A seder and a symbolic carrot salad for Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah seder foods; photo by Alona Lerman via Flickr Creative Commons

Rosh Hashanah seder foods; photo by Alona Lerman via Flickr Creative Commons

Rabbi Sasson Natan is getting ready for his family’s seder.

Hold on a minute, you’re probably saying. Even if you’re not Jewish, you know that Passover is in the spring. Even the lesser-known Tu b’Shevat seder, which I wrote about last year in Feed the Spirit, isn’t until February.

Ah yes, but the rabbi, spiritual leader of Keter Torah Synagogue in suburban Detroit, is preparing for the Jewish year’s third seder, the Rosh Hashanah seder, a custom widely practiced by Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews.

Bet you thought the main groups of Jews were Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. There’s one other big dividing line, and it goes back to the 1400s and even earlier.

A capsule Jewish geography

After Rome completely conquered Judea (what is now Israel) in the year 72 CE, Jews scattered throughout the Middle East and beyond. Those who stayed in the Middle East–Palestine (as the Romans renamed Judea, and where there has always been a Jewish presence), Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, India–became known as “Mizrachi” Jews, meaning from the East. A large number of Jews settled in Spain, where they flourished for hundreds of years until Ferdinand and Isabella expelled them all in 1492. This group were known as Sephardi Jews, from the Hebrew word for Spain, Sepharad. After the expulsion, many went to North Africa, joining well established Jewish communities.

Rosh Hashanah seder foods, photo by Susie Lubell via Flickr Creative Commons

Rosh Hashanah seder foods, photo by Susie Lubell via Flickr Creative Commons

Most American Jews are of Ashkenazi heritage, whose ancestors settled in central and eastern Europe. The word comes from the Hebrew word for Germany, Ashkenaz.

Although each country’s Jewish community had its unique customs, those of the Mizrachi and Sephardi communities are similar in many ways, as are those of Ashkenazi Jews, and the differences between Sephardi and Ashkenazi practices are often striking. Even though they say the same prayers, Sephardi synagogue services sound very different from Ashkenazi services because they use different chants and tunes.

Many Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews also eat symbolic foods at Rosh Hashanah, but I’ve never heard anyone call it a “seder” before.

The practice comes from the Talmud, the collection of Jewish laws and traditions said Rabbi Sasson, a native of Iraq who likes to be called by his first name. On both nights of Rosh Hashanah, after the blessings over wine and bread but before the festive meal, celebrants eat a variety of foods to symbolize their hopes for a good new year.

Seder means “order”

Seder simply means “order;” it’s a way of celebrating a holiday using specific foods with an associated, ritual meaning. Different Sephardi and Mizrachi communities follow different orders and may eat slightly different foods.

In the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment. God reviews everything we’ve done in the past year and decides our fate; the decree is sealed 10 days later on Yom Kippur.

At the heart of the Rosh Hashanah seder, said the rabbi, are wishes we request God to grant us in the coming year.

“On Erev Rosh Hashanah (the evening, when the holiday starts), we know that the next day we will go to court before God the judge, and our enemies will come to the court with files and files against us,” said Rabbi Sasson. We use various foods to symbolize our pleas for our enemies to be vanquished and for us to have blessings, he said.

The seeds of the pomegranate remind us of God's commandments (photo by dingoshoes via Flickr Creative Commons).

The seeds of the pomegranate remind us of God’s commandments (photo by dingoshoes via Flickr Creative Commons).

The eight Rosh Hashanah seder foods are  called simanim – symbols – because the Hebrew, Aramaic or Arabic word for that food is associated with another Hebrew word that can extend into a wish for the new year. These include:

  • Dates, with a wish that our enemies will be consumed.
  • Beets, with a wish that our enemies will run away.
  • Leeks, with a wish that our enemies be chopped up.
  • Long green beans, called “rubia” in Arabic–Rabbi Sasson uses black-eyed peas–with a wish that our merits increase.
  • Zucchini or similar squash, with a wish that any evil verdicts against us be ripped up and that our merits be announced before God.
  • Pomegranate, with a wish that we be filled with mitzvot (God’s commandments) like a pomegranate is filled with seeds. (Some say the number of seeds in a pomegranate equals the number of mitzvot in the Torah: 613.)
  • A fish head or sheep’s head, with a wish that God will make us like the head and not the tail. (If a sheep’s head is used, it also reminds us of the binding of Isaac, which we read about on Rosh Hashanah.)
  • Apple and honey, with a wish that God will renew for us a good and sweet year.

