Save the self-pity, choices abound for Passover meals


For the many who feel overwhelmed by Passover because of the demands of cooking without leaven, a word or two: That should not be an obstacle.

After all, on this most celebrated of Jewish holidays, we are allowed to eat fish, meat, poultry, eggs, nuts, fruits, most vegetables and fresh herbs.

All of the recipes featured here  are nutritious, attractive, flavorful and easy to prepare. They emphasize fresh, seasonal ingredients, fewer complicated techniques, and stylish, elegant dishes. What more would you want for Passover?

The seder meals, when we recount the Exodus story, are the most important events of the holiday.  Most people, like myself, favor their own traditional menu. Each year I repeat the seder menu as a way to hold on to cherished family traditions.

The recipes are from the new cookbook “Helen Nash's New Kosher Cuisine” (Overlook Press).

BEET SOUP
With their magnificent color, delicious flavor and vitamin richness, beets are one of my favorite vegetables. In the summer I serve this soup at room temperature; in the winter I like it hot.

Ingredients:
1 1/4 pounds (570 g) beets, plus 1 small beet for garnish
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 McIntosh apple, peeled and sliced
4 1/2 cups (1.08 liters) vegetable broth
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
Kosher salt 
Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
Peel and slice the beets (see note below). Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion, garlic and apple, and saute for 5 minutes. Add the beets and broth. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and cook, covered, for about 30 minutes, until the beets are tender. Cool a little.

While the soup is cooking, wrap the reserved beet tightly in foil. Bake in a toaster oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 Celsius) for 30 minutes, or until just tender when pierced with the tip of a paring knife. Cool, slip off the skin, and grate.

Puree the soup in a blender until very smooth. Season to taste with the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper.

To serve, garnish with the grated beet; makes 6 servings.

Note: I always wear thin plastic gloves when I work with beets, as this avoids staining my fingers with beet juice, which can be hard to remove.

CHICKEN SALAD WITH RADICCHIO AND PINE NUTS
This is a colorful and delicious salad with an interesting mixture of textures and tastes. The currants and pine nuts add an unusual Mediterranean piquancy.

Ingredients: 
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces/170 g each)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for greasing the chicken
Kosher salt 
Freshly ground black pepper
1 head radicchio, shredded
1 to 2 bunches arugula, leaves torn if they are large
1/2 cup (20 g) loosely packed flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Preparation:

Place the onion slices in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Place in a large serving bowl.

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and grease with oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Place each chicken breast in the center of a piece of cling wrap and wrap it so that it is completely covered. Place the packages in a steamer, cover and steam over high heat for about 9 minutes. (The inside of the chicken should still be pale pink.) Turn off the heat and let stand for 1 minute.

Remove the chicken and cool, still wrapped. When cool, unwrap the chicken and cut it on the diagonal into thin strips. Place in the bowl with the onions; makes 6 servings.

SWEET AND SOUR DRESSING
Ingredients:
1/3 cup (80 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (70 g) pine nuts 
1/2 cup (115 g) raisins or currants
2 tablespoons Marsala wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preparation:
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the pine nuts and raisins and saute over low heat until the pine nuts are lightly golden. Remove from the heat and add the Marsala and vinegar.
Add the radicchio, arugula, and parsley to the chicken and onions; toss with the dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

MARINATED SALMON
This is a variation on the traditional pickled salmon sold in every Jewish delicatessen. The difference: The salmon is more delicate and less vinegary, and has a richer color. It makes a perfect Sabbath luncheon dish.

Ingredients:
6 skinless center-cut salmon fillets (about 6 ounces/170 g each)
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil for greasing the pan
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 200 F (95 C). Grease a glass or enamel-lined baking pan that can hold the fillets in a single layer.

Pat the fillets dry with paper towels and season them lightly on both sides with salt and pepper. Place them in the dish and bake, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until cooked to your taste.

Remove the baking pan from the oven, cover with foil, and let cool completely. (The fish will continue cooking outside of the oven.)

MARINADE 
Ingredients:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons rice vinegar (for Passover, replace with white wine vinegar)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced (see note below)
15 dill sprigs, snipped finely with scissors, plus 2 sprigs, snipped, for garnish

Preparation: 
In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar and salt. Add pepper to taste. Pour the marinade over the salmon, add the onion and sprinkle with the 15 snipped sprigs of dill.
Cover the dish with wax paper, then foil and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days without turning.

To serve: Bring the salmon to room temperature. Place on individual plates along with some of the marinade and onions. Garnish with the fresh snipped dill; makes 6 servings.

Note: I use a mandoline to slice the onion, as it makes the cutting easier.

CHICKEN WITH POTATOES AND OLIVES
I am always pleased to come up with a dish that is a meal in itself — one that combines either chicken or meat with vegetables. This is one of my favorites, and because it is so easy to make, I often serve it at Passover. I bake it in an attractive casserole, so it can go directly from the oven to the table.

Ingredients:
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
9 garlic cloves
Kosher salt 
1/4 cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
Leaves from 10 thyme sprigs
Freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces/170 g each)
5 plum tomatoes
1 pound (450 g) Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, quartered
1/2 cup (67 g) pitted black olives, quartered

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 450 F (230 C). With 1 tablespoon of the oil, grease a glass, ceramic or enamel-lined baking pan that can hold all the vegetables in a single layer.

Coarsely chop 4 of the garlic cloves on a cutting board. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and, using a knife, crush them into a paste. Place the paste in a small bowl and combine it with the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the oil, half of the thyme leaves and pepper to taste.

Pat dry the chicken breasts with paper towels and season lightly on both sides with salt and pepper. Coat the chicken with the mixture and set aside.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water; bring the water back to a boil and drain. Core the tomatoes and slip off the skin. Cut the tomatoes in half widthwise and squeeze gently to remove the seeds. (Some seeds will remain.) Cut the tomatoes in quarters.

Thickly slice the remaining 5 garlic cloves and spread them in the prepared baking pan along with the tomatoes, potatoes, olives, the rest of the thyme leaves, and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast the vegetables, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until almost tender.

Place the chicken breasts on top of the vegetables and bake, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Turn them over, spoon on some pan juices and bake for another 5 minutes, or until the chicken is slightly pink on the inside. Cover with foil for 1 minute; makes 4 servings.

STIR-FRIED SPINACH
This is a delicious recipe that captures the very essence of spinach. Now that prewashed spinach is available in almost every supermarket, you can prepare this dish in minutes.

Ingredients:
20 ounces (570 g) prewashed spinach
1 1/2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
Break the stems off the spinach leaves and discard.

Roast the pine nuts in a toaster oven on the lowest setting for 1 or 2 minutes, until they are golden. (Watch them carefully, as they burn quickly.)

Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Add the oil. Add the spinach and stir quickly until it is just wilted, no more than a minute. Season with salt and pepper. With a slotted spoon, transfer the spinach to a serving dish. Sprinkle the pine nuts on top; makes 6 servings.

CHOCOLATE MERINGUE SQUARES
These meringue squares are like cookies, but they are light, chocolaty and surprisingly low in calories. I often serve them at Passover.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon (15 g) unsalted margarine for greasing the pan
1/2 pound (225 g) blanched almonds
6 ounces (170 g) good-quality imported semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
8 large egg whites (see notes)
1 cup (200 g) sugar

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C). Line a 9-by-13-by-2-inch (23-by-33-by-5 cm) baking pan with wax paper and grease the paper with the margarine.

Chop the almonds in a food processor, in two batches, until medium-fine. Transfer to a bowl. Chop the chocolate in the processor until fine, and combine with the almonds.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Using the balloon whisk attachment, beat at high speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until stiff.

With a large rubber spatula, gently fold the chocolate-almond mixture into the egg whites, making a motion like a figure 8 with the spatula. Do not overmix.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out 
almost dry.

Cool on a wire rack. Invert onto a cutting board and peel off the paper. Cut into 1 1/2-inch (4 cm) squares; makes 3 1/2 dozen squares.

Notes: It is easier to separate the eggs straight from the refrigerator, when they are cold. Make sure the whites have come to room temperature before beating.

To freeze the squares, place them side by side in an air-tight plastic container, with  wax paper between the layers.

Karaite-style Passover recipes


KARAITE MATZAH (From Amy Gazzar)

NOTE: To make sure that dough does not rise, matzah should be put in the oven within 10 minutes of adding water.

2 cups unbleached flour
1/3 cup warm vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seed

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Mix all ingredients together until dough is soft but not sticky.

Spread on a cookie sheet and cut into squares. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown.


KARAITE MATZAH USING MATZAH CAKE MEAL (From Remy Pessah)

NOTE: To make sure that dough does not rise, matzah should be put in the oven within 10 minutes of adding water.

3 cups (kosher for Passover) matzah cake meal
3/4 cup oil
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400 F.

Mix all the ingredients together and knead dough until soft but not sticky. Spread on 2 cookie sheets, 12 by 17 inches. Cut dough into 2-by-2-inch squares. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden.


PASSOVER ALMOND COOKIES (LOZETTO)

4 egg whites
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 pound almond powder
Whole almonds (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Beat the egg whites until foamy, add sugar gradually, gently fold in almond powder, and mix with spatula.

Drop by heaping teaspoonsful onto prepared cookie sheet. Top each cookie with a whole almond.

Bake on middle rack for 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. Cool

10 minutes and carefully remove from sheets with spatula.


MAROR

1 fresh anise, chopped
1 endive, chopped
1 red lettuce, chopped
1 romaine lettuce,  chopped
1 curly lettuce,  chopped
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch dill weed
2 tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 pickled lemons, diced
1 teaspoon salt

Combine the above ingredients and serve on homemade matzah during the Passover Seder.


ALMOND MERINGUE

5 egg whites
1 cup sugar
4 cups slivered toasted almonds

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Mix egg whites with sugar; add almonds. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Place parchment paper on a cookie sheet and spray with cooking spray.

Scoop out 1 teaspoon at a time, and place the scoops on the prepared cookie sheet, spacing scoops about 1 inch apart.

Bake for 15 minutes.


ORANGE MARMALADE

4 large seedless oranges
2 lemons
8 cups water
8 cups sugar

Cut the oranges and lemons in half crosswise, then into very thin half-moon slices. (If you have a mandoline, this will be quite fast.) Discard any seeds. Place the sliced fruit and their juices into a stainless steel pot. Add water and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring often. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Cover and allow to stand overnight at room temperature.

The next day, bring the mixture back to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, for about 2 hours. Turn the heat up to medium and boil gently, stirring often, for another 30 minutes. Skim off any foam that forms on the top. Cook the marmalade until it reaches 220 degrees F on a candy thermometer. If you want to be doubly sure it’s ready, place a small amount on a plate and refrigerate it until it’s cool but not cold. If it’s firm — neither runny nor too hard — it’s done. It will be a golden orange color. (If the marmalade is runny, continue cooking it;  if it’s too hard, add more water.)

Pour the marmalade into clean, hot Mason jars; wipe the rims thoroughly with a clean damp paper towel, and seal with the lids according to the package directions. Store in the pantry for up to a year.

Recipes to please the crowd and de-stress the chef


Passover may be the mother of all kitchen yontifs — but stay cool, and don’t stress. Here are some of my favorite recipes from last Passover that you will love this Passover and all year.

Last year, 99 percent of what I made for Passover wasn’t actually Passover recipes. Of course they were kosher for Passover, but they didn’t require any major Passover ingredient tweaks. These recipes were developed with Passover in mind and have become staples in my year-round repertoire because they were super easy and got the most oohs and aahs.

SALMON CAKES WITH TROPICAL FRUIT SALSA

Croquettes are cute and elegant for your starter course. They’re also wonderfully light and refreshing. The tropical salsa is a combination of fresh pineapple, mango, red onion, jalapeno, cilantro and lime juice — the perfect complement to the richness of the salmon. The balance of sweet and savory flavors instantly pleases the palate. This is a starter with zing!

SALMON CAKES:

1 (2-pound) side of salmon, skin on
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup diced red onion
2 tablespoons matzah meal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil


SALSA:

1 cup diced pineapple
1/2 cup diced mango
1/2 cup diced red onion
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped Juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

To prepare salmon cakes, preheat oven to 350 F.

On a lightly greased large baking sheet, bake salmon skin side down for 25 to 30 minutes or until cooked all the way through. Let cool completely.

Once salmon is cooled, gently flake away from the skin and break into large chunks. Place in a large bowl. Combine with eggs, red onion, matzah meal, salt and pepper. Stir to mix well.

Scoop about 1/3 cup at a time into your hands and form into a round patty about 1/4 inch thick. Place on a large plate or cookie sheet pan and repeat with remaining mixture until you have formed 10 cakes. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, for salsa, in a medium bowl combine pineapple, mango, red onion, cilantro, jalapeno, lime juice and salt. Mix well and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry a few cakes at a time for about 5 to 8 minutes per side or until golden brown and crispy. Drain on a paper-towel-lined plate while frying remaining cakes.

To serve, top each cake with a few tablespoons of salsa.

Makes 10 salmon cakes.

ZUCCHINI AND RED BELL PEPPER SAUTE

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 medium zucchini, sliced into ribbons using a vegetable peeler
4 cloves garlic, minced

4 roasted red bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add zucchini ribbons and saute a few minutes until slightly softened. Add garlic and saute 3 minutes more. Add roasted bell peppers and saute a few minutes more, until heated through.

Stir in paprika and salt.

Makes 8 servings.

POMEGRANATE BRAISED BRISKET

1 (4-pound) first cut beef brisket
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions, peeled and cut into eighths

6 cloves garlic, smashed
2 cups pomegranate juice
2 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons honey
3 bay leaves

1 small bunch fresh thyme

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Season brisket with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large roasting pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sear brisket about 4 minutes per side or until browned. Remove and set aside.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to roasting pan; saute onions and garlic for 5 minutes over medium-low heat until softened. Return brisket to pan and add pomegranate juice, chicken broth, honey, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Transfer to preheated oven and roast for 2 hours.

