Not your grandmother's kneidelach

Hip Israeli chefs offer up bright and exciting Pessah dishes.

kneidalach 88 (photo credit: )
kneidalach 88
(photo credit: )
As a child, Pessah was my favorite holiday. What's wrong with skipping school for three weeks, getting presents, and having mom and dad around for some extra time at home? I even enjoyed the ritual of the long retelling of the Exodus story, as the kids played a main role in our family Seder meal. But, like all children (and some adults) I was eager to reach the part of the Haggadah where we could begin the meal. Usually before reading the Ten Plagues I would already be nibbling pieces of Matza, wondering why we've already said, "Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat!" yet munching only appetizers. We were all hungry by then weren't we? On Pessah, like all Jewish festivals, food takes center stage. Under the strict kosher limitations of the holiday, creating a tempting meal is sometimes not an easy task, especially if you want to have variety during the entire week. Here are thee inventive recipes from leading chefs who have created impressive yet easy to cook dishes meant to excite the taste buds.

David Biton

For Jerusalem born David Biton (22), the strongest childhood memory of Pessah is of rolling 3,000 kneidelach. He has been working as a Chef in hotels for more than 6 years over the holidays, so his memories of Pessah are connected to hard work. "For years already I haven't spent the Seder meal with the family," he says. "Basically since I started working in this field. The truth is I don't really like Pessah food but if I have to choose a favorite, it would be a 'clear' [chicken] soup. "My culinary memories of Pessah are from my grandmother's house. The Pessah dish I remember most is my grandmother's 'flagship' dish: a Moroccan style veal cheek with peppers and coriander. It was served with tasty potatoes and Jerusalem artichoke." David Biton started his career in the Jerusalem Renaissance Hotel. In 2003 he moved to the Tel Aviv Sheraton and today he works as the chef of Olive Leaf, the Sheraton's kosher restaurant that specializes, under Biton's influence, in French cooking techniques with a home-cooked flavor. BAKED 'LOCUS' FILLET SERVED WITH POTATOES IN LEMON AND A SPICY CARROT VINAIGRETTE Carrot Vinaigrette: 1 Carrot 4 tbsp. Balsamic vinegar 1⁄4 cup olive oil 1⁄4 cup walnut or other nut oil 1 garlic clove 4 tbsp. citrus vinegar 2 tbsp. Silan (date honey) Boil carrots until soft. Drain, saving the liquid. Place boiled carrots in a food processor. Add half of the liquid and the rest of the ingredients, excluding the oils, and begin to process. As the ingredients are blending, gradually pour in the oils. Keep refrigerated. Fillets: 2 Locus filets, 200 gr. each Olive oil 1⁄4 cup of white wine Fresh thyme 2 tbsp. squeezed lemon juice Rock salt and freshly ground pepper Heat a Teflon or other non-stick pan with a small quantity of olive oil. Sear Locus fillet, skin side up, on a high flame for two minutes. Lower the flame and cook for another two minutes. Flip the fish in the pan, pour in the wine. Add the fresh thyme, salt and pepper and reduce the wine until two thirds of the liquid has evaporated. Add the tablespoon of squeezed lemon juice and move the fish and remaining liquid into a heat-proof dish. Bake the fish dish in a medium-high oven for seven minutes. Potatoes: 1 potato Lemon juice Chopped chives Olive oil A little fresh spinach Before you begin, cook the potatoes in their skins until soft. Chill in ice water for twenty minutes, remove the skins and cut into cubes. In a Teflon pan, fry the cooked potatoes in a little olive oil until browned. Add the spinach at the last moment. Add a little lemon juice, chives, and salt and pepper. To Serve: Place the fish with the fried potatoes and spinach on a suitable plate. Drizzle the carrot vinaigrette around the fish and serve. Serves 2.

Menachem Katz

Chef Menachem Katz barely remembers the Pessah seder or the special Pessah foods that he ate at his parents' table. But there's one vegetable that he simply can't forget - potatoes. "Since my parents didn't eat 'soaked matza' on Pessah, over the seven days my mother invented every dish possible out of potatoes." And now Katz has come up with a potato dish of his own that is just right for spring - gnocchi with fava beans and Red Mullet. Katz was born in Mea She'arim in Jerusalem. At the age of 14, he decided to leave his home and to cross the lines towards Jerusalem's secular neighborhoods. After his discharge from the military, he joined the team in the kitchen of Ezra Kedem's Arcadia, where he was first exposed to the workings of a kitchen and the restaurant profession. Later, he left for Tel Aviv's Artichoke restaurant where he was soon appointed to the prestigious position of chef. A chance meeting with Aharoni Neuberger, one of the investors in the restaurant 1868, brought him back to the city and to kosher cuisine. His renewed acquaintance with the limitations of kosher cooking has rekindled his love for it and even brought back some successful culinary memories from his parents' home. For him, kosher cuisine is not in the least inferior to non-kosher cuisine. "On the contrary," Katz explains. "The limitations of observing kashrut merely increase the culinary creativity. The wealth of raw ingredients available in the market helps us to create unlimited dishes without feeling that any non-kosher ingredients are missing." GNOCCHI WITH RED MULLET AND FAVA BEANS Gnocchi 1 kg. potatoes 60 gr. potato starch 1 egg yolk 1 tsp. salt 1⁄4 tsp. white pepper Bake potatoes, peel and push through a fine sieve. Knead potatoes with other ingredients, roll into 1 cm. thick strips. Slice into 1 cm. long slices. Bring a medium-sized boil of salted water to a boil. Cook gnocchi in salted boiling water for approximately 2 minutes. Remove and cool in ice water. Red Mullet Sauce: 450 gr. barbonia 200 gr. peeled Fava beans (green ful) 1 tomato, peeled and chopped 2 tbs. chopped parsley 1 tbs. crushed garlic 50 ml. fish stock 100 gr. butter salt and white pepper to taste Melt butter in a warm pan. Stir-fry fish, gnocchi and other ingredients for approximately three minutes.

Omer Ben-Gal

Omer Ben-Gal is the chef of Lilit, one of the better kosher restaurants in Tel Aviv. Ben Gal brings a vast expreience and colorful flair to all of the culinary creations at Lilit. "I came from a half Sepharadic and half Ashkenazi family, so I've enjoyed splendid gefilte fish with matzo balls together with my Sepharadic grandmother's kosher for Pessah kubbeh. My favorite Pessah dish, tough, was a sour chicken soup with lots of lemons that we used to eat during the holiday." LAMB NECK WITH SPINACH AND FAVA BEANS Neck: 2 kg. sliced lamb neck sliced (with the bone) 1⁄2 cup olive oil 3 carrots thinly sliced 2 onions thinly sliced 2 garlic cloves Rock salt Pepper Heat the oil in a heavy pan. Sprinkle the neck with salt and pepper, place the meat in the pan and brown on all sides. Then let stand. In the same pan, fry the vegetables. Add the meat and cover with water. Bring the liquids to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low. Simmer for two and a half to 3 hours with the lid on until the meat is very tender and falls off the bone. Vegetables: Big bunch of spinach 2 kg. fava beans (green ful) 2 lemons Cook the beans in boiling water for two minutes until soft. Chill and peel. To serve: Transfer the lamb to another pot, strain the broth and reduce it to a third. Bring the meat back to the pot, add the vegetables and cook together for 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with mashed potatoes or couscous. Serves 6-8. A medium bodied red wine such as Gamla Sangiovese from the Golan Heights winery pairs beautifully with this dish. It is fruity and well balanced and will not overwhelm the taste of the lamb.