AN INTERNATIONAL SEDER Multicultural menu blends at Passover

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Passover has always been the holiday I love best. But I enjoyed it more than ever during the years I lived in Israel as a college student. Back in my previous home in Washington, Passover used to be a time for a family get-together and good traditional Ashkenazic food. But in Israel there was the excitement of discovering the holiday specialties of my many Sephardic in-laws. To me their cooking was exotic and intriguing.

One memorable Passover I celebrated was at my mother's new home in Jerusalem. We decided to prepare the Seder, or ceremonial Passover dinner, together with several of our relatives. Each person promised to cook a favorite dish. That would make it easier for everyone and would give us all a chance to taste each other's food.

Since my mother follows all the Orthodox customs, we began by bringing out both sets of Passover dishes and silverware -- those for dairy meals and those for meat -- to replace the usual dishes. Using these special plates that appeared on the table during just one week of the year added to the feeling of festivity.

Then my mother and I went to the bustling Mahane Yehudah market to buy the ritual foods for the Seder: celery, horseradish, and apples and nuts for making haroset. This was the busiest time of the year, as everyone was getting ready for the Jewish festival that has the greatest focus on cooking. Women were discussing their Passover menus while trying to keep their children from handling the produce. There was a certain feeling of anticipation and, even though our shopping took longer than usual, it was great fun.

On the morning of the Seder, we began cooking. My sister-in-law, of Moroccan origin, prepared a colorful, exuberant first course: a salad of sweet and hot peppers sauteed with tomatoes and garlic, often referred to in Israel simply as "Moroccan salad." A diced vegetable salad was the responsibility of my Israeli-born brother-in-law, since he had the patience to cut the vegetables in tiny cubes, and this made his version of this refreshing Mediterranean salad the best.

Although lamb and chicken are frequent choices for the Seder main course, that year we voted for turkey, which is widely available in Israel and is a popular entree for festive dinners. My mother-in-law, who is from Yemen, made a wonderful, aromatic matzo and mushroom stuffing seasoned with garlic and cilantro. Her sister brought an unusual treat -- round homemade matzos, and an elegant embroidered cloth to cover them.

To serve with the turkey, my mother, who was born in Poland, baked a delicate Eastern European potato casserole, flavored with carrots, dill and sauteed onions.

The centerpiece was my mother's beautiful Seder plate, on which she had carefully arranged a small portion of each of the ritual foods in the space marked for it: a roast chicken wing or lamb shank, a hard-boiled egg, a little grated horseradish, a leaf of a bitter lettuce and a celery stalk. And of course, there was a spoonful of haroset, a reddish-brown condiment made of apples and nuts flavored with cinnamon, chopped dates or wine, a reminder of the mortar and bricks the Hebrew slaves were forced to make in Egypt.

For dessert, my mother and I baked an almond cake in the Austrian style and spread it with a fluffy orange frosting. Because flour cannot be used on Passover, the cake gained its body from a generous amount of almonds and a little matzo meal, made of ground matzos. The resulting cake was light-textured and intensely flavored with almonds.

It might seem surprising that foods of such diverse origins would fit together well in a menu, but in fact they harmonized perfectly. Now I love to prepare our eclectic Israeli menu in America too.

This year Passover begins at sundown on March 29 and ends on the evening of April 6.

Moroccan pepper salad

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

In this appetizer, sauteed bell peppers simmer gently with tomatoes, garlic and jalapeno peppers. Cooking mellows the flavors, so that the garlic and hot peppers add sparkle but do not overwhelm the diner.

5 tablespoons olive oil

2 large green bell peppers, diced (about 1/2 -inch dice)

2 large red bell peppers, diced

3 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced

salt to taste

3 or 4 jalapeno peppers, finely diced

12 medium garlic cloves, chopped

Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add red and green bell peppers and saute until softened, about 15 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon.

Add tomatoes to oil, add salt and cook over medium-low heat about 15 minutes or until thickened. Add sauteed peppers, jalapeno peppers and garlic and cook over low heat about 10 minutes or until peppers are tender and mixture is thick. Remove from heat and stir in remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve at room temperature.

Diced vegetable salad

Makes 8 servings.

For a pretty presentation, cut the vegetables in dice no larger than 1/2 inch and serve the salad in a glass bowl.

8 medium tomatoes, cut in small dice

2 medium cucumbers, cut in small dice

2 red bell peppers, cut in small dice

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil

2 to 3 teaspoons strained fresh lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

Mix together diced tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and parsley. Add oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Serve at cool room temperature.

Haroset

Makes 8 servings.

Haroset, a fruit and nut condiment, is tasted as a sort of appetizer during the Seder ceremony, then is served as an accompaniment with the rest of the meal.

1/2 cup walnuts

1/2 cup pecans

2 or 3 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup strained fresh orange juice

1 large apple, peeled, cored and coarsely grated

3/4 cup dates, chopped

2 tablespoons red wine, sweet or dry

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

matzos (for serving)

Grind walnuts and pecans with 2 tablespoons sugar and the orange juice in a food processor until fairly fine, leaving a few small chunks. Transfer to a bowl. Add apple, dates, wine and cinnamon. Taste, and add more sugar if desired.

