Photographs by Gayle L. Squires
The Passover tradition that’s been handed down from generation to generation in my family is the luxury of a catered Seder. But we’ve always supplemented the cookie and cake plate with extra desserts. At my grandparents’ table, it was Bubbe’s layered and fruit-studded gelatin mold. At my aunt’s, a large platter of sliced melon, citrus and berries. At my parents’, chocolate-covered cherry-marshmallow twists and chocolate cake from a mix.
When I emerged as the baker in the family, I became the de facto dessert maker. I have three simple guidelines for pre-afikoman treats: 1) avoid matzo or cake meal; 2) use as few bowls and utensils as possible; and 3) make something you would want to eat year-round. After much trial and error, I’ve narrowed my Passover repertoire down to a handful of reliable desserts that serve as solid basics, ready to be adapted from one Seder to the next.
Macaroons serve as a perfect blank canvas. While unadorned mounds of coconut, sugar and egg whites are pretty spectacular on their own, it’s the variations that get me jazzed. Sure, you can add cocoa powder and chocolate chips, but what about citrus zest, cinnamon or rose water? And while most recipes call for sweetened shredded coconut, I urge you to seek out the largest unsweetened flakes (sometimes called coconut chips) you can find for macaroons that offer the greatest contrast in texture with deeply golden, crispy edges and tender chewy insides. Then there are the toppings: chocolate to dip, salted caramel to drizzle or jam to bake into an indented thumbprint.
If you’re not sure where to begin, try the macaroon recipe below, adapted from chocolatier and cookbook author Alice Medrich. They’re laced with orange blossom water and flecked with orange zest. The first bite will make you feel as though you’re basking in a gentle Mediterranean breeze, getting you into the mood to conclude the Seder by singing l’shanah ha’abah bi-Y’rushalayim — next year in Jerusalem (or at least Tel Aviv).
Chag sameach and happy baking!
Inbal Hotel Jerusalem, where the chef offered an online how-to on holiday cooking. Courtesy Inbal Hotel.
(JTA) - At this time of year I always ask around to my friends and neighbors for new and creative Passover recipes — and if I can stand upright after chasing after crumbs of chametz, helping my kids prepare Torah commentary for the seder and changing over my kitchen to kosher for Passover, I even try one or two of them.
I never thought I would have the chance to get Passover recipes directly from the executive chef of a 5-star kosher hotel restaurant, however. And I am sure ready to eat restaurant-style food from the comfort of my own home.
Inbal Jerusalem Hotel executive chef Nir Elkayam showed me and anyone else who wanted to watch, how to make new and interesting dishes for the upcoming holiday in a live online demonstration, accompanied by a live chat where you could ask him all your Passover cooking questions.
This is an occasional column in which the writer evaluates a cookbook by making some of its recipes, sharing the dishes with friends and asking those friends what they think of the results. For Passover, the writer cooked her way through “Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen,” by Forward writer and contributing editor Leah Koenig.
In the introduction to “Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen” (Chronicle Books), Leah Koenig writes that she felt a certain kind of freedom when she began hosting Sabbath dinners in her 20s.
Her grandmother had died before she was born, she writes, and as a teenager she showed no interest in how her mom made her “legendary latkes.”
“Because I had not inherited specific recipes, I felt free from any pressure to simply copy what I was taught, and free to improvise and add my own personality,” Koenig writes. “I was creating my Jewish repertoire from scratch, and doing it in my twenty-first century kitchen filled with vegetables from the farmers’ market and a sauce-splattered laptop that played music while I chopped. There, I could incorporate ingredients that fell outside the Eastern European repertoire I inherited, and cook in a way that felt true to my life.”
Photograph by Sang An
For many people, brisket is the Proustian madeleine of Jewish cooking. The rich, savory scent of caramelizing meat that perfumes the house as it cooks seems to stir people into a nostalgia-fueled fervor. There is no question that the brisket your bubbe made was the best ever, and you cannot compete with the layers of memories that flavor her version in your mind. That’s okay, because you have a few tricks of your own up your sleeve. This version slow-cooks the meat in a sweet and tangy mixture of honey and red wine until it sighs and falls apart at the touch of a fork. I included the red wine as a nod to stracotto, the Roman Jewish take on brisket, which simmers beef in wine and spices.