Turn brisket over and continue roasting for 1 to 1  1/2 more hours or until tender. Let brisket rest for 10 minutes before thinly slicing against the grain. Strain liquid and serve on the side.

Makes 8 servings.

Position yourself for Passover’s traditions


After many years of reciting the Passover story around our dining room table, we made a major change. My family decided to re-create the seders held long ago. According to the haggadah, when people live in freedom, they can eat in a reclining or relaxed manner.

We asked our guests to bring pillows or cushions to lean against as we celebrated Passover with a seder on our living room floor, which began with the symbolic foods of the holiday displayed on the seder plate.

During the first part of the evening, we eat the required foods of Passover that families have eaten for generations. Charoset is one of the few dishes that may require a recipe. A mixture of fruits, wine, nuts and spices, it represents the mortar our ancestors made while laboring as slaves in Egypt. It is prepared differently in Jewish communities all over the world depending on the ingredients available. We prepare several kinds for our seder, and one that we serve is made from a Yemenite recipe, a combination of dates, dried figs, sesame seeds, ginger, wine and a little matzah meal. Included is fresh grated horseradish, a bitter herb that is eaten with charoset and matzah.

A roasted egg, which many families dip in coarse salt, is usually served, but our family’s custom is to prepare a cold, salted, chopped egg soup instead. We eat spring onions or parsley that are dipped in saltwater, as well as boiled small new potatoes that symbolize the coming of spring. Also on the seder plate is the roasted lamb shank, representing the Pascal lamb, but vegetarians may substitute a roasted beet. 

Reclining on cushions and pillows while reading from the haggadah was a wonderful experience, but serving food on the living room floor – especially matzah ball soup – would be difficult. After we finished recounting the Jewish people’s liberation from Egypt, we would move to the dining room table for a traditional Passover dinner.

We begin seder dinner with homemade gefilte fish, followed by chicken soup with matzah balls. The soup is prepared with whole chickens that are tied and put in the pot with a variety of vegetables. When the soup is done, the chickens are taken out and roasted in a tomato sauce to be served for the seder dinner. When cold, it can be made into a delicious chicken salad eaten for lunch or dinner during the remaining days of Passover.

The main course is served buffet style; everyone helps themselves to platters of roasted lamb shanks, sliced turkey with vegetable stuffing and candied sweet potatoes.

After dinner, Passover desserts include sponge cakes, cookies and chocolate-covered fruit. For a special treat this year, I am adding a Chocolate Marble Cake With Chocolate Glaze. The rich flavors of cocoa, strong coffee and chocolate make this cake extra-special. Grape Truffles are an easy addition — seedless grapes dipped in chocolate and then coated with cocoa powder are a surprise when they burst with flavor in your mouth.

Wine is an important part of the seder, and sweet concord grape wine has always been synonymous with Passover. But today, dry Passover wines are gaining in popularity, and the availability and varietals are remarkable. They are available from California, New York, France, Italy, Chile and Israel. At our seder, we provide both sweet and dry wine — as well as grape juice — to satisfy everyone’s taste. 

In recent years, our seders have moved back to the dining room. But as friends and family gather around our table for Passover, they recall with fondness how we reclined on the floor to read the haggadah. I’ve considered moving the seder back to the living room, but on one condition: We keep dinner in the dining room.


YEMENITE CHAROSET

1 cup pitted, chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped dried figs
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch coriander
1 small red chili pepper, seeded and minced, or pinch of cayenne 
2 tablespoons matzah meal
1/3 cup sweet Passover wine
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
 
Blend the dates, figs, ginger, coriander, chili pepper, matzah meal and wine in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the knife blade. Mix in sesame seeds and transfer to a glass bowl. Roll into 1-inch balls or serve in a bowl.

Dessert variation: Dip charoset balls into melted chocolate and place on wax paper-lined baking sheet.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups or 12 balls.


GRANDMA GENE’S GEFILTE FISH

Buy whole whitefish. Have it boned, and wrap the bones, heads and skin separately for the Fish Broth. If you’re lucky, you might find roe inside the fish, which you can poach with the fish balls.

Fish Broth (recipe follows)
3 1/2 pounds filleted whitefish
2 yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 small carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 small celery stalks, sliced
2 eggs
1/4 to 1/3 cup matzah meal
1/4 to 1/3 cup cold water
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Lettuce leaves, sliced cucumber, sliced beets and horseradish sauce

Prepare the Fish Broth and keep warm.

Grind the whitefish with the onions, carrots and celery in a food grinder. Put through the grinder again. Place the ground mixture in a large mixing bowl and blend with the eggs and matzah meal. Transfer the mixture to a large wooden chopping bowl and, using a hand chopper, chop the fish mixture, adding the water gradually with 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt and 1 teaspoon pepper as you chop. (Mixture should be soft and light to the touch.) Wet your hands with additional cold water and shape the fish mixture into oval balls. Bring the Fish Broth to a boil over high heat, and place the fish balls in the broth. Cover, reduce the heat to medium high, and cook for 1 hour, or until fish is tender; do not overcook. Cool, transfer to a shallow glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap and foil, and refrigerate.

To serve, arrange a lettuce leaf on each plate; top with fish and garnish with sliced cucumber and beets. Serve with horseradish sauce. 

Makes 24 small fish balls.


FISH BROTH

1 1/2 yellow onions, coarsely diced (reserve peels)
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sliced celery tops
1 1/2 pounds fish bones, heads and skin from filleted white fish (wrap in cheese cloth)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cups cold water

Place the onions, onion peels, carrot, celery tops, wrapped fish bones, heads and skin, and salt and pepper in a large pot. Add water to cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1 hour, adding water if needed. When the broth is very flavorful, strain out the fish bones and vegetables and discard. Keep the broth warm.

Makes about 4 cups.

First-ever translation of Yiddish cookbook yields Old World treasures, New World advice


When a rare volume of a 1914 cookbook written in Yiddish for American Jewish housewives came into the hands of Bracha Weingrod, the once popular but forgotten book began its long journey from dusty oblivion to celebrated translation.

The thick, worn copy of “Dos Familien Kokh-Bookh,” now newly translated by Weingrod as “The Yiddish Family Cookbook,” is the only Yiddish cookbook on the market.

It came to Weingrod more than 35 years ago, soon after the native Canadian immigrated to Israel. A friend, a forager of old books, had found it on the bottom shelf of a used bookstore in New York and had brought it for her as a housewarming gift in Jerusalem.

Wingrod was instantly smitten.

“It was like going back to my roots. I did not have to go Russia to the small village where my mother was from,” Weingrod, a retired teacher, told JTA. “I just opened the book and it was somehow there.”

But it was as much a cookbook with Old World tips, like how to stuff a goose (“place it between your legs and open its mouth, putting in as many dumplings as possible”), as it was a practical guide for Jewish women finding their way in the New World with foods such as cherry pie, ice cream and sandwiches transliterated and thoughtfully decoded by the author, H. Braun.

There is virtually nothing known about Braun aside from the authoritative but neighborly tone she strikes as she sets out to educate a generation of Jewish immigrant women who avidly read her cookbook, sailing it through four printings, the last in 1928.

She tried to coax women to liberate themselves from the ways of heavy shtetl cooking and make more careful, considered dishes, introducing them also to French and Italian cuisine modified for a kosher kitchen, like mock turtle soup.

A search by Weingrod about Braun in the U.S. Library of Congress quickly went cold.

But through the translation, Weingrod hopes a new generation will be able to tap into Braun’s knowledge. That includes her boundless advice on nutrition, special focus on digestive issues (“no herring in the summer”) and tips for being a practical, frugal shopper, among them how to select fresh fish.

Included in her suggestions are how to substitute schmaltz for olive oil and lemon juice for salt.

“This book is actually a very practical guide for today’s young people, whether they are part of the new expanding religious communities or back-to-basic green or organic health seekers because all they had were basics,” Weingrod said. “This book provides innovative ideas for preserving and creating foods using long-lasting core ingredients often without need for refrigeration.”

Weingrod has translated some 200 of the original 693 recipes in the book. She said she did her best to preserve the cadence of tone of the original Yiddish.

In the Tel Aviv building that is home to the Organization of Yiddish Writers in Israel, several dozen people recently came to hear Weingrod describe the cookbook and the process of translating it. She began the project after retiring, although the idea for a translation had been in her head for years.

“The kitchen was their life,” she said of the immigrant women for whom the book was written. “That is where they produced, that’s where they created. That is where memory is.”

Joan Nathan, the doyenne of Jewish cooking and a proponent of the new translation, wrote in a blurb, “It is wonderful to have this translation available to those who do not speak Yiddish. ‘Dos Familien Kokh-Bookh’ in English is a fantastic entry to the canon of Jewish cookbooks.”

Hasia Diner, a professor of Jewish history at New York University who has written about the intersection of immigrant women to the United States and food, wrote the translation’s introduction.

“Through the exquisite details included in the recipes, the author introduced Jewish cooks to American standards of nutrition and health,” Diner wrote. “The recipes themselves as well as the commentary introducing each chapter explicitly point out the differences in lifestyle and aspirations between the intended readers’ European past and their American present.”

In their lives in Europe, Braun reminds her readers, food could be scarce, but in America, where food—and food choices—were abundant, she cautions against rich diets and repeatedly returns to the subject of being kind to the “mogen”—the stomach.

Writing about sauces for meat, for example, Braun warns, “It is the sauce that plays a great role in giving many foods their taste, but if not prepared correctly the stomach will protest.” She also mentions coconut butter as a substitute for butter for making such sauces.

In a chapter titled “Caring for a Sick One,” she counsels how to best feed the ill, admonishing, “In no part of the kitchen is there as much art and devoted care as in cooking for a sick one. Everything must be tasty, healthy, and fresh,” she writes. “People who don’t know how to cook for a sick one can very easily make them even sicker.”

Braun suggests serving a variety of food from soups to raw beef sandwiches and always with a white napkin, polished cutlery and “the nicest plates.”

In a chapter on greens, she asserts that no meal is complete without a vegetable, describing how vegetables grown on the ground should be prepared in boiling water but those that grow inside the earth (with the exception of potatoes) should be prepared in cold water.

In her sandwich chapter, Braun describes the “great role” that food plays for Americans where bringing lunch in a pail is not acceptable as it was in the Old Country. She even provides a recipe for making homemade peanut butter, describing it as delicious and cheap.

Among her many recipes are roasted goose, puff pastry, pickled watermelon rind and cornbread. Of course, there are also Jewish staples like honey cake and lokshen kugel (noodle pudding).

In an introduction for her readers that presages what many in the new food movement are saying today, Braun writes, “It is true: we live not to eat but eat to live. It is therefore also true that the kind of food we eat determines the kind of life we lead.”

A recipe from “The Yiddish Family Cookbook” for Honey Cake:

Sieve a quart of honey into a bowl. Here one must note that our Jewish housewives are often cheated in America regarding honey. Instead of honey made by bees, they are given imitation molasses. And so we caution that one must have clean, pure, natural bee’s honey. This can always be found and purchased through better grocery stores.

So, take one quart of clear honey, and add 1/2 pint of sugar and the same amount of melted butter. Dissolve a teaspoon of soda in a 1/2 cup of warm water, grate in half a nutmeg, add a full teaspoon of ginger and sifted flour and mix all together. We do not give the exact measurement of flour because the housewife has to know that this depends on the type of flour. Often the flour is too dry and sometimes it is too fresh. Therefore she must know that just enough flour is needed to make a dough that can be rolled out. The dough should be cut up in thin pieces, like cakes, put on a greased pan, and baked in a hot oven.

Thinking Outside the Matzah Ball Box


When the Israelites rushed out of Egypt, Pharaoh’s men on their heels, they hurriedly bundled their belongings, food included, to carry as much as they could on their backs and donkeys. Seeking to nourish themselves throughout their desert journey to the Promised Land, they rolled together unleavened bread crumbs, eggs and oil to create a round, nutritious finger food. They heated these in water jugs, along with chicken bone scraps, to preserve them and give them flavor. And that’s how matzah ball soup was born.

At least that’s how the matzah ball legend should read. The round dumpling traditionally made of matzah meal, eggs, and some kind of fat is so entrenched in Jewish tradition that its history seems to date back to the Torah itself. The icon of Jewish pop culture, the staple of deli menus, the culinary gem of bubbies worldwide, matzah ball soup is the unofficial symbol of Jewish cuisine, the soup of the one God.

But like many dishes generally regarded as “Jewish foods,” like gefilte fish and cholent, matzah ball soup originated in Eastern Europe. The Yiddish word for matzah balls, “knaidelach,” comes from the German word for dumpling, “knödel.” The matzah ball may very well have been the vanguard Jewish food of its time, an adaptation of the gentile dumpling suited to Passover restrictions and pantries, invented by the Martha Stewart of the shtetl, her (or his?) name now lost in obscurity.

Since then few Jewish chefs, professional and amateur, have dared to tamper with the matzah ball. In that sense, the matzah ball is the “ultra-Orthodox” Jewish food. The most popular recipe for many home cooks today may very well be the one on the matzah meal box. But with the growing sophistication and cross-fertilization of many types of cuisines, that’s changing.

“I think traditional cooks are breaking out; they’re more sophisticated,” said Adeena Sussman, a recipe developer, food writer and cooking instructor based in New York. “Everyone is traveling more and interested in ethnic cuisine. There are a lot of kosher Web sites where you can get kosher gourmet products. Actually, I think Jews who keep Passover strictly are those who are seeking the most innovative ideas because they are those who follow the laws for eight days and are trying to keep their families well-fed and interested for eight days.”

One of the most popular maverick matzah ball soup recipes has been Susie Fishbein’s tri-color matzah ball soup, as featured years ago in her popular “Kosher by Design Entertains” cookbook (Mesorah Publications, 2005) and on “The Today Show” with Katie Couric. The recipe calls for a green maztah ball made with pureed spinach, a yellow matzah ball made with turmeric and a red matzah ball made with tomato paste. 