Spoon into a serving bowl. Serve at room temperature or cold, accompanied by matzos.

Turkey with matzo-mushroom stuffing, garlic

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

matzo-mushroom stuffing (see recipe below)

10- to 12-pound fresh (or thawed frozen) turkey

salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup non-dairy margarine, softened

3 cups chicken stock or broth

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup dry white wine

4 teaspoons potato starch, dissolved in 3 tablespoons dry white wine

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley

Prepare stuffing. Heat oven to 425 degrees and remove top rack. Sprinkle turkey inside and out with salt and pepper. Spoon some stuffing into neck cavity. Fold neck skin under body and fasten with a skewer. Pack body cavity loosely with stuffing and cover opening with a crumpled piece of foil. Truss turkey if desired by closing it with skewers. Spoon remaining stuffing into an oiled 4-cup baking dish.

Spread turkey with 1/4 cup margarine and put breast side up on a rack in a large roasting pan. Roast 30 minutes, basting twice. Melt remaining 1/4 cup margarine in a medium saucepan and put an 8-inch double piece of cheesecloth in saucepan of margarine.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Cover turkey breast with soaked cheesecloth. Roast turkey 1 1/2 hours, basting with pan juices and any remaining margarine every 15 minutes. If pan becomes dry, add 1/4 cup stock.

Put dish of stuffing in oven and baste lightly with turkey juices. Cover with foil; bake about 45 minutes. Continue roasting turkey, basting every 15 minutes, until juices run clear when leg is pricked, or meat thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 180 degrees, about 30 to 45 more minutes. Transfer to platter or large board. Discard skewers and cheesecloth. Baste once with pan juices, and cover turkey.

Skim excess fat from pan juices. Add garlic, 1/2 cup wine and 1/2 cup stock and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve brown bits in pan. Strain into a saucepan. Add remaining stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium. Whisk in potato starch mixture. Return to boil, whisking. Simmer if necessary until thick enough to lightly coat a spoon. Add cilantro or parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Carve turkey and arrange on platter. Spoon stuffing onto platter or into a serving dish. Reheat sauce briefly. Pour into a sauce boat and serve alongside turkey.

Matzo-mushroom stuffing

8 matzos

1 1/2 cups hot chicken soup or stock

5 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions, chopped

salt and pepper

8 ounces mushrooms, quartered

4 large garlic cloves, minced

cayenne pepper to taste

3 eggs, beaten

1/3 cup chopped cilantro or parsley

Crumble matzos into a large bowl and pour hot chicken soup over them. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large skillet and add onions and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, about 7 minutes or until tender. Add remaining tablespoon oil, then mushrooms, and saute until tender. Remove from heat and stir in garlic and cayenne pepper. Add onion mixture to matzo mixture and let cool. Stir in eggs and cilantro and taste for seasoning.

Colorful potato casserole

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 pound yellow squash or zucchini

2 large carrots, peeled

2 large baking potatoes, peeled

3 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

2 tablespoons chopped dill (optional)

1/3 cup chopped parsley

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 cup matzo meal

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet, add onion and saute over medium-low heat until softened, about 10 minutes.

Coarsely grate squash and carrots. Transfer to a large bowl and add sauteed onion. Coarsely grate potatoes, put in large strainer and squeeze out excess liquid. Add to bowl of vegetables. Add eggs, salt, pepper, dill, parsley, paprika and matzo meal.

Generously grease an 8-inch square pan or a 7-cup baking dish. Add vegetable mixture. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon oil, then shake a little paprika on top. Bake about 1 hour or until brown and set.

Passover almond cake with orange frosting

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

This festive cake spread with citrus frosting and sprinkled with toasted sliced almonds is luscious-tasting and fairly quick to prepare. The cake is also wonderful on its own without frosting.

CAKE:

1 1/2 cups whole unblanched almonds (about 8 ounces)

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup matzo meal

4 large eggs, separated

1 teaspoon grated orange rind

ORANGE FROSTING:

6 ounces unsalted non-dairy margarine (1 1/2 sticks), softened slightly

1/3 cup superfine sugar

1 tablespoon finely grated orange rind

3 tablespoons fresh strained orange juice

GARNISH:

2 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds (optional)

To make cake: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with margarine and flour pan with a little matzo meal. Grind almonds with 1/4 cup sugar and with matzo meal in food processor until fine. Beat egg yolks with 1/2 cup sugar at high speed of mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in orange rind. Set aside.

In clean bowl whip egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually beat in remaining 1/4 cup sugar, beating until stiff and shiny.

Alternately fold whites and almond mixture into yolk mixture, each in 3 batches. Transfer to pan. Bake about 35 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out dry. Cool slightly, then run a metal spatula gently around cake and remove sides of springform. Cool on a rack. Cake will sink slightly.

To make orange frosting: Cream margarine and sugar. Add grated orange rind. Gradually beat in juice. Beat until smooth and fluffy. Spread frosting on sides and top of cake. Sprinkle top with toasted sliced almonds.

Faye Levy is the author of the "Fresh from France" cookbook series (Dutton) and of the coming "Faye Levy's International Jewish Cookbook." She is a culinary columnist for the Jerusalem Post.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
37°