Brisket’s flavor and texture improve with age, so while you can certainly serve it right away, it will taste best if you make it a day in advance. Once the brisket has chilled in the refrigerator overnight, spoon off and discard any excess fat congealed at the top and transfer the meat to a cutting board. Thinly slice the brisket against the grain (meat is easier to slice when it’s cold), then place the slices back into the Dutch oven or roasting pan, spooning some of the saucy onion mixture over the top. Warm in a 300° F oven until hot and bubbling, 20 to 30 minutes.
Note: This recipe calls for second-cut brisket, which is sometimes referred to as deckle. It can be difficult to find second-cut brisket packaged in the grocery store, so ask your butcher about it. While you’re asking for things, see if the butcher will trim off any excess fat, too. If you have first-cut brisket on hand, go ahead and use it — the dish will still be delicious.
Photograph by Sang An
With all due respect to the classic pairing of beets and goat cheese, there are other ways to serve cooked beets! Take this salad, which tosses them with preserved lemon, fennel, basil and capers. The lemon and capers act as a tangy counterpart to the sweet Mediterranean root, and the fresh fennel adds delicious crunch.
2 pounds medium beets, ends trimmed and scrubbed
2 small fennel bulbs, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon brine-packed capers, drained, patted dry, and roughly chopped
10 large basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons
3 tablespoons finely chopped preserved lemon peel
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1) Preheat the oven to 400° F. Wrap each beet tightly in a piece of aluminum foil and place in a baking dish. Roast in the oven until a fork can be easily inserted into the center, 50 to 70 minutes. (Time will vary depending on the size of your beets, so start checking at 50 minutes and keep cooking if not soft.) Remove from the oven and let cool to the touch. Use a paper towel to rub off the skin, or peel with a vegetable peeler. Cut the beets into bite-size pieces. (Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.)
2) Combine the beets, fennel, capers, basil and preserved lemon peel in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the shallot, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Drizzle over the salad and gently toss to combine. Let stand for 15 minutes. Divide the salad among plates and serve.
Recipes reprinted with permission from “Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen,” Chronicle Books (2015), by Leah Koenig.
Five years ago, I became the keeper of our family Seder. As the self-appointed repository of the recipes and traditions my sister and I grew up with, it was important to me to get it “right” — to incorporate enough of the familiar foods and rituals so that the experience would feel deeply rooted in our personal history.
I would use the pile of beautiful-if-dog-eared haggadot, underlined and scribbled in, with the names of my relatives — first in my dad’s handwriting, then in my mother’s — next to the passages each of us was assigned by them to read year after year. As the older generation dwindled, sons-in-law entered the mix, then my boys and my sister’s girls. Old names were crossed out; new ones added. I still hear my grandmother Lillian’s voice reading lines from the Song of Songs, “Arise my beloved…” — though for years now they have been recited by my sister, Karen.
Liza setting her table. Photographs by Martyna Starosta
I always make the sweet, bright-green spring peas my mom pureed every year to accompany her main course — there would be a mutiny if I didn’t — and, among other desserts, I serve the chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons, brought every year by a family friend, on my grandmother’s two-tiered china tray.
Over the past few years, I’ve taken great joy not only in preserving our memories, but also in putting my own imprint on the holiday. Whereas the first year I used my grandparents’ fine, heavy linens to cover the dining table I inherited from them, I now love to mix it up, perhaps using their napkins mixed with a new, modern cloth that’s lighter and more springlike (and easier to wash). I’ve introduced a number of new recipes, and a few new practices that feel fun and fresh.
Here are my seven secrets to a splendid Seder. As you prepare your own celebration, consider incorporating whichever of these ideas you like as a way of staying rooted in your history while embracing whatever tweaks on tradition you find appealing.
