Passover is just a few weeks away; there are signs of it everywhere. Kosher-for-Passover products are prominently displayed in major supermarkets. This year, especially, traditional dishes can be flavored and spiked with never-before-available kosher-for-Passover dried spices and herbs. Many of them, such as za’atar, shawarma and hawaij, are combination spices—three or more in one. Although labels may state soup seasoning or meatball spice, these combos add zing to other dishes. While the hawaij label states soup seasoning, it’s a blend of cumin, coriander, turmeric and cardamom. Besides soups, use it as a rub for chicken or in stews and fish dishes, even sprinkled over roasted vegetables.
On the eve of April 5 (the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan), Jews all over the world will gather for the first seder. On this Jewish festival of freedom, it’s estimated that more than 80% of Jews, no matter how observant, will travel near and far to attend a Passover seder, the focal point of the eight-day holiday (seven days in Israel). With Ukrainian Jews again on collective minds this year, freedom for the oppressed makes Passover even more meaningful.
Besides reading the Haggadah, which retells the story of the Exodus from Egypt; singing songs and searching for the afikomen, the festive meal is the highlight of the evening’s proceedings. The entire eight-day celebration in the Jewish Diaspora revolves around the prohibition of chametz, leavened foods. Originally, in the Ashkenazi community in Eastern Europe, only five grains were considered chametz: wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats. Post-Talmudic authorities added rice and legumes, such as peas and beans. But for Sephardim living in Spain, Portugal and North Africa, the main foods available were rice and legumes, so contemporary Sephardic Jews eat both during Passover. In the Hofman house, the first seder is traditional Ashkenazi. The second, a Sephardic meal, is lightened with fruits, vegetables and an array of different spices.
Charoset, essential on the seder plate, is symbolic of the mortar the Jews worked with during their seemingly endless years of slavery. Ashkenazi-style, the mixture is mainly apples and nuts. For Sephardim, there’s nary an apple in sight. Ingredients are exotic, using fruits and spices that grew abundantly in the Mediterranean area and Africa (recipe below). Sephardic eggs are slow-cooked so that whites become a creamy brown color. Besides the traditional brisket, serve fish (in this case, easily available flounder) seasoned with za’atar and lemon, and then baked on a bed of cherry tomatoes, celery and onions. Roasted vegetables are drizzled with date tahini and a sesame paste to become mellower. For a light dessert, poached pears are best made ahead of time and chilled. And there’s sure to be at least one vegan in the gathering, so I had my niece test the Chocolate Whip, and it was a winner.
All ingredients are kosher for Passover. Chag Pesach Sameach!
Moroccan Charoset Truffles
Flounder Roll-Ups on Braised Vegetables
Golden Veggie Kugel
Roasted Broccoli and Squash with Date Tahini
Pale Poached Pears
Vegan Chocolate Whip
Sephardic Eggs (Pareve)
*May use a crockpot. Cover the eggs with at least 2 inches of water. Eggs are pasteurized by cooking at 140 degrees for 30 minutes starting off at high. After 1 hour, reduce heat to low. Cook 4 hours longer.
*After the eggs have been cooking for 3 hours, gently tap the shells with a spoon to show the marbling color on the egg whites.
brown skins of 2-3 onions
12 eggs in shells
1 tsp. instant coffee
2 tsp. turmeric
Spread the onion skins over the bottom of a large pot. Gently place eggs on top.
Sprinkle the coffee and turmeric over top.
Pour enough lukewarm water over to cover eggs by at least 2 inches. Bring water to a boil.
Cover and reduce heat to a slow boil. Cook for 1 hour. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook for at least 3 hours. (The water may evaporate, so add more warm water as needed.)
Serve at room temperature, arranged on drained onion skins.
Moroccan Charoset Truffles (Pareve)
*Substitute allspice—a combination of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg—for Moroccan spice.
*Substitute dried cranberries for expensive dried cherries.
*Place each truffle in paper candy cups.
14 pitted dates
1 cup dried apricots, halved
½ cup pitted dried cherries
¼ cup walnuts
1 seedless mandarin orange, peeled and cut into chunks
1 tsp. Moroccan spice
2 Tbsp. sweet wine
2 Tbsp. honey or to taste
⅓ cup ground almonds
In a food processor, place the dates, apricots, cherries, walnuts, orange and Moroccan spice. Pulse to chop coarsely.
Add wine and honey. Pulse to process to a coarse paste. Chill for 1 to 2 hours.
