My Passover cooking class

The haroset I chose for my class, like the haroset of my childhood, has walnuts, sweet wine and cinnamon. But instead of grated apples, it has several kinds of dried fruit, including a generous amount of dates.

Sephardi Haroset is a popular filling in deserts for Passover. (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Sephardi Haroset is a popular filling in deserts for Passover.
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
When the Cedars-Sinai Women’s Guild recently invited me to teach a class on cooking for Passover, I found inspiration for the menu in our family’s traditional dishes.
For the main course, I chose a chicken dish that I think of as Yemenite-French. It’s based on my mother-in-law’s delicious Yemenite- spiced chicken. To the chicken’s braising sauce, I add a combination that has been a favorite of ours for the holiday of spring since the years we lived in Paris – carrots, asparagus and fresh herbs.
Since I was asked to teach dishes that are fairly quick to prepare, I decided to use boneless chicken. I prefer thighs to breasts because they remain moist and succulent even when the chicken needs to be reheated, whereas chicken breasts tend to dry out easily.
With the chicken, I decided to serve an Ashkenazi accompaniment – my mother’s farfel kugel, which has plenty of mushrooms and golden-brown sautéed onions. I like to slip in extra vegetables, and so I stir grated yellow squash, grated carrots and chopped green onions into the kugel mixture.
The haroset I chose for my class, like the haroset of my childhood, has walnuts, sweet wine and cinnamon. But instead of grated apples, it has several kinds of dried fruit, including a generous amount of dates.
When haroset is made this way, it keeps well throughout Passover. Besides, it comes out thick and concentrated – perfect for making tempting desserts like chocolate- studded haroset brownies.
For a richer sauce, you can prepare this dish with chicken on the bone instead of boneless chicken; use 2 to 2½ lbs. (about 1 kg.) drumsticks or thighs, and simmer them for 30 minutes or until they are tender.
Makes 4 servings
❖ 700 gr. (1½ lbs.) boneless chicken, preferably thighs with skin, patted dry
❖ Salt and freshly ground pepper
❖ 2 to 3 Tbsp. olive oil
❖ 1 to 1½ cups chicken stock or broth
❖ 2 tsp. ground cumin
❖ ½ tsp. turmeric
❖ ¼ tsp. hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
❖ 2 garlic cloves, minced (about 2 tsp.)
❖ 3 medium carrots, peeled if desired, quartered lengthwise, cut in 5-cm. (2-in.) lengths
❖ 550 gr. (1¼ lbs.) medium-width asparagus, trimmed, peeled if necessary, spears cut in 3
❖ 1 tsp. potato starch
❖ 1 Tbsp. water
❖ 2 to 3 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley or cilantro
❖ 2 to 3 Tbsp. chopped chives or green onion
Sprinkle chicken lightly with salt and pepper and fold each piece in half. Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Lightly brown the folded chicken pieces in the oil in batches. Transfer to a plate, using tongs.
Return all the chicken pieces to the skillet. Add 1 cup stock and chicken juices from plate. Add cumin, turmeric, pepper flakes and garlic.
Bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat, adding a little more stock if pan looks dry, for 15 to 20 minutes or until chicken pieces are tender and their color inside is no longer pink; cut the thick part of a piece to check. Transfer chicken to a platter, cover and keep it warm.
Meanwhile, cook carrots in a saucepan of boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Add asparagus and simmer uncovered for 3 minutes or until just tender. Drain; you can reserve liquid as vegetable broth.
If cooking the vegetables ahead of time, rinse briefly afterward so they don’t stay warm and become mushy, and so the asparagus pieces don’t lose their color.
Pour chicken-cooking liquid into a saucepan and skim off excess fat. Bring liquid to a simmer. Mix potato starch with water in a small cup. Whisk mixture into the simmering liquid over medium heat. Cook for 1 or 2 minutes or until thickened.
Add the vegetables to the sauce and heat for 1 or 2 minutes. Stir in parsley and chives. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Blot any fat from the chicken platter. Spoon vegetables and sauce over chicken and serve.
You can vary the vegetables in this kugel to your taste. If you like, dice and sauté 1 or 2 ribs of celery or half a sweet red pepper along with the onions.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
❖ 1½ to 2 cups hot chicken stock or vegetable stock
❖ 5 cups matza farfel or crumbled whole wheat, spelt or plain matzot
❖ 4 to 5 Tbsp. olive oil
❖ 2 large onions, chopped
❖ 225 gr. (8 oz.) mushrooms, halved and sliced
❖ Salt and freshly ground pepper
❖ 2 large carrots, coarsely grated
❖ 1 yellow squash or zucchini, coarsely grated
❖ 1/3 cup chopped green onions
❖ 1 tsp. paprika, plus a pinch for sprinkling
❖ Pinch of cayenne pepper, hot paprika or pepper flakes
❖ 2 large eggs, beaten
Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F).
