Abadi’s Mizrahi Passover specialties

Even if Passover were to last for six months, one could enjoy a different Passover dish every day from Jennifer Felicia Abadi’s just-published book.

Lamb-beef patties with ground almonds, cumin, saffron and peas – boulettes de viande aux petits pois (photo credit: JENNIFER FELICIA ABADI)
Lamb-beef patties with ground almonds, cumin, saffron and peas – boulettes de viande aux petits pois
Even if Passover were to last for six months, one could enjoy a different Passover dish every day from Jennifer Felicia Abadi’s just-published book, Too Good to Passover: Sephardic & Judeo-Arabic Seder Menus and Memories from Africa, Asia and Europe.
Although many of Abadi’s recipes might seem exotic and novel, her goal was to present traditional dishes. An example is nargesi, a turmeric-flavored spinach frittata with tiny meatballs embedded in it; it’s a popular Persian- Jewish Passover dish. (See recipe.) A Libyan-Jewish Passover dessert is butternut squash pudding with ginger, cinnamon and almond milk. (See recipe.)
“When I first set out to research Passover food, my initial motivation was to preserve familial and communal recipes that were on their way to being forgotten,” wrote Abadi, a cooking teacher, personal chef and blogger at www.jenniferabadi.com/.
For her book, Abadi interviewed over 100 people from 23 Jewish communities about their memories of Passover recipes and family customs for celebrating the holiday.
Most of the Jews in America are Ashkenazim, and many have the mistaken impression that all Sephardim and Mizrahim (Middle Eastern Jews) have the same Passover customs.
Yet communities differ regarding which foods are permitted during Passover. Among non-Ashkenazi Jews, wrote Abadi, the restrictions on kitniyot (usually defined as legumes, seeds and grains) “vary according to community, rabbi and perhaps even... family.” The Algerian Jews she interviewed eat no rice during Passover, like Ashkenazim, and even no potatoes, but Egyptian Jews eat both and for the Seder might serve sofrito, a rich meat stew, with potatoes. (See recipe.)
Jews from Algeria do eat legumes, such as green fava beans and peas. A popular Passover dish among Algerian Jews is meat patties with cumin, saffron and peas. (See recipe.)
Naturally, Abadi came across a variety of haroset recipes. Her Algerian acquaintances use fresh ginger in their haroset, which they make from dried figs and dates, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pears, apples and wine. Iraqi haroset is more of a sauce than a spread; it’s made of silan (date syrup) served with chopped toasted walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios.
“Within the Jewish-American community, Passover has become the holiday ‘of choice,’” wrote Abadi, observed even by the most secular Jews.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.
For Passover these Algerian-Jewish meat patties are coated with matza meal and served over steamed crushed matza. During the rest of the year they are coated with semolina and served over couscous.
Serves 10 to 15; makes 36 patties of 10 cm.
For meat patties:
350 gr. ground lamb
225 gr. ground beef
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 matza squares, soaked in cold water 10 minutes, then squeezed dry
¼ cup finely ground almonds
2 cups finely chopped onion
1 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic
¾ tsp. coarse salt
¹⁄8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
¼ tsp. ground allspice
¹⁄8 tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground turmeric
¼ tsp. saffron powder or threads (optional, but recommended)
½ cup finely chopped mint leaves
½ cup finely chopped coriander leaves
¾ cup finely chopped parsley leaves
For frying:
½ to ¾ cup safflower or vegetable oil
½ cup matza cake meal, poured onto a medium plate
4 large eggs, lightly beaten in a small bowl
For broth:
2 Tbsp. safflower or vegetable oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1½ tsp. coarse salt
¹⁄8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. ground turmeric
¼ tsp. saffron threads or powder (optional)
2 tsp. sugar
4 cups water
450 gr. (about 3 cups) frozen peas, thawed and drained
2 squares matza, broken into small pieces (for serving)
Combine all meat patty ingredients in a large bowl. Knead until meat is soft and smooth.
For frying: Heat about ½ cup oil (about 1.25 cm. deep) in a large skillet over medium-high heat for 3 minutes. To test, drop a small piece of meat mixture in oil; if it fries immediately, oil is hot enough.
Take ¼ cup of meat mixture and form into a meatball. Gently roll meatball in matza cake meal to coat all sides, then dip completely into beaten eggs; shape of patty should be oval.
Place patty in skillet of hot oil and fry about 5 minutes on each side or until medium-dark golden-brown. (Patties will cook more in next step.)
Place patty on a plate lined with paper towels. Continue coating and frying remaining patties, several at a time.
For broth: Heat oil in large, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat for 1 minute. Add onion and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until transparent and soft. Add salt, pepper, turmeric, saffron and sugar and cook for 1 minute.
Add water and bring to boil over high heat. Arrange patties overlapping in a spiral to fit them all in, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and pour peas over top. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Uncover and simmer for 15 minutes.
Serve patties hot over broken matza, with peas and broth spooned over top.
The name Nargesi comes from the Farsi word for the narcissus plant or daffodil, a springtime flower that symbolizes renewal, wrote Abadi. Before serving, some sprinkle this frittata-like dish with crushed Persian dried limes for a slight tangy flavor.
