Chocolate Covered Charoset Truffles: Passover

Charoset truffles

This treat combines chocolate with a Sephardi version of charoset, the Passover fruit concoction representing the building of granaries by the Hebrew slaves. Use this charoset recipe for your Seder and save the leftovers for your truffles. Or, make enough charoset to plan for these truffles as a Seder dessert. Either way, they are unusual and delicious.

By the way stories about the Sephardi role in spreading chocolate in the world as well as contemporary and historical recipes, may be found in On the Chocolate Trail (Jewish Lights).

Makes 24 truffles

3 pounds high-quality dark or bittersweet chocolate, preferably fair trade, broken into pieces
¼ cup pistachios
¼ cup pecans
1/8 cup almonds
1/8 cup pine nuts
½ tart apple
¼ navel orange, with rind
A few drops of sweet white wine
A few drops of honey
Pinch of fresh or ground ginger (or to taste)
Pinch of ground cinnamon (or to taste)

1) Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or waxed paper. Grind the nuts, apples and orange separately in a food processor. The nuts should be as close to a powder as possible without becoming “butter.”

2) Combine the nuts, apple, orange, wine, honey, ginger, and cinnamon in a bowl, mixing well. The charoset filling should have a smooth, thick texture.

3) Roll the charoset into one inch balls. Melt the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water; remove from the heat. Using two forks, dip the balls into the melted chocolate and place on the prepared baking sheet; refrigerate until the chocolate has set.

Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz speaks about chocolate and Jews around the world. Her book, “On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao,” was published in 2013 by Jewish Lights and is in its third printing. The book is used in adult study, classroom settings, book clubs and chocolate tastings. She is Co-Curator for the Temple Emanu-El Bernard Museum exhibit of “Jews on the Chocolate Trail” to be mounted in the fall of 2017.

This is cross posted from The Forward

Raspberry swirl chocolate torte with pecan crust

Passover desserts can really be the worst. Canned macaroons. Dry cake. And while I know many people who love it, super rich flourless chocolate cake is just not my thing. I don’t enjoy how dense it is, even if i love chocolate. And I do love chocolate.

Instead of the traditional, flourless chocolate cake, I wanted to create a chocolate dessert that was a bit lighter, while still remaining rich and chocolaty. The raspberry jam adds a slight tang to the torte, and pecan crust lends a nice crunch. I literally could not stop eating this, and so I gave it to my neighbors to eat instead. Suckers.

Note: After you bake the pecan crust it might look a little funny, like it didn’t work – almost a little too bubbly. I was also worried when I made it, but it is totally fine. I would also recommend topping your torte with fresh raspberries and even a few sprigs of mint for an extra beautiful presentation.

Raspberry swirl chocolate torte with pecan crust


For the crust:

  • ¼ cup margarine or butter
  • ½ cup pecans
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • For the filling:
  • 8 oz dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup margarine or butter (1 stick)
  • 1 tsp instant espresso
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup strawberry or raspberry jam
  • Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)



Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

To make the crust: melt the ¼ cup margarine or butter in the microwave at 20 second intervals.

Place the pecans, salt and sugar in a food processor fitted with blade attachment and pulse until you have course looking crumbs. Add melted margarine/butter and pulse 1-2 more times.

Press mixture into an 8 or 9 inch springform pan. Bake 7-8 minutes. The crust may look a little funny, bubbly or like it is ruined. But this is totally fine. Set aside.

To make the filling: Place the chocolate chips and margarine in medium saucepan over low heat until smooth. Whisk in cocoa and espresso. Cool 10 minutes.

Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar in large bowl on high speed until thick, about 6 minutes. Fold in chocolate mixture slowly. Then fold in raspberry jam, but don’t mix too much. Pour batter into prepared crust.

Bake torte until dry and cracked on top and tester inserted into center comes out with some moist batter attached, about 35-40 minutes. Cool in pan on rack 1 hour (center will fall).

Using an offset spatula or butter knife, carefully separate torte from sides of pan. Remove outer ring of springform pan.

Dust with powdered sugar if desired or serve with fresh raspberries and mint on top.

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Arugula Matzo Lasagna


  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, 3 minced and 3 sliced thinly
  • 1 medium-size carrot, peeled and minced
  • 1 to 2 sprigs fresh oregano or thyme (optional but nice)
  • 1⁄4 cup red wine of choice (optional)
  • 1 (23- to 28-ounce) container tomato puree
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 bunches arugula, washed thoroughly, stemmed, and spun dry (about 8 cups), or equal amounts of spinach
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (add up to 1 teaspoon if you like heat)
  • 1⁄4 cup unsalted walnuts
  • 1⁄2 cup 2% or full-fat cottage cheese
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 8 unsalted matzos (less than 1 box)
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 10 to 12 ounces mozzarella cheese, sliced or shredded

tools: 12-inch skillet or wok, food processor, 9 by 13-inch baking dish

Make the marinara sauce: In a medium-size saucepan, heat 2 table- spoons of the olive oil over medium heat, then add the onion, the minced garlic, and the carrot, cooking until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add the herbs and wine, if using; cook until the wine is reduced by half. Stir occasionally to minimize sticking.

Add the tomato puree and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, so the sauce can simmer over low heat. Cover the pot and cook for about 30 minutes; remove the herb sprigs and add salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm until ready to assemble the lasagna.

Meanwhile, make the arugula filling: Divide the arugula in half and place in two bowls. At first, it will seem like an excessive amount of greens, but it will all be put to use. 

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet or wok over medium-high heat and add half of the arugula, and the 3 cloves of garlic sliced thinly. With tongs, turn the arugula to coat it with the oil; it will wilt (and shrink) rather quickly. Cook for about 2 minutes.

Transfer the cooked arugula mixture to the bowl of a food processor. Add the remaining uncooked arugula, red pepper flakes, and walnuts to the food processor, in batches if necessary. Whiz until the mixture becomes an emerald green puree. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and whiz for another minute or so. Add the 1⁄2 teaspoon of salt and whiz for a few seconds. Taste, adjust the salt as needed, and add black pepper as you see fit.

Remove the blade from the food processor and measure out 1 cup of the puree. Transfer to a medium-size mixing bowl. (You will have about

3⁄4 cup of leftover puree; store in the fridge in an airtight container and use within 2 days as a sandwich spread, over rice, or devoured with an egg. It’s a wonderful cook’s treat.)

Rinse out and wipe dry the bowl of the food processor and place the cot- tage cheese in the bowl. Process until completely blended and smooth; it will look like sour cream. Transfer to the bowl with the arugula puree and stir together until completely integrated. Stir in the nutmeg.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

Before assembly, it’s a good idea to check how the matzos fit inside a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. (Two matzos should easily fit, side by side.) Grease the dish, then wet each matzo under a slow trickle of warm water to moisten. Stack the damp matzos and cover with a damp paper towel.

Spoon enough marinara sauce onto the bottom of the baking dish to cover its surface. Place a layer of matzos side by side, so that they’re snug, on top of the sauce. With a rubber spatula, spread half of the arugula filling on top of the matzo, covering the surface, and add one-fourth of the mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano. 

Create a new layer of matzo, and this time, spoon in enough marinara sauce to cover the surface, followed by another one-fourth addition of each cheese. 

For the third matzo layer, spread the remaining arugula filling on top, followed by another one- fourth addition of each cheese.

For the top layer, place the remaining two matzos, followed by the remaining marinara sauce, spread evenly. Top the whole thing off with the remaining cheese.

Cover with foil and bake the lasagna until fork tender and bubby, about 50 minutes. Remove the foil and allow the cheese to brown for 10 minutes be- fore removing the baking pan from the oven. 

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Source: The Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebrations by Kim O’Donnel.  Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright (c) 2012.

Vegan Passover recipe: Chocolate matzo brittle

My favorite Passover treat is Matzo Brittle—a sweet and festive way to end the meal. Try out this recipe below from VegKitchen:

Chocolate Matzo Brittle

  • 1 cup dairy-free chocolate chips
  • 2 Tbsp. agave nectar or maple syrup
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • 2 matzos, broken into pieces slightly larger than bite-size
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup lightly toasted nuts (e.g., sliced or slivered almonds, chopped walnuts, pecans, or pistachios)
  • 1/2 cup dark or golden raisins, dried cranberries, or other chopped dried fruit, such as apricots, mangoes, or pineapple


Line two large plates with wax paper or parchment.

Combine the chocolate chips, agave nectar, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Cook over low heat until smoothly melted. Remove from the heat.

Add the broken matzo. Stir to coat evenly with the chocolate. Spread in a more or less single layer onto two parchment- or wax paper–lined plates. Sprinkle the nuts and raisins over the top. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Just before serving, break up into large chunks and transfer to a serving platter.

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.


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!


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


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.


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.


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.

Michal Ansky celebrates spring’s bounty on Passover

Here’s the first thing you notice about Michal Ansky: She’s beautiful. Tall, with long black hair and a strong, lean Israeli build. In the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey, where we meet, people do double takes. She’s not quite famous here yet, though Fox TV selected Ansky from among all the cooking experts in the world to be one of three judges on its hit program, “MasterChef.” Padma Lakshmi, watch your back.

