Infusing spring into the Seder menu

Adding vegetables and roasted herbs to dishes reminds us of the season.

Artichokes (photo credit: Laura Frankel)
(photo credit: Laura Frankel)
Scholars give many reasons for starting the seder dinner with karpas – a vegetable or herb, usually celery or parsley, which is dipped in salt water before being eaten.
Some say that the purpose of serving this unusual appetizer is to get children’s attention, so they’ll be motivated to ask “why is this night different?” Yet not every Jew considers this starter uncommon; for Jews from Iran, for example, beginning meals with sprigs of fresh herbs is traditional.
Indeed, there may be a Persian connection to the karpas custom. In their article in the Jewish Bible Quarterly, “Why Does the Seder Begin with Karpas?”, Gilad J. Gevaryahu and Michael L. Wise comment that karpas sounds like the Persian karafs, which they explain could be parsley or celery. Karafs is often on Persian restaurant menus, usually as a celery stew with meat.
The most common explanation for serving karpas is that it symbolizes spring. Preparing karpas for the Seder plate should remind cooks to include springtime touches throughout the dinner.
Vegetables associated with spring such as asparagus are customary on many Passover menus. Artichokes, which also come into season in the springtime, are another Passover favorite.
Susan R. Friedland, author of The Passover Table, prepares sweet and sour artichokes by adding honey and lemon juice to the water when cooking them, and serves them in a dressing made of fresh shallots, parsley and the reduced cooking liquid. (See recipe, right.) If you prefer to avoid serving many separate vegetable dishes, an easy strategy for slipping vegetables into the menu is to cook them with the main course. You could add vegetables to a meat stew, as in the recipe below for lamb in tomato wine sauce with rosemary gremolata. For a contemporary dish of fish, vegetables and herbs with a bright springtime look, you could bake sole with pesto and tomato slices, a recipe from Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek, authors of Passover Made Easy.
I often add vegetables to familiar Passover classics. When I make my mother’s chicken soup with matza balls, I simmer asparagus tips, zucchini strips and extra carrot slices in the broth, and garnish the soup with plenty of fresh dill and parsley. Instead of serving gefilte fish on its own, I use it in slices to top a salad of greens, snow peas and asparagus with an Asian vinaigrette.
To my mother in law’s Yemenite meat soup, I add carrots, turnips, green beans and zucchini, and finish the soup with a handful of chopped cilantro.
Some cooks highlight the karpas springtime message by incorporating celery and parsley into other dishes on the dinner menu. Friedland prepares sautéed celery; after steaming the celery, she sautés it in olive oil with garlic and tomatoes and sprinkles it with parsley.
Carp with a green parsley sauce, a Passover dish served in French homes, has roots in medieval times, writes Joan Nathan in Quiches, Kugels and Couscous. To make it, she sautés onions, fennel, leeks, garlic and ginger in olive oil, adds white wine and parsley and poaches the fish in the sauce.
Just before serving dinner, you might like to sprinkle chopped fresh herbs on top of appetizers, soups or entrees.
They add good flavor, and the flecks of bright green make the dishes look fresh and perfect for chag ha’aviv, the festival of spring.
Pesto Sole with Plum Tomatoes
This recipe is from Passover Made Easy.
Authors Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek note that the tomatoes and the oil in the pesto ensure that the fish stays moist. You can prepare this dish using salmon instead of sole. It’s good hot or cold.Makes 4 servings
2 cups fresh basil leaves, loosely packed 4 garlic cloves 1⁄2 cup chopped walnuts 1/4 teaspoon salt Coarse black pepper to taste 4 tablespoons olive oil 2 plum tomatoes, sliced 4 sole, flounder or tilapia fillets
Preheat oven to 175C (350F).
In the bowl of a food processor, combine basil, garlic, walnuts, salt and pepper. Pulse to combine. Add oil and pulse again to form the pesto.
Place fish in a baking pan. Spread pesto mixture over each fillet. Place plum tomato slices over the pesto. Bake, uncovered, until fish flakes easily with a fork, about 15 minutes.
Sweet and Sour Artichokes
This recipe is from The Passover Table.
