Rachel Raj is one of the queens of Budapest Jewish cooking. The daughter of a noted rabbi, she authored a food column for a local Jewish magazine, makes guest appearances on TV talk shows, and a few years back anchored a 10-part series on Jewish cuisine on a leading Hungarian food channel.
Writing in Saveur, David Sax described her as a “high-octane food television host” who is the Hungarian equivalent of her American near-namesake Rachael Ray.
Model-thin and with long, dark hair, Raj, 31, prefers to describe herself as a modern-day Yiddishe Mamma. “Not someone who sits in a chair and says ‘eat,’” she says. “I like to dress up, I have a profession, I have two young kids — but on Shabbat I serve a four-course Friday night meal.”
It may sound impossible, but believe it or not, you can survive a whole week of Passover without eating a single potato. And you don’t even have to eat much matzo, either. This is what Aviva Kanoff is out to prove it in her new cookbook, “The No-Potato Passover.”
The book is a helpful and attractive guide for those of us looking to cook light, healthy and easy-to-prepare meals over the holiday. In fact, many of Kanoff’s recipes are appropriate for healthy (kosher) eating year-round.
Although almost all of the book’s recipes would look delicious to anyone, it definitely helps to be predisposed to liking quinoa and spaghetti squash. These two items figure prominently among Kanoff’s dishes, as do a few other key ingredients, like almond milk and ground walnuts and almonds — all flavorful substitutes for either less healthy traditional Passover foods or ones forbidden on Passover all together.
Jews across the world today will participate in the second-most-common spring ritual — lugging to work and parks brown-bag lunches filled with leftover turkey or brisket and some matzah. Last year at a local farm (a favorite spot for kids on spring break), a group of friends in Los Angeles set up a kind of “leftover shuk” where families traded their cold seder delicacies in hopes of finding something new and tastier. Most of us don’t like leftovers — they smack of age and rejection. Nobody wants to eat that again.
But I love leftovers, especially at Passover.
A new dish on our plate creates excitement and anticipation. The aroma wafting off the spoon, the split-second burst of heat touching our lips just before we take a bite, the taste rouses our slumbering taste buds creates something new, alive, even sexy. There is great spirituality in this newness. In fact, the Passover Sacrifice of the Exodus story — embodied by the shank bone on our seder tables — symbolizes this very act of newness. “You shall eat the flesh that same night … Do not leave any of it over until morning, if any of it remains in the morning you shall burn it.” (Exodus 12:8, 12:10)
The African American chef in the rainbow kippah looked up from arranging his implements to survey the crowd assembling before him. “What about the people coming in?” he murmured, and was told, “We’re out of chairs.”
More than 100 people had come in. The chef’s eyes widened theatrically. “It’s mamash a nais!”
“Truly a miracle” — as an estimation of the turnout for “Kosher/Soul,” Michael Twitty’s lecture and cooking demonstration at the Jewish Museum of Maryland — might be hyperbole. After all, with a title like that, and a menu boasting black-eyed pea hummus and egg rolls with turkey pastrami and collard greens, who wouldn’t want to be there if they could? But the back story is no small wonder.
The act of eating in the Jewish tradition is never simply the consumption of food. Food is respected as fuel for sure, but food as a source of physical nourishment cannot be stripped from its other central roles as symbol, ritual object and identity builder. From Eve’s first bite in the Garden of Eden, food has assumed a unique place in our people’s collective meaning making project.
The role of food at the Pesach Seder is an example par excellence. The Seder is, at one level, the gastronomic event of the year. We cook for days in advance and relish having our taste buds becoming reacquainted with the familiar dishes of years (and generations) past. And, on another level, the Seder is clearly much more than a feast. We come together to tell our people’s story; we teach our children and remind ourselves, who we are, where we came from, and where we are seeking to head.
And, fundamentally, the eating and the storytelling are inextricably intertwined.
The (dis)connection between the foods on our Passover table, and the Spring season did not occur to me until early adulthood, when I began cooking myself in earnest, and focused our meals on vegetables of all kinds, the whole year round. One year, I looked around the Seder table and realized that apart from the parsley laid out for saltwater-dipping, the meal — which included classics like matzo ball soup and brisket — was woefully lacking in greens, particularly for those of us who are vegetarians.
Considering that the Passover is not only celebrated in Spring, but also contains both symbolic and literal references to the season, it seems a shame to waste an opportunity to allow our Seder meal to embody the bright, fresh tenderness of early Spring. When I began designing the meal for my own family, I decided to use Passover as an opportunity to rediscover fruits and vegetables that may have fallen out of rotation during the winter months and to cleanse our palates a bit from the cold-weather stews, casseroles, and other heavily-cooked foods. The following recipes are ones we eat both at the Seder and during the week, they enliven our table and are a nice compliment (or antidote!) to the traditional matzo balls and kugels.
