Orthodox Christmas in Lalibela

In January this year, I was lucky enough to experience the annual pilgrimage to Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia for the Orthodox Christmas celebration.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church dates from the 4th century and Lalibela, formerly known as Roha, was built as the new Jerusalem by King Lalibela of the Sagwe
dynasty in the 12th Century. I travelled with a wonderful group of people and we spent 6 whole days exploring the town and photographing the pilgrims, the services at the rock hewn churches, village life and the various markets.  All of the population of Lalibela are devout Christians and many pilgrims had walked for three weeks and more to get to the pilgrimage site.  The piety and devotion of the people touched me deeply. Here is a collection of my favourite images from this amazing trip. For more images click here.

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I would like also to mention my assistant and friend Mulugeta Asfaw, pictured below,  and express my gratitude to him for looking after me, serving as interpreter  which enabled me to connect with the villagers and some of the pilgrims and making the trip so special.He is currently completing his guide diploma and I am sure that he will succeed.

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Gefilte Fish

I am now back in Melbourne after an amazing two months in Jordan and Israel followed by a photographic trip to Lalibela in Ethiopia to witness the Orthodox Christmas pilgrimage.Apologies to those of you who follow my blog and have been waiting for a post. It has been far too long since the last one. Here’s hoping that I will be much more conscientious in 2102.

It is almost the end of February and, looking at my calendar, the Jewish holiday of Passover is fast approaching.  This is one of our two most important family festivals and my sister and I prepare all the dishes we enjoyed as children.  One of the highlights is our mother’s gefilte fish that we only prepare twice a year, for Passover and Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year). Preparing the fish and its accompanying jelly takes the best part of a day and we  prepare a large amount so that we can share it with our uncle and aunt and their extended family. Since we live in Melbourne, Australia and are blessed with wonderful fish, the traditional Polish recipe using carp has been adapted to make it, (to our palates, at least) even more delicious and much lighter in colour and more appetising .  The great Gefilte Fish divide is whether the fish should be sweet or not.  If you are not keen on the sweet version, just leave out the sugar!

Each year, I receive requests for our recipe and so, here it is:

GEFILTE FISH
2kg skinless Murray Perch fillets (the fatty nature of this delicious fresh water fish is perfect)
500g flathead fillets (or other white fish)
300g skinless sea perch fillets (to ensure the light colour of the mixture)
1 whole small flathead
heads and bones of the filleted fish
2 litres water
4 tbsp. sugar
5 white onions
5 eggs
2 large carrots
1 large slice egg challah or 1 egg matzah (if making for Passover)
Vegetable oil
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

For the Stock
In a large stockpot, place the fish heads and bones, 1 peeled white onion, the whole flathead and 2 tbsp sugar with the water and simmer for about 30 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Strain this stock and set aside to cool, discarding the solids.

For the Fish Patties

Peel and slice the remaining 4 onions and fry them lightly in a little vegetable oil until soft but not brown. If they start to brown, add a little water to the pan.  This will allow the onions to cook without browning until all the water has evaporated. Soak and crumble the challah or matzah.  Mince the softened onions together with the fish fillets and challah or matzah.

Add the eggs, salt, pepper and remaining sugar to the mixture.  Mix very well  (you can mix with an electric mixer using the K beater) then refrigerate for about 1 hour. This will help the mixture stabilise, making it easier to form into firm patties that will hold their shape during cooking.

When you are ready to cook the fish, bring the strained stock to the boil.

Form the fish paste into slightly flattened ovals and drop them into the boiling stock.

Peel and slice the carrots into rounds and add them to the stock.

Cover and simmer gently for 1 hour.

Allow to cool slightly. Remove the fish balls to a serving plate and top each one with a carrot slice. Strain the stock and ladle a little over the fish and carrots to glaze.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.  Cool the stock, pour it into a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate. It will become a firm jelly.

Serve the gefilte fish accompanied with a little of its jelly and “chrain” (kren – red horseradish available commercially).

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