Recipes for a Passover celebration



At sundown on Monday, April 14, the Jewish holiday of Passover begins. Once more, we gather with family and loved ones around the table. Carefully set with the best china and flatware, our wineglasses are ready to be filled. We recline. Each person takes a turn as we read the Haggadah recounting the ancient story of Exodus. We rejoice in our liberation. The discourse is opened to include local and world events. We wish, hope, we pray that all people will be allowed to live free. We celebrate with a wonderful meal.

Matzo is the central symbol of the Seder, along with the Seder plate and its ceremonial foods. During the holiday, for eight days, we do not eat bread or leavened foods. We eat only matzo.

Why? Because as the Israelites fled Egypt, they had no time to let bread dough rise and it was quickly baked into flatbreads. Matzo is called the bread of affliction. Poor man's bread, eaten by our ancestors. We eat it in recognition of the first Seder, in solidarity. Matzo that's kosher for Passover contains only flour and water. The dough must be prepared and baked within 18 minutes.

Let all who are hungry, come and eat, we say, as the matzo is uncovered. A small piece, called the afikomen, is hidden. My grandfather or great-uncle always stuffed it in a book or on a high shelf and the kids would tear through the house looking for it, once the meal was over.

Passover also welcomes in a new season, long-awaited spring. We celebrate the first fruits and vegetables, including rhubarb, strawberries, asparagus, leeks, potatoes and knobby onions. New this year, quinoa has been certified for the holiday. Lamb is traditional at Passover and chicken is easy for a crowd.

Kugels often appear at Jewish holidays. The category is broad, but basically, they're baked or steamed puddings, either sweet or savory. They're often made of noodles, but not on Passover. I've developed one with broken-up matzo and fresh vegetables that vegetarians will love. I also present an indulgent potato-onion kugel from Jayne Cohen's classic book, "Jewish Holiday Cooking."

Instead of the usual boiled egg in salt water at the service, try her Chopped Eggs and Onions, spooned into tender lettuce leaves, or pass a bowl around to spread on matzo. I did not gefilte any fish, another tradition, but I have great memories of my Grandmother Rubin's light, flavorful rendition, served with sharp horseradish. If your grandmother or mother makes it, please follow her around the kitchen to get the recipe. I have so many regrets.

I always like to serve a big platter of some kind of vegetable-y dish after the soup and before the meal. It keeps everyone busy while you're slicing and reheating, adding the finishing touches to dinner. I've got two good choices.

From "Passover Made Easy," there's Butternut Squash Salad with Sugar n' Spice Nuts. The salad's components are made ahead and it's tossed before serving. Or try Estee Kafra's Roasted Mini Peppers with Basil-Walnut Pesto from her book "Cooking Inspired." Gorgeous and best served at room temperature, so make it ahead.

For dessert, I baked up a very nice apple cake from "The Best of the Best and More," the new cookbook from the Sisterhood of Rodef Shalom Congregation in Squirrel Hill. There's a delicious nutty cookie from "Cooking Inspired" and fruit compote from me. Because we're usually all too full for dessert, but we can always take a little fruit. And maybe a macaroon.

Then we fill the cup for the Prophet Elijah. Open the door to let him in. Close it once again. Filling his cup, awaiting his visit symbolizes our hope for redemption.

By now, at my childhood S eders, most of the dishes have been cleared. At this point my grandfather would be a little red-faced and tipsy, ready to sing Chad Gadya, the song about the goat "my father bought for two zuzim." But before singing Chad Gadya, we say together, sometimes as a promise: Next Year in Jerusalem.

"Next year in Jerusalem! We sing from our places scattered around the globe, including the city of Jerusalem itself. And we will sing it year after year, no matter how long history disposes of us, just so long as we are still around." (From "The New American Haggadah" edited by Jonathan Safran Foer, translated by Nathan Englander.)

Happy Passover!

Chopped Eggs and Onions

Writes Jayne Cohen: "My grandmother's chopped eggs and onions got their flavor boost from griebenes, the cracklings of fat and skin that are a by-product of making schmaltz, poultry fat. I add well-browned onions and their oil for the same effect. This should be rather coarse and crumbly, not at all paste-like. Using a food processor -- even in pulsing motion -- usually results in some overly large chunks and some paste. I find it much easier to chop this in an old-fashioned wooden chopping bowl with an inexpensive curved hand-chopper (such as the half-moon-shaped Jewish hockmeisser or crescent-shaped Italian mezzaluna)."