If you are hosting Seder, you’re probably already deep into hours in your kitchen. But if you’re still looking for some Passover recipes, for Seder and the week ahead, we’ve got you covered. And if you’re panicking about your Seder, take a look at The Daily Meal’s Kitchen Solutions.
These Greek zucchini fritters with feta and tzatziki sound positively delicious and spring like. [Serious Eats]
Dahi Ke Aloo, an Indian potato and yogurt soup would be a nice change from the Passover classics. [The Daily meal]
In last week’s food section, we gave you 10 amazing Jewish sandwiches from across the country, which in true “top list” fashion sparked some debate over which sandwiches were really the best and which were missing from the list. Luckily, a tidy little poll let readers kvetch constructively by voting for their favorite (with a write-in option). With over 600 votes, favorites were all across the board — and world.
On April 2, food activists in California won their first victory in their campaign to require mandatory labeling for food with GMOs: genetically modified organisms. The Committee for the Right to Know announced that they had collected the 800,000 signatures necessary to establish a 2012 ballot initiative so that voters can have their say on the issue next fall.
With nearly 80% of conventional corn and soy in America containing genetic material from other species designed to help them resist pesticides, it’s difficult to avoid these so-called “Frankenfoods,” unless they are clearly labeled. Across the European Union, GM food must be labeled, but not so in the US.
Never in the history of gefilte fish — perhaps the most haimish of Jewish dishes — has it drawn so much attention from the discerning food world. In Adeena Sussman’s recent article, “From Haimish to Haute” Zach Kutsher, owner of Kutsher’s Tribeca commented: “It’s our most controversial menu item.” Indeed their upscale preparation sparked intense debate among New York’s top food critics who placed more weight and emphasis on it than any other dish of the Jewish food revolution we seem to be in the midst of.
But Kutsher’s isn’t the only place responding to the call for a makeover of this oft-disliked — or perhaps misunderstood — dish. “More than almost any other Jewish food, gefilte has a bad reputation,” said Jeffrey Yoskowitz, one of three young New Yorkers who recently launched The Gefilteria, what they call a “pushcart start-up,” that sells sustainably sourced artisanal Jewish foods.
The trick with Sephardic haroset is in the mixing. You use your hands, you call for more grated apple until it feels wet enough, then you add ground almonds until the raisin mush gets a little itchy between your fingers.
Haroset is the Seder plate’s sweet counterbalance to the bitter herb. No specific recipe is prescribed, so each tradition has come up with its own version. Ashkenazic haroset has lots of wine and nuts and is gross; Sephardic haroset is sticky and delicious.
Our Sephardic haroset is, I suppose, of the Spanish and Portuguese sub variant. Our family got to New York in 1654, and though they stopped off a couple of places on the way they never stuck around long enough to add figs or oranges or dates or, god forbid, coconuts to their haroset recipes.
Passover, though one of my favorite Jewish holidays, is also one of the most challenging for me. As a vegetarian and Ashkenazic Jew, major staples in my diet such as beans, tofu, tempeh, seitan, and brown rice are suddenly banned. I have met some vegetarians/vegans who “go Sephardic” for Pesach so that they have more food options, even going as far as consulting and getting permission from their rabbis to do so. But bringing kitniyot (foods such as: rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds that are not allowed to be consumed during Pesach under Ashkenazic custom) into my home would be a big no-no, and personally I wouldn’t feel comfortable observing the holiday differently. I’ve had 11+ years to figure out and fine-tune the ins and outs of a vegetarian Pesach and I’m here to share some of my must-have foods, while still following Ashkenazic tradition and staying healthy.
Let me preface my suggestions by explaining a little bit about my background and how I observe Passover. I was raised in a Conservative kosher home, where the only foods that enter our kitchen for the holiday are ones that bear a Kosher for Passover (K for P) symbol. Even though there are so many vegetarian/vegan packaged goods that I love and are chametz-free, they will not be coming into my home without the K for P symbol. For some readers, this may be stricter than you’re used to. Ultimately, you have to do what you feel comfortable with on this holiday. As a result, I tend to cook nearly all my meals from scratch. Cooking in bulk and not minding repeat meals is helpful, as is finding a grocery store (or online kosher shop) that carries a variety of products, which thankfully gets easier every year with the ever-expanding selection of Passover foods on the market.
Mention seder to chef Simon Elmaleh and his peaked eyebrows lift, his graying moustache twitches and his eyes dance.
“When I was growing up in Casablanca, Passover was a really big holiday for us,” he said. “My mom would go to the market and buy lamb, chicken, vegetables and, of course, dried fruits for a really huge meal.”
