While most people choose to celebrate the end of a week of matza with a good old sandwich, Moroccan Jews have made the night and day after Passover into a true extravaganza of sweets, pastries, friends and family, known as Mimouna.
The Mimouna celebration traditionally starts when the men come back from synagogue at the conclusion of Passover. At home they’ll find a table full of jams and candied fruit that were prepared by the women during the entire previous week. In the kitchen, the women would be busy frying the first chametz pastries, the most famous of them being the moufleta, a crepe served rolled with butter and honey or sugar.
Although Mimouna is celebrated mainly by Moroccan Jews, it is now widely observed in Israel, where it is celebrated during the day with BBQs and picnics in city parks. Mimouna has also become a political event, giving politicians an opportunity to show their respect to North African Jewish communities by wearing traditional costumes and eating sweets while smiling to the many TV cameras covering the celebration.
Mimouna is not very well-known in the United States. Israeli restaurateur and chef Einat Admony is trying to change that with an event scheduled for Sunday in partnership with Liat Berko, CEO of LBNY Production. The two hope to offer New Yorkers a full Moroccan experience, with food, belly dancers, music and henna tattoos.
Admony told me she likes to see a colorful table covered with traditional and less traditional jams, marzipans, nut cookies, candied fruit and stuffed dates (see her recipes below), just as would be served in private homes. At her mimouna, moufletas will be prepared on site, and there will be dablas (North African fried ribbons of rolled dough in sugar syrup) and sfenj (Moroccan doughnuts).
Tables filled with sweets and other symbols of good luck, such as a whole fish, silver and gold coins and fava beans, may offer a clue to the origin of the unique holiday. Some researches suggest that Mimouna was the name of an ancient Moroccan goddess of good fortune and that the food offerings presented to her were meant to bring good luck to the entire house. Traditionally, the many guests attending the celebration would taste the food, but it was really offered to La Mimouna, the goddess, wife of the black demon Mimoun. No meat is served during Mimouna, nor are sour, salty or even black foods such as coffee, for fear of bringing bad luck.
Since Jews would have rid their homes of any flour before Passover, Muslim neighbors would come over at the end of the holiday with the flour needed to prepare the festive sweets. Mimouna became synonymous with good neighborly relationships, as Muslims joined their Jewish neighbors for the celebration. Jewish families would visit each other throughout the night; no invitations were needed, and the doors were left open for anyone to come in. What a beautiful tradition to add to one’s calendar.
Einat Admony’s Dates with Pistachio and Walnuts
Yields 20 dates
1 cup walnuts, toasted
1 1/4 cups pistachios, toasted
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon rose water
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom (seeds from about 2 pods)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
20 Medjool dates
Combine 1 cup walnuts, 1 cup pistachio, powdered sugar, rose water, cardamom, and cinnamon in a food processor. Pulse mixture until finely chopped but not too pasty.
Slice dates lengthwise and remove pit. Spoon a small amount of the nut mixture into each date. Finely chop the remaining 1/4 cup pistachios and sprinkle on top for garnish.
Einat Admony’s Candied Citrus Peels
1 large red or pink grapefruit
1 large pomela
1 cup sugar, plus more for tossing
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
2 pieces star anise
Using a paring knife or citrus peeler, remove peel from fruit and cut into 1/4 inch thick strips.
Put citrus peels in a small pot and add enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, then drain. Repeat this process twice. This removes the bitterness from the pith.
Add peel back to the pot along with sugar, 1/2 cup water, star anise and ginger, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until peels are translucent, about 20 minutes. Drain and transfer peels to a baking rack to dry for about 2- 4 hours.