Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Passover 2017 -- Still Mostly Sephardic

Once you have a successful formula for a traditional meal, be it Thanksgiving or the Passover Seder, you don't want to mess with it too much, because people expect and, hopefully, hope to find last year's favorites this year. So my seder this year was a lot like last years's with changes here and there.

Thus, the great bulk of the seder consisted of Sephardic/Mediterranean dishes from a large array of countries: Syria, Morocco, France, Italy, Iran,  Israel and Greece, As usual, the main exception was my sister-in-law's stupendous matzoh ball soup, returning to the table after an enforced absence due to illness in 2016.

We started with my go-to Burnt Eggplant with Tahini, from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty, always a crowd pleaser. This year I added the optional bits of fresh cucumber, which added texture but also mellowed out the bitterness of the tahini.

Burnt eggplant with tahini, pomegranate seeds and endive leaves
Another old favorite that had not been on recent year's rotation was Jacques Pépin's tapendade, made with a mixture of oil cured and Kalamata olives, presented with pain azyme (the fancy French name for matzoh).
There would have been a mutiny if I hand't served Mario Batali's Lemon-Scented Veal Meatballs, which I made with matzoh flour instead of white bread for the panade binder.
Lemon-scented veal meatballs

Another dish returning to the hors d'oeuvre portion of the evening was my very own creation: a spread made with smoked ricotta (you can use plain, with or without a little liquid smoke, if you can't find it), sun-dried tomatoes and lots of lemon zest, thinned with yogurt and olive oil to a smooth texture, with a little crushed red pepper thrown in.

Smoked ricotta, sun-dried tomato and lemon zest spread
As usual, the fifth appetizer was a concession to the Eastern European tradition: bites of gefilte fish procured from Citarella and served with homemade, head-exploding horseradish made by my mother-in-law. I just love this.
Gefilte fish bites with homemade horseradish
Also prepared for the cocktail hour: the iconic Bar Nuts from the Union Square Cafe Cookbook, mixed notes roasted and mixed with a spicy rosemary butter blend.

For the dinner, I made he best-looking hard-boiled eggs I have ever made, served over a dollop of spinach cooked for hours with red onions. Inspired by a recipe originally from Corfu in Greece that is in Joan Nathan's new book King Solomon's Table, which I haven't read (although a different one of her books is a source of the Bordeaux Style Haroset described below).

Hard-boiled eggs on spinach
Next came Heidi's matzoh ball soup that warms the heart and screams PASSOVER!

Heidi's great matzoh ball so
There followed Dja'jeh Zetoon b'Limoneh (Syrian Chicken with Lemon and Olives) and a Moroccan Lamb Tagine, made by Cousin Vicki from a recipe that I got at a cooking class in Paris: sweet and beautifully spiced. These dishes, which reprised our 2015 Seder, were supplemented by Iranian caramelized fennel from Sirocco, by Sabrina Ghayour (the fennel looked great but was horribly undercooked, not to make again).
wise from front: Persian rice, caramelized fennel, lamb tagine, Syrian chicken

My absolute favorite Seder dish, and the reason I started cooking Sephardic food for Passover, is Persian Rice, which is famous for its tahdig crust, which I learned to make at an Iranian cooking lesson. It is impressive but not really difficult if you know how.

Persian rice with crunchy tahdig, with fava bean and dill salad
One of the highlights any Seder, for me at least, is haroset, a fruit and nut spread that is symbolic of the mortar used by the Jews in Egypt to make bricks for Pharaoh, eaten as the famous "Hillel Sandwich" with bitter horseradish on matzoh and thereafter just eaten on matzoh because it tastes so good. This year I made two varieties, as I did last year: first, Joan Nathan's Bordeaux Style Haroset from Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cuisine in France, which I have used for several years. Second, Syrian Haroset from an on-line recipe by Jennifer Abadi, a wonderful confection of tart Turkish dried apricots, lemon juice, orange flower water and chopped pistachios.

Bordeaux Style haroset
Syrian haroseet with pistachios
For dessert, as with last year, my go-to Blueberry (and Raspberry) Tart from Food52 Genius Recipes, with alterations. I used Clotilde Dusoulier's pâte sablée made with gluten-free (and hence wheat-free) flour (Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free 1:1 Baking Flour) and I used potato starch in lieu of cornstarch (not Kosher for Passover) for the filling. A success, although the crust was not quite as crispy as the conventional wheat-based variety. Still, you can make a pretty good gluten-free tart for your friends who can't or just don't eat wheat.

Blueberry and raspberry tart 
Finally, for my ginger-loving mother, Fresh Ginger Cake from David Lebovitz' Ready for Dessert, adopted for Passover by using matzoh flour, served with crème fra îche. Another repeat from 2016.
Ginger molasses cake 
Well, not quite finally. At the last moment, I decided to make coconut macaroons, and used the interesting recipe found in Food52 Genius Recipes, which uses coconut chips in lieu of shredded coconut, resulting in an interesting craggy appearance and texture.
Macaroons, some with chocolate, and closeup
And that was it! At least until next year.

Happy Passover!

Bobby Jay

For convenience, here is a list of the sources for the dishes that made up the meal.

  • Burnt eggplant with tahini and pomegranate seeds: Yotam Ottolenghi, Plenty.
  • Tapenade: Jacques Pépin, Essential Pépin.
  • Lemon scented veal meatballs: Mario Batali, Food Network. Caution: the recipe calls for 4 lemons; 2 are more than enough.
  • Bar Nuts: Michael Romano, The Union Square Cafe Cookbook.
  • Bordeaux style haroset: Joan Nathan, Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France.
  • Syrian style haroset: Jennifer Abadi, blog Too Good to Passover.
  • Dja'je zetoon b'limoneh (chicken with lemon and olives): Jennifer Abadi, A Fistful of Lentils. 
  • Persian rice, Cooking lesson by Jennifer Abadi, favas from Louisa Shafia, The New Persian Kitchen
  • Caramelized Fennel: Sabrina Ghayour, Sirocco.
  • Fresh ginger cake, David Lebovitz, Ready for Dessert.
  •  Blueberry tart: Kristen Miglore, ed., Food52 Genius Recipes.
  •  Coconut Macaroons: Kristen Migliore, ed., Food52 Genius Recipes

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