Hooray for spring fever, April festivals … and the foods they fancy
April ushers in a season of festivals celebrating spring, rebirth and freedom. Easter commemorates the miracle of resurrection; Passover reminds the Jews of the Exodus and their ancestors’ liberation from slavery; and Hindus in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand fete Songkran, their traditional New Year, a four-day hoopla of water “fights” and feasts. Soon after, Arbor Day and Earth Day bloom in the United States.
Whether or not there is a connection between spring fever and the April-long National Poetry Month, I’ll let you decide. In the spirit of poetry and to honor the suffering caused by Japan’s multiple disasters, this Kitchen Shrink is trying her hand at a food-inspired Haiku:
Repair renew pray
Wish clean fish oodles noodles
Soothing soup nice rice
Some favorite Easter eats include hand painted hard-boiled eggs, chocolate bunnies, marshmallow Peeps and hot cross buns originally created by Anglo-Saxon ancestors who baked cakes to honor the spring goddess, Eostre. When Christianity began to flourish the church swapped out the cakes for sweet buns, and blessed them with crosses emblazoned in the dough. Roast lamb or baked ham is traditionally served on Easter Sunday. The versatile pig was not only considered a symbol of luck by early Christians, but the animals were slaughtered in the fall and cured for spring, a convenient dish for the Easter dinner.
Roast lamb harks back to early Passover Seders as depicted in Da Vinci’s painting, “The Last Supper.” Jews ate the sacrificial lamb along with unleavened bread or matzo and bitter herbs, praying the Angel of Death would “pass over” their homes to leave them safe. When some Hebrews converted to Christianity, they continued the tradition of eating roast lamb for the holidays.
As it was during “The Last Supper,” the Seder table must be free of chametz – taboo foods including leavening agents, flour, bread, grains and legumes. During the holiday fresh fruits and veggies are permitted, along with kosher fish, meat and fowl.
Sephardic Jews, whose ancestors were from the Middle East and Spain, are allowed rice and other no-nos in the Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish households. On the two Seder nights ritual foods are arranged on the Seder plate. In keeping with the spirit of poetry month, here’s a little ditty to help prepare the symbolic centerpiece: “Let’s arrange the Seder plate everything in order; haroseth, shank bone, parsley, egg and in the center morror.”
The most scrumptious is the haroseth, a mixture of fruits and nuts that resembles the mortar the Hebrew slaves used to build the Egyptian pyramids, while coconut macaroons, which come in assorted flavors from traditional almond to mocha and rocky road, are holiday faves.
The Thai New Year, aka the water festival of Songkran, is celebrated yearly starting April 13. Many symbolic rituals are performed during this time of merriment including sprinkling copious amounts of water on people and “spirit houses” to wash away bad fortune and bring lucky rain showers for the crops, while tying twine around trees as an offering to the spirits. Vermicelli and other noodle dishes are popular to symbolize the blessed twine.
The authentic flavors and festivities of Songkran can be sampled at celebrity Chef Su-Mei Yu’s Saffron sister eateries both on India Street. The festivities include a street food market serving Lao and Thai finger fare, performances by Thai dancers, Thai ceremonial blessings and offerings of beloved holiday dishes such as Kai Keng Khao Poon Chin, an aromatic chicken, squid and mushroom stew over rice vermicelli, Mauk Hed Kaen, grilled mushrooms in a banana pouch, and sticky rice with sweet mangos.
Coconut macaroons are served as Thai treats, as well as at the Passover table. These multi-tasking morsels can be shaped like eggs and served as divine delicacies for Easter, too.
14 ounces sweet, shredded coconut
4 large egg whites
10 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup toasted, sliced almonds
Directions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, combine the coconut, milk and extract. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and salt until stiff peaks form. Combine the mixtures, and fold in the almonds. Drop the batter onto parchment-lined cookie sheets using an ice cream scooper. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden.
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