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Cooking: Mangoes, Medjools, & Mitzvahs
The culinary traditions of the Abayudaya, a 750-member farming community in Uganda, half of whom formerly converted to Judaism in 2002; and three Ugandan-inspired recipes: Ugandan Fall Harvest Fruit Salad, Manioc Cheese Puffs, and Arugula Salad with Dates and Chevre with a Pomegranate Vanilla Vinaigrette.

by Tina D. Wasserman

This column is dedicated to the Abayudaya Jewish community in Uganda. Yes, there are Jews in Uganda!

I first learned about the Abayudaya when I participated in Josh Drazner's bar mitzvah project at our temple (Emanu-El in Dallas). A family friend had told Josh about the poor Jewish community in Uganda that desperately needed a medical clinic. Remembering his own difficult childhood (Josh had been abused and neglected before being adopted into a loving Jewish home), he decided to help his fellow Jews by raising funds to build a clinic that would serve the entire Abayudayan community--Jews, Christians, and Muslims. With the assistance of twenty volunteers, all from Emanu-El, Josh organized an auction of paintings, photographs, blown glass, and sculptures donated by more than fifty artists. I bet you can guess who coordinated the food?!

Unlike the Jews of Ethiopia, the Abayudaya--Ugandan for "the people of Judah"--are not an ancient Jewish community. They trace their Jewish roots to Semei Kakungulu, a Ugandan tribal chief who in 1919 began studying a Bible he'd received from a Christian missionary, and then decided that the whole tribe should adopt a new religion--Judaism. Ever since, the Abayudaya have observed Shabbat, circumcised their newborn sons, and learned Hebrew from Jewish visitors. In 2002, half of the community formally converted to Judaism, and last year their rabbi, Gershom Sizomu, was granted a visa to Israel to continue his studies. Now, under the strong spiritual leadership of J. J. Keki, an affable man in his mid-fifties, this now 750-member farming community, which has no running water or electricity, has managed to build a successful coffee enterprise (their Mirembe Kawomera coffee is available at

I met J. J. Keki when he came to Dallas to attend the art auction. During Shabbat services he led our congregation in prayer, and at the oneg he led us in song, teaching us new tunes to familiar prayers. Afterwards, the two of us sat down and talked. Soon our conversation turned to holiday foods, and (always thinking of my Reform Judaism readers) I asked him what dishes are served in his village on Sukkot. He looked at me a little puzzled, not because he didn't understand the symbolic foods of Sukkot, but because he took my words literally--the Abayudaya don't eat "dishes"; they eat food.

It turns out that the "food" of choice to eat in an Abayudayan sukkah is jackfruit, a green fruit which can sometimes weigh as much as 100 pounds. An unripe jackfruit's flesh and seeds are used in cooked dishes; with ripe jackfruit, the bulbs are separated from the "rag" (inedible flesh) and eaten as dessert--it's a perfect accent to ice cream or fruit salad. If you've had any experience with fresh jackfruit, you'll be relieved to know I'm not suggesting you use it! Extracting the bulb from its inedible housing--massive numbers of small leaves resembling the choke of an artichoke--is a chore akin to removing the seeds from a pumpkin while avoiding the stringy mass. Fortunately, canned jackfruit is available in Asian food markets--all you have to do is open the can and drain the fruit.

Utilizing the fresh fruits and vegetables readily available in Uganda, I have devised some "Ugandan Fusion" recipes you can enjoy in your sukkah. And as you delight in these dishes, you can think of our brothers and sisters in Uganda as this year's ushpizim (visitors).

May we continue to take pride in the diversity of the Jewish people. And may we eat in good health!

Ugandan Fall Harvest Fruit Salad

This salad contains the three most eaten fruits in Uganda: bananas, mango, and jackfruit. Bananas are actually a staple of the Ugandan's diet. Per capita consumption is 500 pounds a year! Many of the spices in this recipe are now grown in Uganda, a legacy of the spice trade route through Africa centuries ago.

3 ripe mangoes, peeled and cubed--divided use
1 20-ounce can of jackfruit in syrup
1 cup of coarsely chopped mixed dried fruits (apples, peaches, pears, apricots)
2 bananas, peeled and sliced (1/2-inch thickness)
1 small can of mandarin oranges (drained)
Pinch of kosher salt
1 cup of sweetened, shredded coconut
1 teaspoon of prepared Garam Masala or to taste
1 teaspoon of tamarind liquid concentrate or lemon juice
Honey (optional)

1. Slice the mangoes from the stem to the bottom, running your knife along the edge of the pit on both sides. Cut the flesh away from the skin, then cube the mango into 1/2-inch pieces (see "Tina's Tidbits" below for easy dicing tips).