In Israel, however, Ansky is a major food celebrity. She was a judge on the Israeli version of “MasterChef,” one of the country’s most popular shows. She hosts a popular show on Channel 10, “Fresh Cooking.” And most significantly, she, along with Shir Halpern and partner/husband Roee Hemed, founded Israel’s first true farmers markets, giving Israelis direct access to farmers’ fruits, vegetables and products of the land.

I came to talk to Ansky about Israeli food, not the TV show, and about Passover. She is not religious, but she does revel in the tradition of the holiday — it’s part of the land, and it’s part of her roots.

“We live in a cynical age,” she said. “There are no surprises. One day is like the next. But I think it’s very important to have tradition that makes certain times special, and I don’t take it for granted.”

For Ansky, Passover also means the first strawberries, the first greens and herbs, the early peas.

“I love it all,” she said. “But mostly, I love my grandmother’s soup noodles. She’s from the Carpathian Mountains in Czechoslovakia. She makes them with matzah meal flour and eggs; she makes crepes and rolls them and slices them like fettuccine. I can eat them all year, not just Passover. But I also love her charoset and her matzah balls. My grandmother is a great cook.”

The Shuk HaNamal in Tel Aviv. Photo courtesy of Michal Ansky.

Ansky’s family has deep roots in Israel. Her grandfather, Rabbi Haim Gevaryahu, taught Bible to Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, as well as to Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Gevaryahu created the Bible Quiz, a beloved Israeli institution that for generations has encouraged Israelis to learn Torah. Ansky’s father, Alex, is the country’s leading radio personality, and her mother, Sherry Ansky, has written a food column for Ma’ariv newspaper for 30 years and published 11 cookbooks. 

Michal Ansky’s fondest first memories are of picking wild pine mushrooms, oraniot, in the forests surrounding her Jerusalem home, of shopping in the Old City, where Palestinian women spread out their blankets and pile them high with wild greens and cactus fruit for sale.

“I guess everything I’ve done in my life I see through the lens of food,” she said.

After graduating with a degree in literature from Hebrew University, Ansky followed her passion: She enrolled in the masters program in gastronomic sciences at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy.

 “It was very intense,” she said. “The first few months was theory and books. Cured meat, cheeses, wine, olive oil, vegetables, production, history, anthropology. The next year we spent traveling Italy and the rest of the world. We studied wine in Burgundy. We went to Crete to learn about goat cheese and honey. We learned about cured ham, so we went to Parma, then to Spain to learn about Catalonia jamon.” 

Ansky didn’t become a chef — she said she only likes to feed the people she loves. She became an expert on food, a gastronome. Along the way, she had a realization.

“I became incredibly proud of Israel’s food,” she said. “We ate in three-star Michelin restaurants, three or more meals a day, meeting the biggest chefs and the best food producers in the world. And I kept comparing it to the food we have in restaurants in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, we really can be proud of what we have, of what we’ve established.’ ”

So the granddaughter of the man who inculcated a love of Torah throughout Israeli society set about teaching Israelis to love not just the book about the land, but the fruit of the land itself.

Three years ago, she and her partners opened the country’s first farmers market in the refurbished port area of Tel Aviv. Local growers bring their produce to sell, along with producers of artisan breads, cheeses and honey. Eventually they created six such markets in Tel Aviv, Beer Sheva, Herzliya and other Israeli cities. 

Ansky also co-founded the Shuk HaNamal, a permanent farmers market with 32 booths. Among them is her mother’s now-famous herring stand. Sherry Ansky guts, fillets and cures her own matjes and shmaltz herring, offering it to shoppers on a sliced homemade baguette with a shmeer of chicken shmaltz and some thin-sliced pepper.

“People go there and eat it and break into tears,” Michal told me, getting more and more excited as she described the herring scene. “I’ve seen 10 people cry in front of her. It brings them back to what they had at their grandparents’ house.  Food takes you places immediately. ”

The farmers markets, officially linked to the International Slow Food movement, attract some 20,000 Israelis in a weekend.

You’d think that in a country as small as Israel, every vegetable is “local,” especially compared to American markets, whose produce travels thousands of miles to land on the shelves. But Israel’s famous outdoor shuks, like Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem and Shuk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv, sell the products of more industrialized farms in massive quantities. Israelis, Ansky said, are willing to pay slightly higher prices for more variety and quality, direct from the producers.

And the farmers markets have a value beyond just great quality. They allow Israelis to taste some of the country’s finest produce, which otherwise often goes to higher-priced export markets. People can buy locally, and learn more about the food their land produces from the people who grow and make it.

“I walk around the market and I feel it’s a cultural meeting point. It’s not just a shopping experience. That’s the real point,” Ansky said.

Ansky is a TV personality now — a little hesitant to get into controversy. But she is happy — relieved even — when I raise the inevitable questions about how she navigates Israel’s particular intense food politics. 

Israeli settlers from Tekoa sell delicious mushrooms in the Tel Aviv markets, but many shoppers boycott their products. On the other hand, Palestinians from the territories have difficulty selling their products inside the Green Line.

“The best tahini in the world — in the world — is made in Nablus,” Ansky said.

Ansky once made a short film in which she played an anarchist who sneaked Nablus’ al-Jamal tahini onto an Israeli supermarket shelf and into a Tel Aviv McDonald’s. In the last scene, she sits naked in a bubble bath, rubbing the sesame paste on her face. 

“Food is also political mirror,” she said. Then she stops herself: No controversy.

I ask her if what she means is that food can be a way for two cultures sharing this small bit of land to appreciate their common gift, respect it and, through food, learn to respect each other.

“I agree,” Ansky said, smiling. “Write it down. It’s partly what I’m trying to achieve.”

Ansky wants to see a farmers market in every Israeli town. She especially wants to start them in poorer areas, to prove that healthful, delicious food is not just the birthright of residents of North Tel Aviv. She wants to see great Palestinian products on Israeli shelves, and she wants to see all the people who share the land treating it, and one another, better.

It’s a kind of Zionist dream, perhaps the natural heir to the one her grandparents realized — no less idealistic, no less possible, no less rooted in the land.

As it happens, two weeks after meeting Ansky in Marina del Rey, I have a trip scheduled to Tel Aviv. The farmers market closes at 3 p.m. on Friday, my 14-hour El Al Flight 6 nonstop lands — exactly on time — at 2 p.m. I race through customs, leap into a cab and tell the driver, “The farmers market, please, but fast.” I make it to the port as the vendors begin loading their unsold bounty onto trucks.

The market smells of Passover — peas, artichokes, bundles of fresh herbs, mountains of spring carrots, flats of ripe strawberries.

I make for the herring stand marked “Sherry Herring.” Ansky’s brother Hillel extracts a filet and — as carefully as a sushi chef — slices it. He blends it with fresh local olive oil, lemon, thin-sliced peppers and onion. It is buttery, soft, tasting of the sea, the deli and Israel. It is the best herring I’ve ever had.

The market itself is still quite lively. I sample flawless goat cheeses from Adi Ellis, who with her husband, Tal, runs Tzon-El in Zippori. There are home-cured olives, fresh-roasted nuts, wildflower honeys, fresh fish and meat. This is the land of Israel at its best. I also spot some jars of al-Jamal tahini.  It is of politics but beyond politics, a true birthright to those who live off the land, growing, harvesting and eating its fruits. I can think of no better place to begin the Passover season, to get into the spirit of the holiday.

The food and the setting remind me of something Ansky told me earlier, when I asked her about her Passover celebration: how holiness — how we eat, how we treat the land, how we treat one another — is not a God-given right but an act of will.

“I don’t really feel like Eliyahu Hanavi, Elijah the Prophet, will come and enter our table at Passover,” she said.

“But I do feel I can choose to see this feast as a holy one. If I take a shower, and choose carefully what to wear, and sit between my grandmother and my little girl, and continue this beautiful tradition of eating together and remembering something that happened 4,000 years ago — it is holy if I choose it to be.”

For more on Michal Ansky, including a photo slideshow of the farmers market and her Israeli restaurant recommendations, visit this story at


1 pound thick-sliced strips of fresh grouper, carp or other fish
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon fresh crushed garlic
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups matzah meal
Cooking oil

Rinse strips of fish and coat with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon paprika and crushed garlic.

Sprinkle lemon juice over fish strips. Refrigerate until ready to fry.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs, add additional paprika and matzah meal; mix well.

Heat about 1/2 inch oil in frying pan while coating the fish with mixture from bowl.

Fry fish strips until golden.

Serve with mashed tomatoes or hot pepper and vegetable salad.


1 smoked mackerel
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 (4-ounce) package cream cheese 
2 teaspoons scraped or mashed fresh white horseradish
4 to 6 green onions, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel and clean fish of all its bones. Sprinkle lemon zest over it, reserving lemon juice.

Place fish into the bowl of a food

processor and pulse until no large pieces remain.

In a separate bowl, mix cream cheese with horseradish.

Add fish and green onions to bowl; mix together.

Season to taste with salt, pepper and reserved lemon juice as desired.

Serve on top of matzahs, and garnish with sprouts or small radish.

For more Passover recipes visit

Taking a modern approach to Passover desserts

At Passover, because tradition rules, I’m willing to bet that, at most seder tables, undistinguished sponge and honey cake, coconut macaroons and probably some dried fruits cooked into a compote are trotted out at meal’s end, met with no discernable oohs and aahs of rapture from those at the table.