The centerpiece of the seder would be a lamb tagine — a stew cooked slowly to fall-off-the-bone tenderness over low heat in a special clay pot, also called a tagine. The pot — a shallow, round base covered by an open funnel-or dome-shaped lid — allows steam to rise, cool and condense. The flavorful juices flow back into the stew.
It’s no surprise that the winning dish of this year’s Man-o-Manischewitz cook-off was an update on a classic recipe. As he introduced his “Mod” Matzo ball soup, Eric Silberman, a 20 year old Princeton University student from Lincolnwood, IL, compared his concept to Manischewitz’s rebranding: he reinvented a classic, giving it a modern sensibility, just as the company that has become synonymous with Jewish food releases a new line of products to appeal to a younger generation.
Silberman grew up with matzo ball soup; it was an essential dish on his family’s Shabbat table. But in his late teens, he took over the family staple, shaking up the recipe by cooking the matzo balls in the broth, roasting the vegetables separately, then adding them to the finished product. Silberman’s matzo balls were small but light, something he achieves by separating his eggs and beating the whites till frothy before combining them with the rest of the eggs and the matzo ball mix. He also added cumin and a can of unflavored diced tomatoes for a south-of-the border flair.
Passover, maybe more than any other Jewish holiday, calls on us to individualize our holiday experience — we are celebrating our freedom from slavery. Despite having seemingly endless restrictions and laws, there’s still ample room for personal interpretations. For some families this comes in the form of using props to explain or playfully re-enact the 10 plagues, for others it’s selecting a Haggadah that fits their politics or religious beliefs. For me and other passionate cooks, nothing compares to the opportunity to express my thoughts about the holiday through food. The Seder provides the ultimate opportunity to engage with a narrative through the dinner plate.
This year, for the first time, I will plan what my family eats for our second night Seder. To prepare, I’ve read through countless articles and recipes. I’ve looked for dishes that balance tradition with modern twists, updating the Seder to make it feel more contemporary and personal. Several recipes I selected highlight a theme of the Seder — be it spring, bitter herbs or recalling the ten plagues — literally putting the story of the Exodus on the plate. For many, straying from a traditional family menu that’s been honed over decades is a risk, but one that might be worth it if it allows you to make the Seder more personal. Try mixing some of the old with some of the new with these delicious picks from around the web.
Please share your non-traditional Seder recipes with us in the comments!
For any Jew who observes all eight days of Passover, the food and beverage situation gets to a point where we all throw our hands up and inevitably say, “Dayeinu!” How much more Manischewitz and matzo can one person endure? Personally, as a bartender (or some might say “Mixologist”), those eight days are a long, treacherous time that inhibits the skills of my craft; so long bourbon and beer.
The challenge of working in bars and restaurants during the holiday has been proven to be difficult until recent years. With new kosher for Passover products on the market and a few tricks from the trade, I’ve been able to transfer my knowledge from the hospitality industry to my own Passover Seder table.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Leslie about her newest cookbook, “Gluten-Free Recipes for the Conscious Cook” and the benefits of a gluten-free diet, and the importance of eating sustainably for both the mind and body.
Although it’s become one of the city’s top tourist destinations, Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda shuk (market) can be an intimidating place for newcomers. Vendors yell out competing prices in loud, raspy voices. Crowded alleys run into each other, and old ladies will roll you over with their overflowing carts if you don’t look out.
In recent years the market has experienced a renaissance and so today trendy bars and coffee shops are nestled between second and third generation butchers and fishmongers. For those who want an insider’s view of the shuk but don’t know where to start, a new website called Machne and self-guided tour called Shuk Bites seek to enlighten you.
For some of us, planning our Passover cooking for our friends and family is intimidating enough. Now, imagine cooking at the White House? With noted in-house pastry chef Bill Yosses. Overwhelming, right? Well, not for Jewish food writer Joan Nathan. Nathan, a long-time DC resident and friend of Yosses’s spent Wednesday afternoon at the White House preparing Passover dishes at an event. Fortunately for us, it was caught on tape. Watch below as Nathan creates a pear and pecan haroset, which she learned to make recently while visiting Arkansas. The pair also cooks Nathan’s sweet Matzo Chremsel. For the complete recipes read more.
Ever wondered how Manischewitz makes all that matzo? Check out this video to see how. [JTA]
If you’ve never prepared a Seder, or the whole idea intimidates you, check out Joan Nathan’s perfect day by day guide for throwing the perfect Seder. [New York Times]
A fantastic recipe for Skillet-Baked Eggs with Spinach, Yogurt, and Spiced Butter from one of our favorite Israeli chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi. [Serious Eats]
A look at ethical kosher meat company KOL Foods. [Gourmet Live]