The basis for delicious dishes

Often the foods are made into delicious salads or other dishes that serve as appetizers to the main meal. Rabbi Sasson says for the beet portion of the seder, his wife stuffs beet leaves with minced meat, a dish similar to stuffed grape leaves.

The seder leader holds each food in the right hand while explaining the meaning of the food and reciting the blessing for the food and the wish associated with it. The entire ceremony takes only about 15 or 20 minutes, said the rabbi.

Almost all Jews, even those who don’t do a seder ceremony, eat apples and honey as a way of wishing for a good and sweet year to come. Here is a link to a more detailed article about the Rosh Hashanah seder by a woman who was born in Calcutta.

Food puns as symbols

Ants on a log -- raisins stuck to celery with peanut butter -- symbolize a wish for a "raise in salary" (photo by kjmhanley via Flickr Creative Commons).

Ants on a log — raisins stuck to celery with peanut butter — symbolize a wish for a “raise in salary” (photo by kjmhanley via Flickr Creative Commons).

Some have adopted the idea of simanim using languages other than Hebrew and Arabic. Many Ashkenazi Jews eat carrots in place of black-eyed peas, because in Yiddish (for centuries the language of the Ashkenazi Jews) the word for “carrots”–mehren–sounds a lot like the Yiddish word for “more”–mehr.

In fact, says Bessie Krapfman in an article about Rosh Hashanah foods, it’s even better for simanim to be puns from one’s native language. “My sister-in-law is very strict to make certain that there is a stick of celery and some raisins on the table,” says Krapfman. “She always takes the celery together with the raisins and loudly requests of God that he give us all a ‘raise in our salary.’ That is always good for a few laughs, but this is really what we are supposed to do, laughs aside.”

In addition to the raisins and celery (glued together with peanut butter), my son-in-law recently started serving dried fruits wrapped in toilet paper, as a wish that his guests will be “fruitful and multi-ply” (appropriate for those still building their families). I suggested that they might want to puree some cooked peas and serve them with a wish for “whirled peas” (world peace, get it?) Even better, top the peas with a dollop of grits and ask for “whirled peas and hominy.”

What kind of puns can you think of involving food and good wishes?

For your gustatory delight, I offer this recipe for an Israeli carrot, pomegranate and parsley salad, which uses two simanim, carrots and pomegranate. It’s a bit of a bother to pull the leaves off the parsley and get the seeds out of the pomegranate, but after that, it’s a snap to make, and it’s oh-so-pretty as well as tasty. (Helpful hint: quarter the pomegranate and then put the pieces into a large bowl of water before breaking them apart. The seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl and the pith will float to the top. Skim off the pith, and then drain the seeds in a strainer or colander.)

Tomatoes a-plenty

Caprese salad by Elaine WebberI say “toMAYto” and my husband, the Brit, says “toMAHto,” but unlike George Gershwin, we’re not calling the whole thing off!

Every year we live in hope of fresh tomatoes from the garden. What could be better than biting into a ripe, juicy tomato still warm from the sun? You might be able to get something fairly close at a farmers’ market, but supermarket produce just doesn’t compare.

Tomatoes are fairly easy to grow. One summer, when we lived in a circa-1920s second-story apartment with tall, southern-facing windows and wide window ledges, we grew them in pots outside our living room. Even though we do everything right – plant after the danger of frost is over, plant in a different spot than the previous year, make sure the plot has good drainage and gets lots of sun – we can never be sure we’ll have a good harvest. Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate. Sometimes our plants are stricken with a disease or blight.

This year is not spectacular, perhaps due to cool temperatures and more than ample rain. But our five plants are producing more than enough to meet our own gustatory needs.

Just imagine a world without the tomato. No pizza. No tomato sauce for pasta or lasagne. No BLTs. No cream of tomato soup with your grilled cheese sandwich. It’s probably one of the most widely grown food crops, and probably one of the most versatile. Think of how many ways we use it: juiced, in soups, salads, casseroles, stews and sauces. There’s even a recipe for a cake using a can of tomato soup. It used to be in The Joy of Cooking, but my current edition has taken it out. I found this version on the Web, but I haven’t tried it so I’m not making it this week’s official recipe.

