Not many people are familiar with mahia, but those who are rave of its flavor and medicinal qualities. Mahia literally means “water of life,” a direct translation of “eau de vie” — the French term for colorless fruit brandies, of which mahia is one. Mahia is a traditional Moroccan Jewish spirit that is distilled with figs or dates and herbs. Up in Yonkers, Dorit and David Nahmias distill their mahia with fresh California figs and anise.
“My husband’s family were distillers,” Dorit tells us of her husband David. “He remembers watching his mother and grandmother making mahia.” Traditionally distilled by Jews, the digestif was a vehicle for community gatherings between Jews and non-Jews alike. “When my mother-in-law came to New York, she’d make it and give it out on Ocean Parkway, near the small Moroccan Jewish community.”
The traditions around mahia have slowly faded from the Jewish community as Sephardic Moroccan Jews emigrated to Israel, France, or The United States.
“Since I’ve known my husband, all he has talked about is opening a distillery to make mahia,” Dorit says. “Several years ago I got laid off from my job as a banker, and I couldn’t find another job. I said, ‘Why don’t we just try it? Let’s go for it. Now’s the time to make the dream come true.’ It took a few years and we finally made it, and we’re bringing back this tradition.”
To make the Nahmias et Fils mahia, David and Dorit crush fresh California figs with water and leave them to ferment for two weeks. After the fermentation process, the mahia is pumped through the still and fresh anise seed is added, though “not a lot,” Dorit notes. “We don’t want it to overpower the fig.”
Mahia can be consumed as a digestif or aperitif, used in citrus-based cocktails, and even incorporated in cooking. Kosher chef Levana Kirschenbaum developed an entire menu using mahia, including a late fall-appropriate recipe for cream of roasted carrots and parsnips soup, available on the next page.
Nahmias et Fils’s mahia is a unique way to celebrate Jewish heritage and late fall figs. Grab a taste of the unique spirit at the upcoming Holiday Spirits Tasting Event or snag yourself a bottle for this holiday season. A cocktail recipe and soup recipe can be found on the next page.
Black, White & Fig
by Kimberly Nagel
The apples and figs become the sweet detail to a peppery base. A great way to start the meal.
1/2 ounce Mahia
1/4 ounce simple syrup
splash lime or grapefruit juice
4 apple slices
5 cracks of pepper
combine apple, pepper, and simple and muddle together in shaker. Add Ice, mahia and citrus. Shake strain over ice garnish with apple slice in a black pepper & sugar rimed glass
Cream of Roasted Carrots and Parsnips Recipe
Courtesy of Lévana Kirschenbaum
2 pounds long thin carrots, scrubbed
2 pounds thin parsnips (cut the thicker ones lengthwise), scrubbed
2 large red onions, sliced thick
1/4 cup olive oil
Sea salt to taste
3 quarts (12 cups) water
1/4 cup mahia
1 15-ounce can coconut milk
1 inch piece fresh ginger, grated
1 tablespoon turmeric
Ground pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Combine the first set of ingredients thoroughly in a bowl, and place in one layer on a cookie sheet (you might need two) Roast for about 45 minutes, until tender and slightly charred. Check on the onions after about 30 minutes, they might be ready to be taken out first.
Transfer the mixture to a heavy wide bottom pot. Add all remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil. Reduce the flame to medium, and cook covered, 30 minutes. Cream the soup with an immersion blender until perfectly smooth. Adjust the texture and seasonings before serving.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 3, 2013