Planning for Passover

My friend Nancy Eisman proposed an innovative way to get ideas for Passover – a cyber Seder.

pecan brownie 521 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
pecan brownie 521
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In many Jewish homes, Passover is the most important family celebration of the year. This is the time to plan a big get-together with relatives and friends. There are different dishes and cooking utensils to use and different foods to serve throughout the holiday. And, of course, there’s the Seder menu. Zell Schulman, author of Let My People Eat! – Passover Seders Made Simple, calls Passover “the culinary pinnacle of the Jewish year.” Planning the Seder menu is part of the pleasure.
My friend Nancy Eisman proposed an innovative way to get ideas for Passover – a cyber Seder, which she is preparing with her friends at Food Bloggers Los Angeles. Each person contributes a dish to the simulated Seder menu and writes about his or her memories of Passover. Some of the participants might turn their virtual Seder into a real one. For others, this exercise will serve as a source of inspiration.
Nancy will present a specialty of her Moroccan-born mother – a delicious potato-and-fava-bean soup flavored with celery, cilantro, turmeric and saffron in a vegetable broth. “Some of the potatoes are mashed to add thickness and the rest are left in little chunks,” says Nancy. Others have volunteered to share their Passover favorites – haroset, roasted vegetables, brisket, chocolate-covered matza and a light, flourless chocolate cake. Nancy’s recipe, with links to the others, is at
Another useful way to prepare for the holiday is to have a “practice Passover.” Friends of mine at Women’s American Ort have an annual Passover potluck to which each brings her favorite Passover dish along with the recipe. When I participated, I found it a most enjoyable experience – a Passover meal with a relaxing ambiance and a chance to learn to make new dishes. Highlights were my friend Norma Lane’s mandelbrot, made with matza meal, matza cake meal and potato starch, studded with chopped nuts and flavored with cinnamon, and some incredibly easy Passover candies made of chocolate melted in a little water, then mixed with chopped nuts and matza farfel. I was pleased to sample new savory dishes as well, such as Faye Waldman’s fresh salmon cakes, flavored with dill and white wine and dipped in matza meal before being sauteed, and tasty vegetable kugel muffins made of grated carrots, sweet potatoes and apples and flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg.
My friend Valerie Alon prepares a “Passover plan,” a book of menus and recipes from past Seders at her home, shopping lists, guest lists and lists of dishes her guests contributed. Most of the guests bring a home-cooked dish, and Valerie coordinates in advance who will bring what. She adds new dishes each year but keeps classic favorites, like her date-walnut haroset with sweet wine and cinnamon, spinach patties with garlic, chicken with olives and braised brisket with carrots, sweet potatoes and dried apricots.
For me, getting ready for a Seder is somewhat similar to preparing to teach a cooking class. I draft a countdown of what to do on the days preceding the Seder and an hourby- hour timetable for that day. To keep my cooking organized on a day that usually has many distractions, I print my timetable and my recipes.
Some of Schulman tips for Passover planning include:
• Decide whether you want a traditional or a modern Seder.
• Decide whether to cook all or part of the menu. In addition to delegating, you can buy certain dishes ready-made or partly made.
• Consider using disposable tableware and serving pieces.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.
This recipe is adapted from Let My People Eat! Author Zell Schulman includes it in her Sephardi-style Seder menu. She notes that the spiced oil, which gives the fish its distinctive Moroccan flavor, should be prepared a day or two in advance. Because this is a fish course, not a main course, it is served in smaller portions. You can cook it one or two days ahead and then finish it briefly in the broiler before serving. If you don’t have saffron, substitute turmeric.
Makes 8 servings
4 garlic cloves 1 tsp. sweet red pepper, chopped 1 tsp. salt 1⁄2 tsp. ground white pepper 1 tsp. dried red pepper flakes 1⁄2 cup vegetable oil 1 lemon, thinly sliced, plus additional lemon slices for garnish Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon 1⁄4 teaspoon saffron threads or ground saffron 900 gr. (2 pounds) salmon fillets, cut into 5-cm. (2-inch) -wide strips 900 gr. (2 pounds) carrots, thinly sliced
To make the spiced oil, place the garlic, sweet pepper, salt, white pepper, red pepper flakes, oil, lemon slices, lemon zest and juice and saffron in a jar or container with a tight-fitting lid. Cover and shake vigorously. Refrigerate for a day or two.
Place the salmon in a large glass or ceramic dish. Pour the spiced oil over the salmon slices and turn to coat evenly. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours. Place the carrots in the bottom of a 23x33-cm. (9x13-inch) glass or ceramic baking dish. Lay the marinated salmon slices over the carrots. Pour any remaining spiced oil evenly over the top. You can prepare the recipe to this point, cover and refrigerate 3 to 4 hours ahead.
Preheat oven to 150ºC (300ºF). Add 2.5 cm. (1 inch) of water to the bottom of the casserole. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes; uncover and broil for 2 to 3 minutes or until the salmon appears to be a little crisp on top. Garnish with lemon slices. Serve at room temperature.
I love to bake brownies for potluck Passover Seders – they are simple to prepare, easy to bring and always welcome. A generous amount of chocolate gives these orange-scented Passover brownies their rich texture. They are topped with a chocolate and red wine glaze and sprinkled with pecans.
Makes 16 to 20 brownies
170 gr. (6 ounces) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped 115 gr. (4 ounces or 1⁄2 cup) unsalted butter or margarine, cut in pieces 3 large eggs 1 cup sugar 1⁄8 tsp. salt 2 tsp. grated orange zest 3⁄4 cup matza cake meal 3⁄4 cup coarsely chopped pecans
Chocolate-Wine Glaze:
3 Tbsp. sugar 2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder 1⁄3 cup sweet red wine 55 gr. (2 ounces) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped 85 gr. (3 ounces or 6 Tbsp.) unsalted butter or margarine, chilled, cut in pieces 16 to 20 pecan pieces
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 175ºC (350ºF). Line base and sides of a 23- to 24-cm. (9- to 91⁄2- inch) square baking pan with a single piece of waxed paper or foil; grease paper or foil with a little margarine. Melt chocolate with butter in a medium bowl over hot water.
Stir until smooth. Remove from water; cool 5 minutes.
Beat eggs lightly. Add sugar and salt; whip at high speed about 5 minutes or until thick and light. Add chocolate mixture in 3 batches, beating at low speed until blended after each addition. Stir in orange zest, followed by cake meal and chopped pecans.
Transfer batter to prepared pan; carefully spread to corners of pan in an even layer. Bake about 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted about 1 cm (1⁄2 inch) from center of mixture comes out nearly clean. Cool in pan on a rack to room temperature.
Turn out onto a tray; remove paper or foil.
In a small saucepan, whisk sugar with cocoa and wine until blended. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking. Simmer over low heat 2 minutes, whisking occasionally. Add chocolate and stir until melted. Turn off heat, stir in butter until blended in. Refrigerate, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes or until spreadable. Stir glaze until smooth. Spread over brownies. Top with pecan pieces, spacing them evenly. Refrigerate about 30 minutes or until glaze sets.