Tomatoes in my garden

Tomatoes in my garden

A Central American native

The tomato originated in Central America, and we have Christopher Columbus and the other Spanish conquistadores to thank for introducing it to the world. They took it to Spain, where it spread throughout Europe, and to the Philippines, where it spread to Asia.

Europeans were initially suspicious of the shiny fruits, which were probably golden rather than red. After all, they’re botanically in the same family as nightshade, with its deadly berries.  At first tomatoes were grown as an ornamental plant, but by the early 1600s, tomatoes were being used as food.

The earliest discovered cookbook using tomatoes was published in Naples in 1692.

The word “tomato” comes from a Nahuatl word, tomatoti. The Italians named it pomo d’oro – golden apple, which isn’t surprising since those early tomatoes were probably yellow, rather than red.

The world’s largest tomato, which weighed 7 lb., 12 oz., was grown by Gordon Graham on Edmond, Oklahoma in 1986.  The world’s largest tomato plant, at Disney’s Epcot Center in Florida, produced 32,000 tomatoes in one season. Since I have fresh basil in my garden this summer as well as tomatoes, it’s a great time to make a Caprese Salad! It’s a very easy recipe. The only other ingredients you need are fresh mozzarella, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. 

Olive oil, the elixir of life

Photo by John Rutter via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by John Rutter via Flickr Creative Commons

All kinds of food-related businesses cluster around Detroit’s Eastern Market, site of one of the oldest farmers’ markets in the country.

Mike Sandros serves a customer in his shop, Gabriel Import Co.

Mike Sandros serves a customer in his shop, Gabriel Import Co.

One of them is Gabriel Import Co., a Mediterranean grocery store. It’s a food-lover’s paradise. There are numerous types of olives, hummus, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, oney-drenched pastries, many types of feta and other cheeses.

Taking up serious shelf space in the tiny shop are a dozen or more varieties of olive oil, most of them from Greece. Owner Mike Sandros, who has Greek and Lebanese parentage, insists Greek olive oil is the best in the world.

The best of the best

And the best of the best, says Mike, who emigrated from Greece as a teenager, is from Kalamata, on the Pelopponesian peninsula in the south part of the country – yes, the same place those almond-shaped black Greek salad olives come from.

In the Kalamata region, says Mike, there are 10 to 15 million olive trees.

Greece is one of the world’s largest producer of olive oil, but not the world’s largest exporter, he says. That’s because Greek families use so much themselves. Greece is the world’s largest per-capita consumer of olive oil.

“A Greek family will use a can in two weeks,” says Mike, motioning to the three-liter cans behind him on the shelf. “Just like the Chinese eat rice with every meal, the Greeks eat olive oil with every meal.”

They pour it on their salads, cheese and bread. They cook with it and bake with it.

Greek olive oil by Patricia HobsonAnd, like the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding who thought Windex was the cure for everything that ails you, Mike is convinced of olive oil’s health benefits. Scientific studies back him up. Olive oil may help people lower their levels of bad cholesterol while raising levels of good cholesterol.

“On Crete, the island south of Greece, the men are 76 percent less likely than Americans to have heart attacks,” he says. “Every man there drinks a small cup of olive oil every day.”

Mike’s brother still lives in Greece and has access to all the best olive growers, from whom Mike imports his oil.

But Greek olive oil isn’t that easy to find in the United States. Because Greece is in the Euro-zone, they export first to Europe; the U.S. gets what’s left over. Actually, says Mike, Italy doesn’t grow enough olive oil to export, so the Italian brands we purchase may be blends that include Greek oil.

Look for EVOO

The olives are usually picked in the fall, when they’re green and bitter; they’re ground up and the oil is pressed out. The oil put in clay barrels for six to eight months to become sweet. This first pressing is what’s known as extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO). When you buy olive oil for salads or for dipping bread, look for extra-virgin oil that’s labeled “first cold pressed.” Oil that’s labeled “pure” is fine for cooking, but it might not have as delicate a taste as EVOO.

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons

The price depends on the year’s olive crop. A single tree can yield anywhere from 25 to 200 pounds of olives, Mike says.

