Totally nuts on Pessah

Nut cakes have unique texture and are a great change from the flour-based cakes of the rest of the year.

walnuts 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy )
walnuts 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy )
I don't know why some people complain that they are always hungry on Pessah because they miss such foods as bread. I have the opposite problem. There are so many specialties that I want to savor during the holiday that it's hard to fit them all into the week of Pessah. Take, for example, the wonderful nut cakes of Pessah. They have a unique texture and delicious flavor and make a wonderful change from the flour-based cakes of the rest of the year, or the usual Pessah matza-meal sponge cakes. At certain ethnic markets in Los Angeles, notably Middle Eastern and Persian ones, the striking display of Pessah nuts - wrapped and labeled as certified kosher for Pessah - often caught my eye. Nuts are indeed a valuable Pessah ingredient. Most people include nuts in their haroset and some cooks use nuts in baking, but there are so many other ways to enjoy nuts in the holiday's menus. Nuts are as important for the savory as for the sweet side of the menu. Chopped nuts are a great addition to matza kugels and stuffings for chicken, and add a pleasing, slightly crunchy crust when sprinkled over kugels made from kosher-for-Pessah noodles before you bake them. Matza-ball batter gains extra flavor if you add a small proportion of ground almonds. I love toasted walnuts, pecans or pistachios as a garnish for green salads or even Israeli salad. Ashkenazi vegetarians who wonder what foods they'll substitute for lentils and dried beans can make use of nuts as a protein source. Helene Siegel, author of The Totally Nuts Cookbook, notes: "In countries where animal protein is scarce, nuts are essential for protein," and adds that nuts are high in fiber content and in mostly beneficial types of fat. When you need a dairy-free sauce, it's good to remember that nuts do wonders to enrich sauces, like the walnut-garlic sauce served with broiled salmon in the recipe below. You can also use nuts as a coating for fish. Jayne Cohen, the author of Jewish Holiday Cooking, makes fish fillets in a pistachio-matza crust, coating the fish with sour cream mixed with grated onion and lemon zest, then baking it with a topping of roasted pistachios mixed with buttered toasted matza meal. Freshness is essential for good flavor when it comes to nuts. Siegel recommends storing all nuts in an airtight container in the freezer and notes that for baking, they can be used directly from the freezer. BROILED SALMON WITH WALNUT SAUCE You can serve the salmon at room temperature as an appetizer, or hot as a main course. For an attractive presentation, garnish the platter of salmon with lightly cooked asparagus. Be sure the walnuts and the garlic are very fresh. If you have walnut oil, you can substitute 2 or 3 tablespoons for that amount of vegetable oil in the sauce. You can keep the sauce in a covered container up to two days in the refrigerator. 3 large garlic cloves, peeled 1⁄3 cup parsley sprigs for sauce, plus more for garnish 2⁄3 cup walnuts salt and freshly ground pepper 2 Tbsp. cold water 1⁄2 to 2⁄3 cup vegetable oil for sauce, plus 2 tsp. for sprinkling on fish cayenne pepper to taste 900 gr. salmon fillet, preferably tail section, about 2.5 cm. thick 2 Tbsp. lemon juice 2 tsp. ground coriander 1 tsp. dried oregano Lemon wedges (for serving) Finely chop garlic in food processor. Add parsley sprigs and chop together. Add walnuts, salt and pepper and process until walnuts are finely ground. Add water and puree to a smooth paste. With blades turning, add 1⁄2 to 2⁄3 cup oil in a very fine stream. Stop adding oil occasionally and scrape down sides and bottom of work bowl. Transfer to a bowl. Add cayenne pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve sauce at room temperature. Stir it before serving. Sprinkle salmon with lemon juice and 2 teaspoons vegetable oil and rub them over fillet. Sprinkle fish evenly with coriander, oregano, salt and pepper. Preheat broiler. Line broiler rack with foil if you like, or brush it lightly with oil. Set fish on broiler rack and broil it 4 minutes. Turn over and broil 4 to 5 more minutes. To check whether fish is done, make a small cut with a sharp knife in thickest part; color of flesh should have changed all the way through. To serve, cut fish in 6 portions and top each with a small dollop of sauce. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley sprigs. Makes 6 servings. PESSAH ALMOND-PECAN CAKE WITH RASPBERRY SAUCE AND FRUIT Almonds and pecans give this light-textured cake a rich flavor. To turn it into an elegant dessert, spoon a ribbon of ruby-red raspberry sauce around each slice of cake and garnish with a ring of banana, kiwi and strawberry slices for a stylish presentation favored in fine restaurants. If you like, you can substitute strawberries for the raspberries in the sauce; it will need less sugar. Begin with 1⁄2 cup sugar, and taste before adding more. PECAN-ALMOND CAKE: 1 cup pecans 1 cup sugar 2⁄3 cup whole almonds 1⁄4 cup matza meal 4 large eggs, separated 11⁄2 tsp. grated lemon zest RASPBERRY SAUCE AND GARNISH: 700 gr. frozen unsweetened or lightly sweetened raspberries, thawed 3⁄4 cup sugar Bananas, kiwis and strawberries To make cake: Preheat oven to 175º. Grease 23-cm. springform pan with margarine. Grind pecans and almonds with matza meal and 1⁄4 cup sugar in food processor until fine. Beat egg yolks with 1⁄2 cup sugar at high speed of mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in lemon rind just until blended. Set aside. In clean bowl whip egg whites with pinch of salt to soft peaks. Gradually beat in remaining 1⁄4 cup sugar, beating until stiff and shiny. Alternately fold whites and nut mixture into yolk mixture, each in three batches. Transfer to pan. Bake about 35 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in center of cake comes out dry. Cool 5 minutes. Run a metal spatula gently around cake and remove sides of springform. Cool on a rack. Cake will sink slightly. (Cake can be kept, covered, one day at room temperature or in refrigerator.) Serve at room temperature. Sauce: Puree berries with sugar in food processor until very smooth. Strain into a bowl, pressing on pulp in strainer; use rubber spatula to scrape mixture from underside of strainer. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes to 1 day. Slice fruit shortly before serving. Serve cake wedges on dessert plates, surrounded by sauce and sliced fruit. Makes 8 servings. Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.