By Ethel G. Hofman
(JNS) We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. With coronavirus vaccinations ramping up throughout the country, this may be the last Jewish holiday we spend in our small bubbles, restricted from extended family and friends. It’s apropos that this happens to be the holiday of our freedom. In recent memory, it’s perhaps never been as relevant as it is this year.
More than that, the Passover seder falls right after Shabbat, which means an extra day without bread since chametz must be burned the Friday beforehand. (The eight-day holiday begins the night of March 27 and lasts through the evening of April 4.) That means that cooking time has also been curbed, so it’s even more important to map out your menu ahead of time and be prepared. And consider this: After the Friday-night chicken and the cholent-heavy Shabbat lunch, come Passover dinner, go light. Go meat-free for the first seder.
There’s an ever-expanding variety of kosher-for-Passover ingredients to use with the seder menu reflecting a diversity of tastes, diets and cultures. Even in my limited shopping sprees, I found confectioners’ sugar (the Passover variety is combined with potato starch instead of cornstarch) on store shelves, along with mushroom “pasta,” family-sized items like broccoli kugel, spelt matzah, gluten-free items galore and an exciting variety of spices, including Mexican Chili.
The dishes below are steeped in tradition. Rich, spiced charoset is made up of a variety of herbs and dried fruits from Morocco. Even though I will be Zooming this holiday, I’ll still make two varieties; the traditional apple-nut kind and Sephardic charoset such as the Moroccan recipe here. All dried fruits should be soft. To soften, pour hot water over top, steep for an hour and then drain. If you have leftovers, store them in the fridge for a delicious spread on matzah. Sweet Potato Kugel with a whisper of nutmeg is a change from the white-potato version. In the European shtetls, white potatoes were plentiful and cheap; who could have imagined any other variety? Sweet and Tangy Slow-Baked Salmon sparkles with Shawarma, just one of the lively kosher-for-Passover spices from Pereg spices, available in retail stores.
Legumes such as peas, beans and lentils have long been part of the Sephardic Passover meals—not so for Ashkenazim. But an international group of rabbis within the Conservative movement has ruled that it is, in fact, OK to add rice, beans, corn and other so-called legumes. That said, Sephardic Bean and Mushroom Stew will please everyone (not just the vegetarians among us). And for a stunning dessert, I pulled out my mother’s recipe from a time when kosher-for-Passover ingredients were few and simple. Matzah, olive oil and matzah meal were mailed to our Shetland home from the late Michael Morrison’s Deli in Glasgow. Recipes may be doubled as needed.
Moroccan Charoset (Pareve)
Makes about 2½ cups
2 cups walnuts
¾ cup golden raisins
8 pitted dates
10 dried apricots, halved
5 dried black figs
¼ cup cherry preserves
1 tablespoon grated ginger root
1 tablespoon shredded mint leaves, packed
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
about ¼ cup sweet Passover wine
sesame seeds (optional)
1. Place all ingredients except the wine and sesame seeds in the food processor bowl. Process to chop.
2. Add just enough wine to process into a coarse paste. Transfer to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate. Before serving, sprinkle with sesame seeds (optional).
Keeps up to a week, refrigerated.
• An adaptable recipe. Other nuts or dried fruits may be used, such as pecans, almonds, dark raisins, dried pears, prunes and any preserves, like apricot.
• Chop to desired consistency; there’s no right or wrong, only your preference.
Sweet and Tangy Slow-Baked Salmon (Pareve)
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup hot water
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons raisins
1 teaspoon Shawarma spice from Pereg (see tip below)
2 pieces salmon fillet, 6-8 ounces each
1. Heat oven to 300 degrees.
2. In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients except the salmon. Heat over low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cool slightly.
3. Place the salmon in a baking dish large enough so that the salmon is about half-inch apart. Pour the cooled liquid mixture over. Baste before placing in a preheated oven.
4. Cover and bake for 20 minutes, or until flakes are opaque when separated with a knife.
5. Serve hot or at room temperature.
• If you’re scared of undercooking, use a meat thermometer. Insert into the thickest part of the fish. The safe internal temperature for fish is 145° degrees.
• To slice onion, wafer-thin, use a mandolin. You can purchase an inexpensive one online.
• Slow baking yields perfect succulent salmon.
• Shawarma, from Pereg spices, is an “all in one” mixture of cumin, coriander, turmeric and allspice.
Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms (Pareve)
4 medium Portobello mushrooms, cleaned
¼ cup ground almonds
1 scallion, trimmed and finely chopped
¼ cup snipped parsley, tightly packed
2 tablespoons finely chopped red bell pepper
½ teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick vegetable spray.
3. Remove mushroom stems. Chop finely and place in a bowl. Add the almonds, scallions, parsley, red bell pepper, garlic, coriander and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Stir to mix.
4. Place mushrooms on the prepared baking sheet. Spoon stuffing into mushroom caps, dividing equally. Flatten down with the back of a spoon. Drizzle with remaining olive oil.
5. Bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake 5 minutes longer or until stuffing is golden-brown. Serve hot or warm.
Note: Stuffing may be prepared ahead of time and mushrooms stuffed just before cooking.
• Any finely ground nuts such as pecans or walnuts may be substituted for almonds.
• Rinse mushrooms under cold water, then pat dry with paper towels. Don’t clean until ready to cook or they’ll become slimy.
Sephardic Bean and Mushroom Stew (Pareve)
1 tablespoon oil
1 pound cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon bottled minced garlic
½ teaspoon each, rosemary and tarragon
1½ cups vegetable broth
¼ cup dry white kosher-for-Passover wine
1 (14½ ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1½ cups cut green beans
1 cup canned butter beans, drained
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.
2. Add mushrooms, onion and garlic. Cover; cook until onions and mushrooms are soft.
3. Stir often. Add the rosemary and tarragon, vegetable broth, wine and tomatoes.
4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer. Cook, partially covered, 10 minutes. Stir in the green beans. Cook for 10 minutes longer. Beans should be crunchy.
5. In a small bowl, mash the butter beans coarsely. Stir into mushroom mixture. Heat through and serve.
•Cremini mushrooms are simply the brown version of the common white mushroom.
• May use frozen cut green beans.
• Any soft canned white beans may be substituted for butter beans.
• Add more vegetable broth, if needed.
Sweet Potato Kugel with Glazed Pears (Pareve)
Makes 6-8 muffins
1 ( 8-10 ounces) sweet potato, peeled and grated
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons margarine, melted
¼ cup matzah meal
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon apricot or marmalade jam, melted
2 thin slices pear, cored, unpeeled, cut in thirds
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Spray 6 to 8 muffin tins with nonstick baking spray.
3. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, except the jam and pears.
4. Transfer to prepared muffin tins. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes.
5. While muffins are baking, place the pear pieces in a small bowl. Pour the melted jam over and toss to mix. Insert one piece of pear into each muffin.
6. Bake for 10 minutes more until firm and nicely browned. May be frozen.
• Combine white potatoes and sweet potatoes, instead of all sweet potatoes.
• Grate potatoes on the grater attachment of a food processor.
• May bake in a 1-quart ovenproof casserole.
Brandied Fruit Parfait (Pareve)
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
¼ cup brandy, divided
tiny pinch each ground nutmeg and cloves
3 tablespoons margarine, melted
2 tablespoons fresh raspberries
½ cup nondairy whipped topping, whipped
ground nutmeg to garnish (optional)
1. In a blender, place the eggs, sugar, orange zest, 2 tablespoons brandy, nutmeg and cloves. Blend at high speed for 10 to 15 seconds.
2. With the motor running, through the opening in the cover, pour in the melted margarine in a slow steady stream. Transfer to a small saucepan.
3. Whisk constantly over medium-high heat until beginning to thicken, 3 to 4 minutes. Do not boil.
4. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Chill.
5. In a cup or small bowl, pour the remaining brandy over raspberries. Mash coarsely with a fork.
6. To assemble, spoon raspberry mixture equally into the bottom of 4 demitasse cups or wineglasses.
7. Fold the whipped topping into the chilled egg mixture. Spoon over raspberries. Top with a dusting of nutmeg.
• Serve in demitasse cups or wineglasses, just the right size.
• Any soft fruit such as diced peaches or strawberries may be substituted for raspberries.
• No blender? Process in a food processor.
• When whisking the egg mixture, make sure to whisk the sides of the pan where the mixture gets hot faster. Do not allow to boil.
• Whipped topping should be chilled before using.
Ethel G. Hofman is a widely syndicated American Jewish food and travel columnist, author and culinary consultant