Although Greek olive oil can be more expensive than oil from Spain or Italy, it’s worth it, Mike insists it’s worth it. He sells three-liter cans for $25 to $40. “For a typical American family, that will last six to eight months,” he says.

EVOO is also great for sautéing, but don’t plan to use it for deep frying because it will burn. You also may not want to use EVOO for baking, because it has such a pronounced flavor – but using a blend of olive oil and other vegetable oils would work for frying and baking.

Here is a recipe for a delicious salad dressing that uses extra-virgin olive oil. It tastes different with cider vinegar than with Balsamic vinegar, so try it both ways and see which you prefer.

Student gardeners grow stoplight salad and more

Detroit City Kids work and learn in the Garden of Love. Model D photo by Marvin Shaouni.

Detroit City Kids work and learn in the Garden of Love. Model D photo by Marvin Shaouni.

Now that the weather north of the Mason-Dixon Line is getting warm enough to at least think about gardening, I thought it would be a good time to run this article by Detroit freelance writer Amy Kuras. It originally appeared last January in Model D, an online newspaper, and is reprinted with permission.

Over the last two years, schoolyards at Detroit Public Schools all over the city have begun sprouting raised garden beds. Not only do these beds grow produce that nurtures students’ bodies, the gardens nurture their minds as well, being used in lessons across the curriculum from science classes to math and language arts.

The gardens are part of the Detroit School Garden Collaborative, a partnership between the Detroit Public Schools and The Greening of Detroit. The DSGC got started in 2012, with funding through the Healthy and Hunger Free Schools Act. Betty Wiggins, the executive director of the office of school nutrition for DPS, earmarked some of the funds the school district got from the government to start the program. When the gardening season gets started this April, the program will be active at 51 schools.

The school district provides six raised beds and clean soil to fill them, along with seedlings to plant. The principal at each building assigns a key teacher to helm the program and implement the curriculum. The district also provides a garden attendant to help the teacher keep the garden weeded and watered and assists with some of the lessons. And at some schools, they hire students age 14 and up to be garden assistants, who help tend the garden through the summer months and get to participate in field trips to see agricultural producers all over the state.

The district produces most of its own transplants for the garden beds as well, from a greenhouse maintained by students at the Randolph Vocational Center. Some classrooms also produce their own transplants in half the beds, the key teacher can grow whatever produce they want to use; in the other half, they grow what’s called “stoplight salad” — red tomatoes, yellow squash, and green zucchini. That goes on the menu at the school, so the kids are actually eating food they helped grow. It also goes to charter schools for which DPS is the school food authority.

A student gardener displays the fruits of her labor. Model D photo by Marvin Shaouni.

A student gardener displays the fruits of her labor. Model D photo by Marvin Shaouni.

Helping students eat better

“The overall goal is to have an impact on what these young people eat,” says Zaundra Wimberley, DPS director of school gardens and farms. “We want to have an impact on their thought process that an orange or an apple or a red pepper is just as viable a snack as a bag of Cheetos.”

Barbara Lothery, a fifth grade homeroom teacher at Nichols Elementary-Middle School in Indian Village and the co-lead teacher for the school’s garden club, says her students demonstrate a much greater awareness of where their food comes from and the impact it has on their health. “They’re so eager to even taste food that they may have been scared of before, or never liked,” she says. “One day we had some spinach and one little boy asked ‘Is this how real spinach tastes? I’ve only ever had it from the can.’ It blew me away.”

Lothery and her co-teacher, Angela Link, have around 10 kids in third through eighth grade in the garden club, and they also use the garden for lessons in math, science and language arts. Greening of Detroit created the curriculum they use. Lothery also emphasizes the career aspect for her students – that even though they are living in an urban environment, they can grow up to pursue careers in agriculture and make money doing something they enjoy.

The garden also illustrates how growing your own food can bring a healthier diet within reach for students whose families may struggle financially. Some parents have begun growing their own food at home, Lothery says, and one student told her she’d seen the price of organic spinach at the store and couldn’t believe they got it for free right out of the beds at school.

Nichols Elementary-Middle’s garden has drawn support from the surrounding neighborhood as well. The Indian Village Garden Club raised funds and brought volunteer muscle to build six additional raised beds at the school; they also helped use extra soil to create supplemental gardens around the fence line of the school. Volunteers helped Lothery construct a rustic classroom for the children, as well — they sawed pallets into tables and created stools out of a trunk from a tree that was cut down in the neighborhood. One volunteer even came in to teach the children about composting, Lothery says.

