When I was growing up virtually all my parents’ friends were Polish. I don’t remember meeting any Czechs, Russians or Romanians, no less any Sephardic or Mizrahi Jews. My parents were determined to hold on to their language, their food and their customs. They belonged to a Landsmanschaft, a kind of club whose members came from a common town or region, it was a way to help them feel comfortable in their new home. This was not uncommon at the time, synagogues were also established around cities of origin, as were burial societies.
You might be able to imagine their reaction when I brought home Isaac. J., a young man I met when I was about 16, whose family had moved from Yemen to Israel and then eventually to the United States. The fact that Isaac came from an observant home and that his brother was the Cantor at a local Orthodox synagogue made no difference. Fortunately for me his family did not have the same reaction. Isaac’s mother was short in stature but she had a big heart, and in spite of the fact that we didn’t share a common language she always made me feel welcome in her home. Her kitchen was nothing like any other kitchen I had ever been in, and her dishes included unusual ingredients like cilantro, turmeric, cumin, and Hawaij, herbs and spices I had never seen or tasted. I remember two dishes that she seemed to prepare each Shabbat, Jachnun, a bread that baked overnight, served with grated tomatoes and Zhug (a spicy Yemenite version of salsa), and a traditional Yemenite Soup, fragrant and green. This was not my mother’s chicken soup and matzoh balls.
Last week I went to the home of a friend sitting Shiva and I peered into a pot sitting in the kitchen. It smelled and looked just like the Yemenite chicken soup that Mrs. J. used to make. (in fact it was not, but that will have to wait for another post) Later in the week I came home and made a version of Yemenite soup. If my parent’s had only tried it, I think they would have liked it.
2 medium onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
8 cups water
Salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 large russet potato, cut into chunks
1 14 oz. can chickpeas, drained
1 bunch fresh spinach washed and chopped OR 1 bag frozen spinach, defrosted and
excess water squeezed out
1 bunch of cilantro, stemmed and chopped
January 31, 2012 at 7:32 AM
I am sorry that our parents were so narrow minded but it reflected their narrow world in Poland. I think they only wanted the best for you and they thought you should date someone who had the same background. Our lives, very fortunately, were so different and we were able to live in Israel and travel and your children have an even more open acceptance of other cultures.
Yemenite soup is delicious. I think that this soup and kubbeh in a beet soup are my two favorite soups. It is a very nice way to remember a family that was so nice to you.
January 31, 2012 at 5:34 PM
No doubt they only wanted the best!!
January 29, 2012 at 1:48 PM
Maybe I am missing something, but I don’t see when to add the chicken.
January 29, 2012 at 2:26 PM
You are right!! Add the chicken at the same time as the stock!!
Thanks for letting me know!!
January 29, 2012 at 10:50 AM
When does the chicken go in?!
January 29, 2012 at 2:27 PM
Oooops, same time as stock!
January 29, 2012 at 9:25 AM
what a interesting twist on old fashion chicken soup. sounds like a try!!!!! do you have a clue as to the exact spices in hawaij????????
January 29, 2012 at 2:27 PM
No, you have to go to a Persian market and buy it. They all carry it.