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The Cookstr 10: Ten Recipes for the Spring Holidays (Part One: Passover)

March 25, 2010

This newsletter centers around Passover, but even if you’re not hosting a Seder we hope you’ll find some tempting dinner party dishes for spring. Passover is the Jewish holiday that commemorates the Hebrews’ freedom from enslavement in Egypt.

There are a number of foods that are traditionally cooked and eaten on this holiday, and one of the most significant food-related customs is the absence of leavened breads and other grain products from the home. This commemorates the fact that the Jews were leaving Egypt in a hurry, and did not have time to let their bread rise properly, resulting in a flat bread called matzo, which they brought with them on their journey. Matzo is available in a variety of forms for cooking, and is the foundation of one of everyone’s favorite Jewish culinary contributions: matzo ball soup.

Jewish or not, as we head into spring it’s a perfect time to enjoy a wonderful tagine, some tenderly braised beans, a nutty-fruity spread, and a dense coconut macaroon. The traditional Jewish toast is l’Chaim, which translates as “To life!” and that thought is a perfect way to welcome family and friends to any spring celebration.

1. Anya von Bremzen’s Haroset. Talk about a recipe with infinite variations. Depending on what part of the Jewish culture your family comes from, your haroset may look very different from your neighbor’s. This one is Russian-Georgian, thick with apples, pears, lots of nuts, and dried fruits. The chutney-like spread is sweetened with kosher wine and honey, and many people consider this their favorite part of the Passover meal.

2. Faye Levy’s Chopped Liver the Way My Mother Makes It. People go pretty crazy for this appetizer, and while you can certainly buy good stuff at the deli, it won’t compare to your homemade. Caramelized onions form the flavor base, and don’t be shy with the seasonings. Pick your texture–chunky or smooth–and pass the matzo.

3. Mimi Sheraton’s Gefüllte Fish. We’ll say it loud and clear: this recipe–also known as Gefilte Fish–is a bit of a project, relying on your arms for loads of chopping, instead of electrical appliances. But the texture is wonderful, and the savory flavors will make your Passover meal very special and memorable. Matzoh and horseradish are the standard accompaniments.

4. Joan Nathan’s Arabic Caesar Salad. This interesting salad has lots of flavors and textures happily jostling each other for position. It is a version of Fettush, a salad that originated in the Middle East, chock-a-block with tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, scallions, fresh herbs, and watercress, tossed with a lemony-garlicky dressing. The fun part is the inclusion of bread in the salad, often pita, though you can use matzo over the holidays.

5. Judy Bart Kancigor’s Matzoh Balls. This recipe is for those who like their matzo balls (“knaidlach” in Yiddish, in case you want to sound in-the-know) light and fluffy as they bob on the surface of their chicken soup. Some people think that club soda makes for a lighter matzo ball, but you can use chicken broth or plain water, too, and let them simmer for a nice long time.

6. Christopher Schlesinger and John Willoughby’s Balsamic-Braised Pot Roast with Tomatoes, Lemon, Raisin, and Olive-Pine Nut Relish. Pot roast is a classic Jewish holiday main course, and this version is spiced with the Mediterranean flavors of tomatoes, lemons, raisins, and garlic. Slowly braised in a sauce rich with red wine and balsamic vinegar, it is comfort food at its finest. Let the meat rest for several minutes when it comes out and be sure to slice it across the grain, as that way the juices will stay in your meat, and not run out onto the cutting board.

7. James Peterson’s Chicken Tagine with Apricots, Raisins, and Almonds. Most North African tagines are simmered for ages, but this chicken version is quicker and lighter. It has a fairly intoxicating blend of aromatic spices like cinnamon, cloves, and saffron, which flavor the chicken along with dried fruits and almonds. If you’re observing, find a couscous marked Kosher for Passover. Spicy and fragrant harissa, which you can make or purchase, is the secret ingredient to this stewy soup.

8. Poopa Dweck’s Braised String Beans with Allspice and Garlic. This stovetop Syrian dish can also be transferred to the oven to braise for even longer, making it a great side dish for gatherings where you’re trying desperately to time everything so it comes out hot at the same time. Garlic and the warm, sweet flavor of allspice add something different to this accessible bean dish.

9. Molly O’Neill’s Selma Frishling’s Passover Nut Cake. Over the Passover holiday, all baking is traditionally done with matzo meal instead of flour. This lemony, walnut-riddled cake gets structure and lightness from eggs, in particular the beaten whites.

10. Elinor Klivans’ Jumbo Black Bottom Coconut Macaroons. Sweet, chewy coconut macaroons are a favorite Passover dessert, especially among children. These cookies get a sophisticated adult twist with a quick dip in chocolate. Crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside, and chocolate on the bottom: who could ask for a better end to a meal?

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