Fill the Four Cups With Any Of These Crisp Whites and Rich Reds, All Under $30. Image: Thinkstock
I have a soft spot in my heart for Manischewitz, the Kosher wine served at so many Sabbath dinners and Seders, because it was the first wine I ever tasted. Being allowed this wine at Passover when I was a little girl made me feel very grownup, sweet as it was (and probably diluted).
So it is with love that I say that kosher-for-Passover wine doesn’t have to be Manischewitz.
There are so many great kosher wines these days — below are a few of my favorites. I had a chance to taste a bunch of them at the Kosher Food & Wine Experience back in February, and others were recommended by kosher-wine afficianado Sadie Flateman of 67 Wines in Manhattan.
Tabor Winery Adama Sauvignon Blanc 2013 $20
A lean, classic style of sauvignon blanc, the flavor of this dry white wine is somewhat grassy, with a flinty mineral quality that comes from the chalk soil the grapes are grown in. There’s passionfruit and citrus on the palate. A good match for light fish dishes.
Plan to make extra Sephardic-style charoset so you have enough to whip up these easy and delicious Passover confections. Photograph by Deborah R. Prinz.
This is a great combination of chocolate and a Sephardi version charoset, the Passover fruit concoction representing the building of granaries by the Hebrew slaves. Use this charoset recipe for your Seder and use the leftovers for your truffles. Or make enough charoset to plan for these truffles as your Seder dessert. Either way, they are delicious.
Makes 24 truffles
3 pounds high-quality dark or bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces
¼ cup pistachios
¼ cup pecans
1/8 cup almonds
1/8 cup pine nuts
½ tart apple
¼ navel orange, with rind
A few drops of sweet white wine
A few drops of honey
Pinch of fresh or ground ginger (or to taste)
Pinch of ground cinnamon (or to taste)
1) Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or waxed paper. Grind the nuts, apples and orange separately in a food processor. The nuts should be as close to a powder as possible without becoming “butter.”
2) Combine the nuts, apple, orange, wine, honey, ginger, and cinnamon in a bowl, mixing well. The charoset filling should have a smooth, thick texture.
3) Roll the charoset into 1-inch balls. Melt the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water; remove from the heat. Using two forks, dip the balls into the melted chocolate and place on the prepared baking sheet; refrigerate until the chocolate has set.
Deborah R. Prinz speaks about chocolate and Jews around the world. Her book, “On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao,”was published in 2013 by Jewish Lightsand is in its third printing. The book is used in adult study, classroom settings, book clubs and chocolate tastings.
This Passover-themed take on a vodka martini incorporates fresh horseradish and parsley. Photograph by Liza Schoenfein
At one Passover Seder I attended, all the guests brought dishes to contribute to the meal. As each person entered the apartment, the words “Do you have a bowl for this?” were uttered. Since that day, I have thought of Passover as The Festival of the Bowls. The meal was fabulous, by the way. I ate so much lamb that by the time dessert rolled around I had the urge to graze lazily on a hillside and say “Baa.”
One commonality (beyond the ritual readings and traditions) I’ve noticed among the various Seders I’ve been to is that prior to sitting down, there is a lot of prep work, setting of tables and entertaining of children. On any other evening, this would be considered cocktail hour. But, as we know, this night is different from all other nights. For one thing, four cups of wine are consumed.
Should that preclude a delightful pre-Haggadah beverage? I think not. (If you’re worried about overconsumption, perhaps you will allow a sip to stand in for a cup of wine each time you are instructed to drink.)
A pre-Seder cocktail should be simple and straightforward, because the meal preparations are so involved. And of course it should feel springlike — ideally made with ingredients that tie it to the holiday.
What could be more straightforward than a martini? Flavored not with an olive or lemon rind, but with a bit of freshly grated horseradish, and garnished with a sprig of parsley, it’s a Seder plate in a glass!
Holiday food doesn’t have to be a huge production. The most beloved dishes are often the simplest, and if they can be made ahead, then all the better.
Brisket is one of these. Long, slow cooking in flavorful liquid transforms a tough lump of protein into the most tender, comforting and tasty dish. My grandmother used to braise hers in lots of tomato and a bottle of beer, and when we were little she called it “stringy meat.”