“It was a funky spin on something traditional, and that’s what I do,” said Fishbein from her home in New Jersey. She sought a matzah ball soup that wasn’t only flavorful, but visually appealing and healthful, especially for the children. “I’ve had mothers come up to me in shul and say ‘I only make the green ones, and they’re called ‘Shrek matzah balls,’ and my boys love them.’”

Matzah balls are like a “blank canvas,” ripe with possibilities for adding flavor and color. Last year Sussman developed a “dill-infused chicken soup with herbed matzah ball gnocchi” recipe featuring matzah balls shaped like the Italian potato dumpling and rolled with spinach, parsley and dill. Green herbs are intuitive additives, because they often compliment the flavor of the chicken soup and also reflect the spirit of spring. Sussman recommends ground chicken, ground beef and horseradish as other nontraditional additives.

But not every ingredient works. “There were definitely things that were not winners,” said Fishbein, recalling her own experimentation. “Blueberry matzah balls are hideous. Carrot matzah balls covered with carrot juice were hideous.”

Like the Torah, matzah balls are open to a variety of interpretations and subject to intense debate. Surprisingly, some of Southern California’s top chefs believe the matzah ball is sacred. 

“I don’t want to recreate the matzah ball; I think it tastes fine how it is, as long as it has a light texture,” said Suzanne Tracht, executive chef at LA’s Jar chophouse on Beverly Boulevard. “They shouldn’t be too hard. You shouldn’t use them for weapons….The most important part of the matzah ball, since it’s basically a dumpling, is the broth — that’s where it comes out.”

Every year, Tracht holds a Passover seder at her restaurant, and this year she’s making a consommé with lemongrass, galangal and ginger. “We make it so intense that we clarify the broth, as well, so that it has a more rich and intense flavor.”

Todd Aarons, executive chef at the gourmet kosher restaurant Tierra Sur at the Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard puts his “stock” in the broth, as well. “I’m a purist. I would play around with the broth first, and I’d probably keep the matzah ball intact.” For his own matzah ball soup, Aarons likes to use duck and chicken bones for a deeper flavor. “When I eat it, though, it doesn’t remind me of my mom’s, which is okay.”

He became convinced of the powerful absorption properties of the matzah ball after his Yemenite wife served regular matzah balls with her Yemenite soup, traditionally made with chicken, beef and exotic herbs, including hawaij, a Yemenite spice mix consisting of cumin, coriander, pepper, cardamom, cloves and turmeric. He likens matzah balls to bread used for dipping. “Every culture has a chicken soup. You can explore all different kinds of chicken soup and throw a matzah ball in, and it would work.”

In fact, the matzah ball is the only Ashkenazi food that has been warmly embraced by Sephardic traditions, especially in Israel. “Sephardic cooking is much more popular in Israel now than Ashkenazi cooking — Israel is a warm country, the ingredients are more suitable for Middle Eastern food,” said Janna Gur, editor-in-chief of Israel’s leading gastronomic magazine, Al HaShulchan, and author of “The Book of New Israeli Food” (Schocken, 2008). “Many recipes make the crossover to Ashkenazi households, but not vice versa, except for matzah ball soup.”

Another (chicken or beef?) bone of contention among chefs and cooks relates to texture: dense or light and fluffy?

Cookbook author and food writer Judy Zeidler, also a bubbe of seven, prefers fluffy matzah balls, hands down. “When I got married, my mother-in-law always made sinkers — matzah balls so hard they sink to the bottom of the pot. I grew up with my mother’s matzah balls. Like clouds, they floated to the top of the soup. My husband thought they were ridiculous, but he thought they were so much easier to eat and so much more flavorful.”

To make matzah balls as fluffy as her mother’s, she recommends separating the yolk and whites and then folding the yolk and matzah meal into egg whites beaten into soft peaks. Seltzer is recommended instead of water to increase fluffiness, and chilling matzah balls plays an important part in determining texture.

“Chilling will make it much easier to roll so you can manipulate them,” said Fishbein. “If you can roll them right at the outset you have a lot of matzah meal in them, and they probably won’t be very fluffy.”

Sussman is the only one interviewed for this article who prefers dense matzah balls, or, as she likes to call them, “matzah balls al dente”, an Italian term to describe pasta that is firm but not overcooked.

But home cooks shouldn’t feel discouraged if they can’t think out of the matzah meal box. “My mother used to make matzah balls from scratch,” said Sussman, “but one year we actually tried the mix and found that it worked quite well and started making them from the mix, not because we couldn’t make it from scratch, but because we liked them.”

RECIPE: Judy’s Passover Roasted Chicken


Judy’s Passover Roasted Chickens
(Click here for the full article)

3 tablespoons safflower or olive oil

2 onions, thinly sliced

2 carrots, thinly sliced

2 stalks celery, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, sliced

2 16-ounce cans of tomatoes (diced or chopped)

2 cups dry white or red wine

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 chickens from the soup, whole or cut in pieces

6 sprigs fresh rosemary

In a large roaster, heat oil and sauté onions, carrots, celery and garlic until soft. Add tomatoes with juice and wine and bring to a boil. Add salt and pepper.

Arrange boiled chickens in the sauce, baste and top with sprigs of rosemary. Cover and bake in the oven until ready to serve and the sauce thickens. Transfer to a large serving platter and let guests help themselves.

Makes 24 servings.

RECIPE: Passover Baked Vegetable Stuffing


Passover Baked Vegetable Stuffing
(Click here for the full article)

1/4 cup olive oil

3 onions, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

4 ribs celery, finely chopped

1 bunch carrots, peeled and grated

1 parsnip, peeled and grated

2 large zucchini, unpeeled and grated

1/2 cup minced parsley

1/2 cup plumped raisins, dried cranberries or apricots (in sweet wine)

2 tablespoons matzah meal

2 tablespoons matzah cake meal

2 tablespoons Passover potato starch

1/4 to 2 cups Passover red wine

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a large, heavy skillet heat the oil and sauté onions and garlic until transparent. Add celery, carrots, parsnip, zucchini and toss and sauté for five minutes until vegetables soften. Add parsley, raisins and mix thoroughly. Simmer five minutes.

Blend in matzah meal, matzah cake meal, Passover potato starch, add wine and mix well. Add additional dry ingredients, a tablespoon at a time, until stuffing is a soft texture and not dry. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Brush a baking dish with oil and spoon in stuffing. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Makes 12 servings.

 

RECIPE: Yemenite Charoset/Charoset Truffles


Yemenite Charoset/Charoset Truffles
(Click here for the full article)

1 cup pitted, chopped dates

1/2 cup chopped dried figs

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Pinch of coriander

1 small red chili pepper, seeded and minced,

or pinch of cayenne

2 tablespoons matzah meal

1/3 cup sweet Passover wine

3 tablespoons sesame seeds

2 cups melted semisweet chocolate

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the knife blade, blend the dates, figs, ginger, coriander, chili pepper, matzah meal and wine. Mix in sesame seeds and transfer to a glass bowl. Roll into one-inch balls or serve in a bowl.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups or 12 balls.

PASSOVER: Don’t Be a Slave to Tradition


When I was growing up, I never had to ask my mother what she would be serving at the seder. It was essentially the same menu every year: dishes like homemade chopped liver, chicken soup with matzah balls, turkey with gravy, mom’s special “Shabbos potatoes” (first boiled then roasted with seasonings) and matzah farfel with mushrooms. All tasty foods, of course, but the predictability was not that exciting, to put it mildly, in deference to my mother, who surely worked hard.

Why is this night the same as every other seder night? I’d ask. “Because that’s what my mother made,” she’d reply.

As she talked about the seders she’d had with her parents and grandparents, her face glowed, as if they were there preparing the seder with her. She even used my grandmother’s cooking methods: She chopped the liver by hand, in a large wooden bowl, using a hockmesser — a sort of cleaver with a rounded blade. She cut up fresh horseradish for maror, instead of using milder romaine lettuce.

Here was my dilemma when I came of age and began making my own seders: Should I maintain tradition even though I didn’t have the same associations with these foods that my mother did? Since Passover celebrates freedom (another traditional name for the holiday is Zman Cheiruteinu, or The Time of Our Freedom), I wanted to express my freedom by making foods of my own choosing, rather than feeling bound by a menu that was “traditional” only due to its roots in Eastern European cuisine.

Over the years I’ve served at some nontraditional dishes at seders, including beanless chili, gazpacho, short ribs and bruschetta served on small pieces of matzah instead of the traditional toast. But my favorite dishes are those that tap back into the deep roots of this holiday. They allow me to create new traditions via foods that took on Passover-related significance.

Another name for the holiday is chag ha’aviv, or the spring holiday. So I focus on foods that are seasonal, whose flavors evoke the freshness of spring. Other dishes aim at connecting with the many ceremonies associated with Passover.

Ceviche is a fish dish of Peruvian origin, now served widely across South America. The fish is marinated in lime or lemon juice, with the citric acid actually cooking the fish without the use of heat. In this version, the two different kinds of fish present a nice mix of color and texture, while the vegetables also add color and flavor. The tangy freshness of this blend awakens the palate, as spring weather does to the body.

While Sephardim have it a bit easier on Passover, Ashkenazim have basically two starches to choose from: potatoes and matzah. Nearly every other starch falls under the category of kitniot, which are literally legumes, but include rice and corn, and are forbidden to Eastern European Jews.

There is, however, another choice that offers variety, along with taste and healthfulness. Quinoa. The grain was never classified as kitniot because it was unknown in Europe at the time the custom was established. It has a vaguely nutty taste, is extremely high in protein and low in carbohydrates. In this recipe, the lemon juice picks up on the ceviche’s citrus, and the dish is prepared almost like tabouli. But the key ingredient is certainly the fresh mint, which adds a perky crispness that clearly recalls spring.

A great centerpiece dish is lamb and Jerusalem artichoke stew. Lamb has particular Passover significance, connecting with the paschal lamb offering both in Egypt, and later in the Temple. And although Jerusalem artichokes are neither from Jerusalem nor artichokes (they are actually sunflower tubers with an artichoke-like flavor), the name still reminds us of our annual seder proclamation to celebrate “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Plus, they are fresh in season during March and April, as are many of the wild mushrooms in this hearty stew.

Of course, there are many other dishes that can tap into the seasonal and customary aspects of Passover. Express your freedom by cooking almost anything you’d typically make for a Sabbath meal, just leaving out certain ingredients!

Two-Fish Ceviche

1 1/4 pound tuna steak
1 1/4 pound firm white fish (tilapia, trout or sea bass work great)
2 medium jalapenos, seeds and membranes removed, diced
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 small red onion, diced
juice of five to 10 limes
lemon juice
1 avocado, sliced

Remove any skin from fish, using a sharp paring knife. Cut tuna into cubes about 1-inch wide. Slice white fish into strips, about 1/2 inch by 1 1/2 inches.

In a glass or plastic bowl, mix fish with jalapenos, cilantro and lime. Add juice of limes. If limes did not yield enough juice to cover all fish, add enough lemon juice to cover.

Refrigerate, covered, for 90 minutes to two hours, stirring mixture every 15-20 minutes.

Serve in small bowls or cups. Garnish each with a half-moon of avocado.

Serves eight.

Note: If made earlier in the day, remove most of the juice after two hours (or once all fish has darkened in color) to avoid over-marinating.

Quinoa Pilaf With Fresh Mint

2 cups raw quinoa (available in specialty markets)
4 cups water
1/2 medium red onion, diced
2 scallions, diced
1/2 cup pine nuts
3 ounces sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Mix quinoa and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce flame and simmer covered for 15 minutes, or until most of the water has been absorbed.

Remove quinoa to a large bowl and let cool.

Add all other ingredients and mix thoroughly. Serve at room temperature.

Serves eight.

Lamb and Jerusalem Artichoke Stew

2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch pieces
4 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups dry light red wine (Chianti or Cote-du-Rhone, for example)
2 cups water
1 1/2 pounds Jerusalem artichokes, peeled, larger ones chopped to uniform size with smaller ones (available in specialty markets, sometimes sold as “sunchokes”)
2 pounds mixed wild mushrooms, chopped thick (cremini or shitake, for example)
2 medium yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 carrots, chopped large
2 small turnips, chopped large
2 white or golden potatoes, chopped large
2 bay leaves
1 bunch fresh thyme
salt
pepper

In a Dutch oven, brown lamb in 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat, approximately five minutes. Add Jerusalem artichokes, wine and water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and skim any excess fat from the top of the pot.

Meanwhile, in a frying pan, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add brown mushrooms, stirring, approximately five minutes. Remove to bowl. Heat remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, sweet onions and garlic for about three minutes. Add to mushrooms.

Add carrots, turnips and potatoes to lamb pot. Stir to cover vegetables, and cook for 15 minutes, or until vegetables are softened.

Add mushroom mixture, bay leaves and thyme. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook uncovered until liquid reduces by about one-third, then continue covered, 45 minutes to an hour in total.

Remove thyme and bay leaves, and serve on plates.

Serves eight.

Joel Haber (funjoel.blogspot.com) is a freelance writer and screenwriting consultant. He loves to cook because he loves to eat.

PASSOVER: Yemenite Flavor at the Seder


For me, Yemenite cooking is the taste of home. My parents were born in Sharab, a region in southwest Yemen. I was born in Tel Aviv, and grew up on my mother and father’s traditional cooking. The food in our home was always fresh, simple and richly spiced. On Passover, the fragrance of the traditional chicken soup, full of tumeric and cumin, filled our house, and we looked forward to eating our candy-like charoset, made from dates and walnuts.

I came to America in 1976, and opened Magic Carpet, named after the airlift of Yemenite Jews to Israel, in 1993. The Yemenite food we serve is a warm and constant reminder of my childhood.

Of course, now it turns out it might also be good for you — really good for you.

