A truly festive ‘Shulhan Orech’

Kosher food in general has developed so much as it has been influenced by cuisines around the world, and Passover food should be no different.

Seder  (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Passover is a festival when we celebrate our liberation from Egypt, more than 33 centuries ago. However, if you were to enter any Jewish home in the week(s) leading up to the festival and say, “Relax, after all this is about liberation – why are you so stressed out?” the reaction is pretty inevitable! I don’t believe that it should be a case of allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed, though.
Our thinking about kosher food in general has developed so much as it has been influenced by cuisines around the world, and Passover food should be no different. Hence, satisfying yet not overly heavy recipes to assist you in putting together the multiple courses of the festive Seder meal, the shulhan orech.
Note that none of the recipes use kitniyot, and aside from the gnocchi, all are gebrokts-free.
Passover is a great time to experiment with soups. The traditionalist might sigh at the prospect of not receiving a steaming bowl of chicken soup with a massive matza ball floating in it, but I shall persevere.
I would encourage making a large batch of vegetable stock, which can be frozen and added to any soup to enhance its flavor.
Orange Soup
1 small knob of ginger
1 small cinnamon stick
½ butternut squash
1 small sweet potato
1 onion
1 roasted red pepper (cut into thin strips)
2 pears, peeled and chopped
200 ml water Olive oil
4 Tbsp. coconut milk
Splash of white wine (optional)
Salt and pepper
Put the ginger, cinnamon, squash, sweet potato and water in a pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
Grill the pepper. Fry the onion in olive oil until soft. Add a splash of white wine, reduce and add the pears. Cook for five minutes and add to soup. (If you have made stock, it can be added at this stage.) Remove cinnamon stick and blend with coconut milk. Place strips of roasted red pepper as garnish.
Both orange zest and fresh orange juice can be added to enhance the “orange” flavor.
Many people have the tradition not to eat roasted meat at their Seder, since it is often quite late when they get around to the meal – so consider this chicken dish an alternative to the forthcoming dishes.
Chicken Breast, Tomato and Olives
4 skinless chicken breasts
2 Tbsp. olive oil Salsa
¾ cup Kalamata olives
1½ cups cherry tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ red onion, finely chopped
Bunch of chopped fresh basil
4 tsp. olive oil Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 180º.
Begin heating a pan over a medium- to-high flame, then add the olive oil.
Place chicken breasts in hot oil and pan fry until each side has begun to turn golden (though not cooked through). Remove and set aside in a medium-sized roasting dish.
Mix salsa ingredients together and spread over chicken breasts in tray – leaving it to marinate. Roast for 20–25 minutes until cooked through.
For a supremely attractive vegetable option, consider ratatouille and piperade – which is very tasty and amazing to look at.
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
2 tomatoes
1 onion
4 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper
Pinch dried thyme
Pinch dried oregano
Olive oil
Cut all the vegetables into small squares and begin sweating them in olive oil. Add the herbs, season and cook until the vegetables become almost paste-like, but don’t lose their shape too much.
½ eggplant
2 tomatoes
2 small zucchini
Olive oil Salt and pepper
Slice the eggplant and zucchini in half lengthways, then cut into pieces 5 mm. thick. Place kitchen parchment paper on the bottom of an aluminum oven dish.
Spread the piperade evenly over the paper.
Arrange the vegetables over the piperade in straight lines. Brush with olive oil, season and seal with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated 165º oven for 1 hour, remove the (top) paper and continue to bake, giving the vegetables a nice golden color.
Although the proliferation of potatoes and potato-based Passover products may appear overwhelming, it might just be worth trying to make gnocchi. The only difference between this recipe and the year-round variety is the substitution of potato flour for wheat flour. You will need:
1 kg. potatoes
150 gr. potato flour
2 egg yolks
2 tsp. salt
Pepper to taste
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
Place unpeeled potatoes in a dish with coarse salt, and bake in a preheated hot oven (180– 200º) until soft, about an hour.
Remove the flesh from the baked potatoes, while still as hot as you can handle, and mash them.
Note: At this stage, beware of the residual heat inside the potato.
Add the egg yolks, seasonings and potato flour, and work lightly to form soft dough. Add more flour as needed, but don’t allow it to become too dry.