Why not bend tradition a bit in the name of making the last course as delectable as the dishes that precede it? Adhering to the albeit fluid rules that proscribe chemical leavening, and flour- and corn-based products, there’s still a whole world of modern and delicious desserts that can grace the Passover table.

Arid though the desert was that our ancestors had to endure during their captivity, dry cakes were not part of the deprivations and don’t need to be today. Pastry chef that I am, I am not content to end the meal on a blah note.

Three factors are key: First, whip the eggs and sugar for the cake bases until they are light in color and fall in wide ribbons from the whisk attachment of the mixer. Second, fold the dry ingredients into the base with a light hand (and I do mean hand — splay the fingers of your hand, and lightly comb through the beaten base as you add the dry ingredients, folding only until the dries disappear into the mix). Third, keep an eye on the cakes as they bake to avoid drying them out by over-baking. Ethereal and moist cakes are the goal.

Here’s a recipe for a pistachio cake with a creamy citrus curd that will leave your Passover guests asking for more.


This is a moist pistachio-flecked sponge cake (made with matzah cake flour), which is drenched in a syrup flavored with the juice and zest of seasonal citrus (tangerine, low-acid Oro Blanco grapefruit, pink-fleshed pomelo and lime) and filled with a creamy starch-free citrus curd. Filets of the citrus fruits adorn the top of the cake, which is then crowned by a shard of pistachio crunch flecked with bits of sea salt. Complex in taste, simple to execute, this cake is a fitting ending to any seder but is truly a dessert for all seasons. Just choose fruits in season to create the syrup and the garnishes.


1/3 cup pistachios, finely ground (if possible, use commercially made pistachio flour, which is more finely ground and uniform in texture)
Scant 1/2 cup matzah cake flour
Scant 1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs, separated
Zest of 1 medium lime
Grease an 8-inch round cake pan with cooking spray or flavorless oil. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper. Spray the paper lightly and set the pan aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Sift together the ground pistachio flour and matzah cake meal; discard any larger pieces that remain in the sieve.

In the bowl of an electric mixer outfitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks and half of the sugar until the mixture is light and lemon-colored and falls from the whisk in a thick ribbon. Fold in lime zest.

In a clean, dry bowl with a clean whisk, beat the egg whites until frothy. With the mixer running, add the remaining sugar and beat until stiff but shiny peaks form. Lightly but thoroughly, fold the pistachio flour-

matzah cake meal mixture gently but thoroughly into the beaten egg yolk base. Then fold the beaten egg whites into the yolk mixture. Immediately scrape the mixture into the prepared pan.

Bake the cake for approximately 25 minutes, or until the cake feels firm to the touch and is slightly browned. Do not overbake. Remove the cake from the oven and set on a cooling rack.

When cool, remove the cake from the pan and place it on a cake cardboard set on a turntable. Using a long serrated knife, cut the cake into two even layers and set aside.


1 medium pink grapefruit
1 medium white grapefruit
1 medium blood orange or navel orange
1 large tangerine

Using a small serrated knife, cut a thin slice from the top and bottom of each citrus fruit. Then, following the contours of the fruit, remove the white pith surrounding the fruit. Over a bowl to collect the juices, which will be used in the citrus syrup, release each filet from the fruits by working the knife just adjacent to the connective membranes, making the first cut toward the center of the fruit and then next cut away from the center. The filets should then neatly release from the connective membranes of the fruit. Remove and discard any seeds. Continue until all filets have been removed, keeping each variety separate. Store, covered, in the refrigerator until ready to assemble the dessert.


1/2 cup fresh squeezed citrus juice (a combination of tangerine, grapefruit and lime works well here)
4 large eggs
Generous 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1-ounce pieces, softened

Place the juice, eggs and sugar into a stainless steel bowl set over a saucepan half-filled with simmering water. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. Cook the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it becomes as thick as a thin mayonnaise. Remove from the heat. Press through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean heatproof bowl. Whisk in the butter, piece by piece, keeping the mixture emulsified. When cool, place the curd, covered, into the refrigerator until ready to assemble the cake. (Note: You will have leftover curd to use for another dessert if you use it as a single layer between the two layers of cake, rather than spreading it on the top layer of the cake as well, as noted below.)


1 cup mixed citrus juice, sieved (made from the juice that has collected when preparing the citrus filet garnish)
Simple syrup (1/3 cup each of granulated sugar and water, boiled until the sugar dissolves completely), as needed, to lightly sweeten the citrus juices

Combine the mixed citrus juice and enough simple syrup to lightly sweeten. Brush the layers of cake liberally with the citrus syrup and set aside at room temperature, covered, to prevent drying out. Reserve the remaining syrup in the refrigerator for use when plating and serving the dessert.

Note: Depending on the size of the fruits and how juicy they are, it may be necessary to supplement the juice by extracting the juice from additional fruits.


Generous 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon water
Scant 1/2 cup pistachios, toasted in a preheated 350 F oven for approximately 10 minutes, or until lightly brown and fragrant, and kept warm until combined with the syrup below
Fleur de sel or other sea salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Ten minutes before you begin making the pistachio crunch, place a Silpat-lined baking pan into the oven to heat.

In a heavy saucepan, cook the sugar and water, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 320 F on a cooking thermometer. Combine the syrup with the warm nuts and quickly pour the mixture onto the heated baking pan. Return the pan to the oven and bake until lightly golden. Remove from the oven, immediately sprinkle the salt lightly and evenly over the crunch and store in a cool, dry place. Break the crunch into irregular-shaped shards just before plating the desserts.


Assemble the cake by spreading half of the citrus curd on one cake layer. Top with the other cake layer and press lightly to compact. If desired, spread remaining citrus curd on top of the top layer of cake. Otherwise, reserve leftover curd to serve over berries or lightened with whipped cream for a nice secondary dessert. Chill the cake until just before serving.

To serve, cut the cake into 8 equal portions. Top each portion with a filet of each type of citrus fruit and garnish with a shard of pistachio crunch. Place the portions onto serving plates and pour an equal amount of citrus syrup onto each plate. Serve immediately.

Makes 1 cake, 8 servings.

Illuminated Reflections: On view through May 8, 2011, at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd.,  Los Angeles, CA 90049; (310) 440-4500.

Robert Wemischner is the author of four books, including his latest, “The Dessert Architect” (Cengage Learning Inc., 2010). He teaches professional baking at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College. To learn more, visit his Web site,

For more Passover recipes visit

Sammy Mendelsohn’s Yummy Passover Granola [RECIPE]

Preheat oven to 375 – 400.
Mix together the following ingredients in a large bowl:

1 box of whole wheat matzo farfel (regular farfel works too)
1 grated apple
2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup safflower oil
1/3 cup honey
pecan pieces and/or sliced or slivered almonds

(all amounts are approximate; add more of what you like and reduce what you don’t)

Spread out mixture on a large shallow baking pan and bake for about 30 minutes. During baking, mix it around once or twice. When mixture is toasted, let it cool.

Optional: Add 1 cup of raisins (or other dried fruit) after baking.
Let it cool, and store in a nice tight container.

Serving Suggestions:
Eat for breakfast in a bowl with milk.
Mix into yogurt.
Bring it to the movies and eat like popcorn!

Matzoh Brittle [RECIPE]

Line a cookie sheet with tin foil-shiny side down.  Spray with cooking spray. 
Fill cookie sheet with matzah.

In a pan, boil 1/2 cup of margarine or butter and 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar until caramelized
Pour over matzah.  Bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes.

Pour 12 oz. Passover chocolate chips over the matzah and put back in the oven for one minute, until the chips are melted enough to spread.  Spread over the matzah.  (you can also sprinkle ground nuts if you like)

Put in freezer to harden.  Then break into pieces and serve cold.

Chicken and Duck Soup

You will need one whole duck for this preparation. Have your butcher separate the breasts and legs from the bird and de-bone the legs. All the leg and breast meat should still have its skin on. Ask your butcher to grind all the meat for you. You will have approximately 1 3/4 pounds of ground duck. Make sure you collect all the bones from the duck for the broth.

Duck Dumplings

2 boneless duck legs with their skins (approximately 3/4 lb.), put through a meat grinder

2 duck breasts with their skins (approximately 1 lb.), put through a meat grinder

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 medium-sized Spanish onion, minced

1 tsp. ground cardamom

1/2 cup matzah cake flour

3 tsp. salt


3 lbs. of chicken back bones

The bones of one de-boned duck with its wings

2 tbs. olive oil

2 large onions, peeled and quartered

3 ribs of celery, whole

1 carrot, 1/2-inch-thick pieces

1 head of garlic sliced in half, separating the top from the bottom

1 tbs. turmeric

4 dried Persian limes (lemon omani*), put in a towel and crush the limes open.

1/2 tbs. dried mint

Sea salt to taste

1 cup chopped fresh spinach

Juice from 1 fresh lime

Fresh herbs such as mint, dill and parsley, chopped

Rinse bones with cold water and set aside. In a large stock pot heat olive oil and add the onions, celery, garlic and carrots, and stir while cooking for approximately five minutes until onions become translucent but not brown. Adjust the flame in order to not brown vegetables. Add the turmeric, crushed dried limes and the mint, and continue to sauté for an additional two minutes. Add the chicken backbones, duck bones and enough water to cover the bones by approximately six inches. Bring to a boil and ladle off the coagulated albumin and fat that will rise to the top. Reduce to a low flame and simmer for 2 1/2 hours.

