Eating Jewish: Breaking fast with Iraqi almond milk
For most of us, the break fast meal following Yom Kippur evokes images of bagels and cream cheese, coffee cake, blintzes and noodle kugel. Within the Ashkenazi community, this is usually a dairy meal with the aforementioned foods being a few of the traditional dishes that grace the table. On the other hand, it is traditional for many Sephardic communities to break fast with a cool and refreshing drink, the type of which varies from community to community. A melon seed beverage called pepitada is traditional among Greek and Turkish Jews; flavored coffee is served in various other Sephardic communities, while the Bene Israel of India drink sherbet, which is made by boiling raisins in water and straining the liquid. Yet the drink I want to focus on for this post, called hariri, is sweetened almond milk flavored with cardamom that is traditional to the Iraqi Jewish community.
This drink is consumed when breaking the fast because it is believed to be a beneficial lubricant for an empty stomach. The nutritive benefits of this beverage were also thought to be so valuable that it was recommended to mothers to drink the week following childbirth, as well as to nursing women so as to increase the amount of milk they produced.
It is also interesting to note that the almond, a nut that most of us eat without too much thought, actually has an important connection to the Jewish community. According to Gil Marks in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, the almond is one of only two nuts, along with pistachios, mentioned in the Torah and because it was one of the “choice fruits of the land [of Israel],” Jacob sent them as a gift to the Egyptian Prime Minister. In turn, the almond tree was the model for the menorah of the Temple and provided the material for Aaron’s rod. With such a history, it is no wonder that almonds have been incorporated into a variety of traditional dishes in the Jewish community, including soups, tagines, chicken dishes, sauces, pastries, and drinks such as hariri.
Almond milk is a staple in my diet, but prior to making hariri I hadn’t thought of the possibility that I could make my own. I assumed it would be a long and involved process, however I soon realized it was quite the opposite. Almonds, water, a blender, and cheesecloth are the only things you need to make your own batch. Once the almonds and water have been blended together, it is helpful to have someone around to hold the cheesecloth in place over the bowl the milk is going to be strained into, so none of the almond pulp gets mixed in. After the milk has been strained, you the have the option of simply adding boiling water to it until it reaches the consistency you desire or boiling it on the stove. Adding boiling water allows the milk to retain a thin consistency making it very drinkable, while boiling it on the stove creates a thick almost pudding-like mixture that I think made this drink too heavy. The addition of cardamom provides a hint of warmth that perfectly complements the taste of almonds, making this is a lovely, refreshing drink that will definitely help to revive you after a long fast.
Hariri (Almond Milk)
Adapted slightly from Daisy Iny’s The Best of Baghdad Cooking
3 cups water
1 cup whole blanched almonds
2 ½ tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom, or 2 cardamom pods, crushed
Place the water in a blender and gradually add the almonds while blending the mixture at high speed for about 2 minutes until you have a smooth white liquid.
Place several layers of cheesecloth over a bowl or pot, and strain the almond milk. Squeeze the remaining almond pulp to extract all the liquid.
Add the sugar and the cardamom to the milk and add a little bit of boiling water until it reaches your desired consistency (I added about 1/3 to ½ cup of water). This will produce a thin and light almond milk. However, if you would like almond milk with a thicker consistency, simply place it in a pot and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. This will produce very thick milk, similar to a thin pudding.