In Morocco, Jews and Muslims have lived in harmony for hundreds of years, ever since the Spanish Inquisition when both groups were banned from Spain and found refuge across the Strait of Gilbraltor in Morocco. Every city and large town in Morocco has its Jewish section called the ‘mellah,’ which means salt. So venerated are Morocco’s Jewish citizens, in fact, that the government ensures the small but influential Jewish community safe coexistence and participation in the highest governmental positions. Of course, this long-lasting amity has manifested itself in many ways, not the least of which lies within Moroccan cuisine.
The most often-seen proof of Jewish influence on Moroccan gastronomy is marzipan. Moroccans use ground almond fillings for a wide array of pastries, among them the Jewish tarts known as massapan. The pastry is filled with ground almonds flavored with orange blossom water and baked in massapan molds, similar to brioche molds. The popular Moroccan cookie known as the Gazelle’s Horns is made in an uncannily similar way, but with a different shape to suit the story of the two lovers that accompanies the sweet meat.
Eggs are another powerful influence Jewish cuisine has enjoyed in Moroccan kitchens. A popular dish known as mhemmer, or meguina, is similar to a frittata. It is much more dense than its cousin the quiche, as it is made with not just eggs, but with mashed potatoes and other vegetables, along with herbs and spices. In fact, its density can be compared to that of a cake! Mhemmer is a picturesque dish, as slices of it sitting on a plate often have colorful bits of vegetables visible.
It seems that any dish made for a special occasion is always an anticipated one, no matter where in the world you are. Morocco is no exception, and Jewish dishes made especially for the Sabbath are often served. One such example is hamin, which means ‘hot,’ and has its Arabic equivalent name in skhina (also meaning ‘hot’). This stew is made with meat and a spiced broth, wherein eggs are cooked whole, in their shells. When the skhina is done, the eggs are then removed and their shells peeled, revealing a color described as ‘the color of café au lait.’ The eggs, of course, have absorbed the flavors of the stew in which they are cooked, and are delicious.
Food is a time-tested remedy for bringing people together.
Another popular ‘Sabbath meal’ is a tagine of meatballs with celery that originated in the northern Moroccan city of Tangier. Tangier took in a large population of Spanish Jews and Muslims fleeing the Inquisition because of its close proximity to Spain, and houses a large number of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. So known for its Jewish community, in fact, that Eugene Delacroix painted two depictions of Jewish weddings in Tangiers: Mariée juive de Tanger and Noce juive au Maroc, both of which are now displayed in the Louvre.
Despite the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, food is a time-tested remedy for bringing people together. Cementing the marriage of the peaceful co-existence of the Jewish and Muslim communities is the intermingling of cuisine styles and influences. Fortunately for us, this peaceful confluence is something we can all enjoy, regardless of faith.
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