Community benefits

Community connections are one of the more important goals of the program, says Tepfirah Rushdan, Greening Of Detroit’s urban agriculture manager. When school is out for the summer the garden attendants will reach out to the community to distribute the produce that is ready to be harvested. At Nichols, their extra food goes to a senior center; other garden bounty goes directly to the neighborhood residents, at no charge.

“We want the garden to be part of the culture of the school, just like the gym or the cafeteria,” she says. Rushdan says she’s been struck by the effect being in the garden has had on children who might have some issues with behavior in a traditional classroom.

“They are the same ones sticking their hands in the dirt and pulling a wheelbarrow,” she says. “It’s a return to nature for a lot of student who don’t get the exposure to nature that their suburban counterparts may get.”

Lothery says she’s been extremely pleased with the reception her school’s garden has received from parents, volunteers and the community. “Everyone has been amazing,” she says. “Our garden is called the ‘Garden of Love,’ and everyone who comes over is just beautiful.”

The Model D article didn’t include a recipe for Stoplight Salad, but here’s something similar. I saw many different vegetable combinations online under the terms “stoplight salad” and “traffic light salad.” All you need to do is combine red, yellow and green veggies: tomatoes, cukes and yellow peppers, say, or tomatoes, green peppers and yellow squash, with a simple oil-and-vinegar dressing. One recipe even laid the salad out like a stoplight, with mounds of chopped green, yellow and red veggies in a vertical row on a bed of lettuce.

 

Celebrate Tu B’Shevat with an Israeli salad

 

Fruits for a Tu B'Shevat Seder; photo by Meg Stewart

Fruits for a Tu B’Shevat Seder; photo by Meg Stewart

Thursday on the Hebrew calendar is Tu B’Shevat, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. It’s generally known as “the new year of trees.” As you can read elsewhere in Read the Spirit, it’s a celebration of all things botanical in connection with the land of Israel.

It’s a minor holiday–not a holy day when work is prohibited and special prayers are recited. When I went to Hebrew school as a child, the only thing I can remember about Tu B’Shevat is being given a piece of “bokser”–a dried carob pod–to celebrate the day. The “bokser” (also known as St. John’s bread) was disgusting; it had the texture of shoe leather and tasted like old sweat socks. None of the kids would eat it.

A seder to celebrate

Photo courtesy Food Alliance for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo courtesy Food Alliance for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

These days, the holiday is being celebrated more and more often with a special Tu B’Shevat seder. Everyone thinks of Passover when they hear the word “seder,” but all that term really means is: a meal incorporating a certain order of foods and wine (the word “seder” means “order”).

At a Tu B’Shevat seder, like at a Passover seder, celebrants drink four cups of wine, but they start with a cup of all white wine (or grape juice), then add a little red to the cup, then a little more so it’s half and half, and finally drink a cup of all red.

The four cups symbolize the four seasons and also four mystical dimensions: emanation, formation and birth, creation and fire (the “divine spark” within every human being).

The foods include the “seven species” mentioned in the Bible. Deuteronomy 8:7-8 says, “For the Lord your God is bringing you to a rich land, a land of streams, of springs and underground waters gushing out in hill and valley, a land of wheat and barley, of vines, fig-trees, and pomegranates, a land of olives, oil and honey.” (Note: That’s the New English Bible translation. You may count eight things there. The translation in Jewish tradition is “olive oil” not “olives”-comma-“oil.”)

Fruits with mystical meanings

In addition, celebrants eat fruits of different types: those with a hard inedible shell, such as nuts; those with a pit in the center, such as dates, apricots or peaches; those that are completely edible, such as berries and grapes; and those that have a tough skin on the outside but are sweet and soft inside, such as bananas, mangoes or pineapple. Like the cups of wine, each has a symbolic or mystical meaning.

Here is a script and explanation for a Tu B’Shevat seder.  The Tu B’Shevat seder has its roots in Kabbalah, the mystical branch of Jewish study that developed in S’fat, in northern Israel in the medieval period. Here is a script for a more Kabbalistic version of a Tu B’Shevat seder.

