From Morocco, with bread… and lots of sweets

The greatest food holiday you’ve never heard of comes to Boulder

0
Laliv Pikiwiki Israel/Wikimedia Commons

People pious and lay enjoy several food-centric holidays in the United States. On Thanksgiving, folks chow down on their families’ unique spins on traditional dishes. At Christmas, there are myriad combinations of dishes culled from around the globe. Seder plates at Passover, ham on Easter, corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day, the list goes on.  

The point is we like to celebrate with food, and we like the structures of traditional holiday menus — every time a holiday comes around and we eat a traditional family dish, another layer of memories is added to that day. We (food lovers) like hopping for these holidays, we like cooking all day, we like watching holiday-themed baking shows, we buy holiday cooking magazines, and we scan Instagram and Pinterest for new ideas.

And most importantly, preparing traditional meals on holidays elevates them by providing structure. From the feast of the seven fishes on Christmas Eve to Champagne on New Year’s Eve to hot dogs on the Fourth of July, holidays give us a reason to prepare unique dishes, celebrate the cultures of others (because we want to eat those delicious unique dishes) and, after the day is done, anticipate those holidays in the future.  

Here’s the point: If all that’s true, why haven’t we latched onto Mimouna yet?

That question crossed the mind of Becca Gan Levy, farm and sustainability coordinator at the Boulder Jewish Community Center (JCC), on a recent trip to Israel. As Passover ended, Mimouna began, an unabashed food festival with tables full of cookies, pastries and other sweets, hummus, olives, grilled vegetables, baba ghanoush, fish and chicken.

“I was able to celebrate it when I spent time in Israel,” Gan Levy says, “and there’s another [JCC] board member here who spent a lot of time in Israel, and we were really bummed this really fun holiday doesn’t exist here.” 

Mimouna is one of the only religious celebrations that integrates multiple faiths. The tradition started in Morocco, when on the afternoon of the last day of Passover, Muslims brought leavened foods to Jewish neighbors, which they forwent during Passover. The cookies, breads, pastries and more were sprinkled with mint or dipped in milk to symbolize fertility, joy, success and prosperity. 

Since, the holiday has spread from Morocco to Algeria and eventually to Israel, where it’s celebrated by two million people of varying faiths. 

“In Israel, it’s much more widespread, it’s not just Moroccan Jews who celebrate it,” Gan Levy says. “It’s a big celebration of not just Jews but of the whole community together. … The origins are cross-cultural, which makes it a great holiday to celebrate today.”

And now, Mimouna is starting to gain footing in the U.S. Gan Levy says she heard of one community in San Francisco hosting a feast last year, but Boulder County’s on the leading edge of making Mimouna more popular in the U.S. The JCC and Boulder restaurant River and Woods are teaming up for their first Mimouna feast on Saturday, April 27. 

Gan Levy says she’s excited to partner with Chef Daniel Asher of River and Woods because of how he “honors peoples’ cultural food” — how he takes family recipes, tweaks them lightly for restaurant suitability and puts them on the menu, thus creating a community-driven rotation of dishes. On Mimouna, food builds and bolsters community, a low-stakes, enjoyable way to blend Islamic and Jewish traditions.

The menu is yet to be finalized, but Gan Levy says patrons can expect, of course, a large platter of North African and Middle Eastern sweets, dates and halva (a dense, sweet confection), in addition to savory courses ranging from Moroccan olives and dolmas to baba ghanoush with pomegranate molasses to grilled chicken or fish with couscous and smoked carrots.

Gan Levy, who runs the JCC’s Milk and Honey Farm, says it’s still early for the farm to provide produce for the event, but they’ll likely be able to send over some greens and the house-grown and -dried Middle Eastern herb blend za’atar, which can be sprinkled on hummus or toast, or rubbed into meat.

Gan Levy says one additional perk of celebrating Mimouna in Boulder is that it’s another opportunity to put meaning into food sustainability; to integrate eating good, responsibly sourced food into one’s worldview.

“For me, connecting people with food traditions is a good lead-in to where food comes from,” Gan Levy says. “We’re doing programming that adds meaning to people’s lives and building a community that is more aware of their food choices, and [those choices] affect our environment and our social structure. It’s a nice way in, because food is delicious and fun, and we can also tell the big story.”  

ON THE MENU: Mimouna Celebration at RiverandWoods. Saturday, April 27, 7:30 p.m. 2328 Pearl St., Boulder. Tickets: $80 for adults, $36 for children under 8 (tickets include multi-course meal and one drink). Reserve your spot at boulderjcc.org.