Roll the dough into a cylinder and cut into walnut-sized pieces. Roll these pieces into balls and place onto a floured fork. Press lightly to make an indentation with the tines.
Place the uncooked gnocchi onto a floured board.
Heat a pot of salted water until boiling, then turn down to a simmer and tip in half the gnocchi.
Stir, then wait for them to rise to the surface.
Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and put either straight into a premade sauce, or cold water to stop the cooking process. (Gnocchi can be reheated if necessary, but are best served straight out of the water.)
Despite criticisms of being passé, one of my favorite desserts (at any time of the year and not just Passover) is chocolate mousse. The key to getting it right is to separate the eggs cleanly, ensuring that as far as possible, not even a drop of yolk enters the bowl (glass is preferable) that contains the egg whites. Any contamination will make it harder, if not impossible, to whip the whites.
Chocolate Mousse
6 large eggs (separated)
200–300 gr. dark parve chocolate (the higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the better)
Break up the chocolate into small pieces and melt them in a bain marie (a glass bowl placed inside a small pot of simmering water) or in a microwave (just be very careful not to burn them if using this method).
Take off the heat when a smooth, shiny consistency has been reached, and all the chocolate has melted (about 5 minutes).
It’s possible to turn off the flame and just use the residual heat of the water to continue melting the chocolate, if needed.
When fully melted, remove the bowl from the heat source completely, and let cool for several minutes.
Separate the egg whites from the yolk (which can be done while the chocolate cools), placing the latter into a small container, glass or bowl. While it is essential that no yolk remains in the egg whites, the reverse is not true. I tend to break each egg separately into a glass, just to ensure that if any yolk accidentally falls into the white, it doesn’t ruin the entire batch.
Beat the egg whites until stiff (I usually turn the bowl upside down and if the whites don’t slide, then it’s ready).
Once the chocolate has completely cooled, fold in the egg yolks with a spatula or wooden spoon. Take a large metal spoon and heap a spoonful of egg white into the chocolate and yolk mixture, and fold – not stir – it in. Transfer mixture into the remainder of the egg whites, and continue to fold with large metal spoon until smooth and airy. (This process can be a bit messy, so transferring to a clean large bowl or several ramekins is advised.) Place in the refrigerator to set.
It also seems right that as we prepare food for our Seder, perhaps some thought should also be given to the wine that will fill our traditional Four Cups – or at least enhance our festive food.
The proliferation in the last decade or so of top-notch wineries producing excellent and very drinkable wines has been a revelation. It’s possible to spend around NIS 35 a bottle and find something perfectly pleasant, right up to outstanding wines where you might need to part with between NIS 130 and NIS 230.
However, I’d like to suggest four wines, which you should find in the NIS 50 to NIS 70 range:
‘Four Wines for Four Cups’
Dalton “D” Petite Syrah, 2010 (around NIS 60): This is a very drinkable wine that is by no means overpowering. With a beautiful blue-black color, its taste is resonant of fruits of the forest.
Teperberg Malbec, 2009 (around NIS 70): Although perhaps a less obvious choice, the Malbec grapes give this wine a luscious burgundy color and provide a smooth finish.
Barkan Special Reserve Chardonnay, 2012 (around NIS 70): A crisp and extremely palatable Chardonnay, combining superb aromas and flavors of citrus fruit with a hint of melon and pineapple.
Tura Rose Valley Dessert Wine, 2013 (around NIS 65). This is a slightly unusual offering as it is nowhere near as sweet as some dessert wines. With subtle hints of strawberry, grapefruit and pear, this is a beautifully balanced wine.
I hope that this has provided you with some interesting ideas for your Seder, or even your holiday in general. There are countless books and websites that provide Passover recipes, and narrowing them down is quite a challenge. However you celebrate the upcoming festival, I hope that you aren’t too stressed and that possibly, it’ll even be fun making the food.
The writer trained at the Jerusalem Culinary Institute, graduating with distinction. He undertook his internship at La Guta and has previously worked for La Cuisine at Beit Avi Chai, Derech Hagefen in Beit Zayit and Cafe Itamar in Moshav Ora.