Author Susan R. Friedland recommends serving this refreshing Turkish salad at room temperature. You can make it several days ahead and keep it in a covered container in the refrigerator.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1⁄4 cup lemon juice (If using fresh artichokes, save the lemon shells) 8 fresh artichokes or about 500 grams frozen 2 tablespoons honey 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1⁄4 cup minced shallots or green onions 1⁄4 cup chopped parsley
If using fresh artichokes, add the lemon shells to a bowl of water. Slice off the woody stems of the fresh artichokes. Tug off the tough outer leaves. Turn each artichoke on its side and slice off about 1 inch from the top, exposing the pale interior.
Snip off the spiny points of the remaining leaves. Quarter each artichoke and remove the hairy choke from the center. A scraping motion with a sharp paring knife works best. Add the quarters to the bowl of water.
In a large pot, bring a liter (a quart) of water to a boil with the honey, lemon juice and oil. Add the artichokes, lower the heat and cook, covered for 40 to 45 minutes for fresh artichokes, or until tender but not mushy. Frozen artichokes, which need not be defrosted, will cook in 6 to 8 minutes.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the artichokes to a serving bowl. Combine with the shallots.
Boil down the cooking liquid until it is syrupy and reduced in volume to about 1⁄2 cup.
Pour this liquid over the artichokes. Let cool to room temperature and serve sprinkled with parsley.
Lamb in Tomato Wine Sauce with Rosemary Gremolata
A generous amount of vegetables complements the meat in this colorful entree. I add chopped fresh rosemary to the gremolata garnish, a blend of parsley, lemon zest and garlic. Sprinkled on the stew at the last moment, it does wonders to brighten its flavor. If you like, substitute 3/4 cup shelled fresh or frozen peas for the green beans, or use a mixture of both. If your family doesn’t eat beans or peas during Passover, substitute zucchini cut in sticks. Steamed new potatoes are a good accompaniment.
You can make the stew with veal instead of lamb; the cooking time will be the same.Makes 4 to 6 servings
900 grams (2 pounds) boneless lamb shoulder, cut in 2.5- to 3-cm (1 to 1 1⁄4-inch) pieces, patted dry 2 tablespoons olive oil Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 1 onion, chopped 1 carrot, chopped 2 parsley sprigs 3 rosemary sprigs 3 fresh thyme sprigs or 3⁄4 teaspoon dried 1 bay leaf 1⁄2 cup dry white wine400-gram (14-ounce) can tomatoes, drained and chopped 1 1⁄2 cups chicken, meat or vegetable broth, or water 3 large garlic cloves, minced 3⁄4 pound green beans, broken in 2 or 3 pieces 3⁄4 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut in 3 pieces 1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
Rosemary Gremolata: 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest 1 medium garlic clove, very finely minced (1⁄2 teaspoon) 2 teaspoons finely minced fresh rosemary 1⁄4 cup minced parsley
Preheat oven to 175C (350F). Trim any fat from lamb. In a heavy stew pan heat oil over medium heat. Add half the meat pieces, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and brown very lightly on all sides. Transfer lamb pieces as they brown to a plate.
Repeat with remaining lamb.
Add onion and carrot to pan and scrape in juices from browning meat.
Cook over low heat, stirring, until vegetables soften, about 7 minutes. Tie parsley, rosemary and thyme sprigs and bay leaf in piece of cheesecloth to make an herb bag and add to pan. Add wine and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring.
Boil, stirring, until wine evaporates and pan is nearly dry.
Return meat to pan with any juices on plate. Add tomatoes, broth and the 3 minced garlic cloves and bring to a boil, stirring. Push down herb bag to immerse it in liquid. Cover and braise meat in oven for 1 1⁄4 hours or until it is is tender when pierced with point of a knife.
Boil green beans in a pan of boiling salted water for 3 minutes. Add asparagus pieces and cook together about 3 more minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain well.
Transfer meat to a plate with a slotted spoon. Discard herb bag. Stir tomato paste into sauce. Boil, stirring often, until sauce is thick enough to lightly coat a spoon. Return meat to pan of sauce and add green beans and asparagus. Bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning.
To make gremolata, combine lemon zest, garlic, rosemary and parsley in a small bowl. Mix thoroughly with a fork. At serving time, sprinkle gremolata evenly over hot stew. Cover and cook over low heat for 1 minute. Serve hot.
Faye Levy is the author of Heathy Cooking for the Jewish Home and 1,000 Jewish Recipes.