Pour 1½ cups stock over farfel in a large bowl.
Let stand to soften while sautéeing the vegetables.
Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet. Add onions and sauté over medium heat, stirring often, about 7 minutes or until onions begin to turn golden. Add 1 Tbsp. oil, then mushrooms, salt, pepper and paprika and sauté for 3 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Remove from heat and stir in carrots and squash.
If farfel mixture is dry, add enough hot stock to moisten it. Add mushroom mixture to farfel mixture and let cool. Add green onions and cayenne pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in eggs.
Lightly oil a 2-liter (2-quart) casserole. Spoon kugel mixture into casserole. Sprinkle with remaining oil, then with paprika. Bake for 45 minutes or until firm.
When making these brownies, you can substitute ½ cup chocolate chips for the chocolate chunks. For meatless meals, you can make them with butter. If you’re preparing them ahead, store them in an airtight container at room temperature.
The haroset recipe in the note makes more than enough for the brownies because I like to have extra.
If you prefer, you can make half a recipe of the haroset.
Makes 16 bars
❖ ¼ cup finely diced (6-mm. or ¼-in. dice) dried apricots
❖ ¼ cup finely diced (6-mm. or ¼-in. dice) dried figs
❖ 1 Tbsp. sweet red wine
❖ ½ cup matza cake meal
❖ ¼ cup potato starch
❖ ¼ tsp. salt
❖ ½ cup (110 gr. or 4 oz.) unsalted margarine, soft, cut in small pieces
❖ 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil or mild olive oil
❖ ¼ cup white sugar
❖ ½ cup packed dark brown sugar
❖ 2 large eggs
❖ ¾ cup (packed) Sephardi Haroset (see Note below)
❖ 70 gr. (2.5 oz.) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small chunks of about 1 cm. or 3/8-in. (about ½ cup chunks)
❖1/3 cup chopped walnuts
Combine diced dried apricots and figs in a small jar and add wine. Close jar, turn it upside down and shake it a few times to moisten fruit. Let mixture stand about 30 minutes.
Position a rack in center of oven and preheat to 180°C (350°F). Lightly butter a 20-cm. (8-in.) square baking pan. Line pan with foil and butter the foil. In a medium bowl mix matza cake meal, potato starch and salt.
Using a mixer, beat margarine in a large bowl until it is smooth. Add oil and white and brown sugars; beat until mixture is smooth and fluffy.
Add haroset and beat on low speed until blended.
Add eggs, one by one, beating thoroughly on high speed after each one. Add 4 Tbsp. of the matza meal mixture and beat at low speed.
Using a wooden spoon, stir in remaining matza meal mixture. Stir in dried fruit mixture and any wine in the jar. Stir in chocolate pieces.
Transfer batter to pan and spread it in an even layer. Sprinkle it evenly with the chopped walnuts and pat them lightly so they adhere to the batter. Bake until top browns lightly and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out nearly clean, about 18 to 22 minutes; if wooden pick comes out chocolatey, test again. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack.
Turn cake out gently onto a plate, then onto another plate or a cutting board so that the walnuts are on top. Using a sharp knife, cut it carefully into 16 bars. Serve at room temperature.
Note: Sephardi Haroset: Finely chop 1 cup almonds in food processor, leaving small chunks.
Transfer to a medium bowl. Chop 1 cup walnuts in processor, pulsing to leave small chunks. Add to bowl of almonds. Halve 1 cup pitted dates, cut in chunks and put in processor. Cut ½ cup dried apricots and 85 gr. (3 oz.) dried figs in chunks and add to processor. Add ¼ cup dark raisins, 1/3 cup sweet red wine, 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1 tsp. ground ginger and 1/8 tsp. ground cloves. Process mixture to a slightly chunky spread, stopping occasionally to scrape it down and adding more wine by tablespoons if necessary to enable mixture to blend. Transfer blended fruit to bowl of chopped nuts and mix well. Add more wine by tablespoons until mixture has consistency of a thick spread; you will need a total of ½ to ¾ cup for the haroset. Makes 2½ cups.
The writer is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes and of Jewish Cooking for Dummies.