oiled baking sheet and use a paring knife to cut 24 equal sized pieces of dough (each piece should be somewhere between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball).

4. To shape each ball, stretch one quarter of the dough up, over and under to the middle. Do this three more times with the remaining quarters of dough. Think about creating a little parachute with your dough where the four quarters meet at the bottom and form a ball. Then, take the ball and squeeze it through the ring made by connecting your thumb and forefinger together to form a tight ball. Coat both sides of the ball with the oil on the sheet tray and place seam side down on the baking sheet while you shape the rest of the dough balls.

5. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and lightly oil a clean work surface.

6. Set a dough ball on your work surface and flatten and spread it into a 12-14” paper thin round (try not to make any holes, but if it happens, that’s ok!). Carefully lift the dough from your surface and lay it in the pan. Immediately start stretching your next layer. Once the dough in the skillet starts to lightly brown, use a spatula to carefully flip it over. Lay the second layer of stretched dough on top of the first. Immediately start stretching your next piece of dough. When the bottom of the dough in the pan is lightly golden (2-3 minutes), flip the two layers over together. Lay the third layer of stretched dough on top of the stack. Repeat this process - stretching, flipping, and adding to the dough stack until all of the layers are stacked in the skillet like a giant crepe cake. Adjust the heat as needed while you work so that the layers don’t take on too much color. Remove the stack from the skillet and place on a large plate or serving dish.

7. Enjoy immediately with lots of butter and honey. To eat, peel away a layer of mufleta from the stack, add a layer of butter or honey and roll into a cylinder or fold into quarters.

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Petits Gateaux (Pistachio Cookies)

Makes: ~30 cookies
Time: 30 minutes + 25 minutes baking time

Ingredients
2 ½ cups shelled unsalted pistachios
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
4 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon rosewater

Preparation
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Place the pistachios in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground.

3. Combine the ground pistachios, sugar, and salt in large bowl.

4. Place 2 egg yolks, 2 egg whites, and the rosewater in a small bowl and gently whisk until just combined.

5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix to incorporate.

6. Drop 1 heaping tablespoon of dough onto the prepared baking sheet at a time leaving 2” of space between each cookie.

7. Bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden. Let cool.

8. Store in an airtight container for up to one week or freeze.

Boules aux Noix (Walnut Balls)

Makes: ~40 cookies
Time: 45 minutes + 25 minutes baking time

Ingredients:
4 cups walnuts
1 cup sugar
Zest of a large orange
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
Scant ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg, white only

Preparation

1. Do not preheat the oven. Place racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and grease with cooking spray or vegetable oil.

2. Place the walnuts, sugar, zest, cinnamon, clove, salt, and egg white in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until walnuts are coarsely ground and the mixture is evenly combined.

3. Lightly oil hands, roll the mixture into balls about the size of a walnut, and place on the prepared baking sheets with 1” of space in between each ball.

4. Place both baking sheets in the oven and turn the oven on to 350°F. Bake for 25 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom halfway through. Remove from the oven and let cool. The cookies will look soft to the touch but will harden as they cool.

5. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Dattes & Noix Fourrees (Dates and Walnuts Stuffed with Marzipan)

Makes: 24 stuffed dates, 30 stuffed walnuts
Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Ingredients
2 cups raw almonds
¾ cup confectioners sugar
4 teaspoons orange blossom water
Red food coloring
Green food coloring
24 medjool dates
4 cups whole walnuts
½ cup granulated sugar, for dusting

Preparation
1. Place almonds in a large heat-proof bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand for exactly one minute (any longer and they will soften too much). Drain then cover again with cold water. Gently squeeze each almond between your fingers to remove the skin. Spread on a baking sheet and allow to dry, about 30 minutes.

2. Place the blanched almonds in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Add the sugar and pulse to evenly combine. Add the orange blossom water and pulse until a paste forms.

3. Separate the marzipan paste into three equal portions. Color one portion with 2-4 drops of red food coloring and one with 2-4 drops of green food coloring (add more or less food coloring depending on what color you’re going for). Leave the third portion uncolored.

4. For the dates; split open on one side with a paring knife and remove the pit. Fill with a heaping teaspoon of marzipan paste. Use the back of a knife to make a design with indentations (get creative)! Repeat with the remaining dates.

5. For the walnuts; roll a heaping teaspoon of marzipan paste into a ball and place it in between 2 walnut halves like a sandwich. Repeat with the remaining walnuts.

6. Place the granulated sugar on a plate and roll each cookie lighty in sugar.

7. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

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Moroccan Sfenj

Makes: ~18
Time: 45 minutes + rising time

Ingredients
3 cups all purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
32 oz. canola oil, for frying

Optional toppings:
Sugar
Cinnamon
Honey

Preparation
1. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast together. Make a well in the center and pour in the water. Stir with a wooden spoon until a very loose, sticky dough comes together. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30-60 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size.

2. Heat the oil (yes all of it!) in a large pot or dutch oven (something with high sides) over high heat until an instant thermometer reads 350°F.

3. Fill a small bowl with water for dipping your hands. This will prevent the dough from sticking while you are shaping the donuts.

4. When the oil is ready, wet your hands and pinch off an egg sized piece of dough. Using the pointer finger and thumb of each hand, press a hole in the center of the dough and stretch it out to form a bracelet-like shape with a large circle (the hole will shrink quite a bit when it fries so if you don’t make the hole big enough it will be more of a ball than a donut). Slowly guide the dough into the hot oil. The dough will be incredibly loose and sticky. Don’t overthink it too much! Depending on your pot size, you will likely be able to fry 4-5 sfenj at a time. You don’t want to overcrowd.

5. Fry on each side about 1-2 minutes or until deep golden brown, using a spider or skimmer to flip. Remove from oil and place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Working in batches, shape and fry the remaining dough, dipping your hands in the water before grabbing for the next piece of dough.

6. Serve hot with mint tea. Optional: sprinkle with sugar, sugar and cinnamon, or dip in honey.

Photos by Penny De Los Santos

Photos by Penny De Los Santos

Sweet Couscous with Nuts and Dried Fruit

Serves: 6-8
Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
1 lb. instant couscous* (if you’re not making your own!)
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup (½ stick) butter or margarine melted
¾ cup raisins
¾ cup pitted dates, chopped
¾ cup dried apricots, chopped
¾ cup blanched almonds, chopped
¾ cup walnuts, chopped
½ -1 cup almond milk, enough to moisten couscous

*Traditionally, a larger sized couscous, similar to pearl, is used for this dish.

Preparation
1. Prepare the couscous according to the instructions on the package.

2. Stir the sugar and cinnamon into the butter or margarine. Pour over the couscous, tossing to coat. Stir in the raisins, dates, apricots, almonds, and walnuts.

3. Gradually add a little bit of almond milk at a time until the couscous is moistened.

4. Serve immediately.

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