In the meantime, to make the dumplings, mix the ground duck meat with the garlic, onion, cardamom, matzah cake flour and salt. Roll into 1-inch diameter meatballs. Refrigerate until the broth is ready.

When the broth is ready, carefully pour broth through a strainer and into a clean pot. Bring the broth back to a simmer and add the chicken dumplings. Place a lid on to the pot, and let cook for ten minutes or until the dumplings have cooked all the way through.

To serve, place a couple of dumplings into each soup bowl along with some freshly chopped spinach, herbs and, if using, the blanched fava beans. Taste the remaining broth and adjust the saltiness. Add the juice of the fresh lime and ladle the soup into bowls.

To find lemon omani visit these Web sites: and

‘Power’ Brisket: Adding Barbecue Flavor for Pesach

For the recipe, click here.

My friend called from New York the other day. He wanted to get my recipe for smoked barbecue brisket so that he could make it for Passover.

“I’m really tired of bad brisket,” he said wearily.

I think he really meant dry brisket. Face it, brisket is among the toughest cuts of beef, but one that, if properly prepared, pays off mightily.

The barbecue brisket I usually make is one that cooks for more than 12 hours, usually 16. That’s the low-and-slow method. I know my buddy has neither the patience nor the experience to tackle this. So, I gave him a shortcut: The “power method.”

The power method is to raise the temperature from the traditional 220 F to 325 F (and no higher, please) during the entire cooking time. The brisket comes out tender and full of flavor. There is, however, one trade-off: little to no bark — the crunchy exterior on the meat.

The reason, as you’ll see when you study the recipe, is that for a good portion of the cooking time, you’re actually steaming the meat. Nothing inherently wrong with this, but that’s what is happening. (I have a method for getting bark on this recipe. You can e-mail me for it at

The final product more closely resembles the traditional Passover brisket than it does, say, a brisket done for a party at my house. The value you add by smoking the meat for a couple of hours is a distinctive flavor that does not depend wholly on seasoning or marinating.

To be clear, while the cooking involves as little as four hours, the process can take up to six or seven. Still, it’s a lot less than the 12 to 16 hours you could spend and might not have on any given day.

The person who shared this with me is a barbecue champion, Myron Mixon of Jack’s Old South in Georgia. Mixon basically makes a living competing across the country. He applies “power” to his championship brisket and ribs.

I give Mixon credit for everything here if it comes out right, and I take all the blame if it doesn’t, because I have adjusted his recipe to my taste and the notion that your smoker/cooker is not a professional version.

I’m going to give you the basics here and you can find the entire recipe online at

First, buy a brisket of about 15 to 20 pounds. However, it can be any size and you can adjust accordingly. You’ll also need an injector, the kind that has the plunger.

Your heat source and cooker — grill or smoker — and the wood you use is completely up to you, but I encourage you not to use mesquite to smoke. I like a mix of oak and a little apple or just hickory.

I have used many different smokers, and they all work if they’re large enough. I would not recommend smoking the brisket on a wok, because the heat and smoke easily escape. A stove-top smoker can work well, but make sure it’s one with a dome lid. (I like the one from Nordicware that resembles a Weber kettle.) Beware, however, that smoking indoors can result in a lot of smoke — indoors.

No matter what cooker you select, you are going to use an indirect heat method. This means putting the meat in a place that is not directly over heat. Usually, this means the meat goes on one side of the grill, while on the other side is the fire.

If you have a gas grill, follow the instructions it has for using a smoker box and wood chips. If you like barbecue sauce, serve it on the side. I’m not big on it with brisket, but this recipe will produce enough jus to use as a dipping sauce.

You don’t have to be a barbecue master to make this work, but you do have to pay attention to each step and be careful with the temperature. The recipe is easier to execute if you do it over two days.

Day 1 will involve about a half hour of preparation injecting the brisket with a bouillon concoction, and then you put it in a giant brining bag and into the refrigerator for at least four hours. Day 2, you cook. Preparation time is about an hour, cooking is about four and the time to let the brisket rest is about two hours.

So, if you think you’re up to the challenge, click here for the recipe.  Let me know how it turns out.

Alejandro Benes is a barbecue aficionado and a partner in Southern California’s Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill restaurant group. Benes recently prepared his brisket for 80 of his “closest” friends at an East Coast party.

One-Pot Passover Dinner: Just the Recipe to Cut Costs

During these difficult times, whether you are trying to make Passover a little less costly this year or looking for a way to spend less time in the kitchen, there’s a simple solution: a one-pot Passover dinner.

All the traditional Passover ceremonial foods remain the same: charoset, salty egg soup, bitter herbs and matzah. The only change is that the chicken soup and roast chicken, although served in two courses, will be cooked in the same pot.

We have family and friends over on both nights of Passover, so I make a lot of chicken soup. When people ask how to make the soup more flavorful, my answer is simple: Put more chicken in the pot.

I have two large pots to make the soup the day before Passover, and six whole, trussed chickens go into the water right after the vegetables. To inexpensively give the soup even more flavor, buy extra giblets, place them on a length of cheesecloth and tie the package closed with string before adding them to the soup. This way, they will not become lost in the soup, and you can serve the giblets during dinner.

Bring the soup to a boil and simmer until the chickens are almost falling apart, then carefully transfer them to a roaster with a vegetable tomato-rosemary sauce. Cover and bake. No one will ever guess that the chickens were boiled, because the new flavors take over.

Matzah balls are made the day of the seder, and with two pots of soup available, you won’t need to crowd them. If there are any leftovers, they taste just as good the following day.

To go with the roast chicken, prepare a vegetable stuffing the day before and spoon it into a casserole to bake.

Having spent less effort in the kitchen, you will now have time to make an easy but fabulous dessert. Just double the recipe for the charoset, roll into balls and cover with melted bittersweet chocolate. Allow the Charoset Truffles to cool and harden in the refrigerator and serve them at the end of the meal.

Judy’s Passover Chicken Soup
(Click here for just the recipe)

3 5-pound chickens or 2 3-pound chickens, trussed

2 pounds chicken necks and gizzards, tied in cheesecloth

4 large onions, diced

1 medium leek, sliced into 1-inch pieces

2 to 3 cups thinly sliced carrots (16 small carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces)

2 to 3 cups thinly sliced celery with tops (5 stalks celery with tops, cut into 1-inch pieces)

3 medium parsnips, thinly sliced

12 sprigs fresh parsley

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

(The Fluffiest Matzah Balls recipe follows)

In a large, heavy Dutch oven or pot, place trussed chickens, necks and gizzards, onions, leek, carrots, celery, parsnips and enough water to cover. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Using a large spoon, skim off the scum that rises to the top. Cover, leaving the lid ajar, reduce heat to low and simmer for one hour. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Uncover and simmer 30 minutes longer.

With two large (slotted) spoons, carefully remove the chickens from the soup and transfer to a large platter. Let soup cool to room temperature, then chill. Skim off fat that hardens on the surface and discard.

Makes 12 servings.

The Fluffiest Matzah Balls
(Click here for just the recipe)

I’ve been tweaking this matzah ball recipe over the years, and I’m now satisfied that it produces the lightest matzah balls you’ve ever tasted. If you don’t want to take the time to make them, boil some Passover noodles and add to the soup instead.

3 eggs, separated

About 1/2 cup water or chicken stock

1 to 1 1/2 cups matzah meal

1/8 teaspoon salt

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

Place egg yolks in a measuring cup and add enough water or chicken stock to fill one cup. Beat with a fork until well blended. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks; do not overbeat. In a small bowl, combine matzah meal with salt and pepper. With a rubber spatula, gently fold the yolk mixture alternately with the matzah mixture into beaten egg whites. Use only enough matzah to make a light, soft dough. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Cover and let firm up for five minutes.

Bring soup to a slow boil and using a large spoon, gently drop in matzah balls. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes (do not uncover during this cooking time).

Makes 12 servings.

Judy’s Passover Roasted Chickens
(Click here for just the recipe)

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.

Passover Baked Vegetable Stuffing
(Click here for just the recipe)

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.

Yemenite Charoset/Charoset Truffles
(Click here for the just the recipe)

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.

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

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Morrow, 1988) and “The International Deli Cookbook (Chronicle, 1994). “Judy’s Kitchen” appears on Jewish Life Television. Her Web site is

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.

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: Judy’s Passover Chicken Soup

Judy’s Passover Chicken Soup
(Click here for the full article)

3 5-pound chickens or 2 3-pound chickens, trussed

2 pounds chicken necks and gizzards, tied in cheesecloth

4 large onions, diced

1 medium leek, sliced into 1-inch pieces

2 to 3 cups thinly sliced carrots (16 small carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces)

2 to 3 cups thinly sliced celery with tops (5 stalks celery with tops, cut into 1-inch pieces)

3 medium parsnips, thinly sliced

12 sprigs fresh parsley

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

(The Fluffiest Matzah Balls recipe follows)

In a large, heavy Dutch oven or pot, place trussed chickens, necks and gizzards, onions, leek, carrots, celery, parsnips and enough water to cover. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Using a large spoon, skim off the scum that rises to the top. Cover, leaving the lid ajar, reduce heat to low and simmer for one hour. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Uncover and simmer 30 minutes longer.

