By Tina Wasserman
Passover is over and religiously we look to the counting of the Omer until Shavuot. However Moroccan Jews and their Arab neighbors have wanted to celebrate the end of eating matzo for centuries and they didn’t do it with pizza!
Mimouna is celebrated the evening and day after the end of Pesach. Neighbors open their doors and Jews and Arabs alike would go from house to house partaking of sweets. Tables would be strewn with flowers and wheat, Arab neighbors would bring milk and new flour to the Jewish homes and often live fish could be found swimming in a bowl to represent fertility and prosperity. In Israel you don’t have to be Moroccan to celebrate. People go out in droves to picnic in parks or by the seashore. Many parks will be silent this year, but the sweets will still abound.
The origin of Mimouna has many interpretations but it is often associated with the yahrzeit of Maimonides’ father as well as the Arabic Ma’Amoun, which meant wealth and good fortune. Maimonides questioned whether the celebration got its name from the pronunciation of Ani Ma’Amin which was “I believe.”
As many as there are interpretations of the origins of the name, the choices of sweets are abundant as well. Stuffing large, soft, dried medjool dates with spice-scented marzipan (a sweet whose origins are in the Jewish community of Toledo, Spain) is a must on any sweets tray. Sweetened couscous studded with dried fruits and nuts is a staple for all Moroccan festivities as well as spoon nougats with almonds and walnuts.
You don’t have to wait for Mimouna to enjoy these recipes; they are great anytime you want to celebrate an occasion. Enjoy!
Mimouna Stuffed Dates
½ recipe for almond paste or 8 ounces store-bought almond paste
2 dozen or more large medjool dates
Ground pistachio nuts for garnish or crystalline sugar if desired
Easy Processor Almond Paste:
200 grams almond flour (about 1½ cups)
200 grams confectioner’s sugar- (about 12/3 cups) plus additional for kneading
1 egg white (about 3 tablespoons)1 tablespoon wildflower or clover honey
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 drops of food coloring, optional (not traditional but can be used for different celebrations)
1. Place all of the ingredients into a food processor work bowl and process until mixture is well combined and smooth.
2. Place some additional powdered sugar on your counter and gently knead the almond mixture until you can easily handle the dough.
3. Chill in the refrigerator while you prepare the dates to be stuffed.
1. Cut dates lengthwise almost in half so that you can remove the pit.
2. Pinch off a teaspoon or more of almond paste and stuff inside the date. Reshape the filled date allowing the almond paste to show through.
3 Decorate top if desired.
Yield 2-3 dozen dessert dates
If the dates are very hard, try microwaving them for 30 seconds to warm them up and soften them.
If you have no almond paste you can just stuff with a nut or some blue cheese or Brie, heat them for 30 seconds and serve them as appetizers.
Moroccan Honey Nougat-Zaban
¼ cup honey
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 egg white (about a scant ¼ cup)
Pinch of salt
⅛ teaspoon almond extract or rose water
Whole or chopped roasted almonds for garnish
1. Stir the sugar, honey and water in a 1 quart saucepan to combine. Bring to a boil, stop stirring and then cook over medium high heat until the mixture looks clear and big bubbles start to form. Add the flavoring and set aside for a short time while you beat the egg white.
2. In a stand mixer bowl, using the wire whisk, combine the egg white with the salt and beat on high speed until the egg white forms a stiff peak. This should take about 3 minutes or longer if using an electric handheld mixer.
3. With the machine running on high, slowly pour the hot honey mixture into the bowl. Beat for another few minutes until the mixture looks very thick and easily sticks to an inverted spoon.
4 Pour into a decorative dish. Sprinkle with whole or chopped nuts. Traditionally, this is served with small individual spoons and scoops of little spoonfuls are eaten directly from the spoon.
Yield: about 2 cups of Nougat
Sugar syrup should never be stirred once the sugar has dissolved or crystals will form and give the finished product a gritty feel.
This mixture can be made well in advance for a party as long as it is kept in the refrigerator covered.
Moroccan Almond Briwat
4 ounces of almond flour (approximately 1 cup)
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon almond extract
½ tablespoon orange blossom water
8 ounces Phyllo dough-approximately ½ box
1 or more sticks unsalted butter
½ cups wildflower or orange blossom honey
Sesame seeds for garnish-optional
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine the first six ingredients in a 1 quart bowl. Set aside.
3. Melt one stick of butter in the microwave. Set aside.
4. Remove the Phyllo dough from the box and cut a 2-inch slice through the roll. Cover the end of the remaining Phyllo with plastic wrap and then a damp paper towel and set aside.
5. Unroll the 2 inch piece of dough and lay four strips on the counter. Cover the remainder of the dough strips with plastic wrap and a damp paper towel to prevent drying.
6. Brush each strip liberally with melted butter. Place a small amount of the almond filling (about 1 teaspoon) on the right end of each strip.
7. Starting with the lower right point, fold the dough so that the point touches the top of the strip. This will form a triangle where the dough on top is parallel to the edge of the dough underneath and there is a vertical edge on the left and the fold is a slanted side. Continue folding the dough over itself using the interior edge on the left as a guide and always keeping the dough strips parallel on the top and bottom edge. This is like folding a flag.
8. Place triangles on a parchment –lined baking sheet and brush tops with a little melted butter. Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden.
9. Meanwhile, warm the honey in a 1-quart saucepan. Honey should not come to a boil. Turn off heat.
10. Quickly dip the Briwats in the warm honey and remove with a slotted spatula to drain. Place on a clean piece of parchment paper and sprinkle with some sesame seeds if using. Cool completely before serving.
Kept in an airtight container layered between sheets of parchment or waxed paper, the Briwats will stay fresh for a number of days.
NOTE: Briwats may be frozen unbaked. Do not brush the unbaked Briwats with the last topping of melted butter. Place in between layers of foil in lines and then wrapped tightly and freeze. When ready to bake, preheat oven and then place frozen triangles on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Follow step 10.