Yemenite Jews in Israel live longer and healthier lives than other Israelis. Over the years, many researchers have attributed the Yemenite’s good health to the simplicity of their cooking and their use of herbs and spices. Fenugreek, for example, a staple spice in our kitchens, has shown promise in research to treat diabetes and high cholesterol.

Beef, chicken, fish and vegetables require the use of hawa’age, a curry-like spice mixture that consists of turmeric, cumin, coriander and black pepper in proportions that vary from town to town. On top of that, we add fresh garlic, onion, tomatoes and cilantro to many of our dishes. Hilbeh, a viscuous, spicy relish made from freshly ground fenugreek, and schug, a bright green mix of cilantro and chili, are served separately and added to food according to taste. A few meals like this, and you are on your way to a healthy Yemenite life.

Below are traditional Yemenite Passover foods. Some, like chicken soup, we serve in the restaurant. For the rest, you’d have to come to my house.

Baked Eggs

Oven-baked eggs become brown and flavorful, with a creamy texture.

Just cover eggs in water at room temperature. Add salt to minimize cracking. Cover and cook in your oven at low heat (250 F) overnight or at least 12 hours. Serve hot or cold.

Charoset

This is our version of charoset, which Ashkenazim make from apples, walnuts and wine. We use charoset as jelly on matzah through the holiday.

1 pound dates, pitted and mashed
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 cup raw sesame seeds

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Stir occasionally. Cook for about an hour or until the mixture is thickened to a jelly-like consistency. Serve cold.

Matzah Cereal

This was our breakfast throughout the holiday. What makes it special is the spice mixture.

Break two matzah into small pieces. Pour in 1 1/2 cups of hot milk and one tablespoon of butter, mix with the same spice mix as the charoset. Add honey to your taste.

Yemenite Chicken Soup

We would often serve this by placing broken soaked matzah in our soup bowls, then ladling the broth over it.

One 4-pound chicken cut in quarters
5 quarts water
1 large head garlic
1 large tomato
1 large onion
1 bunch of fresh cilantro
1/3 tablespoon turmeric
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon of coriander
black pepper
salt

Put whole onion, garlic and tomato in the pot of water and bring to a boil. Add chicken pieces and cook for 25 minutes. Add spices and fresh cilantro, peeled tomato and if you like, add some sliced zucchini. Salt and paper to taste. Cook for 25 more minutes.

Nili Goldstein is co-owner of the kosher Yemeni-Israeli Magic Carpet Restaurant, 8566 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-8547.

 

The Ultimate Taste Test


Inside Kosher World, the recent “for-the-trade” food show, you had to remind yourself you were in Anaheim. To my left, two gentlemen negotiated a deal in animated Hebrew. To my right, wine connoisseurs swirled, sniffed and sipped kosher-for-Passover premium varietals from Israel and 11 other countries. Behind me, hungry visitors, beckoned by the intoxicating aromas of smoked meat grilling, speared six varieties of kosher sausage. And at what other trade show would you find a curtained section designated “Davening Area”?

While this was the third year for Kosher World, it was the first time the show joined with the ethnic and halal markets, under the umbrella of the World Ethnic Market.

“These foods are no longer limited today to specialty suppliers or people of a particular religion or ethnicity,” said show director Phyllis Koegel. “They’re now routinely available at major food retailers, restaurants, hotels and food service operations.”

About 40 companies exhibited kosher products, ranging from wines to cheese to meat and halvah, but there also were cashews from Dan-D-Pack, a product of Vietnam; halal beef franks from Midamar, and salted lassi from Gulf & Safa Dairies of Dubai.

As usual at such shows, I sampled far too much, but what don’t you do in the name of research? My first stop was Neshama Gourmet Kosher Foods, for the best sausage I’ve ever tasted. My personal favorite is the exotic Merguez line, made from beef and lamb.

“For the first time our smoked andouille and country apple will be available kosher for Passover,” announced vice president Evelyn Baran.

I sampled salad dressing from Mistral — loved the soy ginger — and the yummiest individually wrapped Kugelettes — sure, there were Traditional Golden Raisin, but could grandma dream up Green Chile and Cheese with Salsa?

Next I visited Raphy’s booth, where samples of baba ghanoush, stuffed eggplant and a host of other delicacies, all produced in Turkey — the watermelon peel preserves are to die for — were dished up with flair.

Only fine wine could top off this “balanced meal,” so I headed for Royal Wine Corp., the world’s largest producer, importer and distributor of kosher wines. “When people hear ‘kosher’ and ‘wine’ in the same breath, they think sweet,” said Dennis Bookbinder, the company’s director of sales. “Our slogan is: ‘We produce and import premium varietal wines that happen to be kosher.’ Today you’ll find world-class kosher wines from $200 a bottle on down.”

Many of the company’s 300 wines from 12 countries regularly garner awards and top ratings from the world’s foremost wine critics and publications. And with Passover around the corner, expect a flood of new kosher wines. Petit Castel from the Judean Hills is considered the finest wine from Israel, Bookbinder said. Baron Herzog Jeunesse, as well as premium wines from Segal’s, Barkan and Carmel, are just a few he recommended to grace the seder table.

This year’s show also included the Natural Products Expo in the same building, “because people tend to associate kosher food with natural and organic,” said show director Koegel.

According to analysts, only 20 percent to 33 percent of kosher foods produced worldwide is consumed by Jews, and this is one of the fastest growing segments of the food industry. So just who is buying the rest? Muslims, Seventh-day Adventists, Hindus and others who follow similar dietary restrictions, for starters. With 20 percent of the population lactose intolerant and millions calling themselves vegetarians of one sort or another, plus countless others who are health conscious, it is easy to see why kosher products have wide appeal. The mad cow disease scare hasn’t hurt either; because of strict cleanliness requirements and butchering procedures, there has never been a case of the disease found in kosher beef.

So, as the motto on a banner said at the first Kosher World: “Bringing kosher to mainstream and mainstream to kosher.” Truer today than ever, I’d say.

Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish: 652 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family” (Workman, September 2006) and can be found on the Web at

New ‘Design’ Adds Flair to the Holidays


 

“Kosher By Design Entertains” by Susie Fishbein (Mesorah Publications, $34.99).

It’s probably already too late. Dishes from Susie Fishbein’s new “Kosher By Design Entertains” are probably gracing Shabbat tables and brunches all over the country. Recipes from her first two books, “The Kosher Palette” and “Kosher by Design,” became ubiquitous, and I fear that when I proudly escort my Glazed Chicken Breasts with Strawberry Salsa to the table, someone will inevitably say, “Oh, page 124, I tried that last week.”

But if you are willing to forego the glow of originality, this fresh and fearless cookbook — which includes a guide for how to make the recipes kosher for Passover — can turn your borscht into Yellow Tomato Basil Bisque.

With flavorful and fun recipes that use ingredients and combinations far from what used to be considered traditional Jewish cooking — think Juniper Berry and Peppercorn Crusted Skirt Steak with Spiced Onions — this book can add flare to a tired repertoire for both connoisseurs and amateurs.

The first “Kosher By Design” (Mesorah 2003), which sold more than 70,000 copies, centered around holiday and Shabbat menus, while “Entertains” tackles lifecycle events or other entertaining opportunities, such as a romantic dinner for two or a housewarming party.

Entertains is a confection of a cookbook, from its frilly fuchsia dust jacket to the polka dots and floral brocades and masculine plaids that frame many of the pages. Flip through the pages of nine sample parties and feel the crisp air at an autumnal picnic spread on a patchwork quilt, or hear the cooing and giggling at a pastel dessert buffet to welcome a new baby, where 4-foot-tall martini glasses filled with jelly beans frolic across the table.

The book is organized by courses or types of food — appetizers to desserts — which makes it easy to use. In between each section are a menu, party plan and set up for different occasions. As always, Fishbein is as concerned with presentation as with taste, so she takes several pages and lots of pictures to describe her techniques for things like creating an heirloom anniversary tablecloth using silk fabric and old photos converted into irons-ons.

While you may not have the time to use colorful clothes pins to clip your Coconut Chicken Strips to disposable wine cups filled with mango and apricot dipping sauces, the selection of recipes offers a wide variety of doable, contemporary dishes that will impress your guests both with the taste and with how great they look on the plate.

Fishbein, a mother of four, has clearly spent a lot of time in a family kitchen, and while some of the recipes are a little involved, enough of them meet my acceptable patschkie (messing around) level, with only three or four steps per recipe. She also favors some time-saving ingredients, like prepared dressing packets or frozen vegetables.

Fishbein also throws in a resource guide that includes Web sites or 800 numbers for unusual kosher ingredients or kitchen tools; a buying guide for the housewares on the book’s tables; a Passover conversion table; and suggested holiday and Shabbat menus using recipes from this book and her previous one.

But you better work fast. I can already smell that Caramelized Apple Cheesecake baking — in my neighbor’s oven.

Cornish Hen With Pistachio Paste
4 (1 pound) baby Cornish hens, butterflied, backbone removed, pressed flat with your palm
2 cups shelled raw unsalted pistachio nuts, finely chopped, divided salt and pepper
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
6 shallots
2 tablespoons fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried
12 ounces chicken stock, plus a little extra
4 basil or other brightly colored flat leaves for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Stuff 1/4 cup of the chopped pistachio nuts under the skin of each of the hens. Massage the nuts under the skin to help spread them out evenly. Salt and pepper both sides of each hen.
Heat the olive oil in two large sauté pans (or plan to sear in batches). Sear the hens, skin side down until golden brown. Remove the hens from the pan and place in roasting pans in a single layer. Set aside. Add the shallots to the pan with the hen drippings. Sauté six to seven minutes. Sprinkle in the thyme. Deglaze pan with the chicken stock, use a wooden spoon to unstick any nuts.
Meanwhile, place the hens, uncovered, in the oven. Roast for 30 minutes or until done.
Prepare the pistachio paste. In a deep container, or in the bowl of a food processor, place 1/2 cup chopped pistachio nuts. Add the shallots and pan drippings. Using an immersion blender or food processor blend into a paste. Thin with a little stock if needed.
Dollop 1 or 2 tablespoons of the pistachio paste on a basil or other flat lettuce leaf, place on the side of the hen. Sprinkle all with the remaining chopped pistachios.

Makes four servings.

Balsamic Braised Brisket with Shallots and Potatoes
1 3-pound beef brisket
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
10 cloves garlic, peeled, divided
3 tablespoons margarine, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
6 whole shallots, peeled
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup red wine
1 14-1/2 ounce can crushed tomatoes

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Season the brisket on both sides with salt and pepper. Using the tip of a sharp knife, make sliver cuts all along the brisket. Cut five of the garlic gloves in half. Place a piece of garlic into each slit. Place 2 tablespoons of the margarine and the oil into a large skillet or pot set over medium heat. When the margarine is melted and hot, add the meat. You should hear it sear on contact. Let it cook for eight minutes, don’t move it around. After eight minutes, lift the meat up, add 1 tablespoon of margarine to the pan and turn the meat over. Sear on the second side for eight minutes. Remove the brisket to a baking pan. Surround the brisket with the potatoes, shallots and five whole garlic cloves.
Add balsamic vinegar and wine to the skillet or pan. Add the tomatoes. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for five minutes stirring to combine. While the mixture cooks down, scrape up the browned bits from the pan; a wooden spoon works well here. Pour balsamic mixture over the brisket and vegetables. Add water to just cover the brisket.
Place in the oven and bake for two to two and a half hours, covered. Allow to cool before slicing.

Makes six to eight servings.

Sweet Potato Wedges With Vanilla Rum Sauce
6 medium sweet potatoes, unpeeled
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher for Passover vanilla extract
1 tablespoon dark rum

Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Cover a large jelly roll pan with parchment paper.
Cut the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise. Cut each half in half again lengthwise. You will have long wedges. Place in a bowl.
In a small saucepan melt the margarine or butter and brown sugar. Stir in the vanilla and rum. Simmer for one minute. Pour over the sweet potatoes and toss to combine.
Arrange the wedges in a single layer on the prepared pan.
Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes to one hour, checking at the 45-minute mark, until potatoes are soft and caramelized.

Makes eight to 10 servings.

 

Make Your Seder an Affair to Remember


 

Many Passover hostesses feel enslaved by the amount of effort that goes into making an elegant seder table. On the holiday of freedom, the only thing to which you should be enslaved is your creativity. By using your imagination and listening to the tried-and-true advice of the experts, you can create a stylish and sophisticated Passover seder that will have your guests wishing for another invitation next year.

The Setting
An unordinary setting can have a dramatic effect. Elie Neuman, program coordinator of Pesach with the Chevrah in Rancho Mirage, often has special requests to prepare private seder tables overlooking the hotel’s gardens.

“A beautiful backdrop transforms the seder’s look,” he said.

This year, weather permitting, think outside of your dining room and set up a seder table in your backyard. Hang Chinese lanterns and Christmas lights for a dazzling effect. Play with the lighting by positioning standing lamps from your living room at the ends of a long table, contrasting the look of the outdoors with a homey feel.

The Menu
With the kosher-for-Passover dietary restrictions, choosing a menu can be intimidating. Levana Kirschenbaum, cookbook author and cooking instructor known by her first name, suggests preparing dishes such as roasted asparagus, grilled fish, and seasonal soups you are certain will work.

Susie Fishbein, author of the “Kosher By Design” series (see story page 38), said that food should not prevent the hostess from enjoying the seder. “Instead of making seven different courses, prepare simple dishes that show you put in time and effort,” she said. “Don’t feel like you have to make meat, chicken and fish.”

The Centerpieces
Since the Passover table is generally crammed with wine bottles and glasses, the seder plate and boxes of matzah, centerpieces can be tricky.

“With everything on the table, you don’t want the flowers to be overpowering,” said Joel Katz of Prestige Catering, who caters Passover meals in hotels throughout Florida and upstate New York. Instead, he scatters small arrangements of flowers that add color to an already busy table.

