On the teacher’s desk stands a globe. The countries are an ordered and neatly arranged jigsaw puzzle.
But of course it is never that simple.
The clean lines of a map can never portray the complicated situation on the ground, where borders are porous and ever changing. For some, such as Bedouins and Roma, migration is part of a lifestyle but for most others it is caused by forces outside their control. War, famine and natural disasters may trigger mass exodus or simply the hope of better opportunities.
Countries are a patch work of long term citizens and those that have recently settled, far removed from their own communities. It is in the kitchen where their history speaks most eloquently, telling the tales of a land, a people and their journey.
Over time some of their recipes become associated with their adopted home and have become assimilated into it. Tzimmes, a Jewish Polish dish of prunes and carrots is perhaps one of many such examples.
It is often spiced with cinnamon, sweetened with honey with a bit of lemon juice added to balance the flavors. There is nothing more prototypical of Ashkenazi cuisine, one that conjures up the shtetl of Poland and a way of life that has disappeared. Yet far away, in the land of pomegranates and limes, women are making the very same dish, one which the Persians call khoresh-e havij-o alu.
How did these two countries, sharing neither border, climate nor culture, end up with such similar recipes? Is this a coincidence? The answer, perhaps, lies with the merchant Jews of the Middle Ages
Known as Radhanite, these merchants were the middle men linking the Christian and the Muslim world. They controlled the trade routes between Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and parts of India and China and had a virtual monopoly in this arena between 500-1000 AD .
It is entirely likely that these traveling merchants bought Persian recipes to Poland where they settled within the community to intermarry. Perhaps the similarities between these recipes are a coincidence but it is equally possibly that it is a remnant of this era. Whatever the case, recipes are treasures of a culture and within them lies the secrets of the past.
Hundreds of years later Polish men, women and children would seek a haven in Persia, escaping the persecutions of Soviet prison during WWII. Among them were Jews, most of whom would eventually migrate to Israel. Here is a fascinating account.
Persian Carrot and Prune Khoresh
or Tzimmes with Meatballs Stew
Adopted from New Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij
For the meatballs
600 grams ground beef or lamb
1 onions, grated
2-3 tablespoons breadcrumbs or gluten free alternative (ground almonds work well)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
For the carrot and prune stew
Two onions thinly sliced
1 garlic clove
500 grams carrots (about 5-6 carrots), peeled and sliced into rounds
½ cup lime or lemon juice
1 cup pitted prunes
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon saffron dissolved in a tablespoon of boiling water
2 tablespoons sugar or honey
For the meatballs
Combine all the ingredients and knead until combined. Form patties and brown both sides in a well heated, lightly oiled cast iron pan. The meatballs will continue cooking in the sauce so they do not need to be fully cooked during browning.
Brown the onions in a few tablespoons of oil in a Dutch oven or high sided pan. Add carrots and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté them for a minute or two, making sure they do not burn. Add the spices- cardamom, black pepper, salt, cinnamon and saffron and mix well.
Add the lime juice, sugar, prunes and about 1 cup water and continue to cook for about 15 minutes, or until the carrots begin to soften.
Add the meatballs and if necessary add more water so that it covers the meatballs half way. Cover and cook on a gentle simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the carrots are soft and the meatballs are cooked through. If there is still a lot of liquid left, cook uncovered to let it evaporate.
Serve on a bed of chelow, saffron steamed rice