3 to 5 tablespoons best-quality olive or avocado oil, divided

1/2 cup thinly sliced onions plus 1/2 cup finely chopped onion

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 hard-boiled large eggs, peeled and cut into eighths

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a medium skillet; add sliced onions. (I use sliced onion here because chopped onion can be watery.) Saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until rich golden-brown. Salt and pepper lightly; remove from heat to cool.

Scrape sauteed onion and all the oil in skillet into a wooden bowl, and chop coarsely. (I chopped it on a cutting board.) Add eggs and raw onion, and continue chopping until well blended but not pasty. Mix in salt and lots of pepper as you chop, or blend in afterwards with a fork. It should hold together loosely; you will probably need to add a bit more oil. Chill well, but remove from the refrigerator at least 15 minutes before serving.

Serve on soft lettuce leaves or in a bowl to spread on matzo.

Makes 4 to 6 servings, more if serving as part of a Seder.

-- Adapted from "Jewish Holiday Cooking: A Food Lovers' Treasury of Classics and Improvisations" by Jayne Cohen (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)

Roasted Mini Peppers with Basil-Walnut Pesto

Serve at room temperature after the service and before the meal. It buys you time in the kitchen. A gorgeous dish, it's easily made the day before. For a crowd, use double the amount of peppers but there should be enough pesto. To peel pearl onions, drop them into boiling water for about 30 seconds, let them cool, then cut off the top and bottom and peel off the skins. Or use half a large sweet onion cut into 1-inch chunks.

1 pound assorted mini peppers, sold in bags

1/2 cup pearl onions, peeled

2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Basil-Walnut Pesto (recipe below)

BASIL-WALNUT PESTO

1 cup fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup walnuts

1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley sprigs, packed

1 small garlic clove (optional)

1/4 cup olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Oil a rimmed baking sheet. Add the peppers and pearl onions, toss with the 2 tablespoons oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Roast peppers, stirring once or twice, 12 to 15 minutes, until softened and their skins start to blacken.

Meanwhile, make pesto: Place basil, walnuts, parsley and garlic, if using, in food processor. Pulse to chop ingredients. With machine running, slowly pour in oil and process until a paste forms. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer peppers to serving bowl; stir in desired amount of pesto and serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 6 servings.

-- Adapted from "Estee Kafra's Cooking Inspired: Bringing Creativity and Passion Back into the Kitchen," by Estee Kafra (Feldheim, 2013)

Roasted Chicken with Two Potatoes, Garlic and Rosemary

This is a lovely main dish for any holiday as it can be popped into the oven just as (or before) guests arrive, and, once done, it will hold for an hour or so. Plus it has potatoes and chicken in one. Omit the garlic, if you wish. I used thighs instead of a whole chicken -- so much easier and all the pieces were done at the same time. You could try a mixture of thighs and drumsticks or any parts you want. Bone-in breasts will cook more quickly, boneless even moreso, and are probably not the best choice.

3- to 4-pound roasting chicken, cut into 6 to 8 pieces (I used 8 meaty chicken thighs instead, weighing about 41/2 pounds)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

1½ pounds small, thin-skinned potatoes, not peeled, halved or quartered

1 medium onion, halved and sliced

20 unpeeled garlic cloves (about 2 heads, I peeled them)

2 sprigs fresh rosemary, broken into 3 to 4 pieces

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (I used ½ cup, the next time I make this, I'll use 1/3 cup)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Season chicken generously with salt and pepper and place in large roasting pan. Scatter sweet potatoes, small potatoes, onion, garlic cloves and rosemary around chicken. Season vegetables with salt and pepper to taste. Pour oil over all.

Roast 20 minutes. Turn heat down to 350 degrees and bake 45 to 60 minutes, until chicken and potatoes are golden and garlic is crisp. If vegetables are browning too fast but chicken is still not done, cover pan with foil. Serve hot.

Makes 6 servings.

-- Adapted from "The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking: 200 Seasonal Holiday Recipes & Their Traditions" by Phyllis Glazer with Miriyam Glazer (Harper Collins, 2004)


More of Miriam Rubin's tested Passover recipes will appear in the Sunday Magazine section. 


Miriam Rubin: mmmmrubin@gmail.com and on Twitter @mmmrubin.

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