My mother, her daughter, was a culinary sophisticate who, like so many women of her generation, taught herself to cook by making her way through Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Instead of humble brisket, she would braise a rump roast in red wine. Called “boef à la mode,” it was hardly more complicated than its homey predecessor, but came across as a most elegant alternative.
My own brisket draws a little from each model, and couldn’t be simpler. The braising liquid is a lot of sturdy red wine mixed with a little tomato. Inspired by the Italian tradition of sprinkling chopped fresh herbs, zest and garlic — called a gremolata — over osso buco, I finish the dish with the fresh, bright mixture. It wakes up the flavor of the stewed meat and contributes irresistible aroma and texture.
For Passover, the addition of fresh horseradish to this garnish feels thematically appropriate, and it carries a key flavor of the Seder through the delicious main course.
Mile End Deli’s Manhattan location will serve Passover dinner April 3 and 4. Photograph courtesy of Mile End.
Here’s everything you need to know about restaurant openings and closings, chefs on the move and tasty events happening in the world of Jewish food.
It seems like every restaurant in the Big Apple is hosting a Seder-style meal this Passover, but two stand out. Mile End, the always-fabulous Montreal-inspired deli, will host “a casual Seder with the core blessings and the four questions, followed by dinner with wine pairings.” On the $125-per-person menu: chopped liver with house-made pickles; matzo ball soup with smoked chicken, leeks, asparagus and garlic schmaltz; Gefilteria gefilte fish with fennel, radish, chrain, and dill; bitter greens and soft egg with spring vegetables and pickled ramp vinaigrette; and smoked lamb shoulder with merguez, tsimmis and rhubarb charoset.
“The inspiration for the dinner is the Seder plate itself,” owner Noah Bernamoff told the Forward. “There is also an element of decadence to the meal along with its wine pairings that speaks to the notion of relaxation and luxury: We recline at the Seder and speak of the exodus from Egypt as a way to exhibit our relative comfort and the generations that have sacrificed to bring the Jewish people from slavery to freedom.”
Mexican-Jewish chef Julian Medina of Toloache is adding Jewish accents to his menu for the Passover week. Photograph courtesy of Toloache.
And at his three Toloache outposts in Manhattan, chef Julian Medina is adding Jewish accents to his nouveau-Mexican cuisine from April 3-11. On offer: Julian’s Matzo Ball Soup, made with zucchini, carrots, epazote and jalepeno-scented chicken consommé; guacamole con Pescado Ahumado, a chunky avocado mixed with achiote smoked white fish salad “Yucatan style”, plus horseradish and habanero for heat, served with matzo; and Tacos de Brisket, Matzo tortillas filled with chipotle braised brisket, avocado and salsa. Toloache will also serve up two types of kosher tequila and a Sabra Margarita made with Don Diego Kosher Tequila, prickly pear, agave nectar and lime.
The Streit family announced today that it will close the doors of its 90-year-old factory this spring, at the conclusion of the Passover baking season. The announcement was made by filmmaker Michael Levine, who had been working on a documentary about the company, Streit’s Matzo and the American Dream, for the past two years.
“Since 1925, the Streit’s Matzo factory has stood at 148-154 Rivington Street on New York’s Lower East Side,” he wrote in a missive he sent this morning to the publication Bowery Boogie. “Here, in four, low-slung brick tenement buildings, five generations of the Streit family, and as many generations of factory workers, devoted their lives to the art of mixing flour and water, and sending these two simple ingredients through a seventy-three foot long oven to create sheets of matzo, the unleavened bread central to the Jewish holiday of Passover.”
The four buildings that comprise Streit’s factory, which is the last family-owned matzo factory in the U.S., are now under contract to a developer.
Tonight, right after sundown, chef Simon Elmaleh will discard the Passover matzo, set out fine platters laden with leavened, sugary sweets and welcome friends into his home with cries of terbhou ou tseedou, Arabic for “good luck.”
For Moroccan Jews like Elmaleh, the end of Passover marks the start of the Jewish-Moroccan festival Mimouna — a night of open house parties complete with a feast of traditional sweets that honors the Exodus story.