Fishbein suggested using topiaries because they provide height without obstructing the view. Since topiaries do not die, only the fruits and flowers decorating them need to be replenished. “You can start by having white roses in the topiary for the seders and switch to lemons or strawberries for the end of the holiday,” Fishbein said.

Levana explains how every hostess can easily prepare a beautiful table within her budget. “Instead of making extravagant floral arrangements, I like to bring out specific colors and textures,” she said.

Levana recommended using a vibrant colored tablecloth with a patterned texture and choosing flowers within variations of two colors that contrast with the tablecloth. As long as the flowers are in the color scheme, inexpensive ones will do the trick.

During a recent demonstration at her Manhattan-based cooking school, Levana presented a stunning arrangement of four-dozen orange-red tulips assembled in a low vase. “No one will care if you use one type of flower, as long as you do a good job,” she said, noting that this arrangement only cost her $30.

Personal Touches
The personal touch is the main component that turns an average seder into an affair guests will remember long after the holiday is over. Throughout the year, Fishbein shops for special touches. One year she found stretchy plastic frogs to use as napkin holders while another year she found glass swizzle sticks with decorative frogs, which she placed in each goblet.

Neuman suggested placing individual seder plates at each setting. This way, guests have the essentials while additional plates of marror or charoset can be passed.

Neuman also recommended anticipating what guests will need ahead of time in order to make them feel comfortable. Besides providing a large selection of wine and matzah, find out if your guests have dietary restrictions. If a guest is allergic to wheat, special order spelt or oat matzah.

Creative place cards that double as mementoes will further personalize the table. By cutting cardboard strips; gluing fabric, ribbon and beads; and labeling them with each guest’s name, you can create individual bookmarks. Place the bookmarks in a haggadah at every place setting in order for guests to know where they are sitting.

Bringing It All Together
Levana and Fishbein both stress the necessity of the hostess feeling relaxed on the night of the seder. That way the hostess can join in the seder, and with everyone else, celebrate our people’s freedom.

Felisa Billet, a freelance writer from Forest Hills, N.Y., is at work on a cookbook, a fusion of Mexican and Jewish cuisine.

 

Recreate, Update Bubbe’s Specialties


 

The first time Tina Wasserman prepared gefilte fish for Passover, it smelled up her whole house. The fish was past its prime, but it wasn’t spoiled, so “it didn’t make my family sick,” she said. But still, the experience was so horrifying that she didn’t attempt to prepare gefilte fish again for many years. Since then, Wasserman, who is Reform Judaism Magazine’s food columnist, has learned a thing or two about gefilte fish.

Wasserman, who earned a master’s degree in food and fashion merchandising from New York University, has been a cooking teacher for 33 years. She taught first in her native New York, and for the past 25 years she’s taught in Dallas.

When she teaches, she said, she tries to think of everything that can go wrong and offers her students tips on avoiding those pitfalls, along with faster alternative preparation methods and substitute ingredients. She presents much of this wisdom on her Web site, Cookingandmore.com.

Wasserman tries to rekindle peoples’ traditions without assaulting their memories. “From the time I was 12, I knew I wanted to teach cooking,” said Wasserman, who got her start teaching at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan when she was in her mid-20s. Back then, someone suggested that she start Passover workshops.

“Why on earth in New York do you need classes on Passover cooking?” Wasserman remembers thinking. “But much to my surprise, students came.”

And they’re still coming. Until then she had not realized how many people have lost their family recipes for such popular holiday foods as matzah balls and tzimmes. She seeks to rescue recipes from the dustbin of history and is particularly interested in recipes from places with small or dwindling Jewish populations. “Throughout the centuries, Jews have moved across the globe, spreading their food habits with them,” said Wasserman, who sees it as her job to help keep those cultures alive.

Wasserman is a bit like the bubbe you wished you had, or the one who is no longer here to help you cook holiday foods. When she first moved to Dallas, she taught cooking at a Jewish community center there.

“People figured if I’m from New York, I must know something,” she said. But Wasserman, who was raised in a Conservative household, is a second-generation American. Besides her impressive credentials, which include consulting for the largest fish market in Dallas, creating delicacies for the biggest kosher caterer in Philadelphia and acting as Chef Field for the Marshall Field department store chain, the thing Wasserman has going for her in the Jewish cooking world is her knowledge of kashrut. When she was in college, if friends had a question about kosher food, she reports, they said, “Go ask Tina. She knows everything.”

When she lived in Manhattan, Wasserman conducted Passover cooking workshops in her apartment. One day, in the middle of a cooking class, Wasserman saw her mother, who then had cancer, entering her apartment. Wasserman was overcome with emotion as she thought, “You’ve given me Passover traditions — and now I’m passing them on to people who have none of their own.”

More recently, Wasserman, while resurfacing her kitchen cabinets, had to remove all their contents. As her 17-year-old daughter stood in the kitchen, Wasserman clutched a plain box.

“Do you see this box?” she asked her daughter. “If anything happens to me, grab it. It contains all of our family’s original recipes.”

Wasserman’s kitchen renovation is now finished. Though her recipe box is back safely in its place, as Passover approaches she refers to it often. She expects to have about 40 people at the first seder and is preparing every dish she’ll serve from scratch.

“With all this going on, Passover at my house is a real trip,” she said. “But that’s my joy.”

Homemade Gefilte Fish — The Easy Way

Poaching Liquid

4 pounds whole fish (any combination of carp, whitefish, pike, snapper or sea trout)
2 carrots, cut into 1-inch lengths on a diagonal
2 stalks celery, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 pound yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 Bouquet Garni (1 bay leaf, plus thyme, marjoram and summer savory or parsley to taste) wrapped in cheese cloth
2-3 quarts water

Fish

2 medium yellow onions
1 carrot
1/4 cup very loosely packed
fresh parsley
2 eggs
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup matzah meal
Salt and pepper to taste
Garlic, ginger, sugar, dill or whatever your bubbe used to use

Fillet the fish or, better still, have the store do it for you. If you want to make a gelled broth, take home the head and bones.

Reserve the filets.

Rinse out the head of the fish. Make sure any bloody masses are removed. Soak all of the bones and the head in cold salted water to cover for 15 minutes or longer. Drain and discard the water.

Place the bones and head on the bottom of a large Dutch oven and cover with carrots, celery and thinly sliced onion (from Poaching Liquid list). Add the Bouquet Garni and the 2-3 quarts of water to cover. Simmer for 60-90 minutes. Carefully strain the liquid. Reserve carrots and set aside. Discard the head and bones. Cool and divide the broth in half.

To make the fish, grind reserved filets twice in a grinder fitted with a fine blade or process in a food processor, until mixture develops a fairly smooth texture. Remove fish to a large bowl.

Grind or process (from Fish ingredient list) the onions, carrot and parsley. Add to fish.

Add eggs, water, matzah meal, salt, pepper and additional flavorings, if desired. Mix well with a fork until light and fluffy.

Note: to check for seasoning, cook 1 teaspoon of fish mixture in salted water for 10 minutes. Taste and then adjust seasonings, if necessary. Never taste fresh water fish raw!

Shape the fish mixture in your hands to form ovals and gently place in a frying pan to which half the prepared fish stock, about1 inch deep, has been added. Poach covered for 20-30 minutes (depending on size) over low heat or until center of a fish oval appears white. Drain on a cloth towel, then cool in reserved fish broth. Serve with horseradish and garnish with reserved carrots.

Makes 8-12 patties.

Syrian Spiced Meat With Eggplant and Prunes

“The hardest thing about making this sensational dish is finding a pot large enough and heavy enough to hold all of the ingredients and cook them slowly over a low flame,” Wasserman said. “Make this dish in advance and then reheat before serving. If the casserole is nice enough, you can serve the recipe right from the dish it’s cooked in. But since most attractive casseroles don’t hold five quarts, you can transfer some of the layers, as best as you can, from the cooking pot into a large serving dish.”

2 pounds ground chuck meat
2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pepper to taste
3 tablespoon vegetable oil
6 medium onions, halved lengthwise and then cut into fourths
4 large red potatoes, cut into eighths
12 ounces pitted prunes
1 large eggplant, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1-inch slices
2 6-ounce cans of regular (not flavored) tomato paste
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice

In a large 2-quart bowl, combine the ground meat with the allspice, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Distribute spices evenly by mixing first with a fork and then with your hands.

Place the oil in the bottom of a 6-quart Dutch oven or metal casserole.

Place half of the onion slices in the bottom of the pot. Cover with half of the meat, making sure that you press the meat evenly and firmly into the onions.

Scatter half of the potatoes, prunes and eggplant over the meat.

Repeat with the remaining onions, seasoned meat, potatoes, prunes and eggplant.

In a 3-quart bowl, combine the tomato paste with the remaining ingredients, along with salt and pepper to taste, into a smooth sauce. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables. Gently swirl the pan to allow the sauce to permeate the dish evenly.

Cover the pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Keeping the meat at a medium simmer, cook the mixture for two hours, or until the potatoes are tender and dish is thickened.

Ashkenzi law prohibits eating rice during Passover, but if you’re Sephardi, serve this dish with rice flavored with some pine nuts and sautéed onions.

As part of a Passover meal with additional entrees, makes 36 servings, but only 10-12 servings as the single entree of a normal meal.

Deluxe Matzah Farfel Kugel

3/4 cup, plus 1 tablespoon cooking oil or chicken fat, plus more if needed
3/4 cup diced onion
3/4 cup diced celery
3/4 cup diced fresh mushrooms
1 box matzah farfel
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon paprika
2 eggs, well beaten
2 1/4 cups chicken broth, warm

In 3/4 cup oil or chicken fat, sauté the onion until golden brown. Add the celery and mushrooms. Fry some more until celery is translucent. Add a little more shortening, if vegetables are sticking to the pan.

Place vegetable mixture in a large bowl and add the farfel. Toss thoroughly so that all the farfel is coated with vegetables and fat.

Combine seasonings, eggs and warm broth. Pour over farfel mixture. The mixture should be loose. If needed, add more broth.

Grease a 9-by-13 roasting pan with 1 tablespoon of shortening, preferably chicken fat. Pour in farfel mixture and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour, or until golden brown.

Variation: For a sweeter kugel, use 3/4 cup onion, 1 1/2 cups apple chunks and orange juice in place of all or part of the broth. Leave out celery and mushrooms. Yield: 16-24 squares, depending on size.

 

Let My Old Passover Programming Go


 

Why is this night different from all other nights?

For one thing, it’s the food — or, rather, the food that’s featured on television. But there’s also plenty of food for thought in the form of Passover-related travel and Jewish news features.

Food for Filling Up

Get Passover cooking with some fresh ideas from the Food Network’s “Essence of Emeril,” “Wolfgang Puck” and “Sweet Dreams.”

On “Sweet Dreams: Passover Favorites,” host Gale Gend and chef Ina Pinkey showcase recipes that are heavy on matzah meal and potato starch to achieve a consistency more like regular desserts. They make apple tea cake muffins from matzah meal, a savory alternative to plain matzah for breakfast. Their practically solid chocolate cake looks rich, while the untraditional Passover cobbler makes for a lighter alternative. The Food Network, April 19, 9:30 a.m.

In “Wolfgang’s Passover Feast,” viewers get a backstage pass into the celebrity chef’s kitchen as he leads a seder at one of his restaurants. The show features commentary on the holiday from Rabbi Arnie Rachlis of the University Synagogue in Irvine. Puck’s contributions are not especially user friendly, though. He fails to give precise measurements for ingredients in his recipes, while also using cooking equipment not found in noncelebrity kitchens. Some of his concoctions are kosher and some not — he shows how to make a not kosher for Passover but tasty-looking matzah with herbs in the dough. Watch Puck for entertainment or concepts, but not specific recipes. The Food Network, April 20, 10 a.m.

Kick your seder up a notch with a Passover segment of Emeril Laggase’s “The Essence of Emeril.” He may be out of his element when pronouncing Jewish foods such as charoset as “ha-ro-SET” instead of “cha-ROH-set.” Or when he tries to explain the seder plate. But he’s the expert when it comes to cooking. In his charoset, he uses practically a whole bottle of Manischewitz, when his own recipe only calls for two tablespoons. I guess good chefs really don’t measure. His matzah farfel kugel looks delish — with plenty of his signature essence. He also does a flavorful recipe for brisket, stuffing garlic cloves in the meat, and coating it with chili sauce and onions. The Food Network, April 21, 2 p.m. All Food Network Passover recipes can be found at foodtv.com.

Food for Thought

While digesting all these new treats you’ve just cooked, continue the Passover theme with Jewish Television Network’s (www.jewishtvnetwork.com) one-hour specials: “Exodus to Freedom” and “A Passover Celebration.”

The thought-provoking tone of “Exodus to Freedom,” hosted by Dick Cavett, would appeal more to adults and older children. It examines the lives of eight extraordinary individuals who overcame oppression. These stories aren’t just about the Jewish experience, but about the universal experience of exodus. Liz Murray grew up homeless with two drug-addicted parents, but turned her life around, eventually attending Harvard (her story was told in a 2003 Lifetime movie, “Homeless to Harvard”). Azar Nafasi led an English literature-reading group in Iran during a time of extreme Islamic fundamentalism. Francis Bok, a Sudanese man, was captured and sold as a slave, before escaping and later immigrating to the United States. Hungarian Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos worked in a forced labor camp during World War II, and now is a Democratic congressman representing the San Mateo area. Airs April 26, 10 p.m. on KVCR 24 in the Inland Empire; Channel 55 in desert cities.