With two large (slotted) spoons, carefully remove the chickens from the soup and transfer to a large platter. Let soup cool to room temperature, then chill. Skim off fat that hardens on the surface and discard.

Makes 12 servings.

On the third night, the seder went green

Passover is also called the “Holiday of Spring,” a time when green symbolizes new life. The color also represents all things eco-friendly, which serves as the inspiration for this year’s Workmen’s Circle community seder.

Each year the Pico-Robertson community center, which embodies progressive Jewish values, features a “third” seder with a theme, such as immigration or labor. This year’s event, “The Sustainable Seder,” will be held on April 27 and will be catered by Meg Dickler-Taylor, owner of Large Marge Sustainables, whose motto is “Fresh. Local. Organic. Don’t Panic.”

“Passover is a celebration of a lot of things, primarily the freedom of the Jews [from] enslavement of Egypt. Every year, if we are to create a dynamic civilization, we have to reapply that concept of freedom to what we’re experiencing in our environment right now,” she said.

Dickler-Taylor said she feels enslaved to relying on sources far from home for her food.

“If we can find a way to eat locally, in the coming years, we will feel more secure,” she said.

Dickler-Taylor spoke at the Workmen’s Circle on April 3 about how to create a sustainable, organic seder.

Shop With Recyclable Bags
“Bring your own bags to the supermarket,” Dickler-Taylor said. You can purchase canvas totes from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or buy flour sacks for transporting groceries.

Use Durable Table Settings
Why not use your grandmother’s old dishes? If your seder is too big and you must use disposable settings, make sure they’re compostable and “make sure you compost them. Either start own home compost, or take them to an L.A. composting facility.”

Buy Organic and Local
“To guarantee you’re getting California produce, I think farmers markets are the best way to go,” Dickler-Taylor said.

Wine would also be better local, such as Herzog from Oxnard or Hagafen from Northern California.

For the seder plate, eggs should be organic, and maror can be bought organic, too, at many farmers markets. You can also buy organic romaine lettuce or bitter root. Charoset should be made with the few apples that are still in season, or, better yet, make a Sephardic charoset with dates, figs, pistachios, prunes and cinnamon. For vegetarians, the shankbone (which is not eaten in any case) can be a roasted beet.

While Dickler-Taylor says she buys her matzah from New Jersey-based Manischewitz, Chabad often offers a Model Matzah Factory for kids to learn to make their own. For more information, visit

Cook Cruelty-Free
Vegetarians can still have their soup and eat it, with vegan stock “chicken soup” made from roasted vegetables, tomato paste and wine. It may not look the same, but it still has the matzah balls.

Make Smart Gefilte Choices
Between contaminants in fish and concerns over farmed fish, gefilte fish can be problematic these days. To check which fish are “kosher” visit or

Let Your Meat Go Free-Range
Meat and Chicken should be free-range and organic, although pastured meat might need to be braised and slow-cooked.

Don’t Forget to Buy Seasonal
Just because you can buy blueberries now doesn’t mean you should, the Silver Lake-based caterer advises. Take what is in season right now and try and work that into seder meals, she says. She recommends a strawberry and asparagus salad, artichokes, fresh cherries, fresh fava beans (for those who eat legumes) avocado, leeks, ramps and radishes.

Strawberry Asparagus Salad With Walnut on Endive
This salad takes advantage of California’s spring season. Every ingredient, except the cassis vinegar, can be purchased at a local farmers market. It can be presented as a tossed salad with no endive or lettuce, or as bite-sized assembled appetizers.

1 large or 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
1/4 cup verjus
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 bunch fat asparagus
1 basket strawberries, preferably Gaviotas or other sweet, lower acidity variety, halved
1 to 2 heads endive (optional)
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup walnut oil
1 or 2 teaspoons cassis vinegar (apple cider vinegar can be substituted)
goat cheese (optional)

Marinate the sliced shallots in the verjus and salt for at least 15 minutes and up to an hour. Toast walnuts on a baking sheet in a 350 F oven for seven to 10 minutes or until you smell them.

Bite into a stalk of the asparagus at the woody end. If it’s too tough to chew, hold each spear at either end and bend — the asparagus will break where the stalk turns soft. Steam the asparagus for three to four minutes until crisp-tender, then immediately plunge in bath of ice water for a few minutes. Rinse and pat dry.

Add the walnut oil, the cassis vinegar and some freshly ground black pepper to the shallot mixture and beat with a fork. Taste and adjust seasoning. The dressing should be fairly acidic; if not, add a little more cassis vinegar. Toss the asparagus with a healthy amount of dressing, reserving some dressing to drizzle on top of the endive bites.

Separate the individual endive leaves and arrange in a flower pattern on a serving platter. If the asparagus spears are longer than the endive leaves, cut them in half.

If you aren’t using the endives, toss all of the asparagus, all but a few slices of strawberries, all but a few of the walnuts and all but a few pinches of the goat cheese (if using) together to coat, and plate, or mound in salad bowl.

Garnish with remaining strawberry slices, walnuts and goat cheese, and serve.

Lay a spear of asparagus, a strawberry slice, a whole walnut or two, and a pinch of goat cheese (if using) inside each endive spear. Drizzle each spear with the remaining dressing and serve.

Makes 10 or more servings.

Chef Akasha adds fresh twist to holiday traditions

Akasha Richmond is a self-trained chef and artisan-style baker who has been catering events in the Los Angeles area for the past 20 years.

A tall woman with dark hair and blue eyes, she bears a striking resemblance to Barbra Streisand, for whom she worked as a private chef.

Richmond said some of her fondest memories were made at Streisand’s home, where she selected fresh vegetables from her garden for a healthy menu.

Richmond’s dream was always to have her own restaurant, and now with the support of her husband/business partner, Alan Schulman, that day has arrived. And Culver City’s buzz-worthy Akasha Restaurant is celebrating its first Passover this year with a special second-night dinner.

Akasha’s regular menu includes vegan dishes, low-fat breads, healthy desserts and organic wines. She is also strong in her beliefs for energy efficiency, green building material, locally grown produce, fair-trade coffee and waiters in hemp aprons and organic cotton jeans.

Richmond is also the author of “Hollywood Dish,” a cookbook that includes tales of Hollywood’s passion for healthy lifestyles and stories of her favorite cooking experiences: holiday dinners for Billy Bob Thornton, catering parties for Pierce Brosnan, producing events at the Sundance Film Festival and working as a private chef for many Hollywood stars.

She also loves to reminisce about watching her grandmother prepare Passover meals for the family and whoever happened to drop in. She said her bubbe made gefilte fish using three kinds of fish: pike, whitefish and carp. She would grind the fish by hand in an old cast-iron grinder attached to the kitchen table, the same type of grinder she used to make her chopped liver.

Richmond went on to explain that her zayde was in charge of the horseradish, which he bought fresh and would grate before adding beet juice for the red color (back before the days of bottled horseradish).

Her other grandmother made the matzah balls for the chicken soup and great potato pletzlach (rolls with poppy seeds, chopped onion and kosher salt), using mashed potatoes, while Richmond’s mother, Judy, made a main course of roasted meat, chicken or duck with potatoes, carrots and onions. She recalled that it was the children’s job to make the charoset.

Richmond’s plans for the Passover meal at Akasha, which will include a seder service, will be a little different than what she grew up with.

“The restaurant is a perfect venue for a family seder,” she said, pointing to the large open space that could easily hold 100 people. She plans to donate a portion of the proceeds from the dinner to MAZON — A Jewish Response to Hunger.

Although Richmond grew up with Ashkenazi dishes for Passover, she loves the flavors of the Middle East, and her Passover menu will feature both creative and traditional family dishes: charoset, Moroccan gefilte fish, chicken soup with matzah balls, and Middle Eastern roast chicken made with fruits and spices and served with leek pancakes.

For the Passover dessert, she has developed a chocolate torte, garnished with fresh raspberries and a raspberry sauce, which can be made into individual tortes and served with a plate of chewy almond macaroons.

Moroccan Fish Balls With Tomato Sauce

Fish Balls
1 1/2 pounds skinned whitefish fillets or wild salmon fillets
1 small onion, grated
1 large egg
1/3 cup matzah meal
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
Lemon wedges for serving
Flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups water

Chop the fish in a food processor. Transfer to a large bowl and mix in the onion, egg, matzah meal, coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper and cilantro. Mix well, cover and refrigerate while you make the sauce.

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat.

Add the garlic and cook for one to two minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, salt and water. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes.

Roll the fish mixture into oval-shaped balls. Place into the sauce one at a time and add additional water if needed to just cover the balls. Bring to a simmer and cover the pot. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes or until firm and the fish is cooked, turning each ball over once. Let cool in the sauce. Serve chilled with lemon wedges and chopped fresh parsley.

Makes about 20 balls.

