Chef does right by mom, and patrons Menu: Chic Florida spot's cook has skipped his last Passover seder. Thanks to family insistence, it's become an event at the restaurant.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The neon sculpture, glass block, distressed walls and open kitchen at Chef Allen's in Aventura, Fla., are a tip-off to the type of meal you can expect there. The restaurant is known for its innovative New World cuisine -- a fusion of regional seafood, Caribbean fruits and vegetables and Latino spices.

But for one spring night every year at Chef Allen's, New World meets Old Testament.

That evening, owner Allen Susser, a Brooklyn-born, French-trained chef, serves up a Passover seder meal.

So what's a 3,000-year-old Jewish ceremony -- one traditionally celebrated at home -- doing in a chic, contemporary place like this?

"I admit the idea first met with some resistance from me," Susser says. "I didn't think we could do such an ethnic thing in a public restaurant."

But, well, his mother insisted.

It began seven years ago, after Susser told his family he couldn't leave the restaurant for Passover. "They asked if they could bring Passover to me." Susser grudgingly acquiesced, with the proviso that they sit quietly in the corner.

The next year, Chef Allen's offered a seder meal to all. "But I decided to update the tradition, and have some fun with it. If I were to serve my grandmother's menu, the carrots and onions and all that, it wouldn't represent me or the restaurant."

While there are certain prescribed elements to the meal, Susser insists that it isn't as restrictive as most people think. There must be matzo, of course, the unleavened bread that symbolizes the Israelites' hurried departure from Egypt. But instead of serving matzo balls laden with chicken fat, he finishes his seder soup with matzo pasta. His gefilte fish uses red snapper instead of traditional whitefish, and is enlivened with Scotch bonnet peppers.

While the meal reaffirms the symbolic power of food, Susser doesn't present this seder as a strictly religious event. "People who aren't Jewish come and enjoy it because it's an adventuresome meal," he says. "It's fresh. It's healthy. And it incorporates the foods of the season."

His customers love it; every year, the restaurant is sold out well in advance. It's enough to make a mother proud.

Some of the recipes in this menu are adapted from Allen Susser's "New World Cuisine & Cookery" (Doubleday, 1995).

Red snapper gefilte fish with lime horseradish

Makes 8 servings

2 medium carrots, peeled

1 pound red snapper fillets, cut into large chunks

1 small onion, chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 teaspoon minced Scotch bonnet chile

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

6 tablespoons matzo meal

1/2 cup ice water

2 tablespoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 1/2 quarts fish stock (recipe below)

1/2 cup grated fresh or drained prepared horseradish

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon grated lime zest

Use a channel knife to cut 5 long channels, equally spaced, down the length of 1 carrot. Cut into 1/4 -inch-thick slices, creating carrot "daisies." Set aside.

Coarsely chop remaining carrot and place in a food processor with the snapper, onion, parsley, cilantro, chile and ginger. Pulse until fish is ground. Place mixture in a large bowl. Add eggs, matzo meal and ice water and mix well. Mix in salt and 1 teaspoon sugar. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Place fish stock in a wide pot and bring to a slow simmer.

Meanwhile, wetting your hands often, shape the fish mixture into 16 mounded ovals, using about 1/4 cup of the mixture for each.

Place the carrot daisies in the stock and gently drop in the fish ovals. Simmer slowly until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let gefilte fish cool in the stock. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Shortly before serving, place horseradish in a small bowl. Stir in lime juice, lime zest and remaining 1 teaspoon sugar. Spoon the jellied fish stock over a platter and arrange the cold gefilte fish on top. Garnish with carrot daisies. Serve, passing horseradish separately.

Per serving: 13 calories, 3 g fat, 14 g protein, 12 g carbohydrate, 1,990 mg sodium, 74 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber

Asparagus, shiitake and tomato soup with matzo pasta

Makes about 7 cups, for 8 first-course servings

MATZO PASTA

3/4 cup matzo meal

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons olive oil

SOUP

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 cups sliced shiitake mushroom caps

1 pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

3 1/2 cups defatted reduced-sodium chicken broth, homemade (see recipe below) or canned

1/2 cup water

1 tomato, peeled, seeded and diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

To make pasta:

In a food processor, combine matzo meal, salt and pepper. In a glass measuring cup, combine eggs and oil.

With the processor on, gradually add egg mixture through the feed tube. Process until dough forms a ball, then process for 1 minute to knead. Transfer dough to a work surface.

(Alternatively, place matzo meal, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in eggs and oil. With a fork, whisk egg mixture, gradually incorporating matzo meal until it forms a soft, sticky ball.

Transfer dough to a work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. The dough will be sticky at first, but will quickly become elastic and dry; resist adding more matzo.)

Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rest for 30 minutes.

Cut pasta dough into 4 pieces. With a pasta machine, roll each piece into a sheet the thickness of a dime (No. 5 setting). With pasta machine or a large sharp knife, cut pasta sheets into 1/4 -inch-wide ribbons. Cut ribbons into 4-inch lengths. Spread on a matzo-dusted baking sheet, cover and set aside.

To make soup and cook pasta:

Put a large pot of water on to boil for pasta.

Meanwhile, in a 3-quart saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add shiitakes and saute until softened, about 1 minute. Add asparagus and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more.

Add chicken broth, water, tomato and garlic. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and simmer until asparagus is tender, 3 to 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, salt the pasta-cooking water, add pasta and cook until al dente, about 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.

To serve, divide pasta among 8 soup plates. Season soup with salt and pepper and ladle over pasta. Garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 155 calories, 4 g fat, 6 g protein, 22 g carbohydrate, 340 mg sodium, 85 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber

Chayote, leek and matzo kugel

Makes 8 servings

3 large eggs

3 tablespoons warm water

5 6-by-6-inch pieces of matzo

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 medium leeks (white and light green parts only), well washed and diced

2 large cloves garlic, minced

6 large chayote, peeled and coarsely grated

6 scallions, trimmed and chopped

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 11-by-7-inch baking dish or coat it with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and water. Break matzo into roughly 1-inch pieces. Add to eggs and toss to coat.

Let stand for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, in a 12-inch skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add leeks and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in garlic. Add chayote and cook for 4 minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in scallions, salt and pepper. Add vegetable mixture to soaked matzo and mix well.

Spoon matzo mixture into prepared baking dish. Bake for 35 minutes, or until top is firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes.

Cut into 8 portions. Serve warm.

Per serving: 170 calories, 5g fat, 6 g protein, 27 g carbohydrate, 570 mg sodium 80 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber

Celery seed-crusted veal roast

Makes 8 servings

1 3-pound boneless veal roast, preferably rib or shoulder

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons celery seeds

Parsley-Radish Salsa (see next recipe)

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place a rack in a small roasting pan, just large enough to hold the roast comfortably; set aside.

Trim roast of all visible fat, including from the inner flap or "cap" (you may have to untie the roast, then retie after trimming).

In a small bowl, combine thyme, rosemary, garlic, salt, pepper and oil. Rub the mixture over all surfaces of the roast and place in prepared pan.

Roast for 30 minutes. Sprinkle celery seeds all over the roast and continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the roast registers 120 degrees for medium-rare or 140 degrees for medium, about 15 to 30 minutes more.

Remove roast from oven, place on a carving board, tent with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes.

Roasting Tip: Allow 15 to 20 minutes per pound in a 375-degree oven and test for an internal temperature of 120 degrees for medium-rare or 140 degrees for medium.

Thinly slice the roast. Serve, accompanied by Parsley-Radish Salsa.

Per serving: 190 calories, 9 g fat, 23 g protein, 4 g carbohydrate, 620 mg sodium, 93 mg cholesterol, 1g fiber

Parsley-radish salsa

Makes about 2 cups, for 8 servings

1 cup diced red radishes

1 cup chopped fresh parsley, preferably Italian flat-leaf

1/3 cup diced red onion

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

1 teaspoon grated lime zest

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt to taste

In a medium bowl, stir together radishes, parsley, onion, cilantro, jalapeno, lime zest, lime juice and oil. Season with salt. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours before serving.

Per serving: 25 calories, 2 g fat, 0 g protein, 2 g carbohydrate, 5 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber

Fish stock

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts

Place 2 pounds fish heads and bones (from nonoily whitefish) in a colander and rinse well under cold running water. Set aside.

In a large pot, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil over medium heat. Add 2 chopped onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add 2 chopped celery stalks and 1 chopped leek, and cook for 1 minute. Add fish heads and bones, and cook for another minute.

Add 1 1/2 cups dry white wine, 1 1/2 quarts water, 1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns, 1 bay leaf and 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme. Bring to a slow simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, skimming off foam as it rises. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes.

Strain through a fine sieve lined with a double layer of cheesecloth into a bowl.

Let cool.

Refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 6 months.

Chicken broth

Makes about 2 quarts

Place 7 to 8 pounds of chicken backs, necks and wings in a large stockpot with 4 quarts cold water. Add 1 large onion, 1 whole head unpeeled garlic and a bouquet garni of parsley, thyme and bay leaf.

Bring to a simmer, skim foam and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 3 hours. Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl.

Let cool.

Refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 6 months. Skim fat before using.

Pub Date: 4/16/97

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