Serves 6 to 8
For meatballs:
1 large (225-gr.) onion, pureed in food processor (to make about 1 cup) and drained
450 gr. ground turkey (preferably dark meat) or beef
For pie:
2 Tbsp. grape seed, safflower, or vegetable oil
1½ cups coarsely chopped onion (about 1 large)
1 tsp. kosher (coarse) salt
¹⁄8 tsp. ground white or freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. turmeric
2 tsp. ground cumin (optional)
1 cup finely chopped parsley leaves
1 cup finely chopped coriander leaves or ¹⁄3 cup tarragon leaves
½ cup finely chopped dill leaves
110 gr. coarsely chopped baby spinach leaves (about 7 loose cups)
2 cups coarsely chopped leeks (light green and white parts only), rinsed in cold water and drained
¾ cup hot water
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
For meatballs: Mix puréed onions with ground meat in a medium bowl.
For pie: Heat oil in large 5- or 6-liter pot (23-25 cm. wide, but no wider) over high heat for 1 minute. Add chopped onion and cook until soft and transparent, about 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper, turmeric and cumin and mix well. Cook for 1 minute.
Reduce heat to medium-low. Wet your hands lightly with cold water. Taking only 1½ teaspoons of meat mixture, form it into a small, smooth meatball the size of a large cherry. (Meat will be soft and wet; be gentle.) Drop meatball into pot; continue until all of meat mixture has been used. Cover pot and steam until meatballs are solid and cooked through, about 20 minutes. (Once they are solid, you can stir gently to prevent sticking.)
Drop in parsley, coriander, dill, spinach and leeks and cover. Steam until herbs and spinach have softened, 10 minutes.
Pour the hot water over top and mix gently so as not to break meatballs. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 15 minutes. Uncover and cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. (Eggs will cook too quickly if added to very hot mixture.)
Rewarm cooled mixture over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Gradually pour in beaten eggs, while gently mixing to distribute evenly. Partially cover and steam over lowest heat, until eggs have solidified but are still soft and slightly wet in center, 35 to 40 minutes.
Score pie, scoop out large pieces, and arrange in layers on a serving platter. Serve warm.
Sofrito is a beef stew with a rich, fragrant sauce, with potatoes or fava beans sometimes added. Abadi learned to make this sofrito from a Sephardi Jew of Egyptian descent.
Serves 6 (makes about 6 cups)
4 Tbsp. vegetable or safflower oil
1.4 kg. lean boneless beef chuck (shoulder) stew pieces, excess fat trimmed, cut into 2.5-cm. chunks
4 cups coarsely chopped onions
5 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic
1 to 1½ tsp. coarse or kosher salt
¼ tsp. ground white pepper or freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground cloves
2 tsp. turmeric
1 cup water
1½ cup coarsely chopped coriander or parsley leaves, or mixture of both, plus more for serving
900 gr. baking potatoes, washed and peeled (optional)
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat for one full minute. Add meat chunks and brown on all sides, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Pour meat and its juices into a large bowl.
Add remaining oil to the pot and heat over medium- high heat for 1 minute. Add onions and cook, over medium-high heat, stirring often, until soft and transparent but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and turmeric and mix well.
Return meat and its juices to pot. Pour in the water, add the chopped herbs and mix well. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover tightly, and cook for 1½ hours.
Uncover, stir and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes until meat is soft enough to easily cut with a fork and sauce has reduced to a thick gravy.
If adding potatoes, cut each potato in slices about 7.5 cm. long and 1.25 cm. thick. Scatter potato pieces over top of stew, cover and cook without stirring for 30 to 45 minutes until fork tender. Serve sprinkled with fresh coriander.
This Passover pudding flavored with ginger, cinnamon and vanilla, wrote Abadi, is like a lighter version of American pumpkin pie, and can be served topped with whipped cream.
Serves 8 (½-cup servings)
2 Tbsp. safflower or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing pan
1.1 kg. fresh butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2.5-cm. cubes
½ cup almond milk or other nondairy milk
3 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
¾ tsp. ground ginger
¹⁄8 tsp. cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling
¼ cup plus 1 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
¹⁄8 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 175°. Grease a 20-cm. square or round baking pan (preferably not metal) generously with oil and set aside.
Warm 2 tablespoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat for 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium- low and mix in squash cubes. Cover and cook until very soft and slightly browned, about 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to prevent burning.
While squash is cooking, whisk milk with egg yolks, ginger, cinnamon, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a medium bowl.
Reserve 8 small squash cubes for garnish. Pour remaining squash into a food processor and pulse until smooth. Scrape puree into bowl of milk mixture and gently mix to combine.
Scrape mixture into prepared baking pan, spreading it evenly with spatula. Place pan on middle rack of oven and bake for 1 hour until center is slightly firm and edges are pulling away from the pan. (Mixture will still be a bit soft to the touch but not liquid, and overall top color will turn deep orange-brown.) Remove from heat and cool for 30 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
Serve cold, sprinkled with cinnamon.