01 April 2009

Food: More south-of-the-border Passover fusion

Gefilte fish in Veracruz sauce (peppers, olives, capers)? Gribenes with a side of guacamole? Stews served with salsa?

It's all in Joan Nathan's great article in the New York Times about cooking Passover favorites with a Mexican twist by Mexico City native Patricia Jinich.

Jinich teaches regional cooking at Washington DC's Mexican Cultural Institute, and recently showed a large group of women at the Lubavitch Center how to cook for Passover.

Jinich grew up in Mexico, one of 40,000 to 50,000 Jews, most of them descendants of Eastern European immigrants.

(The first Jews came to Mexico from Spain during the Inquisition. “To this day,” Ms. Jinich said, “there are women in regions of Mexico who light candles on Friday night in secret.”)

Her father’s parents escaped from pogroms in Poland at the turn of the 20th century, moving to Mexico City’s Polanco neighborhood, named for the Polish Jews who had settled there. Her mother’s parents fled Austria and Slovenia in the 1930s.

They, and their food, blended in.

Passover and holiday cooking were a mix of European and Mexican when Ms. Jinich was growing up: chicken soup with matzo balls, mushrooms and jalapeƱos; meat stews with salsa on the side; Austrian tortes made with Mexican vanilla and chocolate; and a Passover flourless chocolate pecan torte, served with berries sweetened with shaved piloncillo, raw Mexican brown sugar, and flavored with lime juice.

She comes from a cooking family: sister Alisa Romano is a pastry chef near Miami; sister Karen Drijanski is a Vancouver caterer; while sister Sharon Drijanski in Miami has written vegetarian cookbooks.

Recipes include chicken with apricot, tamarind and chipotle sauce, spinach salad with mushrooms and hibiscus flower vinaigrette, Nana Jose's chocolate pecan cake (garnished with brown piloncillo sugar, strawberries, blackberries, lime juice and whipped cream if desired).

There's even a recipe for caramelized almonds, which is what Persian Jews call badam sukhte (burned almonds), also made by the Syrian Jewish community. Reminds me that I have to add it to my to-do list. I make it every year.

Jinich's recipe calls for maple syrup or brown sugar; we just use white sugar, but the maple syrup sounds great!

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