Honey Glazed Chicken With Cherries and Apricots
1 whole chicken (about 2 1/2 pounds), rinsed and cut into 8 pieces or 4 large chicken breasts on the bone
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup minced shallots
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 tablespoons kosher-for-Passover red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup dried apricots, cut in half
1/4 cup pitted green olives
3 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley

Place the chicken in a large bowl. Season with the salt and pepper. Add the shallots, oregano, thyme, vinegar, olive oil, bay leaves, cherries, apricots and olives. Mix well and place in a storage container or plastic freezer bag and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken pieces on an oiled baking sheet or in a large oiled casserole dish. I like to tuck some of the fruit under the chicken so it remains soft, and I leave some exposed so it gets crisp. Spoon any remaining marinade around the chicken and drizzle with the honey.

Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the breast registers 170 degrees and the juices run clear when pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot or at room temperature, sprinkled with the parsley.

Shopping for Jews? Clean Up on Aisle 5

Anyone who walked into Albertsons in Los Altos on a recent Sunday would have run right into Margie Pomerantz’s Passover table.

There she sat, next to the kosher food display right inside the supermarket’s front entrance. A big handwritten sign reading “Passover in the Aisles” hung down from her table, on which lay piles of Passover recipe books, haggadahs and other holiday resources.

Pomerantz and her fellow volunteers from Congregation Beth David, a nearby Conservative synagogue, were out looking for Jews. In a supermarket. Unaffiliated Jews, if possible, but they weren’t being picky.

They handed out information and collected names. Someone from the synagogue will call later with an invitation to a Shabbat service or other Jewish program.

Scenes like this, with a nonaggressive method of doing outreach, are being repeated across the United States this week and next, in dozens of communities.

It’s all part of Passover in the Aisles, an initiative conceived of by the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI).

Some Jewish groups have been doing this kind of outreach for a decade or more, but the biggest push seems to have come in the past three to five years.

It is based on the idea of “public space Judaism” — taking programs out to where people are instead of waiting for them to walk into a synagogue or JCC.

“If we wait for people to come to programs within the four walls of our communal institutions, we’ll be waiting a long time,” says Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, executive director of the JOI, which provides guidance for such programs.

Passover is a particularly good time for this kind of outreach, Olitzky says, both because it is one of the most widely celebrated holidays among all Jews, even the unaffiliated, and because it requires people to go to the grocery store to buy matzah and other Passover products.

Olitzky says his outreach model has a lot in common with Chabad’s street outreach, which he admires. But he says, what “makes ours different is we are less intrusive, less discriminating. We don’t ask, are you Jewish?”

“It’s important that Judaism be shared passionately in public spaces,” Olitzky says. “That’s what Chabad does, and that’s what we do.”

Beth David’s assistant rabbi, Aaron Schonbrun, went to a JOI conference last year and says he was astounded at the concept of liberal Jews doing this kind of outreach. It wasn’t what he learned in rabbinical seminary.

“We learned at the conference that you can’t expect people to just write that check to the federation, especially not my generation,” the 29-year-old rabbi says. “We talked about how to engage Jews in Judaism, not Reform or Conservative or Orthodox, but Judaism.”

This is the second year Beth David has done Passover in the Aisles. By 3 p.m. on Sunday, after three hours in the store, there are just nine cards filled out at the Los Altos Albertsons, an hour south of San Francisco. But the volunteers have talked to dozens of shoppers.

One young woman who filled out a card was Galit Azulay, newly arrived from Israel with her husband, who is studying for his doctorate in the area.

“We’re here to buy food for the seder,” she says, adding that the couple aren’t affiliated and don’t plan to be.

She didn’t pick up any of the information, but entered the raffle for a seder plate.

Carol Greenberg also stopped by the table. A member of a local Reform congregation, she congratulated the Beth David volunteers on their outreach efforts. “I’m so excited to see you here,” she exclaims. Greenberg picked up a copy of their recipe book.

“I find that congregations’ recipes are much better than books,” she says. She also took one of the children’s haggadahs, which she plans to give to her newborn niece. “It’ll be a nice gift from her aunt, her first haggadah.”

Store manager Aide Garcia says she couldn’t be happier to host the event. “It increases our business a lot,” she confides. “It’s a way to promote our kosher food.”

The JCC in Columbus, Ohio did its first Passover outreach in a Wild Oats supermarket in 2003. They chose a new neighborhood in the northwest part of the city, an area where young, professional Jews have been moving, to improve their chances of reaching the unaffiliated.

“In the core community, we have an affiliation rate of 90 percent, versus 20 percent in the northwest, where most of the growth is happening,” says Lindsay Folkerth, outreach director for the JCC’s J-Link project. J-Link is a community outreach program created two years ago by the local federation following a demographic study of the Columbus Jewish community by JOI.

Seattle Rabbi Dov Gartenberg says his congregants “thought it was a little strange” when he set up a Passover outreach table in a local supermarket more than 10 years ago. That was before he heard about the JOI program.

He now runs food booths at a Whole Foods store before Passover and Rosh Hashanah, and has teamed up with a popular local chef to offer tastes of Jewish holiday foods. This month they’re offering a different charoset each week, along with recipes.

Gartenberg uses the tastings as a teaching opportunity. “As they taste, I say, this is what this food symbolizes, and it becomes a basis for conversation.”


PASSOVER FOOD: Treats to Leaven Desire for Dessert

Passover desserts are a challenge to the cook because so many ingredients are forbidden, among them flour, grain, cornstarch, baking powder or baking soda. So we substitute matzah meal, potato starch and versatile fresh egg whites to bake all of those traditional favorites — and lots of new ones, too.

The good news is that it is not difficult — all of these carefully tested delicacies are fairly simple to prepare and will be a welcome addition to your seder dinner, as well as for family meals during Passover.

For all the chocolate lovers, the food processor Cocoa-Pecan Cookies will become a favorite. Just prepare the dough and have the children or grandchildren help by dropping them by the spoonful onto the baking sheets. The batter can be kept in the refrigerator and a fresh batch of cookies can be baked each day.

Something new for the holiday, use the charoset ingredients to make a Passover Fruit Cake filled with nuts and dried fruit that offers a tasty and a crunchy treat. It is similar to the Italian delicacy known as Panforte that originated in Sienna. The mixture is tossed together in a large bowl, spooned into parchment-lined baking pans, and baked for an hour and a half. The good news is that these loaves will easily keep for the eight days of the holiday.

During Passover last year we were invited to the home of Alice and Nahum Lainer, who love to entertain. Alice served a delicious Apricot Torte, and I persuaded her to share her recipe for this wonderful pastry. Because some Jewish households do not use matzah meal or cake meal, the combination of egg whites, apricot puree, spices and a topping of apricot jam make an ideal dessert. It is the perfect after-dinner pastry to serve your guests, accompanied by a glass of sweet wine or hot tea.

For another sweet treat, pass a plate of Rocky Road Clusters, everyone’s favorite. They are made with only three ingredients, chocolate, marshmallows and pecans. Simply melt the chocolate, add marshmallows and nuts, and fill small paper cups with the mixture. This is another great project to do with the children.

Bring a platter of the Cocoa Pecan Cookies or Rocky Road Clusters as an edible gift to share with friends and family at the Passover seder meal.

Alice’s Apricot Torte

1 1/2 cups blanched whole almonds, plus 1/4 cup sliced for garnish
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter or nondairy margarine for pan (one-quarter)
1 cup sugar, plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups diced dried apricots
Zest and juice of 1 small lemon
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
8 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup apricot jam
Passover powdered sugar (recipe follows, optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Place whole nuts in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and sliced nuts in a single layer on another baking sheet. Toast nuts until golden and aromatic, five to eight minutes. Shake the pans halfway through toasting to make sure nuts brown evenly. Set aside to cool.

Brush a 10-inch spring form pan with melted butter or margarine, sprinkle with sugar and tap out excess. Set aside.

Place 1/4 cup sugar, whole almonds and apricots in the bowl of a food processor; process until finely chopped, one to two minutes. Add lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and pulse to blend. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the sugar on high speed until light and fluffy. Transfer to a large bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites with salt and lemon juice until frothy. Slowly add 1/4 cup sugar, and continue whisking until peaks are stiff but not dry. Fold beaten whites into egg yolks. Add apricot and almond mixture, and fold in until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake for about 50 to 60 minutes, until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. If necessary, cover torte lightly with foil to avoid burning. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the torte, and release from pan. Allow to cool completely on wire rack.

Place apricot jam in a small saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and strain. Brush onto cooked torte. Sprinkle with sliced almonds and powdered sugar.

Makes one 10-inch torte.

Passover Powdered Sugar

1 tablespoon Passover potato starch
1 cup sugar

In the bowl of a food processor, combine potato starch and sugar. Process until very powdery and resembles powdered sugar, about two minutes. Let sugar settle for about one minute before removing processor cover.

Makes about 1 cup.

Passover Fruit Cake

2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
2 cups pitted dates, thinly sliced
2 cups dried apricots, quartered
1 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 cups toasted whole almonds
1 1/2 cups toasted walnuts pieces
3/4 cup coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate, optional
3/4 cup matzah cake meal
1 tablespoon potato starch
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla or orange juice

Heat the oven to 300 F. Brush one (5-by-9 inch) loaf pan or two (3-by-7 inch) loaf pans with melted unsalted butter or non-dairy margarine and line with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dates, apricots, raisins, almonds, walnuts and chocolate, if using. Combine the matzah cake meal, potato starch and sugar and mix well. Add to fruit mixture and mix evenly. Beat eggs and vanilla to blend. Using a rubber spatula or hands, stir into fruit mixture until well blended. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan and spread evenly, press into corners of pan.