“A Passover Celebration,” hosted by Jeffrey Tambor (“Arrested Development”) embodies a lighter tone. The St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble and New York Concert Singers sing Passover songs from “Chad Gadya” and “Dayenu” to Sephardic and Ashkenazic renditions of “Adir Hu.” Irwin Kula of “Simple Wisdom” narrates Passover tales, as well personal anecdotes of his family’s emigration from Poland to the United States. On the craftier side, TLC host and Jewish Journal singles columnist Teresa Strasser shows how to make various colorful Passover creations. These include a matzah box centerpiece, a clay encased Elijah cup and a reverse-decoupage seder plate to brighten up the Passover table. For the little ones, there’s an “Aleph, Bet Blastoff” segment featuring Dom DeLuise as a comic pharaoh, with a kid-friendly amount of menace. The final segment, a mouth-watering chocolate matzah creation by chef Jeff Nathan, looks simple enough even for the cooking averse. Airs April 24 on KLCS. Check klcs.org for scheduled times.

Kids Meal

The Rugrats get locked in the attic with Grandpa Boris, and he narrates the Passover story as seen through the eyes of 3-year-old Angelica (who takes on the role of a pharaoh who won’t “Let My Babies Go”). “The Rugrats Passover Special” airs April 24, 7:30 a.m. on Nickelodeon. For more information, visit www.nickelodeon.com.

Food to Go

Among other thrills, experience a hot-air balloon ride over the pyramids. (Consider them, in Cecil B. DeMille terms, a testament to the Jewish work ethic.) “Globe Trekker: Egypt,” hosted by Megan McCormick, airs April 21, 8 p.m. on KCET. For more information, visit www.kcet.org.

Yesterday we were slaves in Egypt; today we are free to choose our Passover programming.

 

East of Western — a Kosher Cornucopia


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President Bush is declaring his hope for a Palestinian state loud and clear, and no wonder — it’s almost the price of entry to the alliance with Europe that he urgently wants to revive.

Some in the American Jewish community at first were uneasy about Bush’s push for the Palestinians, but Bush’s actions show that his commitment to Israel remains as solid as ever.

Just as Bush repeatedly has touted the benefits of a future Palestinian state at each stop along this week’s European tour, his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is determined to keep the discussion limited to the here and now when an international conference on the Palestinians convenes March 1 in London.

Rice will not allow the conference to consider the geographic contours of a Palestinian state, and instead will focus on how the United States and Europe can help the Palestinians reform a society corrupted by years of venal terrorist rule under the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

“This will definitely have a more practical and pragmatic orientation,” an administration official said.

That’s fine with the Europeans, who are happy to see progress on a topic they once felt Bush neglected — even if, for now, the progress is rhetorical.

“This is probably good music to introduce the London conference,” a European diplomat said of Bush’s repeated reference to his hope that he will see a democratic Palestine.

Bush’s push for Palestinian empowerment at first alarmed some Jewish organizational leaders, who wanted to see if newly elected P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas would carry out Palestinian promises to quash terrorism.

Now that Abbas apparently is beginning to make good on his pledge — deploying troops throughout the Gaza Strip to stop attacks, and sacking those responsible for breaches — Jewish communal leaders are more on board.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations this week formally welcomed Israel’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank, and congressional insiders say the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had a role in making a U.S. House of Representatives resolution praising Abbas even more pro-Palestinian then the original draft.

One factor that temporarily tempered Jewish enthusiasm was Bush’s determination to rebuild a transatlantic alliance frayed by the Iraq war.

Bush wants the Europeans on board in his plans for democratizing Iraq, corralling Iran’s nuclear ambitions and expanding global trade. But Jewish officials have felt burned in recent years by the Europeans’ perceived pro-Palestinian tilt and their failure to contain resurgent anti-Semitism.

Don’t get too exercised, cautioned David Makovsky, a senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“We should be careful every time we hear the word ‘Europe’ not to get allergic,” he said. “Bush is trying to channel the Europeans to focus more on consensus issues.”

That may be so, but the consensus appears to be shifting. Bush’s calls for Palestinian statehood have never been so frequent or emphatic.

“I’m also looking forward to working with our European partners on the Middle Eastern peace process,” Bush said Tuesday after meeting with top European Commission officials.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair “is hosting a very important meeting in London, and that is a meeting at which President Abbas will hear that the United States and the E.U. is desirous of helping this good man set up a democracy in the Palestinian territories, so that Israel will have a democratic partner in peace,” Bush continued. “I laid out a vision, the first U.S. president to do so, which said that our vision is two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace. That is the goal. And I look forward to working concretely with our European friends and allies to achieve that goal.”

The day before, at another Brussels speech, Bush was applauded when he called for a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank and a freeze on Israeli settlement building.

More substantively, Rice last week broke with years of U.S. policy and told Congress that $350 million in aid Bush has requested for the Palestinians — including $200 million to be delivered as soon as possible — will go directly to 34 P.A.-run projects, and not through nongovernmental organizations, a practice that had helped to lessen corruption.

The administration believes “that’s the quickest way to do it,” Rice said. “This is not the Palestinian Finance Ministry of four or five years ago, where I think we would not have wanted to see a dime go in.”

That stunned members of the House Appropriations Committee, where Rice was testifying. Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R-Mich.) asked Rice to repeat her reply because he couldn’t believe it.

“You can understand why we’re a little tense about that,” he told Rice.

One reassurance for anyone skeptical of the administration’s plans: The Israeli government is at ease with the aid plans and is happy to sit out the London conference.

But while Israel welcomes European assistance with economic and political reforms in Palestinian areas, it looks askance at any European attempt to help with security. Israeli officials prefer to channel all security measures through the Americans, fearing that multiple security initiatives run by different partners will create chaos.

The Europeans have not entirely abandoned the idea, however. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, secretary-general of NATO, said sending troops to keep the peace might yet be considered.

“If there would be a peace agreement, if there would be a need for parties to see a NATO role, I think we would have a discussion around the NATO table,” he said Tuesday on CNN.

While the Europeans are happy to limit discussions for now to such issues as infrastructure and democratic institutions, that won’t always be the case.

The London conference “will show the Palestinians that the world is getting things done, and now it’s their turn [to implement reforms],” the European diplomat said. “But you can’t pretend that what is achieved in London will last 25 years. We need to go on from there.”

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The Next Generation Adds Its Own Touch to Seder


When newer, color versions supplanted the 1923 Union Haggadah Revised, Tamar Soloff’s brother and father hoarded enough copies of the original to ensure that their extended families would have a supply of their own.

"That was the haggadah from my childhood," Soloff said. After marrying Martin Brower and starting a family, they departed from Westchester for Newport Beach, taking half of the haggadah stash with them.

Again this month, the Browers will rely on the small, out-of-print books at seders for their family and their Temple Bat Yahm chavurah. Retelling the story of the Jews’ flight from ancient Egypt in English and Hebrew, its pages also transport Brower back to earlier times with songs like "Behold It Is the Spring Tide of the Year" and "Who Knows One?"

"Tradition is what you’re used to," said Brower, who served as the choir director in the Westchester synagogue of her father, Rabbi Mordecai Soloff. "It has the music that I grew up with, and my children grew up with."

The old cliché that change is hard is never truer than when it comes to the Passover seder — whether that means changing haggadah, menu, location or host.

The microcosm of the seder, perhaps like no other ritual of the year, brings into focus all the nostalgia, Jewish identity issues and family dynamics that stay in the fuzzy background the rest of the year.

At no point are those dynamics more in focus than when it comes time for the seder to transition from one generation to the next. The transition occurs for any number of reasons — an aging parent is simply ready to retire, or in more dire circumstances falls ill or passes away. Or perhaps someone moves out of town, or makes religious changes and wants to make the seder her own way.

The question of who is making seder and how becomes symbolic of whatever is going on in a family. Who is not at the table and why — death, illness, conflict, geography — is as important as who is. This intensity of emotion, no doubt, has as much to do with Pesach’s being the most observed Jewish rites of the year as does the rabbi’s brilliance in crafting the rituals of the seder.

Add to that the notion that any change is hard, especially one that is so laden with associations, and you begin to understand why something like using a childhood haggadah becomes so important or passing on a set of seder dishes can serve up a hearty portion of emotion.

Last year, Jeanne Weiner thought she was ready to give her daughter, Joelle Keene, Aunt Leone’s Indian Tree dishes — service for 31, plus serving dishes.

But when it came to actually giving up the china, she balked. And even though this year she is making the transfer, these dishes — more than the Thanksgiving dishes or all the furniture she gave to her daughters — call up a wave of emotion and tears.

"I wanted to give them to her, but I couldn’t. I just had to be ready, because I was making a statement. And that statement was that my husband was gone and I wasn’t going to do any real entertaining of my family anymore and it’s moved on to my children’s homes," said Weiner, a 76-year-old psychologist, sitting at her daughter’s dining room table, the pink and turquoise peonies blossoming on a setting of the dishes in front of them. "It is part of my new life, which is not as satisfying as my old life was."

Adjusting to a new reality has also been part of Passover for Don Goor and his family, and it also came down to dishes.

When his mother, Stephanie Goor, finally stopped schlepping her box of seder paraphernalia — charoset bowls, kiddush cups, candlesticks — back and forth between his home and hers, he knew she had fully let go of making seder.

The transition was a slow one, starting about 10 years ago, when Goor and his partner, Evan Kent, first moved seder into their home. Goor’s mother and grandmother still prepared much of the food and led the seder as they had for years, with Stephanie sticking strictly to the never-changing marks in her leader’s haggadah indicating who got to read which part. Each year Stephanie brought over the box of stuff, and would take it back to her home.

"For a long time it was still their seder but it was in our house," said Kent, the cantor at Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles, who has been with Goor, the rabbi at Temple Judea in Tarzana, for 18 years. "We used the same haggadah and had the same food, but slowly what happened was we realized that our own friends would join us and it sort of grew and changed."

Discussion became more spontaneous and informal, with the hosts (both clergy, after all) taking the lead. Eventually, the menu evolved, since Kent is vegetarian, though many of the foods — mom’s knaidlach and grandma’s farfel muffins — stayed the same.

Finally, they switched to a different haggadah, and the transition seemed to be complete.

With change coming slowly and organically, Goor said his mother and grandmother never felt pushed aside or left out, and always participated.

"My mother’s way of resisting was to make these little editorial comments along the way about how good seder used to be, or what an unusual way of doing things," Goor said. "My grandmother was more outspoken. She would come out and say ‘I don’t like this haggadah. I liked it better the other way.’"

This year there will be another transition. Goor’s grandmother died at 91 a few years ago, and his mother died just a few months ago at the age of 71. Seder will be a low-key affair this year.

"I’m avoiding it totally. I keep pretending it will happen on its own," Goor said.

It was a slow transition for Jeanne Weiner’s family after Beryl, her husband of 27 years, died four years ago.

Beryl had been central to the family seder since they moved to California from New York more than 30 years ago, after Jeanne’s marriage to Joelle’s father ended.

"Beryl had a real gift for drawing people out and making them comfortable so they wanted to talk," said Keene, the music teacher and newspaper adviser at Shalhevet High School, who lives in Beverlywood with her husband and three teenagers.

After Beryl died, the family seder sputtered a bit, not only because of Beryl’s death, but because Keene and her family became much more observant, scaring away her two sisters and her mother from a seder that they imagined would start late and take forever.

But eventually they gave it a try. Last year the whole family was together again — with adjustment and accommodations to new religious realities, kids of many ages and the absence of Beryl’s guidance.

"Last year was the first time everyone came and we had a really big seder here. I remember feeling that this was like the first real one, because everyone was here," Keene said.

Weiner still does some of the cooking — she’s used the same matzah ball recipe for decades, and the chopped liver stays on the menu. Not only do the plates and bowls come from her, but so does the sense of style and care with which the table is set, and the general love of entertaining she passed to her three daughters.

"Those are things that transitioned down the generations very seamlessly, especially since my mother is here to help us and to congratulate us when we get it right and correct us when we get it wrong," Keene said.

Keene, who is now Orthodox and uses the full text of the haggadah, has tried to replace the haggadah she and Beryl composed when she was 18, but nothing has seemed quite right yet. With kids ranging in age from a baby to teenagers, and religious observance covering the spectrum, coming up with the right balance, timing and tone is challenging.

But Keene is determined to make it work.

"I feel pressure to make seder really wonderful — it should be terrific, fun, uplifting, interesting, relaxed, memorable — the list of adjectives is so long," Keene said. In other words, to make seder just like Mom.

But Weiner encourages her daughter to create a seder that is all her own.

"I think what you are trying to and have emulated is the feeling rather than the fact of our seders — the lasting impression of it, which was that you loved it and it was good, and that is what you are recapturing," Weiner said. "But you are creating your own, and frankly that is as it should be. It’s nice to pass on dishes, but do things in your home the way you want them to be done in your home."

Keene is happy to make it her own, but like any daughter of any age, she still wants Mom’s approval.

"Is there anything good about the seders here?" Keene asks her mom. "You said the food was good."

"No, I didn’t even say the food was good," Weiner answers, deadpan. "I said what was good about the seder was that the family is here. That is the most important thing."

"Well, you said I do a good job on the table," Keene submits.

"You said it and I agreed. Don’t misquote me," her mother fires back.

They go at it for a few more minutes, until finally Weiner caves in with the smile and love that was there all along.

"It’s warm and friendly and welcoming and the food is delicious. The family is here and the table is beautiful. What more could anyone ask?" Weiner says.

"Thanks," says Keene, with a relieved laugh. "Thank you. I needed that."

Andrea Adelson contributed to this article.

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Interact Theater Company takes “Our Town” beyond the school play, with a rare professional production, playing this weekend only. See Thornton Wilder’s classic all grown up, brought to you by the University of Judaism’s performing arts department.
8 p.m. (Saturday), 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (Sunday). $32-$38. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1547.

Sunday

Chick rock it’s not. But tonight’s “Kolot Hanasheem – Voices of Women” concert honors women of a different genre who’ve earned it all the same. Los Angeles Jewish Symphony’s Noreen Green conducts the program featuring works by six contemporary female Jewish composers, including Maria Newman’s “The Book of Esther,” and excerpts from Andrea Clearfield’s “Women of Valor.” Performers will include actress Laraine Newman, soprano Hila Plitmann, mezzo-soprano Diana Tash and the Valley Beth Shalom Congregational Choir.
7 p.m. $10-$36. Valley Beth Shalom, 17539 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (310) 478-9311.