2. Puree about 1/3 to 1/2 of the mango cubes to make 1 cup of mango puree. Place the puree in a serving bowl with the remaining cubed mango.

3. Remove and drain the jackfruit. Cut the translucent white ovals into lengthwise strips. Add to the mango mixture.

4. Add the dried chopped fruits, sliced bananas, and salt to the bowl and gently stir with a rubber spatula. Set aside.

5. In a small processor workbowl, combine the coconut, Garam Masala, and tamarind concentrate (or lemon juice). Pulse the mixture on and off about 20 times until it forms a paste. If you don't own a processor, cut the coconut into small pieces with a large knife, then mix with the other ingredients. Using a rubber spatula, carefully stir the spice paste into the mixed fruit. Add honey if needed.

6. Refrigerate the fruit salad until you're ready to serve (for dessert or as an accompaniment to grilled meats).

7. Just before serving, garnish with a little extra coconut on top. Serves 6-8 people.

Tina's Tidbits:

  • To ripen mangoes, place them in a brown paper bag. Adding a banana to the bag will hasten the process.
  • To dice a mango easily, cut it in half along the seed and remove the seed. Score the meat, just to the skin by slicing lengthwise and then crosswise about 1/2-inch apart. Bend the skin back and the meat stands up like a porcupine's back. Run a knife along the skin to dislodge the fruit and you will have perfect 1/2-inch dice!

Manioc Cheese Puffs

Manioc, also known as cassava or yucca, is native to South America, but nowadays the majority of cassava comes from Africa (Portuguese slave traders brought the plant to West Africa during the 16th century). Tapioca is made from the starch of the root, and its flour form is used as a thickener. Ugandans eat quite a lot of this root, so I thought a bread from the slave route would be appropriate for Sukkot, the Jewish festival commemorating the huts in which the children of Israel dwelt in the wilderness after their liberation from slavery in Egypt.

1/2 cup of milk
1/2 cup of vegetable oil or melted butter
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups of polvilho doce/yucca or tapioca flour (can be found in most Asian or Latin American markets)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup of parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Butter or non-stick spray for the pans

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Combine the milk, oil or butter, and eggs in the container of a blender and mix at medium speed for 5 seconds.

3. Add the polvilho doce, salt, cheese, and spices and blend thoroughly.

4. Spray or grease 24 mini-muffin pans.

5. Fill the muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake for 14-16 minutes until large, golden puffs are formed.

6. Serve immediately. Serves 24!

Tina's Tidbits:

  • Whenever you refrigerate a mixture that contains butter, be sure to bring it to room temperature before using, as your butter will congeal in the cold. Also, turn on the blender for 5 seconds to redistribute the butter.
  • Although it is preferable to use fresh garlic in a recipe, garlic powder may be substituted when there is a high volume of liquid.

Arugula Salad with Dates and Chevre

Date palms are intrinsic to Sukkot, both for the use of their fronds in the lulav and for their fruits. Sunflowers and pomegranates are indigenous to the area where the Abayudaya reside, and domesticated goats provide milk and cheese. I created this salad with our Ugandan brethren in mind.

4 ounces of Arugula, about 4 cups
8 large, pitted soft Medjool dates
1/4 cup diced red onion
4 ounces of crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup dry-roasted shelled sunflower seeds
1/4 cup Vanilla Pomegranate vinaigrette (see recipe)

1. Rinse the Arugula and pat dry with paper towels. Place in a salad bowl.

2. Lightly oil a cutting knife and then cut the dates in half lengthwise. Cut each half crosswise about 2 or 3 times. Set aside.

3. Toss the Arugula with 1/4 cup of the dressing. Place on 4 or 5 individual plates. (Alternatively, see step 6.)

4. Evenly distribute the dates, onions, goat-cheese crumbles, and sunflower seeds on each plate.

5. Grind a little black pepper on and drizzle with the remaining dressing.

6. You can also toss everything together in one large bowl and serve.

Pomegranate Vanilla Vinaigrette

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses (available in Middle Eastern markets)
2 teaspoons sugar or 1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon Adams' Best Vanilla or any rich vanilla extract
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Combine all of the ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake thoroughly until well blended.

Tina's Tidbits:

  • If your dates are too hard, place them in a glass bowl and cover them with water. Microwave on high for 2 minutes and allow them to sit in the hot water until they're pliable.
  • Pomegranate molasses is perfect for salad dressings because this concentrated juice is syrupy, sweet, and thick.

Tina d. Wasserman, a member of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas, has been teaching at her own cooking school for more than thirty years and writes a kosher cooking newsletter on the Internet.

Any Questions?

Tina will be delighted to assist you. E-mail


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