Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Ah, the last day of March, sliding past lamblike, on sunny warming feet - skipping past might be a better way to put it. There's a dense little patch of brilliantly purple crocuses in the back yard that open and glow in the sun; as shade reaches them in the afternoon they retreat into almost-anonymity.

Last Sunday as I had hoped I spent the afternoon making matzoh with Dawnthebaker. We made it from spelt and all-purpose (local organic unbleached, natch!) and flavoured it slightly with a touch of maple syrup and some lime juice. Delish! and not at all kosher for Passover, but fine for those like our friends who are attentive but not following strict rules.

We also made kibbeh for a crowd, nearly thirty servings, for the next day's seder. Kibbeh is a brilliant combo of lamb and grain and more lamb. It is usually made in round or in long bullet shaped patties. The outer shell is ground lamb and soaked bulgur in almost equal proportion by volume, salted and with some onions, kneaded into a firm dough. (We added a generous amount of lemon zest to give the bulgur-lamb mixture a lift.) The inside can vary wildly. For specific instructions on kibbeh have a look at Claudia Roden's classic Book of Middle Eastern Food, or another solid eastern Med cookbook, say something by Anissa Helou.

Our fillings were two, because Dawn had planned to use chopped almonds but then learned that one person at the seder was allergic to all nuts. So we made the non-nut ones first. The filling was ground lamb, sauteed chopped onion, tea-soaked prunes coarsely chopped, sumac powder, lemon juice, salt, and lots of chopped fresh mint. It was NOT precooked. The other filling had cinnamon and allspice in it, as I recall, and ground lamb and plenty of onions, and chopped almonds, all gently cooked beforehand.

You take about a golf ball-sized batch of bulgur mixture, shape it into a ball or bullet, poke a hole in it with your finger or thumb, fill the hole with filling mixture, seal it over, and set it on a baking sheet. When all the non-nut ones were done, we fried them in oil, oil deep enough that they were nearly covered. Dawn's lovely man Ed did the frying. The shell turned a warm brown with a firm crisp texture; the insides were moist and aromatic. The next day, just before the seder, it was easy to preheat them in the oven and serve one of each kind on a plate with a little glazed carrot....

Having promised in my last post not to go on and on about restaurants or food, here I am giving you detailed instructions! But I thought the kibbeh was so special that it deserved to be passed on. And this weekend a lot of people will be eating lamb for Easter. What better idea than kibbeh as another approach to honouring the wonderfulness of lamb?

The week is momentous for many people, with Passover and Easter following the full moon. But for some the momentousness comes another way:

Since I last wrote there have been two deaths of parents in my circle of friends: the mother of one good friend and the father of another, both beloved, both far into their eighties. The loss of a parent, at no matter what age, is so momentous that it's as if the world stops. It does stop in fact, as we slowly try to breathe outselves back to life, a different life now that the sheltering idea of that intimate lifelong relationship has turned into history and a memory. It doesn't matter that perhaps the parent has dementia or is being cared for by the child. The loss is still so profound that the planets shift in their orbits and the world is a changed place, changed forever.

And both my friends are valiant and wonderful women who will be enriched even as they grieve. I feel so lucky to know them...

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