Seder

Beet and Brussels Sprouts Salad

Now that my children are grown, with children of their own, I sometimes think about the “old days” and remember the good times, the festive occasions, the fun we had. The Jewish holidays rank high on my list of best memories, especially the Passover Seders. Whether I’m thinking about the times that my cousin and I would crawl under the table while my uncle recited the Haggadah or last year, when my grandchildren threw the styrofoam “hail” and plastic locusts as we mentioned the Ten Plagues, the memories are good, the kind that I love to deposit in my memory bank.

There are good food memories too, from my grandma’s famous chicken soup to the complaints I got when I first served haroset made with dried apricots, pistachio nuts and cayenne pepper.

My first Seder continues my family's generations long menu featuring matzo ball soup, followed by roasted turkey. Chremslich, of course. In fact, a double portion of that. 

But all the rest is different. Over the years there was one food change after another, little by little as new in-laws came into our family, tastes changed and allergies had to be considered. So these days we have our own family expected recipes -- matzo ball soup and turkey, plus homemade baked cranberries, spinach pie (made with a matzo crust), imam bayeldi, and lots of other vegetables and the now standard spicy dried fruit haroset.

I used to serve flourless chocolate cake, but we had that a little too often, so because Passover is also my grandson's birthday, I will serve homemade macaroons along with a traditional chocolate roll, the one I used to make when my daughter Meredith's birthday fell during Passover. (You can stuff the roll with whipped cream, jelly or parve lemon curd filling).

Every year I add one new dish to my first Seder. One year it was Ratatouille. A few times there was a new version of haroset. I even made matzo farfel chocolates one year.

This year? A new salad! Here it is:

Roasted Beet and Brussels Sprouts Salad

  • 4 medium beets
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 pound (about 30) medium size Brussels sprouts
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or use Balsamic vinegar)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh orange peel
  • freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Peel the beets and cut them into bite size pieces. Place the beets on a baking sheet and pour one tablespoon olive oil over them. Toss to coat the beets. Sprinkle with salt. Roast for about 20 minutes or until tender. Trim the Brussels sprouts (cut them in half if they are large). Place them on a baking sheet and pour one tablespoon olive oil over them. Toss to coat the sprouts. Sprinkle with salt. Roast for about 15 minutes or until tender. Place the vegetables together in a bowl. Mix the remaining olive oil, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and orange peel and pour over the ingredients. Let rest for about 10 minutes, place in a serving bowl and sprinkle with salt and black pepper to taste.

Makes 6-8 servings

 

 

Breast of Veal for Passover

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In my world, Passover is not usually the brisket fest that is typical for so many of the other families I know.

Our usual is turkey. Second night veal.

That's because, growing up, when the Seders were at my grandma's house, and the crowd could be as many as 24 people, she always served a big turkey the first night. The second night, when we were a much smaller group, she would cook a batch of veal cutlets with a crunchy matzo meal crust.

Frankly, I don't feel like frying up a whole mess of cutlets, so my Passover veal dinner will likely be breast of veal, one of my favorites meats to eat. I realize a lot of people think breast of veal is too down home for a festive occasion such as Passover.

I don't agree. Look how beautiful this roast is! Golden brown skin, meaty bones, moist meat, savory vegetables to accompany. Looks impressive to me! And also quite good to eat, for Passover or otherwise.

Roast Breast of Veal with Mushrooms, Onions and White Wine

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 10 ounces fresh mushrooms
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 breast of veal, about 3-4 pounds
  • 1/2 cup white wine

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for about 2 minutes, to soften slightly. Add the mushrooms, garlic and parsley, stir and cook for another 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon the vegetables into a roasting pan. Place the veal breast on top. Brush the top surface of the meat with the remaining olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes. Pour the wine over the meat. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Roast for another 45-50 minutes, basting occasionally, or until the surface is crispy.

Makes 4 servings

Quickie Ratatouille

Classic ratatouille is time consuming and labor intensive. Also fabulously delicious.

Unfortunately, I don't have the time or patience to cook the authentic recipe these days. Especially not for Passover.

So, whereas a cartoon rat might win raves for his ratatouille, and my version might not be quite so beautiful as the one in the Disney movie (Ratatouille), here are the benefits to my recipe:

it's easy: about 30 minutes prep time

it's quick (less than 30 minutes to cook)

it's a perfect dish for Seders, vegetarian meals or side dishes, any old dinner

it's fabulously delicious

So here's the recipe:

Quickie Ratatouille

 

  • 1/3 cup olive oil, approximately
  • 8 thick scallions, chopped
  • 6 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium fresh chili pepper, deseeded and chopped
  • 2 cups diced eggplant
  • 1 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 2 cups diced zucchini
  • 8 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 6-8 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • salt and freshly ground red pepper to taste

 

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the scallion, garlic and chili pepper and cook, stirring frequently, for one minute. Add the eggplant and bell pepper and cook, stirring often, for 4-5 minutes or until the vegetables have softened. Pour in the remaining olive oil and add the zucchini (add more olive oil if the vegetables start to stick to the bottom of the pan). Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes and basil and cook, stirring frequently, for 12-15 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and there is little liquid left in the pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

 

Makes 8 servings

 

 

 

Haroset with Pistachios and Pepper

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Charoset (Haroset) is more than a blob of stuff that sits on the Passover Seder plate. Sure, we talk about it during the Haggadah reading. It’s there to symbolize the mortar used between the bricks that Jewish slaves used to build the pyramids for the ancient Egyptian pharaoh.

