23 March 2008

Food: Preparing for Passover

Purim is over and before we know it, Passover will be here. While Jewish families around the world prepare old family favorites, many of us also hunt for new recipes that may become future family traditions.

Our table includes both Persian and Ashkenazi favorites. While our charoset is always the Persian version, with tens of ingredients processed into a luscious spread eaten all during the holiday, I've never given up my special chicken soup, matzo balls and chopped liver, which appear along side complex Persian stews (khoresht) and wonderful rice dishes. In Teheran, I prepared carrot ingberlach and did the Passover baking for the extended large family.

Gefilte fish is never on our menu. When my husband first saw it, he heard the name as "filthy fish." He's not a fan, but believes that if you put enough chrein (grated horseradish) on anything, it will become palatable.

We attended the seder of Persian cousins one year in Israel. Our cousin Edna brought a huge covered platter, and my husband said he thought it was his not-favorite fish dish. We were surprised - shocked is a better word - to see this on a Persian seder table. The explanation: When her parents arrived from Teheran they lived in a mixed neighborhood in Ramla. Her mother, an excellent cook, shared recipes with her neighbors and picked up their specialties. Edna even makes her own horseradish! Their seders always include her truly delicious version of this standard Ashkenazi dish.

I've previously written about "Jewish Holiday Cooking," (Wiley, $32.50) by Jayne Cohen, and she includes two dishes I'm considering: Snapper Fillets in Pistachio-Matzoh Crust and Mozzarella in Matzoh Carrozza. Do check out this book, which also includes a nice section on Passover requirements and ingredients. We tend to focus on seder menus, and sometimes forget that there are lunches and more dinners following the big night or nights! The days of tuna salad on matzo - while nostalgic - are not quite enough. Although I'm not generally a fan of matzo brie, Cohen's Cinnamon Matzoh Brie with Toasted Pecans and Warm Vanilla-Maple Syrup also sounds delicious enough for a company brunch!

I haven't really started thinking about the specifics of my own menu yet - but Judy Kancigor's article on EmeraldCoast.com mentions four cookbooks providing food for thought.

Ask most Jewish children ‘‘What’s your favorite holiday?’’ and ‘‘Hanukkah’’ is the quick response. For me, all the gaily wrapped gifts in the world can’t hold a candle to the magic of Passover.

When I was growing up, my huge, raucous family would gather for the Seder (‘‘order’’ in Hebrew), the traditional Passover meal commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt. My grandpa Papa Harry would officiate at Mama Hinda’s mile-long table, laden with her brisket and tzimmes (carrot stew), stuffed chicken and kugels, and splendid Passover confections. So I’ve heard ... I was never there!

My mom, dad, brother and I spent our Passovers — a magical weeklong celebration — in resorts in New York’s Catskill Mountains, where my dad, singer and cantor Jan Bart, was working, performing his Seders, complete with choir (including Mom Lillian’s contralto) for 850 people.

She goes on to talk about tackling her own first family seder. This year, she found four useful cookbooks and spoke to the authors.

Susie Fishbein’s ‘‘Kosher by Design Entertains’’ (Mesorah, $34.99) offers spectacular menus and beautifully photographed serving ideas with the simple, yet elegant recipes. The book has nine parts, and many of the recipes are appropriate for Passover. Fishbein includes a list of recipe adjustments for the holiday’s dietary restrictions.

Fishbein’s Carrot Coconut Vichyssoise - sounds great - will be on Kancigor's menu; the recipe is in the article. But she'll still make her mother's chicken soup!

Also on Kancigor's menu is Tunisian lamb, which she found in ‘‘Jewish Food: The World at Table’’ (HarperCollins, $29.95) by Matthew Goodman, ‘‘Food Maven’’ columnist at The Forward, the 105-year-old Jewish newspaper.

Goodman told her that although beef is common in Eastern European tradition, the Sephardic uses lamb. Lambs were butchered in the spring and it's part of the abundance of spring. His book offers recipes from 29 countries.

‘‘What I tried to do with this book was to locate and preserve food traditions from communities around the world that are today endangered because the communities themselves are endangered,’’ he said.

Few holiday dishes are common to all Jewish communities and the only shared ingredient is matzo. Creative cooks around the world have found ways to utilize this item. My personal favorites using matzo are Matzo Baklava and Toffee-Chocolate Crunch Matzo.

Kancigor's side dishes will include Moroccan Mashed Potato Casserole from Gil Marks’ ‘‘Olive Trees and Honey’’ (Wiley, $29.95). Marks is a rabbi, historian and chef, and the new book features 300 vegetarian recipes from global Jewish communities, among them India, Alsace, Greece and Uzbekistan.

‘‘A custom arose in Provence beginning about 800 years ago amongst the Ashkenazi,’’ Marks explained, ‘‘to restrict foods such as legumes for Passover, and over the centuries other items were added to this general category, such as corn and rice.’’

Marks discusses Seder traditions, ranging from sitting on the floor to tables and chairs.

For dessert, Kancigor details - and provides the recipe - for Raspberry Meringue Gateau from ‘‘Crowning Elegance’’ (Wimmer, $34.95) by the Arie Crown Hebrew Day School of Skokie, Illinois. She mentions that this isn't an ordinary school cookbook, but a professionally compiled, tested and photographed volume, edited by Valerie Kanter; some 132 parents provided various ethnic recipes.

Here are the ingredient lists for the two spotlighted recipes:

Yield: 6-8 servings

For soup:
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 medium Idaho or russet potatoes, peeled and diced
16 ounces peeled baby carrots or 2 cups sliced carrots
1 leek, washed, sliced white and pale green parts only
1 shallot, diced
Dash ground white pepper
2/3 cup coconut milk; see cook’s notes
1/2 cup nondairy creamer; see cook’s notes

For balsamic garnish:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon dark molasses.

Yield: 8 servings

For meringue:
Grease for pans
4 egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher-for-Passover vanilla
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 cup skinned hazelnuts, roasted and ground

For sauce:
1 1/3 cup fresh raspberries
3 to 4 tablespoons kosher-for-Passover powdered sugar; see cook's note.
1 tablespoon kosher-for-Passover orange liqueur

For cream:
1 1/4 cup nondairy whipping cream; see cook’s notes
3 tablespoons kosher-for-Passover powdered sugar, plus more for garnish; see cook’s notes
2 cups fresh raspberries, plus more for garnish

For the complete recipes and how to order "Crowning Elegance," click here.


  1. Hi Schelly,
    I'm submitting this to the Kosher Cooking Carnival, on my blog.
    If you write or come across something else please submit!!

  2. Anonymous6:39 AM

    hi schelly
    i really enjoy reading your postings. can you give us an idea of what made your cousin edna's gefilte fish different (and better) than the usual? thanks, leslie

  3. Hi, Leslie,

    I'm delighted you wrote. I love to read comments from readers.

    I've never asked Edna for the recipe (as I wouldn't make it), but it just seemed that all the elements were in balance with a really fresh feel to it. Not fresh as in age, but fresh in flavor. I know she buys and grinds her own fish. She even makes the absolute best cookie dough hamantashn (for Purim - we just had a batch from her!) which are not traditional in the Persian community.

    Back to the gefilte fish. Persian cooks are masters at balancing flavors - our traditional foods are complex and rich in flavor and Edna is one of the supreme masters.

    I'll ask her about her recipe. I know it was her mother's, learned from her Eastern European neighbors when they came to Israel in the 1950s, when Edna was a very young child. Her mother was a master cook as well, so I've heard from all senior family members, and an invitation to her home for a meal was never refused by anyone!

    Schelly, who is now hungry!