Monday

It’s a fine line between the fluffy pareve kosher-for-Passover dessert and a gritty leftover even the dog won’t eat. Students doing their own seders for the first time, as well as adults who learned their lesson the hard way, find the wisdom they desperately seek today, as UCLA’s Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life presents a class in Passover confections. Godspeed.
7-9:30 p.m. $5 (UCLA students), $55 (general). 574 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. R.S.V.P., (310) 208-3081, ext. 100.

Tuesday

Political and gastronomic enthusiasts find book signings to suit their niches today. For Bush bashing, head to Sherman Oaks for the last in Valley Cities JCC’s Provocative Speaker Series, where Robert Scheer will discuss and sign his latest book, “The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq.” Those who prefer to save their appetites head to the Jewish Community Library, where sisters and co-authors Phyllis and Miriyam Glazer present and sign their recent cookbook, “The Essential Book of Jewish Cooking: 200 Seasonal Holiday Recipes and Their Traditions.”
Robert Scheer: 7:30-9 p.m. $20-$25. 13164 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 786-6310. Miriyam Glazer: 7:30 p.m. 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8648.

Wednesday

Circle Elephant Art’s “Joel Hoyer: An Exquisite Surface” exhibition continues this week. Moving beyond the medium’s tradition as a purely decorative art, Hoyer’s pieces remain the sort of thing you’d want hanging in your living room, while provoking thought and imagination.
Runs March 5-27. Noon-6 p.m. (Wed.-Sat.). 4634 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 662-3279.

Thursday

A senator, a rabbi and some leading medical authorities walk into Temple Beth Am. Rather than the start of a bad joke, however, they’re hoping it’ll be the start of a healthcare revolution. Tonight, various Jewish organizations co-sponsor a forum on healthcare titled “Zay Gezunt: The Jewish Coalition for Healthcare for All Californians.” State Sen. Sheila Kuehl, Rabbi William Cutter as well as medical authorities discuss the hows and whys of universal healthcare.
7 p.m. Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

Friday

The Skirball turns comedy lounge tonight for another session of “Say the Word,” a showcase of writing and comic talents in Los Angeles, complete with the requisite cocktails and snacks. Tonight’s show for the 21-and-over crowd features George Meyer (“The Simpsons”), Rob Cohen (“The Ben Stiller Show”), Gary Janettie (“Will & Grace”) and Merrill Markoe (“It’s My F—ing Birthday: A Novel”).
8 pm. $8-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 655-8587.

Seder Yummies From Chicken to Chocolate


Passover is my favorite Jewish holiday, and although cooking for Passover requires a lot of preparation, I look forward to it each year. It is a time when our family and close friends join together to share thoughts and exchange ideas as we participate in the seder.

I have a regular routine that begins my preparation for the Passover holiday. The first thing I do is check last year’s guest list with my husband, so we won’t leave anyone out, and then we add friends who will be alone during the holiday. Next, I review my files that are filled with Passover recipes and select the dishes I want to prepare for our seders.

Over the years we have added Passover food traditions from other cultures that are different then what we normally serve, and they have become an important part of our seder menu.

In the past we traditionally dipped sliced spring onions in salt water as the first vegetable of the season, and now we also serve steamed new potatoes dipped in salt.

The children love the idea of including scallions, a symbolic food that the Sephardic Jews use during their seder. They represent the whips used to beat the Jews when they were slaves in Egypt. The children reenact this event during the seder by going around the table and gently hitting the participants with the raw scallions.

The charoset, bitter herbs and matzah are part of the Passover meal, and during our Seder we taste several types of charoset from around the world. Each guest is served a plate with six different charoset and we identify the country that each represents. Oh yes, the next day I roll the leftover charoset into balls and dip them in chocolate to serve as a special treat during the remaining days of Passover.

Dinner usually begins with homemade gefilte fish, but this year I plan on making a Gefilte Fish Terrine.

It is not as time-consuming to make, and the taste is the same. It is baked the oven, in a mold, and does not require poaching in a fish stock.

This is followed by an intensely flavored chicken soup with matzah balls, and it is the one dish I cannot change because it is everyone’s favorite.

Roast turkey is the main course, as well as chicken breasts that are filled with Grandma Molly’s Vegetable Stuffing, rolled and baked. The combination of sautéed vegetables, matzah meal and sweet raisins is delicious, and I always double the recipe, and bake the remainder of the stuffing in a casserole, because there is never enough to satisfy everyone. The glazed apple slices are easy to make and are a perfect accompaniment to serve with the chicken and turkey.

Dinner is always served buffet style and everyone helps themselves to their favorite Passover dishes.

For dessert, the table is set with an assortment of sponge cakes, cookies and chocolate-covered nuts and fruit. The walnut torte sponge cake looks extra-special by simply layering it with a preserve filling and then spooning a chocolate glaze on top.

Wine is an important part of the seder. In the past, sweet Concord grape wine was always served during Passover, but today dry Passover wines have gained in popularity, and the availability, and varieties are remarkable. These wines come from California, France, Italy and Israel, and, at our seder, we provide both sweet and dry wines, as well as grape juice, to satisfy everyone’s taste.

Rolled Chicken Breasts with Grandma Molly’s Passover

Vegetable Stuffing (pictured above)

Grandma Molly’s Vegetable Stuffing

8 chicken breasts (4 whole,

boned and cut in half)

1/4 cup oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

3 carrots, thinly sliced

1 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup dry white wine

Prepare Grandma Molly’s Vegetable Stuffing and cool.

Place a chicken breast, skin side down, on a sheet of wax paper, cover with another sheet of wax paper and using a mallet or tenderizer, gently pound the breast until desired thickness.

Spoon stuffing in the center and roll up the chicken breast, encasing the stuffing and tie with string. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts.

Line a baking pan with foil, brush with oil and arrange onions and carrots on top. Place stuffed chicken breasts on top, brush with oil and season with salt and pepper.

Add stock and wine and bake at 375 F for 20 minutes, increase the heat to 425 F, and bake about five minutes more, or until chicken is tender and crisp. Transfer to a cutting board and slice on the bias.

To serve, arrange sliced chicken breasts on plates and spoon any juices from pan that remain.

Serves 8.

Grandma Molly’s Passover

Vegetable Stuffing

1/2 cup raisins, plumped in 1 cup Passover Concord grape wine

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

4 stalks celery, finely diced

6 medium carrots, peeled and grated

1 parsnip, peeled and grated

2 medium zucchini, unpeeled

and grated

1/2 cup minced fresh parsley

2-3 tablespoons matzah meal

2-3 tablespoons matzah cake meal

2-3 tablespoons Passover cereal

or potato starch

1/4 cup dry red wine

Salt and freshly ground black

pepper to taste

In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil and sauté the onions and garlic until soft, about three minutes. Add the celery, carrots, parsnip, and zucchini, and toss well. Cook for five minutes until the vegetables begin to soften. Drain the raisins and add them to the vegetables with the parsley. Stir in 1 tablespoon each of the matzah meal, matzah cake meal and potato starch. Add the red wine and mix well. Stir in the remaining dry ingredients, a little at a time, until the stuffing is moist and soft but firm in texture. Season with salt and pepper. Cool.

Makes about 12 cups.

Chocolate Farfel-Pecan Clusters

16 ounces Passover semi-sweet chocolate

1 1/2 cups toasted matzah farfel

1 cup toasted, chopped pecans

In the top of a double boiler over simmering water or in a microwave, melt the chocolate. Pour the melted chocolate into a large bowl. Add the matzah farfel and pecans and mix thoroughly.

Spoon this mixture onto a waxed paper-lined baking sheet or ruffled paper candy cups. Refrigerate until set.

To serve: peel the clusters off the waxed paper and place on a platter or serve in candy cups, along with Passover sponge cakes and cookies. Makes about 30 to 40 clusters

From Page to Plate


Passover cooking becomes more fun each year with the
publication of glossy new kosher cookbooks brimming with creative suggestions
for elegant and enticing Passover dishes.

Whether you are planning your seder menu, looking for a
memorable Passover gift, or you just want a break from cleaning, salivate over
the scrumptious recipes in these cookbooks from master chefs and food writers.

“The Hadassah Jewish Holiday Cookbook: Traditional Recipes
from Contemporary Kosher Kitchens” (Hugh Lauter Levin, 2003), edited by Joan
Schwartz Michel, is a gorgeously photographed collection of 250 recipes from
Hadassah’s great cooks — Ashkenazic and Sephardic — in America and Israel.
Commentaries on holidays and their foods by Jewish cuisine experts like Joan
Nathan and Claudia Roden precede each section. The extensive Passover section
features seven types of charoset, from a Suriname cherry jam and dried fruit
recipe to the Persian version studded with pistachios, walnuts, almonds,
hazelnuts, dates, apples, pears and gingerroot. Try Traditional Chopped Liver,
Apple-Spiced Brisket or Chicken Marrakesh baked with olives, cumin, thyme,
apricots, figs, brown sugar and pecans. For dessert, whip up an Egyptian
Sephardic-style Orange Cake; or please kids and adults with Matzah Brickle,
Chocolate Pudding Cake and Lemon Squares.  

“Adventures in Jewish Cooking” (Clarkson Potter, 2002)
presents the innovative cuisine of Jeffrey Nathan, executive chef of Abigail’s
Restaurant in Manhattan and host of the PBS series, “New Jewish Cuisine.”
Alongside creative alternatives like Latin American Ceviche instead of gefilte
fish, Nathan offers “heritage” recipes like classic chopped liver. Date charoset
gets an extra kick with the addition of diced mango and quartered red grapes;
chicken soup goes Sephardic with saffron matzah balls; sweet oranges, smoky
trout and raddichio blend in an unusual salad; and wild mushroom-farfel
dressing complements a rack of veal. End on a light note with Banana Cake and
Strawberry Marsala Compote, or go all the way with the crunchy, creamy combo of
Matzah Napoleon with White Chocolate Mousse. Salivating yet?  

“Levana’s Table: Kosher Cooking for Everyone” (Stewart, Tabori
& Chang, 2002), offers 150 recipes from Levana Kirschenbaum, owner of Manhattan’s
kosher gourmet Levana Restaurant. Directions for creating homemade condiments
like preserved lemons and fiery Moroccan harissa will come in handy when adding
pizzaz to the Passover palate. The cookbook is divided by courses
(appetizers/soups/salads and so on, with a section on favorites from the
restaurant and even a kosher wine list), but cull through the book for numerous
recipes that can be made for Passover (some with minor adjustments) like the
nondairy Cream of Broccoli and Watercress Soup and Tricolor Ribbon Salad with
Cider-Shallot Dressing. Her suggested Passover menu: Trout Stuffed With Gefilte
Fish in Jellied Broth; Matzah Ball Soup; Brisket in Sweet and Sour Sauce;
Cider-Roasted Turkey with Dried Fruit Stuffing; Artichokes and Carrots in Lemon
Sauce; Potato Kugel; Almond-Wine Cake; and Poached Pears With Chocolate
Sauce.  

Chef Joyce Goldstein explores Sephardic foods in her newest
cookbook, “Saffron Shores: Jewish Cooking of the Southern Mediterranean”
(Chronicle, 2002). As she traces the crosscultural culinary trail of the diaspora,
Goldstein explores the spice-infused dishes of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya,
as well as Judeo-Arabic recipes. Goldstein introduces the book with an
informative history of Jews in Muslim lands, description of kosher laws and a
selection of menus for holidays. Be aware that Sephardim consider legumes and
rice kosher for Passover. Three Passover menus — two for dinner, one for lunch
— include an emerald soup of pureed peas, beans and greens; a vegetable stew of
artichokes, fennel and celery root; a Sabbath stew (akin to cholent) called D’fina;
Tunisian Fish Ball Tagine, Whiting and Potato Pie; Moroccan Carrot Salad with
Cumin. Oranges, dates, raisins and walnuts star in candied desserts and,
strangely enough, there’s a candied eggplant, too. 

“Sephardic Israeli Cuisine: A Mediterranean Mosaic,” by
cooking instructor and author Sheilah Kaufman (Hippocrene, 2002) treads the
same ground, from an Israeli perspective. Following an historical overview,
Kaufman offers tasty recipes, many of which can be made for Passover.
Specifically for the holiday, there are Turkish and Portuguese haroset
recipes-both date-based; Meat and Leek Patties; fava bean Soup; Moroccan
apricot lamb shanks; spinach bake; sweet potato cake, and sponge cake.

“Tastes of Jewish Tradition: Recipes, Activities &
Stories for the Whole Family,” by Jody Hirsh, Idy Goodman, Aggie Goldenholtz
and Susan Roth (JCC of Milwaukee, 2002) provides a complete family-friendly
holiday experience. Before the pages of 125 recipes even begin, parents and
grandparents are invited to delve into each holiday through stories, cartoons,
games, activities, craft ideas and a special “Kids in the Kitchen” page. For
Passover, there’s Matzah Pizza as well as directions for making seder plates, afikoman
bags, frog hats, Burning Bush table centerpieces and more. In the recipe
section, try Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Easy Eggplant Dip; Honey Pecan Crusted
Chicken; Salmon with Brown Sugar and Mustard Glaze; Passover Popovers; Cherry
Muffins; Greens Salad Garnished With Fresh Strawberries; “Macaroni” (i.e.,
farfel) and Cheese; Flourless Chocolate Cake, Mandel Brot and Brownies.

I don’t know about you, but suddenly I’m raring to get into
the kitchen. With these guidebooks and a little creativity of your own,
Passover dishes can be delicious, eclectic, elegant, easy and appetizing.  

Cooking with Chocolate


I absolutely love preparing chocolate desserts for Passover, and now that chocolate is considered a health food, it will give you all the more reason to include it in your Passover recipes. Chocolate desserts are easy to make, and you can create a variety of non-dairy chocolate desserts for Passover that will bring pleasure to everyone.

