The Almoronía of Kippur 

by Alicia Sisso Raz


            Almoronía, the traditional dish of the Moroccan Sephardim for the Se'uda Mafseket  (the meal we eat before the fast) of Yom Kippur, whose main ingredients are  chicken and eggplant, is related to a variety of eggplant dishes, known in the Arab world by various names: "Buran",  "Al Baraniya", "Al Buroniye", etc..

             A version of the  eggplant dish first appeared in the ninth century, at the wedding celebration  of Al Ma'mun, the Caliph of Bagdad. The Caliph, who wished to celebrate his marriage to a Persian princess by the name Buran with great fanfare and extravagance, ordered his cooks to invent dishes, impossible to surpass by taste or presentation.  The cooks, being aware of the alarming swiftness with which their Caliphs used their swords, and for obvious reason, wanting to keep their heads and bodies intact, dedicated themselves to the mission at once.

            The eggplant, native to India, was considered a novelty back then, and it was cherished for its aphrodisiac qualities.  Not surprisingly, the cooks decided in unison to create a new dish with  eggplant.  After all, considering its qualities, eggplant seemed the most  suitable, constructive, and the proper choice of an ingredient for a wedding night meal!  Thus, eggplants had been rushed from India to the Caliph's kitchen.  The cooks prepared exceptionally tasty delicacies, but the eggplant dish was the jewel in the crown at the table.  Luckily, the famous and sought after  qualities of the eggplant coupled with the unsurpassed mouth-watering taste pleased everybody, and the head of the cooks remained in its place, that is on the neck, just as our creator meant it to be...

            This eggplant dish had been originally mentioned  in Kitab Al – Tabhik,  a  thirteenth century cook book by Iben Muhammad Al Hassan Al Baghdadi (A recent version, A Baghdad Cookery, edited by Charles Perry is available in English).   The dish became well-liked throughout the Muslim world, and following the Arab conquest, it reached Spain as well.  It has evolved throughout the years, and there is an array of eggplant dishes, very popular all around the Mediterranean:  vegetarian, with chicken, with meatballs, with lamb, etc..  Their various names stem from the princess' name: Al Baraniya, Al Buroniya, Al Baroniye, and in Iran, it is called Buran.

            Our most popular version of the  Almoronía (or Alboronía), consists of eggplant, chicken, onion, with spices and honey, cooked over a low flame with a lot of patience for a long hour till it becomes marmalade-like in its sofrito (in its deliciously reduced and concentrated sauce).  But an obvious question  must be asked here.  Why for haven sake, the Almoronía, a dish whose main ingredient is the aphrodisiac eggplant became the traditional dish of the Moroccan Jewry for the Se'uda Mafseket of Yom Kippur.  What is the reason for raising all these passion and desire, if love-making is prohibited on Yom Kippur? 

              Well, there is an explanation, albeit it requires us to delve into a Talmudic reasoning.  The explanation was given to me by Ms. Rosette Shetrit, nee Asseraf,  a distinguished lady born in Fez, as we could not stop our soulful laughter:

              The Torah, as we all know,   orders us to fast, to repent of our sins, to ask for pardon and to torture our souls on Yom Kippur!  The more we torture our souls the better.  Now, what could be a greater torture than having been induced with a desire for something and abstain from it, although the object of desire is nearby,  available, and ready?  Ve'initem et nafshoteḥem, (torture your souls) orders us the Torah, and we, the Moroccan Jews, being utterly obedient and innocently faithful, comply with it with all our heart and enthusiasm! 


The recipe in few words

Version # I

1. Peel and sprinkle with salt slices of eggplant, let them stand in a strainer for about 1/2 an hour, rinse, pat dry , spray with oil and bake (They were originally fried) 

2. Sautee slices of onions, sprinkle with some cinnamon nutmeg, turmeric and some honey (or sugar), to golden.

3. Sautee dark pieces of chicken or Cornish hen.

4.  Place  1+2+3  in a low rim casserole, mixing gently.  Adjust spices to taste.    Cook over very low flame for about 2-3  hours, mixing gently occasionally  without adding any water! 

Version II

In this version the onions are replaced with red bell peppers and garlic, and the spices are replaced with mainly paprika and salt.

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© 9/ 2010, Alicia Sisso Raz