Since the 1970s, some modern Jews have given an ecological twist to the Tu B’Shevat seder, using it as a form to advance the idea of sustainable agriculture.  “Trees are so important in Jewish thought that the Torah itself is called ‘a tree of life.’ Perhaps this Torah wisdom can help us think more wisely about using these resources carefully and living in a more sustainable way,” write Dr. Akiva Wolff and Rabbi Yonatan Neri in their article “Trees, Torah, and Caring for the Earth” as part of Jewcology’s “Year of Jewish Learning on the Environment.”

In honor of Tu B’Shevat, I offer a recipe for a delicious spinach salad that uses dates, almonds, wheat (in the form of pita) and olives (in the form of oil), all of which are used to celebrate the holiday. It’s from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, which I wrote about a few weeks ago.

From Israel to your table: Salad, salad day and night

My husband and I recently returned from three weeks in Israel. This was not our first trip. I first went for a junior year abroad program at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and Joe went for a “gap year” living on a kibbutz near Nazareth before college. Years later, our children went on long-term programs in Israel during high school and college and so we had a good excuse to visit. Our eldest even planned to make Israel her home, but during her second year as an Israeli immigrant she met her future husband–who grew up around the corner from us in Michigan, but that’s another story. Though they lived in Washington, D.C. at the time they married, they wanted their wedding seven years ago to be in Israel, so that was our last trip before this one. We felt this year it was time to go back.

One thing I always appreciate about Israel is the plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables, many grown locally on kibbutzim  and moshavim. But it wasn’t love at first sight.

The view from the teachers' college in the Negev Desert where I attended a Hebrew language program in 1969.

The view from the teachers’ college in the Negev Desert where I attended a Hebrew language program in 1969.

On my first visit to Israel, in 1969, I was in a group of about 100 students, from colleges all over the U.S., who would be part of a much larger group studying at Hebrew University’s School for Overseas Students (now the Rothberg International School) for the year. Because our knowledge of Hebrew was minimal at best, our group would spend seven weeks in the summer doing an ulpan–an immersive language course–at a teachers’ college  in the Negev desert.

Salad for breakfast?

Talk about culture shock! The program organizers had prepared us for lots of things: Don’t do drugs or you’ll be deported, know that you’ll have your bags searched at building entrances, remember that you need to buy special tokens to use a pay phone. But they didn’t tell us that Israelis eat salad for breakfast.

If you’ve ever been to an Israeli hotel, you know that breakfast is a sumptuous buffet of gorgeous salads, fruits, cheeses, fish and pastries. That’s not what we got at the teachers’ college. I kept a journal that year. Here is my description of breakfast at the ulpan:

The dining hall is one huge rectangular room filled with long tables. I am with Joan and another roommate. A fat Israeli woman in a grease-stained white apron motions us to a table. There are only two places. Joan and I sit there and our friend goes to the next table. To do otherwise would be to bring a stream of angry Hebrew down on our heads from the chick in the greasy apron.

The table is piled high with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, hard-boiled eggs, bread and muddy coffee. Midway through the meal, the fat Israeli comes around with a big bowl filled with an Israeli concoction similar to yogurt. “Leben please?” she asks, and slops out a ladle-full to all who so desire. Every morning it is the same.

Our tablemates unfortunately include several of the sorority types [I was a pseudo-hippie snob in those days], still wearing gobs of makeup even out here in the middle of the desert.

“God,” one of them whines. “Salad again! I think I’m going to turn into a tomato!” She giggles at her joke. Another fingers the bread. “Stale!” she says in disgust, replacing the slice. “That’s not all,” answers the first. “Yesterday I found an ant in the bread basket!”

We eventually got used to it. At the end of our stay in the desert, we had a goodbye party where every ulpan class did a skit. My class set our skit in the dining hall. We sang a song, to the tune of, “Put another nickel in, in the nickelodeon…” More than 40 years later, I still remember it:

“Salad, salad, day and night, vegetables from green to white, make your stomach die of fright, that salad, salad, salad.”

At the end, the class clown came in dressed like the leben lady, in a greasy apron and black wig. One of the other students took the bowl of yogurt and dumped the contents on his head. It brought the house down.

Israeli Salad

Israeli Salad

Salad anytime!

Now I have a much healthier opinion of fresh vegetables for breakfast, or any time of day for that matter.