Over the years, I have created new chocolate recipes for my family to enjoy at our Passover dessert table. They include Passover florentines covered with chocolate, a chocolate-glazed marble cake with a texture similar to pound cake, Passover “French toast” and a chocolate espresso soufflé, made without butter or cream. All of these recipes conform to the Passover food restrictions.

The Chocolate soufflé recipe is adapted from my cookbook “Master Chefs Cook Kosher” and was created by Chef Ken Frank on my TV show. Hot, it rises to the occasion, and when cold, it becomes a rich, dense chocolate cake.

An assortment of chocolate Passover desserts will add something special to your seder. I serve them year-round and often fill a box to take as a gift when invited out to dinner.

  • Ken’s Chocolate Espresso Soufflé
  • Unsalted butter or non-dairy margarine for coating the dishes
  • Granulated sugar for coating the dishes
  • 4 egg whites
  • 3 tbs. Passover powdered sugar*
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup freshly brewed espresso coffee, warm
  • 6 ounces Passover semisweet chocolate, melted and warm
  • Passover powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

Coat six to eight (depending on the volume of beaten egg whites) 1/2-cup soufflé dishes evenly with margarine and dust with sugar. Set aside.

Whip the egg whites in a clean, dry mixing bowl until frothy. Add the powdered sugar and continue beating until soft peaks form.

Combine the egg yolks, espresso, and chocolate in another bowl and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, quickly fold the egg-yolk mixture into the egg-white mixture. Carefully pour the mixture into the prepared soufflé dishes up to the rim without disturbing the sugar lining. Bake for 8 minutes, until cooked through and crisp on top. To serve, sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve at once. Serves 6 to 8.

*If Passover powdered sugar is not available, powder the same amounts of granulated sugar in a blender or food processor and add 1/2 tsp. potato starch.

Passover Chocolate Marble Cake With Chocolate Glaze

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup matzah cake meal
  • 1/2 cup potato starch
  • 1/2 cup apple juice, wine or water
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup strong hot coffee or water

Chocolate Glaze (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 325° F.

Blend 3/4 cup of the sugar with the salt and oil. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Sift the potato starch and matzah-cake meal together. Add them to the egg-yolk mixture alternately with the apple juice, wine or water.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff enough to hold a peak. Fold the beaten egg whites into the egg-yolk mixture. Pour half of the batter into another bowl and reserve.

In a small bowl, mix together the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, cocoa powder and coffee, and fold this mixture into the reserved batter. Pour the two batters alternately (about 1 cup at a time) into a 10-inch (ungreased) tube pan.

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until the cake springs back to the touch and a toothpick inserted in it comes out dry. Remove the cake from the oven; immediately invert the pan and let it cool. Loosen the sides and center of the cake with a sharp knife and unmold it onto a cake plate. Drizzle the Chocolate Glaze over the cake, allowing it to run over the sides.

Chocolate Glaze

  • 8 ounces Passover nondairy semisweet chocolate, cut into pieces
  • 1/4 cup orange marmalade or apricot preserves
  • 1/2 cup espresso coffee, cooled

Place chocolate, marmalade and espresso in the top of a double boiler over simmering water (or melt in a microwave) and using a wire whisk, beat until smooth. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Passover Florentines (Farfel-nut Thins)

  • 1 cup matzah farfel
  • 1 tablespoon matzah cake meal
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup melted unsalted butter or pareve margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds
  • Chocolate Glaze (see recipe, above)

Preheat the oven to 325° F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the matzah farfel, matzah cake meal, sugar and salt, and mix well. Pour the butter or margarine over the farfel mixture and blend until the sugar dissolves. Add the egg and vanilla or orange juice and blend. Mix in the almonds. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 10 to 15 minutes. Line a baking sheet with foil and drop the farfel mixture in teaspoons onto the foil, about 2 inches apart. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely before lifting from the foil. Drizzle chocolate glaze over cookies. Makes about 8 dozen.

Passover “French Toast” with

Chocolate Sauce

  • 6 to 8 (1-inch thick) slices Passover Sponge Cake
  • 1/2 cup milk or orange juice
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel or orange peel
  • Unsalted butter or non-dairy margarine
  • Cinnamon-sugar (1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • to 1/4 cup sugar)
  • Chocolate Sauce (recipe follows)

In a large, shallow bowl, combine the milk, eggs and lemon or orange peel and beat well. Soak the sponge cake slices in the milk mixture.

In a skillet, heat the butter. Fry the cake on both sides until brown. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Serve with Chocolate Sauce.

Chocolate Sauce

  • 8 ounces Passover semisweet chocolate cut into pieces
  • 1/2 cup strawberry or raspberry preserves, strained
  • 1/2 cup espresso coffee, cooled

Place chocolate, preserves and espresso in the top of a double boiler over simmering water (or melt in a microwave) and, using a wire whisk, beat until smooth. Makes about 2 cups.

A Modern Mom Confronts Passover


Why is this night different from all other nights?

This night is different because I, a person who equates working in the kitchen with working on a chain gang, cook most of the multicourse Passover meal. Singlehandedly and from scratch, I might add.

While I know that Passover is not the Jewish holiday in which we make amends to those we have harmed or offended, it is my opportunity to compensate my family for all the fast food, frozen food and bowls of Cheerios that have constituted dinner over the past year. Cereal, as well as pancakes and eggs, are supper staples, causing my son Zack, 16, to consistently and vehemently complain, “Mom, we’re the only family in America that eats breakfast for dinner.”

But Passover encompasses far more than one day or one week. In fact, weeks before the seder, I embark on the five stages of Passover preparation: denial, procrastination, resignation, recipe-hunting and relentless list-making. Then I begin the actual work of scrubbing, sorting, shopping and trying to remember if mustard seed is kosher for Pesach.

This annual process invariably leads me to a question of my own: How can this labor-intensive and rule-ridden holiday of Passover celebrate freedom? The concept is oxymoronic, if not perverse.

Perhaps it was some Midrash-era Freud, in the first known application of experiential transgenerational psychology, or simple abnormal psychology, who commanded that each of us regard himself as if he personally went out of Egypt.

Me, I’d rather experience the real thing, risking the wrath of Pharaoh’s soldiers and wandering in the wilderness, in return for the convenience of having manna delivered six days a week — on time, at no charge — for the next 40 years. After all, the Bible (Numbers 11:9) describes the taste of manna as “the taste of a cake baked with oil.” That beats any bowl of Cheerios, including Team, Frosted or Multi-Grain.

And if you think Moses had difficulty trying to control 603,550 whining Israelites — and that didn’t include the women and children — try preparing a seder that conforms to the various culinary persuasions and health concerns of my extended family.

I admit that I have my own vegetarian agenda, which I have been quietly foisting upon my family over the years.

The vegetarian matzah ball soup was the first to appear. More amazing than the parting of the Red Sea, this soup magically transforms the world’s ugliest vegetables, with celery root pre-eminent among them, into a delicious and universally liked soup that truly “tastes like chicken.”

A roasted beet has replaced the shank bone — but not without controversy.

“Yuck,” says Danny, 8.

“What is that?” asks Jeremy, 10.

“We are not required to eat meat at Passover,” I explain. “The shank bone is merely a symbol, commemorating the paschal lamb. As Rabbi Huna stated in the Babylonian Talmud, in Tractate Pesachim 111b, a broiled beet can be halachically, or legally, substituted.”

At this point, everyone stops listening, commenting or caring because we still have four more parts of the seder, stretching from page 67 to page 80 of the haggadah we use, before the meal is served.

Last year, in an attempt to transform the seder into a dairy-and-fish extravaganza, I barely escaped an insurrection when I suggested we pass on Grandma Norma’s brisket.

“Mom, I thought you weren’t evangelical.”

“But we always have brisket.”

“I’m calling Grandma.”

So the brisket has been reinstated — indefinitely. Also reinstated, in a continuous loop playing in my head, is Janis Joplin. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” I find myself singing. Because after I’ve lost my chametz, stamina and sanity, as I do every Passover, what’s left?

But the truth, and maybe this is the underlying lesson of Passover, is that we’re blessed to have so much to complain about — from the crowds at our overstocked grocery stores to the mess in our overstocked cupboards.

From the choices of haggadot — including environmental, egalitarian and even interactive online — to the numbers of model seders we attend at our children’s day and religious schools. From the millions of verses of “Chad Gadya” to the millions of matzah crumbs we sweep off the floor.

The other truth is that most of us can’t possibly comprehend the true horrors of slavery. I constantly carp that my freedom ends when afternoon carpool begins. Danny protests, “You always have things you have to do: schoolwork, setting the table and taking out the garbage cans.” Gabe, the 12-year-old philosopher, adds, “No matter what, you’ll never be completely free.”

But our complaints are pitiful in light of the indignities and difficulties that the Israelites endured — or the atrocities that the European Jews experienced in World War II or the Russian Jews under any of their anti-Semitic governments.

The Bible commands us no less than four times to tell the story of Passover to our children. To put ourselves in the Israelites’ sandals, no matter how unrealistic or uncomfortable. To put ourselves in the shoes of oppressed Jews through the millennia, to remember our collective history, hostilities and victories.

The Exodus from Egypt, the escape from over 400 years of slavery under Pharaoh, marks an event no less monumental than the birth of the Jewish nation. Perhaps this is why Passover is the most celebrated Jewish holiday worldwide.

But with freedom comes responsibilities, regulations and restrictions.

With freedom also comes the opportunity to practice our religion without repercussions or reprisals. To moan meaninglessly about all our chores. And, even, to replace the shank bone with a broiled beet.


Jane Ulman writes a bimonthly column for The Jewish Journal. She lives in Encino with her husband and four sons.

Just in Time


Jeff, the guy from the party rental place, left this phone message two weeks ago:

“Passover is March 31,” he said, “and, say Marlene, you always call us the last minute. Do you think you might plan a bit ahead this time?”

Jeff isn’t even Jewish, but his calendar was right. I always leave everything to the last minute, from making the gefilte fish to writing the annual haggadah. When my guests arrive, they typically find me grating horseradish, my eyes bleary with tears. Then they have to help set the table, collate the copies from Kinkos and arrange the flowers. Until this year, I thought last-minute hospitality was the pursuit of freshness, or otherwise part of my charm. After all, the children of Israel only had a few hours to plan for their liberation. Having more than a day to plan a seder seems like overkill.

Then, a week ago, I spoke to my friend Carrie.

“I don’t want to rush your calendar, but what are you doing for Passover?” I asked. But Carrie had her plans set in concrete.

Then I called my cousin Rita, who knew for certain that she was spending the first night with her sister-in-law, Mary, who already had her chicken soup in the freezer. The broth was only awaiting the matzo balls. Rita was making the potato kugel she was planning to bring with her even as we spoke.

It only got worse. I have been making Passover seders for 20 years, and I have a huge core crowd of extended family who wouldn’t go anywhere else but my home. But I always like to add new people since I too was once a stranger in a strange land. But all my favorite “strangers” this year were already accounted for. My friend Andy, an award-winning caterer, not only had his plans but he’d made his tzimmes and brisket last weekend. It seems that only I was still thinking that Passover was a big surprise party. The surprise was on me, who had not yet ordered my whitefish, pike and carp.

Maybe it is because I am a Baby Boomer and grew up in what was once called the Age of Anxiety, the post-Bomb era, that I have never been good at planning ahead. My husband, who was older than me by a generation, was even worse in this regard. Our first Passover together was memorable because Burton called his cousins at 4:30 to ask if we could attend their seder, which was starting at 6.

Even when it became a certainty that Passover was my holiday, just as Thanksgiving is my friend Marika’s, I still never got in the groove. I think it has something to do with the smells. I love the smells of the holidays, the rich aroma of beef and chicken and fish that come together just around 4 p.m. when the guests arrive. So that’s one reason I do almost everything at last minute.

Another reason is that, in contrast to Greta Garbo, I don’t really want to be alone. I only begin planning my Passover right after my parents declare they’ve bought their airline tickets. Cooking for Passover, to me, means cooking with Mom.

It wasn’t always like that. When I was young and newly married, my friends and I put together a gourmet Passover. The more esoteric the foods, the better. Some years we’d have lamb, others we’d be vegetarian. We were brave and creative –and nuts.

As I got older, I wanted my daughter to know a real seder. I needed real Jewish foods exactly as I had had them. At that point, my parents felt confident that it was safe to eat at my table, so long as my mother helped to cook. Rather than have her shlep three slabs of brisket from Florida to L.A., I left all the cooking until my mother arrived. I waited each year so she could show me for the thousandth time how she mixed together Hungarian paprika, garlic salt and oil into a luscious paste for baked chicken. Doing the work together made the day fly.

From time to time, my mother and father would stay in New York and Florida, so over time, my friend Willie began to share the cooking load. Willie, too, is a last-minute chef; she’d come to the house in the late afternoon, and make her renowned light-as-air matzo balls even as the seder began, spooning them into the rolling vat of soup.

But this year, my parents are staying in Florida. Willie and her husband are in Japan. I’m still having a table of 20, so what will I do?

The older we get, the earlier we begin. I used to think it is the labor alone that makes people start their holiday planning. But now I think we begin cooking and planning for Passover early because we need our memories to come alive, a testimony of faith in the present. We’ll be thinking about who isn’t coming this year, and who won’t be there next year. And soon enough, long before you need to, the big rush begins: You first buy the ingredients, then, what the heck, you might as well start making it. And before you know it, the soup is in Tupperware in the freezer, and the brisket is ready for slicing. So this year, Jeff got his order early. Who knows, if I do my preparing early enough, I’ll be ready for Passover, memories and all, just in time.


Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist of The Jewish Journal, will appear at Barnes & Noble in Calabasas on Sunday March 21.

Her website is www.marleneadlermarks.com.

Her e-mail address is wmnsvoice@aol.comHer book, “A Woman’s Voice” is available through Amazon.com.