But it’s also food. In our family, another fabulous side dish, more like a relish, that we eat plenty of during the meal.

None of us ever really loved the old fashioned apple-wine mixture that most of us Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern European descent grew up with. It always tasted a bit sour and it got brown and ugly and besides, my daughter Gillian can’t eat walnuts and somehow almonds didn’t taste right in the mixture.

So, years ago I experimented with lots of recipes and found one I liked. It was a “Persian” recipe that I changed over and over until I got it the way I liked. At first my kids refused to eat it saying they would rather eat real mortar than this new charoset. But over the years they gradually came to love it and now insist they always did or at least can’t remember when they didn’t.

I double the recipe I am going to post here because it’s so good we eat a lot of it and besides, this relish lasts a while in the fridge so you can keep on having it all during Passover.

Haroset with Pistachios and Pepper

  • 1 cup chopped dried apricots

  • 1 cup chopped dates

  • 1/2 cup raisins

  • 1 cup shelled pistachio nuts

  • 1 cup chopped almonds

  • 2 tart apples, peeled, cored and chopped

  • 2/3 cup sweet red Passover wine

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh orange peel

  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger

  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1/2 cup orange marmalade

    Combine the apricots, dates, raisins, pistachio nuts and almonds in a bowl and toss ingredients to distribute them evenly. (You can prepare this much a week ahead). Add the apples, wine, vinegar, orange peel, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne and marmalade and mix ingredients. Let rest at least 4 hours before serving. May be made 3 days ahead.

Makes about 6 cups.

Imam Bayildi with Onions

Passover will feel a little strange for me this year. I’m used to having lots of grownups and a bunch of kid cousins, a crowded dining room with tables that spill into the entryway, a ton of food, crayon-friendly placemats for the little ones, plus puppets and other props we use to keep the children occupied and interested during the Haggadah reading.

But families get bigger as the years go by and people move and somehow — it seems this happens to so many people — the time comes when families separate and have their own Seders. That’s what’s happening to me this year.

It’s been my gig for more than 25 years. In the early days when my generation were the young ones with children, there were a couple of times when my sister-in-law Barbara had a Seder. And two or three times we went to my brother Jeff’s house for Passover. And once we even had a Seder at a restaurant with extended family. I hated that.

My Mom had the Seders before I took over. Now I understand how she felt when my aunt Min called one year before Passover and told her that their family had become so big (4 children had married and had kids) they couldn’t burden my Mom anymore and would have their own.

But we’ll still celebrate. Still read the Haggadah. Still have the Seder plate and sing the songs and hide the afikomen and pour the cup of wine for Elijah. Passover is a joyous holiday. A time to be happy that so many of us are still together, celebrating together, appreciating our lives and being grateful for what we have. Isn’t that what the Haggadah really tells us? To read about the journey to freedom and be thankful for it?

A Thanksgiving of sorts. 

In fact, when my son-in-law Jesse asks what I’m serving and I tell him “turkey” he answers, “oh, Thanksgiving.”

Sort of. My Passover menu always centers around turkey. My mother made turkey. My grandmother made turkey. There’s also cranberry sauce. But that’s where the Thanksgiving comparison ends. Obviously there won’t be pie or bread stuffing!

Of course there will still be a ton of other food. Like most families, we will repeat our favorite menu, although I can’t help but add a few things here and there and experiment with a few dishes so we always wind up with days worth of leftovers.

One of the constant dishes in my menu is Imam Bayildi, which is braised eggplant with tomatoes. It’s a good side dish and you can make it a day or so ahead. Also, it’s the kind of dish you can eat hot, warm or at room temperature. If there’s a vegetarian in your life, this dish is also a winner.

So, smaller Seder or whatever, we are going to celebrate and wish everyone a Happy Passover.

Here’s the recipe:

Imam Bayildi

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 large tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup water

Cut the eggplant into slices about 3/8-inch thick. Sprinkle with salt and let rest for 30 minutes. Wipe the eggplant slices dry with paper towels. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Cook the eggplant slices a few at a time for 2-3 minutes per side or until slightly wilted. Add more olive oil to the pan as needed to prevent scorching (use 4-5 tablespoons more if needed). Place the cooked eggplant into a baking dish (cut it into smaller pieces if you wish). Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan. Add the onions and cook for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes, parsley, sugar, salt and lemon juice. Cook for one minute, stirring frequently. Spoon the vegetables on top of the eggplant. Drizzle with any remaining olive oil and the water. Cover the pan and bake for 45 minutes. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Makes 6-8 servings