This year, Elmaleh has prepared platters that glisten with sugary glazes: slivers of candied orange peels, fat eggplants in sweetened ginger syrup, poached Bosch pears in a Cointreau-based syrup and figs cooked in syrup with white wine and vanilla.
White House Photo
(Haaretz) — Cooking for twenty people doesn’t usually faze me, even when it’s for a Passover Seder, but the Seder I helped prepare last night was for Michelle and Barack Obama.
After days of long discussions about menu options and in order to add some interest, it was decided that alongside the Passover classics, such as gefilte fish and matzo ball soup, I will make quinoa in coconut milk with roasted sweet potatoes and Tuscan kale. My friend Susan Barocas, former director of the Jewish Food Experience, who was working with me as well, prepared chicken in pickled lemon and olives.
The tradition of making a Passover Seder at the Obama household started in 2008, while he was running for President. The first seder took place at a hotel basement hall during a campaign stop, and the blessing “next year in Jerusalem” was modified to “next year at the White House.” And so a tradition began. Keeping their seder private and intimate, the Obamas continue to host the same guests every year at the White House ever since.
We arrived at the White House early on Tuesday morning. We arrived at a surprisingly small kitchen, peeking at the beautiful flower arranging room on the way. Cris Comerford, White House executive chef, met us at the kitchen. As top chef, Cris is often in charge of much larger events, including State Dinner, yet she amazed me with the amount of research and the sincere interest she showed in the Jewish traditions for the Passover Seder. From grating her own horseradish for the chrein to the little carrots on her home-made gefilte fish, she really nailed it down.
Pizzarelle Con Miele are a classic Roman Jewish Passover cookie. Read about how Alyssa Shelasky learned to make the recipe while living in Rome here.
Inspired by Edith Arbib Anav
Yield: 8 servings
8 sheets of matzo
4 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup sugar
½ cup of kosher for Passover cocoa
powder, highest quality
½ cup pine nuts, toasted
½ cup raisins
2 cups peanut oil for frying
4 tablespoons of honey
2 teaspoons of lemon juice
1) Soak the matzo in a bowl of cold water for 15 minutes, until very soggy. Remove from water, squeezing out as much moisture as you can from the matzo.
2) Put the matzo in a large bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients, lighting mashing everything together until all the ingredients are evenly combined.
3) Heat the oil on the stovetop to approximately 325ºF to 350ºF. With a big spoon, form large madeleine-shaped spoonfuls of the mixture. Carefully insert them into the oil, one by one.
4) Fry the cookies for about 5 minutes, flipping half way through.
5) Place the cookies on paper towels to drain the excess oil.
6) Meanwhile, heat the honey, with the lemon juice and a few teaspoons of water in a saucepan over medium heat for approximately 5 minutes. The honey should bubble but not burn.
7) Once the cookies have been drained of oil, individually dunk them in and out of the honey pot. Let set. Serve at room temperature.
Most Jewish holidays have food as a central component of the celebration-from latkes on Hanukkah to misloach manot on Purim and blintzes on Shavuot. Yet, Passover, through the Seder and the full-scale flip from “chametz” to “matza” (from eating leavened foods to eating foods devoid of all leaven), makes food and eating an essential focus of preparation and observance. For at least this week, what we eat and with whom we eat defines us as Jews.
RAVSAK’s Moot Beit Din, an annual competition for high school students in Jewish day schools, made food the focus of our 2014/5774 program. We challenged students from across North America to consider whether a Jewish summer camp that prides itself on being environmentally conscious has an obligation to consider tzaar baalei hayim (mistreatment of animals) and thus serve locally raised kosher meat even if it raises the tuition costs at camp significantly enough to make it less affordable to many families. The case touched on such current issues as industrial farming, the morality of eating meat and the role of economics in halakhic decision making. Students were asked to calculate a cost/benefit analysis of switching to an organic diet at Jewish institutions — an ostensibly desirable undertaking — in light of the real financial issues that might exacerbate the modern plague of the high cost of Jewish living. Like the Seder, Moot Beit Din used powerful questions, ancient texts, wise voices and great debate to elevate mundane conversations about food to a heightened and holy level.