We often make “Israeli salad,” a very simple mixture of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and onions. Here’s how you make it:

Take a couple of small, firm, ripe tomatoes and a small, edible-skinned cucumber (e.g., Persian or Armenian), and dice them all into small pieces; you want an equal amount of tomato and cuke. Dice half a small onion and mix all the vegetables together. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Optional: add chopped red or green pepper, chopped hard-boiled egg, kalamata olives, chopped white cheese (e.g. white cheddar or Muenster) or crumbled feta cheese.

Because that one is so simple–more a method than a recipe–I thought I’d give you another Israeli recipe as well, the kind of dish you might find at an Israeli hotel buffet. Once you peel the carrots, separate the parsley leaves from the stems and separate the pomegranate seeds from the pith, making this salad is a snap!

(Helpful hint: quarter the pomegranate—carefully, because the juice will stain everything it touches—and then put the pieces into a large bowl of water before breaking them apart. The seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl and the pith will float to the top. Skim off the pith, and then drain the seeds in a strainer or colander.) 

Welcome to Feed the Spirit! Got a story, a recipe, a question?

Bobbie Lewis in her kitchen, armed for this new challenge. BUT, the success of FeedTheSpirit ultimately depends on you, as readers, to share your stories, recipes, ideas and questions!

Bobbie Lewis in her kitchen, armed for this new challenge. BUT, the success of FeedTheSpirit ultimately depends on you, as readers, to share your stories, recipes, ideas and questions!

ReadTheSpirit is proud to introduce our newest department: FeedTheSpirit, a section we are launching to share stories, recipes and questions from readers about foods that are linked to faith and culture. Your host for this new department is veteran food writer Bobbie Lewis. She will keep stirring the pot in this new department, week by week, so you’ll always find a fascinating new story or recipe or Q&A each week.
Here is Bobbie’s first column …

In the immortal words of James Stockdale (who you’ve probably already forgotten was Ross Perot’s running mate in his third-party campaign for president in 1996), “Who am I and what am I doing here?”

There are a lot of words that could describe me: retiree, public relations professional, wife, mother (of 3), grandmother (of 1), Conservative Jew, liberal, feminist. If I had to sum up my professional career in one word it would be “writer.”

I started as a general assignment reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper. After moving to Michigan more than 36 years ago, I had a long career in communications for nonprofit organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, Sinai Hospital, Hospice of Michigan and Lutheran Social Services.

I’m also someone who loves good food. I love to cook and as my scale shows—I also love to eat.

recipe folder

My recipe file – you can see why it needs organizing!

After I retired from full-time work last summer, I determined to get my recipes in order. They were scattered among a file box, an accordion-file folder, and more than one manila folder, not to mention several dozen cookbooks. In the course of transcribing all the clippings and handwritten cards I actually want to keep into a gigantic Word document (I reckon I’m about one-third of the way there), I decided to share my fave recipes via a blog, Bobbie’s Best Recipes.

This caught the attention of David Crumm, editor of ReadTheSpirit. I knew David from his days as religion writer at the Detroit Free Press, when I would pitch him religion-related stories about my employers. I’ve subscribed to ReadTheSpirit since its inception.

I have long been interested in interfaith relations. This may stem from seven years as the only Jewish girl in an almost completely Protestant elementary school class. I am active with WISDOM, which stands for Women’s Interfaith Dialogue for Solutions and Dialogue in Metro Detroit and is a group dedicated to promoting cross-cultural friendships. (WISDOM literally wrote the book on that, called Friendship & Faith.) Currently, I also serve on the planning committee for the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) conference to be held in Detroit in August 2014.

So when David invited me to moderate a blog about food and its relation to faith, family and culture, I leaped at the opportunity.

I hope many of you will help me in this effort by sharing, commenting or asking a question.

Do you have a great story about food that’s also about faith, family, friendship or culture? Please share it with me—I’m looking for guest bloggers who can take over this space from time to time.

Don’t hesitate to share your comments about any of the stories or recipes that appear here, And feel free to ask a question—about anything that might be unclear in a post or about something you’d like to see here. Perhaps you’re looking for a recipe connected to a religious holiday or an ethnic community and you haven’t been able to find it. We’ll put out the request, and maybe another reader will be able to help.

I hope you’ll think of FeedTheSpirit as an online community of people interested in food and in faith—and in how the twain often meet.