On Wednesday, April 8, the morning of the first Passover seder, many Jews will partake in a rare ritual called Birkat HaChamah (“blessing over the sun”) after sunrise. I will not go into the explanation about how this all is calculated, but supposedly every 28 years, the sun is in the exact same position that it was in on the fourth day of creation, and many take advantage of this opportunity to remember creation and bless our Creator. The prayer said roughly translates to, “Blessed are you, Eternal our Lord, who makes the work of creation.”
Whether one is a firm believer, a zodiac fanatic, a fan of interesting ritual, I think there’s something here for everyone. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a little reminder be thankful that you do get up every morning. And if you’re an ardent evolutionist and think I’m sounding totally crackpot, well, maybe you’ll appreciate this little piece of NY history that I found referenced in the sheet passed out at the Hillel of my alma mater:
HEBREW FESTIVAL MARRED
Rabbi Arrested of Observance of an Ancient Talmudic Ceremony in Tompkins Square.
THE BLESSING OF THE NEW SUN
No Permit Had Been Thought Necessary for the Gathering and Policeman Foley Could Not Understand What It Meant – Occurs Once in 28 Years.
Orthodox Hebrews in every part of the world celebrated yesterday what is familiarly known among them as ‘the new sun.” … The celebration in New York was spoiled for some hundreds of people by the interference of two park policemen with a gathering in Tompkins Square, the arrest there of Rabbi Wechsler, and the flight of Rabbi Klein.
…Rabbi Wechsler and Rabbi Klein, who are the heads of two large east side congregations, decided to call their people to meet in Tompkins Square. Nobody was in charge of the services, and nobody thought of obtaining a permit for holding a public meeting, as required by city ordinances. The Hebrews gathered by the hundreds…
… By 8 o’clock [in the morning] the square and the sidewalks around it were crowded. Rabbi Wechsler arrived about that time and was astonished to see Rabbi Klein running away at full speed. This last phenomenon was explained a moment later by the appearance of Park Policeman Foley, puzzled and excited.
The celebration is rather a complicated matter to explain to anybody. Rabbi Klein’s knowledge of English is slight, while Foley’s faculties of comprehsion of matters outside of police and park regulations and local events are not acute. The attempt of a foreign citizen to explain to an Irish American an astronomical situation and a tradition of the Talmud was a dismal failure.
Both became excited, and the people clustered around them increased the confusion. When Foley was told in broken English about a “new sun,” he was doubtful whether it was an attempt to guy him, or whether some new infection of lunacy had broken out on the east side. His demonstrations became so threatening that Rabbi Klein understood that he was in danger of being arrested and clubbed, and chose the easiest and fastest plan of escape.
Rabbi Wechler’s English is better than Rabbi Klein’s, but he could not convey the significance and purpose of the assemblage to Foley. The one fact which that offical’s perceptions grasped was that there was no permit.
After some parley, he seized the rabbi by the neck and took him to Essex Market Police Court. After being kept among the prisoners in the police court for nearly an hour, the rabbi was arraigned before Magistrate Cornell who dismissed him because he had evidently not intended to do wrong, admonishing him, however, not to make trouble for Foley…
- New York Times, April 8, 1897
I can so picture this. And I sure hope the organizers of this year’s Birkat HaChamah celebration in Central Park have filed for the appropriate permits.
This week I wanted to make a shabbat dinner that was largely kosher for Passover (“KLP”) to try out a few recipes. As I was coming up with my menu, I was reminded of this great main course when I overheard a friend asking whether there were any real authentic Jewish meatball dishes. I’m not sure whether this qualifies, but it is one of my favorite recipes and was the centerpiece of the first meal I prepared with the intention of sharing in this blog. The theme for that meal was North African-Southern Mediterranean. This Moroccan recipe has a beautifully colored sauce, and its name in French and Arabic refer to the bright red-yellow-orange of the setting sun at twilight.
Sunrise. Sunset. Close enough! They’re both beautiful times of day. And a reminder of the beauty of nature.
Chems al aachi or boulettes de viande et sauce crépuscule (Meatballs with saffron sunset sauce)
Adapted from Joyce Goldstein’s Saffron Shores: Jewish Cooking of the Southern Mediterranean. She says, “The Arab name of this dish, ‘chems al aachi’ means ‘setting sun’ because the golden color of the sauce is reminiscent of the glorious sunset in Morocco.” The color comes from a saffron infusion that is incorporated into the sauce as well as directly into the meatballs. The original recipe calls for mixing 3 potatoes, peeled and shredded, with the ground meat to extend the portions, but when I tried this, I found that the meatballs fell apart into meat mush. Further, this recipe does not make a large amount of sauce, so you can actually double the sauce ingredients (except for the amount of cilantro). I replace half of the ground beef with ground turkey and also roast the meatballs in the oven to remove some of the fat before cooking them in the sauce.
Serves 8 (made 41 meatballs using a rounded 1 tablespoon measure)
- 2 lbs ground beef, or mix of ground beef and ground turkey. Do not bother using lean meat – you will drain the fat off when roasting in oven.
– 2 eggs, lightly beated
– ½ C dried bread crumbs or matzah meal
– Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
– 1 t saffron threads, crushed and infused and ½ C hot water
– ¼ C olive oil
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped (1 C or 2 large handfuls)
– 1 t sweet (Hungarian) paprika
– 1 t ground turmeric
– 1 t powdered chicken stock, or 1 bouillon cube crushed or ½ C chicken stock
– ½ C water (or 1 C if using powdered chicken stock or bouillon cube)
– Steamed rice for serving (optional)
Preheat oven to 375ºF.
Make saffron infusion by crushing 1 t saffron threads in ½ C hot (not boiling) water – allow to infuse for ~10-15 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the meats and eggs; add bread crumbs or matzah meal, salt, pepper, and ¼ C of saffron infusion. Knead well with hands to mix.
Form into walnut-sized meatballs and set aside. I used a tablespoon to keep the balls relatively uniform. Do not make the meatballs too compact or they will be tough when cooked.
Pre-roast the meatballs on parchment- or foil-covered baking sheet for 10-15 minutes to release and drain off some of the fat. This is what will remain when you remove the half-done meatballs to add to the sauce. NOTE, this step can be skipped if you are in a rush and want fewer dishes to wash, but I found that the pre-roasted meatballs tasted better and are probably a bit healthier.
While meatballs are roasting in the oven, in a large sauté pan or skillet, heat oil and add garlic, fresh cilantro, spices, powdered chicken stock/bouillon/stock, and 2 T saffron infusion. Cook until sauce turns yellow and then add additional water (total liquid added should be 1 C). The sauce is what gives the dish its sunset name.
Add the meatballs to the sauce in a single layer and simmer until cooked through, about 10-15 additional minutes. Meatballs should cook for a total of 25-30 minutes between the oven and stovetop (or on stovetop only if you skip the pre-roasting step).
Add remaining saffron infusion and heat through.
sunset meatballs - made with potatoes, not pre-roasted, and made with less cilantro than called for; these fell apart into "meat mush"
Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Serve hot with or without rice. If serving with rice, considering doubling the sauce recipe.
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