Cooking for Passover in these strange times

Well, now that the coronavirus has forced us to stay home, I finally have time to deal with the dozens of requests I receive, especially before Jewish holidays.

Passover dishes (photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Passover dishes
(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Like everyone else, I’m at home, preparing my home for Passover while trying to keep safe during this coronavirus epidemic. Normally, I wouldn’t have so much time at home, so I’m trying to take advantage of this unique period to clean, organize and fix things I normally don’t get around to doing. I’ve gone through closets and shelves, taken out clothes and items to donate and reorganized the rest so they’re more accessible. 
I’ve begun reorganizing my pantry and kitchen, which are my work space. I also decided to sit down at my computer and organize my recipe files. While I was doing this, I came upon a folder on my computer named Readers’ Requests, in which I file away emails from all of you, always with the good intention of responding to everyone… someday. 

Well, now that the coronavirus has forced us to stay home, I finally have time to deal with the dozens of requests I receive, especially before Jewish holidays. I try very hard to respond to readers’ requests, replying to them with easy and quick recipes. I try to find recipes that hail from lots of different traditions and communities. Nothing makes me happier than knowing that someone will be able to prepare at home a dish that will bring a smile to their face (or tears to their eyes) as they are engulfed with sweet memories of their childhood. 

Preparation of these special dishes requires unique ingredients, expert capabilities and lots of time. Not many of us are at this level. Only those among us who are known as extremely talented cooks or whizzes in the kitchen can achieve this level of professionalism. Preparing stuffed intestines (Usban), stews with innards, tongue, smoked meats and special sauces, are not commonly prepared at home these days by busy people. 

And yet, so many people write to me every year asking me to provide them with recipes for these dishes they recall eating when they were young, which perhaps they haven’t eaten since their grandmother prepared it for a Passover. 

For years, I’ve procrastinated offering these recipes to my readers. Not because I don’t like or know how to prepare them, but because they are relatively difficult and require great efforts to procure the ingredients. 

Sometimes, even the butcher doesn’t carry intestines or sheep’s stomachs that are called for in the recipes I’ve included below. The best way to get your hands on some is to find a specialty butcher and make him your new best friend. Then, when you get home, make sure to have plenty of time and patience stored up before you start. For exactly this reason, I thought that the current time might finally be appropriate, since we’re all stuck at home anyway, and this is a great way to make the best use of your time. 

Tunisians traditionally prepare the Usban for Passover and other festivals. I remember how Erev Passover my mother used to painstakingly clean out the intestine, which is not an easy task meant for the squeamish among us. Luckily, nowadays, you can purchase pre-cleaned intestines at the butcher. 

My mother would prepare the filling, continuously tasting, adding spices and mixing, tasting again until it was perfect. Then she would sit at the table and stuff the intestines using a funnel so she could fill them to almost bursting. I would sit and watch her with big eyes as her fingers moved so quickly and vigorously. She would let me help her hold the intestines so as to help make sure the intestines wouldn’t explode. I was also allowed to sew up the sides of the sheep’s stomach in preparation for being stuffed.

This is the best time to prepare dishes that make us feel connected with our family and its traditions. Even if we’ll be celebrating Seder night without our extended family this year, we can still feel close to them by preparing special traditional foods that remind us of home. 

May we all find happiness in our hearts this Passover. Wishing a refuah shleima to all those affected by the coronavirus. 

USBAN (Stuffed intestine)
Makes 6-8 servings.

500 g. stomach lining, completely cleaned
200 g. large intestine, cleaned
100 g. liver, roasted and salted
12 stalks of parsley
12 stalks of cilantro
4 mangold leaves
3 sprigs of mint
4 medium onions
50 g. Lia fat
3 Tbsp. rice
½ head of garlic, chopped
½ tsp. harissa
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. turmeric
100 g. small intestine, cleaned

Fill a pot with one cup of water and a pinch of salt. Stir and add the stomach and the large intestine. Heat over medium heat until all of the water has evaporated.

Chop the parsley, cilantro, mangold, mint and onions. Transfer to a large bowl and pour to cover with water. Let sit for 30 minutes. 

Cut the cooked stomach and large intestine into very small pieces. Chop the liver and Lia fat into small pieces and place in a large bowl. 

Drain and squeeze the chopped herbs and add them to the bowl of chopped meat. Mix well. Add the rice, garlic, harissa, salt, pepper and turmeric. Mix well. 

Rinse the small intestine again. Stick a funnel with a medium-size opening into the small intestine and stuff the mixture inside. Push the mixture in well so there aren’t any air pockets. Tie each end of the intestine, or sew it closed with a needle and thread. Store in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to use.

Level of difficulty: Difficult.
Time: A day ahead.
Status: Meat. 
USBAN POCKETS FOR PASSOVER 
(Stuffed sheep’s stomach)

Makes 8-10 servings. 

Sheep lungs
200 g. liver
150 g. Lia mutton fat
4 stalks of mangold
3 large onions
5 stalks of parsley
8 stalks of cilantro
½ to 1 tsp. turmeric
½ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. salt
1 head of garlic, chopped
½ cup rice
Sheep’s stomachs, cleaned
Needle and thread

Add salt and water to a pot and cook the lungs for 15 to 20 minutes. Slice the liver and roast over an open flame. Rinse well. 

Chop the cooked lungs, Lia fat, and roasted liver into small pieces and place in a large bowl. 

Chop all of the vegetables and herbs and add to the bowl. Add the turmeric, pepper, salt, garlic and rice. Mix well. 

Sew up the sides of the stomach, leaving an opening so you can add the stuffing. Prepare all of the stomachs in the same fashion. Fill all of stomachs with the filling and then sew the opening closed.

Level of difficulty: Difficult.
Time: A day ahead.
Status: Meat. 
COOKED VEGETABLE STEW

This dish is traditionally served on Seder night and during the week of Passover. 
Makes 6-8 servings.

4 medium turnips
2 large onions
3 cabbage leaves
4 mangold stalks
5 stalks of parsley
4 stalks of cilantro
4 stalks of mint
1 kg green broad beans
3 stalks of fennel
½ kg mutton, cut into medium cubes
1 to 2 prepared Usban 
¾ cup oil
1 tsp. turmeric
3 cinnamon sticks
½ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
½ to 1 tsp. harissa
4½ cups water

Peel and cut the turnips and onions into medium-sized cubes. Chop all of the vegetables finely. 

Heat the fat in a large pot and add the vegetables and meat and sauté for seven minutes. 

Add the turmeric, cinnamon, pepper, salt and harissa. Stir well and add the water. Stir and cook over a medium flame until it comes to a boil. Add the Usban intestines or stuffed stomach pockets and add another half cup of water. 

Peel the green broad beans and rinse well. Add them to the pot, cover and cook over medium flame for 45-55 minutes. 

Level of difficulty: Medium.
Time: 1 hour.
Status: Meat. 

Translated by Hannah Hochner.