Making a delectable Passover dessert is a challenge worthy of appearing on Iron Chef — no leavening, no flour, and if your Seder has meat, no butter. Fortunately, our favorite food sites and cookbook authors have suggestions and recipes for sorbets, toffees and an irresistible sweet matzo brei that can double as dessert. What’s your favorite Passover dessert? Share it with us in the comments.
To get you started, here are 10, incredible recipes for pareve Passover desserts like chocolate balsamic macaroons, pear vanilla sorbet and roasted strawberries with rhubarb. [Food 52]
And several more like matzo toffee with candied ginger, chocolate caramel macarons and hazelnut citrus torte from cookbook author Melissa Clark. [New York Times]
Matzo brei will never be the same. Introducing: Cinnamon sugar matzo brei with roasted apple charoset. [Tasting Table]
Chocolate-covered matzo is one of the true pleasures of Passover. Here’s an easy way to make it at home. [Food 52]
Imagine this: a macaroon filled with molten chocolate. It’s a reality. [Fork in the Road]
Chocolate. Caramel. Matzo. Brittle. ‘Nuff said. [The Kitchn]
And if you still need ideas, the New York Times has an entire Pinterest board dedicated to Passover recipes [Pinterest]
Don’t worry if you are too tired to cook again after the Seders this Passover. Thanks to a new cookbook by Tamar Ansh, you can let the kids take over the kitchen for the rest of the weeklong holiday. They won’t necessarily prepare fancy dishes made with organic and locally sourced ingredients, but with the guidance of “Let My Children Cook!,” they’ll be able to put together some substantial meals that they — and maybe you too — will want to eat.
“As a mother, I know what kids like to eat,” Ansh, cooking instructor and author of several cookbooks, including “A Taste of Challah,” told the Jew and the Carrot from her home in Jerusalem. “It doesn’t have to be a full-blown recipe. Chicken cacciatore braised in wine sauce is not for kids.” Although she had never written a cookbook for kids before, she knew she had to keep the recipes clear and short, with as few ingredients and steps as possible.
Officially, “Let My Children Cook!” (Judaica Press, 2014) is for children 8-years-old and up, but kids even younger can easily tackle these recipes with the help of a parent or older sibling.
Matzot on a cooling conveyor Manischewitz factory in Newark, New Jersey. Photo by Bloomberg via Haaretz
Kosher food giant Manischewitz, whose matzot are known to generations of Jews in the United States and elsewhere, is expected to announce on Tuesday that it has been purchased by Sankaty Advisors, an arm of the private equity giant Bain Capital.
The deal, which comes just a few days before Passover, is expected to help the 126-year-old company expand beyond the kosher aisle, the New York Times reported.
Under its new owner, a firm with expertise in revamping corporate strategy, the company is expected to promote “kosher” as a quality-control designation, rather than a simply religious one.
Though private equity tends to conjure images of stripping companies, Sankaty plans to act as “stewards of the brand,” said a person briefed on the deal who was not authorized to speak publicly about it before the announcement.
“It’s a pretty powerful certification to be kosher, because it means you are holding your product to a very high standard,” said Mark Weinsten, the newly appointed interim chief executive of Manischewitz, who is also a senior managing director at FTI Consulting. “Why is that not applicable to people who don’t keep kosher?”
Hosting a Passover Seder combines the culinary expectations of Thanksgiving with an Iron Chef like challenge: Cook an entire multi-course meal without leavening. It’s pretty daunting. But, with a bit of planning, it makes a great cooking project for a family or a group of friends, the results are delicious and it gives you culinary bragging rights for a full year.
At 28, I’ve helped cook Seders for almost 20 years and hosted several entirely on my own. Along the way, I’ve picked up wisdom from my ultimate Seder hero (my father, who can whip up a tender brisket with his eyes closed) and some master cooking tips from chefs like Mark Spangethal at Kutsher’s Tribeca, Bill Telepan and Yotam Ottolenghi. If you still have questions about your Seder or recipes, leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to help any way I can.