Roll into small balls, about 1 inch in diameter. Roll in ground almonds. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Flounder Roll-Ups on Braised Vegetables (Pareve)
*Tilapia fillets or other flat white fish may be used.
*Za’atar is a mixture of herbs that includes toasted sesame seeds and sumac.
3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
3 ribs celery, sliced about ¼ inch thick
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
2 pints cherry tomatoes
1½ tsp. cumin
3 (about 2½ lbs.) flounder fillets
za’atar to sprinkle
salt and freshly ground pepper
6 thin lemon wedges
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet or pot. Add the celery, onion and tomatoes. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until tomatoes are beginning to soften, 4 to 5 minutes.
Transfer to a large (9×13 inch) baking dish. Sprinkle with cumin. Set aside.
Cut flounder fillets in half lengthwise. Lightly sprinkle each half with za’atar, salt and pepper. Top with a lemon wedge. Roll up beginning at the thin end. Place on top of the tomato mixture. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with parsley.
Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes until the flounder begins to brown and has lost its opaque appearance.
Golden Veggie Kugel (Pareve)
*Use store-bought grated carrots in a bag.
*Chop apples and potatoes in a food processor.
½ cup matzah meal
scant ½ cup sugar
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. red-pepper flakes
2 large apples, unpeeled, coarsely chopped
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large baking potato, peeled and coarsely chopped
½ cup grated carrots
1 cup golden raisins
2 Tbsp. frozen orange-juice concentrate, thawed
grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 stick (8 oz.) margarine, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick vegetable baking spray.
In a large bowl, combine matzo meal, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, salt and red-pepper flakes.
Add the remaining ingredients. Mix well. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.
Bake in preheated oven until firm and nicely browned, about 1 to 1¼ hours.
If browning too quickly, cover loosely with foil. Cool slightly, cut into squares and serve warm.
Roasted Broccoli and Squash Drizzled with Date Tahini (Pareve)
*Use store-bought broccoli florets and cubed squash.
*Roast broccoli and squash separately to tenderize.
*Heat through in microwave before serving if needed.
For the Date Tahini:
4 pitted dates
hot water to cover
¼ cup tahini
1 tsp. sumac
water as needed
1 bag (12-14 oz.) broccoli florets
2 boxes (12 oz. each) of cubed squash
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and freshly ground pepper
Prepare the Date Tahini.
Place dates in a cup and cover with hot water. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to soften. Transfer the date and water mixture to a blender or food processor. Add tahini, sumac and ¼ cup water. Pulse 3 to 4 times to chop dates finely. Pour into a bowl. Add enough water to make a pouring consistency. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Toss the broccoli with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet.
Roast in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until beginning to brown. Set aside.
Repeat with squash. Roast in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until beginning to brown and tender when pierced with a sharp knife.
Arrange broccoli and squash in a serving dish. Drizzle with date tahini and serve.
Poached Pale Pears (Pareve)
*For delicate pink, use a red wine such as Merlot.
*For a dairy meal, pour melted vanilla yogurt or ice-cream over top.
2 ripe, firm pears, peeled and cored
12-16 whole cloves
1 seedless medium orange, unpeeled and sliced
1 cup white wine such as Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cardamom
½ tsp. turmeric
Cut cored pears into wedges about ½-inch thick. Insert a clove into each wedge. Set aside.
In a medium pot, place the remaining ingredients. Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Reduce heat and add the pears. Spoon some of the liquid over top.
Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the pears are soft. A sharp knife inserted should slip out easily.
Transfer pears to a serving dish. Uncover and simmer the remaining liquid for 10 minutes until syrupy. Spoon over the pears.
Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Vegan Chocolate Whip (Pareve)
*One-third cup of dairy-free chocolate chips or chopped chocolate equals 2 ounces of chocolate.
*May substitute granulated sugar for coconut sugar. Adjust to taste.
*Make sure dark chocolate is dairy-free.
*Very rich so serve in demitasse cups or small wine glasses.
2 ripe, medium avocados, peeled and pitted
1 soft, ripe banana, sliced thinly
¼ cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tsp. cinnamon
⅛ tsp. salt
¼ cup coconut sugar
2 ounces of dark chocolate, melted
raspberries or mint leaves to garnish (optional)
Slice the avocados and place them in the food processor. Add all remaining ingredients except the garnish.
Process, pulsing, until smooth.
Spoon into small glasses. Garnish as desired.
Ethel G. Hofman is a widely syndicated American Jewish food and travel columnist, author and culinary consultant.