Bake until golden brown, about 1 1/2 hours. Cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes, then turn out of pan. Peel off paper and let cool on rack.

Wrap in plastic wrap and foil. Chill at least one day or up to two months. To serve, place cake on a wooden board, and using a sharp knife, cut in thin slices.

Cocoa-Pecan Cookies

1 1/2 cups toasted chopped pecans
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 cup matzah cake meal
1/4 cup potato starch
5 large egg whites
1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped semisweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Combine pecans, 1 1/2 cups of sugar, cocoa powder, matzah cake meal and potato starch in a food processor and pulse on and off until nuts are finely grated. Add 1/2 cup of egg whites and pulse to blend.

Transfer batter to a large bowl and stir in the nuts and chocolate. In a separate bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the remaining egg whites until soft peaks form, add the remaining sugar and beat until a stiff meringue forms. Using a rubber spatula, mix half of the meringue into the pecan/chocolate mixture and then fold in the remaining meringue.

Drop batter by well-rounded teaspoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets, leaving 1 inch between cookies.

Bake for eight minutes. Cookies should be dull, but very soft. If not dull, bake for one more minute. Transfer parchment to a rack to cool, before removing.

Makes about two- or three-dozen cookies.

Rocky Road Clusters

1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1 cup miniature marshmallows or large marshmallows cut in quarters
1/2 pound semisweet chocolate, melted

Place small paper candy cups on top of a large tray and set aside.

In a large bowl, toss pecans and marshmallows together. Add melted chocolate and mix well. Spoon chocolate mixture into the candy cups and refrigerate for several hours until firm. Store in refrigerator.

Makes about 24.


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

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 ( is a freelance writer and screenwriting consultant. He loves to cook because he loves to eat.

Let Your Tasteless Chicken Go


For many years, my daughter and I were lucky to be invited out for Passover. Besides joining a big group of people, and sampling a variety of Passover foods, I relished the added benefit of not having to plan, shop and cook for the daunting seder (first and second night) meals. Unfortunately, this also meant no leftovers, no matzah kugel in the refrigerator, no beef and vegetable tzimmes to reheat in the microwave or even charoset to sweeten the lone box of matzah sitting on my kitchen counter.

My daughter was just fine with this arrangement — except for matzah ball soup, she is not a fan of Passover fare. One year, she unintentionally lost weight by avoiding all matzah-related dishes, and living off hard-boiled eggs, fruit and cheese.

So, this year I asked myself how I could create a midweek Passover meal she would enjoy, but I could prepare easily with ingredients on hand, still keeping all bread, pasta and pizza out of sight for the required eight days.

The four questions in the haggadah, intended for the youngest person present to read aloud, begins with: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” and continues with, “On all other nights we eat either leavened bread or unleavened (matzah); on this night why only unleavened bread?” And, “On all other nights we eat herbs of any kind; why on this night only bitter herbs?” These questions, posed by children but listened to by all, bring into focus the Passover food rituals and their significance.

Somehow, these not-so-easy changes in diet are meant to convey a story — of Jewish slavery in Egypt, of the bitter trials of oppression, the unleavened bread eaten by the Jews as they hurriedly fled their oppressors, and, finally, of the fruitful and brave adaptations leading toward freedom.

For my growing daughter and I, a delicious, moist, homemade chicken meal would be different from all other nights. Because on all other nights of the year, we buy our chicken—fried, roasted or baked—from the store. On all other nights, unless immersed quickly and safely into soup, my chicken ends up dry, undercooked, overcooked or tasteless.

Determined to prepare this simple Passover meal, all I needed to buy was potato starch to replace corn thickeners. The menu: Moist Baked Chicken, New Red Potatoes, Creamed Spinach and a One-Apple Charoset.

When I began the chicken recipe, I was filled with images of past failures and anxious about wasting pounds of poultry, let alone my time. But when we sat down to our colorful meal — with orange carrots, green spinach and seasoned red potatoes surrounding truly tasty chicken — watching my daughter eat two hearty portions made all my trepidation worthwhile. I even started talking about other scary chicken dishes I might attempt.

Like the Passover haggadah emphasizes, important changes do not come about without sacrifice, and often they begin by asking a question.

Moist Baked Chicken With New Potatoes
These are the chicken parts I had in the house, but you can use all legs or breast sections, whatever you prefer. The simple ingredients will deeply flavor and moisten each bite, and it is impossible to mess up.

2 1/4 pounds chicken legs (approximately three chickens)
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless thighs
1/4 cup margarine
7 gloves garlic, cut in half
8 new red potatoes, washed, cut in half
8 baby carrots, washed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika

Preheat oven to 425 F.
In large roasting pan, melt margarine. Scatter garlic and carrots in melted margarine. Arrange chicken, skin side down, and potatoes skin side up, in roasting pan. Sprinkle, salt, pepper and paprika evenly over chicken and potatoes.
Bake 30 minutes. Turn the chicken and baste before baking 15-20 minutes more, or until chicken is fork tender.
Serves eight.

Creamed Spinach
I am not a fan of creamed vegetables. But for Passover, I found a version of this recipe in an old synagogue cookbook and decided a little creaminess during a holiday minus soft bread is a good thing.

1 pound chopped, frozen spinach, thawed
1 1/2 tablespoons margarine
1 glove garlic
1/2 small onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup soy milk
1 tablespoon potato starch

In a medium saucepan, sauté onion and garlic in margarine until the onion is tender. Remove garlic. In a small bowl, mix soy milk with potato starch. Stir in salt and pepper.
Over low heat, gradually add milk mixture to sautéed onions, stirring continually as sauce thickens. Stir in drained spinach, heat through and serve immediately.
Serves six.

One-Apple Charoset
This simple mixture reminds me of the one my mother serves. She uses raisins instead of dates. It would be fun to try different dried fruits and nuts, whatever you have in the house. You can double or triple this recipe as needed, but for a midweek matzah spread, this quantity is quick and perfect.

1 apple, peeled
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup crushed pecans
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar
3 medjool dates, chopped small
1 tablespoon kosher-for-Passover red wine

Coarsely grate apple. In small bowl, mix apple and remaining ingredients until mixture is smooth and moist.
Serves four.




Say It Again

How many times can you say “Passover” during the seder? For instance: “Pass over the salt.” “Please pass over a soup spoon.” Keep count and decide what the winner gets for a prize!

White Chocolate Almond Matzah

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

4 to 6 square matzahs

1 (12 ounces) bag of white chocolate chips

1 cup crushed almonds

Preheat oven to 400? F . Line a cookie sheet with foil. Lay matzah on it in a single layer. Melt 1 cup butter and 1 cup sugar in saucepan. Pour and spread over matzah. Bake at 400? F. for five minutes (have an adult help you). Remove from oven and pour a 12-ounce bag of white chocolate chips over matzah and spread it around evenly. Return to oven for 30-60 seconds to melt the chips, then remove. Spread chocolate evenly over matzah with a knife. Sprinkle crushed almonds over the whole thing. Refrigerate overnight and then break it into pieces and enjoy! Makes 4 square matzahs.


‘Homemade’ Mandelbrot Fit for a Seder


When I recently attended Kosher World at the L.A. Convention Center, I saw a wide selection of Passover foods. They presented many interesting new food products: sausages, nondairy ice cream, frozen pizza, burritos, pasta of all shapes and sizes, and large selection of kosher wines from all over the world.

One of the stands that caught my interest was Debbie & Sandy’s Homemade, stocked with well-designed bags of Mandel Bread, Sliced Almond Cookies and Granola. The two women that were handing out samples, Sandy Calin and Debbie Fischl, started this successful business only three years ago, and told me that the Passover Granola was their most popular item — a blend of almonds, pistachios, cranberries, raisins, honey and crunchy matzah farfel.

Calin and Fischl are both attorneys — they met in law school, became instant friends and still practice law. Both single parents, Fischl handles primarily appellate work and mediations, and Calin does litigation for several firms.

They soon discovered that they both shared a passion for cooking and baking, and they often cooked together for their family events.

These two busy women, who worked full time while raising a family, dreamed of opening their own catering company. Their homemade desserts became a favorite at the parties they catered, and everyone asked for the recipes. They talked about producing several commercial products made from their family recipes and thought that they could be sold successfully.

That’s when they finally decided to open their own specialty company, and of course, named it Debbie & Sandy’s Homemade. They could now sell their tasty treats directly to their catering clients as well as the public. All of their products are made kosher, and they make a special package for Passover.

When asked if I could include one of their recipes for this article, they did have some hesitation, saying that they were family secrets that had been handed down from generation to generation. But, after a long philosophical discussion they decided to share their recipe for the Passover Mandel Bread.

Passover Mandlebrot With Chocolate Chips

3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 ounces sugar
4 fluid ounces cottonseed oil
7 ounces matzah cake meal
3/4 ounces potato starch
2 ounces sliced almonds
4 ounces chocolate chips
Sugar mixed with cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs, vanilla and sugar. Add the oil and blend well. Add about 1/2 of the cake meal and potato starch. Mix well. Mix in almonds and chocolate chips. Add the remaining cake meal and potato starch and mix until incorporated.

