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Moroccan politician adds spice to Hollywood family’s Jewish Shabbat dinner

Thursday, 04 December 2014

 “I’m going to make a Moroccan Shabbos dinner; you must join us,” said Asma Chaabi, visiting Miami from Rabat, Morocco.

“But, Asma, you’re not Jewish. Why are you making this Sabbath dinner?” I asked.

Her answer surprised me.

“In Morocco we don’t have religious differences like in America. From childhood we all live in the same neighborhoods, go to the same schools and respect each other. Once a month I make a Shabbos dinner.”

Listening to Chaabi and watching her cook, I was amazed at her love of food and her relationship to the dishes she makes.

Chaabi, standing over 6 feet tall and dressed in jeans, radiates enthusiasm and energy. She was the first woman mayor of a Moroccan municipality, Essaouira. She also is vice president of Groupe Chaabi, YNNA Holding, a Moroccan-based company with major interests in Morocco and several Middle Eastern countries.

Her friend, Catherine Friedman, was hosting Asma in her Hollywood home. Chaabi is friendly with Friedman’s relatives who live in Morocco. Hearing so many stories about South Florida, Chaabi decided to accept Friedman’s invitation to visit.

Both women welcomed me to the kitchen for a beehive of activity. From this passionate effort — Chaabi and Friedman worked from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. — came a from-scratch dinner for 30, an extraordinary feast.

The first thing I saw when I walked in to the kitchen was a table filled with colorful spices, many brought from Morocco. Chaabi gave me a tour of the spices, which included saffron, ground ginger, turmeric, ground cumin, paprika, sweet red pepper, black pepper, sea salt and preserved lemon along with fresh parsley and cilantro. These provided the exotic flavors for all the dishes.

A Moroccan dinner starts with several cold starters that are scooped up with bread. It continues with many other meat and fish dishes and ends with a table filled with sweet Moroccan delicacies.

The dinner began with Chaabi and Friedman lighting the Sabbath candles and Alan Friedman, Catherine’s husband, saying the prayers for the wine and bread. After the meal, about 11 p.m., another Moroccan tradition began — dancing to Moroccan music.

 

BY LINDA GASSENHEIMER/Miami Herald

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