My daughter Shira and one of her oldest and closest friends Alex, have been traveling through Morocco for the past two weeks. Shira has sent detailed e-mails about their adventures, and this one was perfect to share just before Shabbat. As we begin planning our Rosh Hashana menus, I love the idea of having something “new” on our table, and thought you might too. Shabbat Shalom.
On Friday, once back at our riad in Marrakech, we relaxed for a bit before heading to Shul around 7:30. We went to the synagogue in the Gueliz area (the new part of town) — there is another older Shul in the medina as well. The crowd was sparse, with no more than 11 or 12 men. We were the only women, and were sitting behind a curtained area. I’m not the biggest Shul-goer but it was really interesting to hear some of the Moroccan tunes for Kabbalat Shabbat, and see the different prayer style — the congregants, who were sitting throughout the room, would take turns singing the verses of the prayers. The men appeared to be arguing a bit here and there about whose turn it would be to go next, and spoke in Arabic among themselves, which I found interesting as well.
After services, we walked with Monsieur Ohayon (our host for Shabbat dinner) to his apartment, where we had dinner with him, his wife Bloria (who did all the cooking) and their youngest daughter, Shirel. The table was huge, and when we sat down it was already laid out with a large variety of vegetable salads and fish. Carrots, beets, eggplant, potato salad with eggs and cornichon, olives and taktouka (tomatoes and peppers). There were three kinds of fish as well – small whole river fish with many bones, fish steaks that looked like salmon but were white-fleshed and fish patties that had a slightly yellow hue. I tried them all but liked the fish patties the best.
Then came the main course: chicken on the bone, sliced beef, and of course couscous with a variety of vegetables, prunes and chickpeas. The food was delicious and it was fun to be able to try so many different things. For dessert we had grapes, plums and nectarines. We spoke in a mix of Hebrew and French and it was interesting to learn about the Jewish experience in Morocco (their families have been living there for as long as they know), how life has changed over the years, and that the once flourishing Jewish community of Marrakesh numbered at 32,000 and has diminished to a community of 120. Monsieur Ohayon runs a store in the mellah (the old jewish area of the medina, where he and his wife also grew up), selling raw materials to artisans. They aspire to move to Israel one day once their children are all grown up and taken care of. But as my traveling companion, Alex, pointed out to them, who will host the Jewish travelers of Marrakech for Shabbat dinner if they are no longer there?
Fish Balls (adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks) Sephardic Cooking by Copeland Marks
1 pound boneless and skinless fish fillets
1 small onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 handful each of fresh cilantro and parsley (about 1/2 cup each)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tb flour
Vegetable oil for frying pan
Either hand chop or process all ingredients, except eggs and flour, till you have a smooth paste. Put mixture in mixing bowl and add beaten eggs and flour. Mix well. Pour enough oil into large frying pan till it is about 1/2″ deep. Prepare round small balls and fry over medium heat for about 5 or 6 minutes per side. This made about 12 fish balls. 6 servings.