Shape into loaves about 1/2 inch high and 3 inches wide. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Slice into 1/2-inch-wide pieces at an angle. Return to oven and bake another 15 minutes.

Makes about four dozen.

Their kosher-for-Passover products can be purchased locally and are available at or by calling (818) 224-2967.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Cookbooks, 1988) and “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook” (Morrow, 1999) Her Web site is


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,

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


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.


Blintzes, Cupcakes and Pasta — Oh My!


Back in the day, Passover meant meat, matzah and potatoes for eight days of the Passover. But in the last decade, the market for special kosher for Passover food has exploded, and manufacturers and supermarkets are providing a variety of products to almost make you forget it’s even Passover. (Unless otherwise stated, all products listed have been certified by the Orthodox Union [OU].)

The Pasta/Pizza Craving

Many people like to at least simulate foods that contain chametz (leavened goods that contain either wheat, oats, barley, rye or spelt), even if they’re not allowed to eat the real thing on Passover. So for those with a hankering for noodles, Passover noodles made from matzah-meal cake are available from Kedem with the Savion label, while Gefen and Flaum Appetizing also have noodles, but made from potato starch.

Frankel’s has produced frozen potato starch noodles but has also branched out this year with a whole array of kosher for Passover frozen foods including blintzes, waffles and the all-important pizza.

Also selling frozen pizza for the first time this year is Maccabee Pizza, whose product is made from potato starch. Dayenu is also jumping on the frozen food bandwagon with pierogies, pizza ravioli and pizzaroggies made with matzah meal.

In the blintz department, Kineret blintzes made from potato starch will be available, and King Kold of Chicago will be selling blintzes, matzah balls and potato pancakes under the Ratner’s label. All are matzah-meal based. In addition, King Kold has also introduced frozen potato kugel batter, potato pancake batter and matzah ball batter. And Dr. Praeger’s is producing both frozen potato and vegetable pancakes.

Matzah, Matzah, Matzah

While the standard Manischewitz matzah has always been available, the Orthodox Union (OU) this year has certified Aviv, Osem, Yehuda and Rishon matzahs from Israel as long as the OU-P symbol appears on them. Yanovsky matzah, which is baked in Argentina, is also being made available this year.

In addition to its traditional egg matzah, Manischewitz will also make available matzah ashira made from flour and grape juice — for those Ashkenazim who are not permitted to eat regular matzah, and for Sephardim who are allowed to eat kitniyot (legumes).

New on the shmura matzah list (handmade matzah) are those from Gefen, Rokeach and Mishpacha.

Kedem is introducing a new matzah product called Matzah Sticks under the Savion label.

And because Passover begins this year when Shabbat ends, for the first timeHadar manufacturers will be producing an egg matzah under the Star-K label, so that people will be able to eat them with their Shabbat meal, as challah will not be able to be eaten.

For the Munchies

Savion is introducing cupcakes and cookies made with matzah meal. VIP will have macaroons and cookies available as bulk items that contain no matzah meal. Manischewitz is introducing a new sugar-free biscotti and sugar-free macaroons, as well as sugar-free cookies made from matzah meal. Mishpacha is introducing macaroons and kichel made without matzah meal. And Yehuda Passover marble cake, honey cake and chocolate cake made from potato starch will be available from Israel with an OU-P. Gefen will have a line of cake mixes all made without matzah meal. Similarly, the Le Tova OU-P line of baking mixes made from potato starch will be available. Savion will be selling cake mixes and muffin mixes made with matzah meal. And this year Manischewitz is expanding its potato chip line to potato sticks and sweet potato chips.

Dairy Cravings

This year the OU-P will appear on various Cholov Yisroel dairy products. These include milk from Ahava with the Best Moo label as well as yogurt from Ahava with the Slim U label. A new OU company, Dairy Delight, will be selling sour cream and yogurt under the Norman’s label. In addition, Norman’s will also sell Cholov Yisroel ready to eat puddings with the OU-P label. Cholov Yisroel OU-P hard cheese will appear for the first time this year under both the Norman’s label and the Kirkeby label. The Kirkeby cheeses are imported from Europe and also carry the London Beth Din hechsher.

Something Fishy

Manischewitz’s Season line has introduced a number of new sardine items in various sauces for Pesach. Bumble Bee has made a large OU-P production of tuna under its own label. Aside from this, tuna is available with an OU-P from Rokeach, Gefen and Mishpacha. And Dr. Praeger’s has breaded fish fillets and fish sticks made without matzah meal.

The Real Thing

Coca-Cola will again be available with an OU-P for Pesach. Look for the distinctive yellow cap in addition to the OU-P symbol to ensure that the regular corn syrup has been replaced with sugar. The secret Coke recipe, however, has still not been disclosed.


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.

If Memory Serves…

Jewish-themed cookbooks appear in a frenzy about a month before Passover, then die off by May. Mainstream cookbooks also try to cash in on the warming weather’s ability to make us imagine nectarine tarts and heirloom tomato salads, long before winter comes to the Chilean tomato export market.

Oddly enough, there’s a subtext to most of these books, and it has little to do with cooking. Many of them are only partly about good recipes; rather, they are more about good memories. They set about re-creating lost moments of a Jewish past, and found the most compelling way to do so was by writing about food. The People of the Book evidently does not live by words alone.

* In “A Drizzle of Honey” (St. Martin’s, $29.95), authors David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson use diaries and other historical texts to uncover the traditions and recipes of 15th- and 16th-century Spain’s Crypto-Jews — Jews forced to convert to Catholicism who nevertheless preserved their Jewish traditions. The result is more fascinating as cultural history than it is useful as a cookbook, but the stories poignantly reveal how, by keeping food traditions alive, these Jews maintained their identity.

Passover Cooking

When Joan Nathan serves gefilte fish for Passover, she puts a carrot in the fish head.

For her, the reason is simple: That’s the way her mother-in-law always did it.

“This is what her mother did. She died in the Holocaust,” Nathan said during an interview last Friday in the kitchen of her Washington home.

“It’s my way of remembering her family,” she said.

For Nathan, the author of “Jewish Cooking in America” and the star of a 26-part PBS series by the same name, “it’s not just about the recipes.”

It’s about preserving Jewish heritage.

Nathan believes that “there is every different kind of Jew in America. If you are religious, non-religious, kosher, non-kosher — that’s not important. As a Jew, carrying on the tradition” is what matters, she said.

Nathan will host 50 people for her family’s seder. Using many of the recipes from her books, she plans to serve chicken soup and matzah balls, brisket, turkey, vegetable kugel, tzimmes and asparagus.

“The seder to me is the most important meal of the year,” Nathan said.

My Favorite Brisket (Not Too Gedempte Fleysch):

Gedempte Fleysch — well-stewed — that’s how Eastern European Jews prefer their meat. Slow cooking, of course, became a practical necessity with grainy cuts of forequarter meat.

Because a brisket stretched into many meals, it was an economical cut for large families in Europe. Leftovers were ground up to stuff knishes or kreplach. The meaty gravy became the base for a midweek cabbage or potato soup or a sauce to cover pompushki, Ukrainian-baked dumplings, which resemble Pepperidge Farm rolls. In this country, it became particularly popular.

Brisket comes from the front quarters of the steer, the chest area. The whole piece of meat, from three to 10 pounds, is potted (hence the term pot roast) and cooked slowly by braising in liquid. It should be covered and simmered in a 325-degree oven for several hours. Brisket needs to be simmered slowly to transform it into the succulent morsels I remember as a child. It is a dish I serve frequently on Friday night, at holidays and at dinner parties.

2 teaspoons salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1 5-pound brisket of beef, shoulder roast of beef, chuck roast or end of steak

1 garlic clove, peeled

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 onions, peeled and diced

1 10-ounce can tomatoes

2 cups red wine

2 stalks celery with the leaves, chopped

1 bay leaf

1 sprig fresh thyme

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1/4 cup chopped parsley

6 to 8 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Sprinkle the salt and pepper over the brisket and rub with the garlic. Sear the brisket in the oil and then place, fat side up, on top of the onions in a large casserole. Cover with the tomatoes, red wine, celery, bay leaf, thyme and rosemary.

Cover and bake for about three hours, basting often with pan juices.

Add the parsley and carrots and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes more or until the carrots are cooked. To test for doneness, stick a fork in the flat (thinner or leaner end of the brisket). When there is a light pull on the fork as it is removed from the meat, it is “fork tender.”

This dish is best prepared in advance and refrigerated so that the fat can be easily skimmed from the surface of the gravy. Trim off all the visible fat from the cold brisket. Then place the brisket, on what was the fat side down, on a cutting board. Look for the grain — that is, the muscle lines of the brisket — and with a sharp knife, cut across the grain.

When ready to serve, reheat the gravy.

Put the sliced brisket in a roasting pan. Pour the hot gravy on the meat, cover and reheat in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Some people like to strain the gravy, but I prefer to keep the onions because they are so delicious.

Serve with farfel (boiled egg barley noodles), noodle kugel or potato pancakes. A colorful winter salad goes well with this. Yield: 8 to 10 servings (Meat) Tip: Try adding a jar of sun-dried tomatoes to the canned tomatoes. They add a more intense flavor to the brisket.