Passover dishes, Zahav style

“I learned so many things from my Bulgarian grandmother, Savta Mati,” he wrote. “We shared no common language, but we communicated just the same.”

Zahav's Mina with ground beef, cardamom and coffee, topped with savory and sweet haroset (photo credit: MICHAEL PERSICO)
Zahav's Mina with ground beef, cardamom and coffee, topped with savory and sweet haroset
(photo credit: MICHAEL PERSICO)
 We weren’t looking for fresh ideas for our Passover menus when we went to the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles last October to attend award-winning chef Michael Solomonov’s talk about his new book, Zahav – A World of Israeli Cooking (written with Steven Cook).
As we were looking through the book, however, we did find dishes that we wanted to prepare for Passover.
One such dish is tabbouleh. Of course, traditional tabbouleh is made with bulgur wheat and therefore is not kosher for Passover. Yet Solomonov’s two innovative tabbouleh recipes would be welcome on our holiday table. One is a quinoa, pea and mint tabbouleh, with quinoa replacing the bulgur. Solomonov even makes a grain-free tabbouleh with walnuts, kale, apples and sumac- flavored onions; the crushed walnuts mimic the texture of bulgur. (See recipes.)
Solomonov was born in Israel and grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is particularly interested in the foods of his family’s heritage – Bulgarian, Persian and Romanian – and has fond memories of learning to make Sephardi specialties from his grandmother.
At his talk Solomonov described his culinary style as Israeli cuisine with one extra step. For Passover, for example, he makes an inventive mina, a popular Sephardi Passover pie. Mina is made by softening matza and baking it as a crust with a filling. “Mina... can be filled with anything from eggplant to spinach and cheese to potatoes,” wrote Solomonov. He likes to prepare his filling from ground beef flavored with cardamom and coffee. As an accompaniment, he serves an unusual sweet-and-savory haroset that has carrots, horseradish and vinegar added to the fruit mixture. (See recipe.)
After Solomonov’s talk, we sampled some of his creative dishes, such as mango, cucumber and sumac-onion Israeli salad. He came up with this salad because out-of-season tomatoes are not good enough to make delicious Israeli salad. Therefore he uses “stand-ins like mangoes, pickled persimmons, passion fruit, or even grapes for a salad that’s Israeli in spirit.”
Another dish from Zahav that we tasted at the Skirball was a cake called chocolate-almond situation, which I plan to bake for Passover. Solomonov makes it with almond flour (ground almonds) instead of flour or other starches. (See recipe.) The result is a rich and flavorful yet light-textured cake that is also gluten free – an ideal finale to the Seder.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.
Solomonov finds that quinoa, like bulgur wheat, is an excellent medium for the flavors of lemon juice, olive oil, parsley and mint, which are typical of tabbouleh.
Serves 4 to 6
■ ½ cup quinoa
■ 1 cup fresh peas or thawed frozen peas
■ 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
■ ¼ cup diced red onion
■ 3 Tbsp. lemon juice
■ 3 Tbsp. olive oil
■ 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
■ Pinch ground Aleppo pepper (or coarsely ground Middle Eastern red pepper)
■ Coarse salt
Cook the quinoa in 1 cup boiling water in a small saucepan, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes, until all the liquid has been absorbed. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the peas until tender, about 2 minutes. Drain, submerge in ice water to cool quickly, and mash with a fork.
Combine the quinoa and mashed peas with the parsley, onion, lemon juice, oil, mint, Aleppo pepper and a big pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Toss to combine and serve.
In this grain-free version of tabbouleh, Solomonov uses chopped walnuts to give the impression of bulgur.
The salad features shredded kale instead of the usual chopped parsley. Like parsley, kale does not wilt from lemon juice, he wrote, “so you can prepare the salad in advance and the flavor will improve over time.”
Solomonov adds pomegranate seeds to this tabbouleh. During Passover, when pomegranates are out of season, I would add dried cranberries instead.
Serves 4 to 6
■ 2 cups (packed) shredded stemmed kale leaves
■ ¾ cup finely chopped walnuts
■ ½ cup diced apple
■ ¼ cup Simple Sumac Onions (see note below)
■ ¼ cup pomegranate seeds
■ 3 Tbsp. lemon juice
■ 3 Tbsp. olive oil
■ ½ tsp. coarse salt
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Toss to combine and serve.
Note: Simple Sumac Onions: Combine 1 thinly sliced or finely diced red onion, 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, 1 tsp. ground sumac and ½ tsp. coarse salt in a bowl and toss to combine. Serve or use immediately.
Makes about 1 cup.
“Mina is the Ladino word for pie,” wrote Solomonov.
“This Passover dish, common throughout the Sephardi world, is almost too good to be true. Once the matza is soaked and baked, it magically transforms into something more like traditional pastry than unleavened bread.... I like the way the matza soaks up the fat and juices from ground beef in this version. The mina is topped with the fruit-and-nut condiment on the Passover table: haroset.”
Serves 6
■ 4 carrots, peeled and grated
■ ½ apple, peeled and grated
■ ½ cup chopped walnuts
■ 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
■ 2 Tbsp. freshly grated horseradish root or horseradish from a newly opened jar
■ 2 Tbsp. raisins
■ 1 Tbsp. white vinegar (if using grated horseradish root)
■ Coarse salt
■ 1 Tbsp. canola oil, plus more for brushing
■ 450 gr. (1 lb.) ground beef
■ ½ onion, diced
■ 5 garlic cloves, minced
■ 1½ tsp. coarse salt
■ 1 tsp. finely ground coffee
■ ½ tsp. ground cardamom
■ 4 to 6 sheets matza
■ 1 large egg, beaten
For the haroset: Combine the carrots, apple, walnuts, cilantro, horseradish, raisins, vinegar and salt in a medium bowl. Toss to combine. Set aside.
For the mina: Preheat oven to 205°C (400°F).
Brush the bottom of a 25-cm. (10-in.) cast-iron skillet or a baking dish with oil.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in another large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and cook, stirring to break up the meat, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, garlic and salt and continue cooking until the vegetables have softened but not browned, 5 to 8 minutes more. Add the coffee and cardamom and stir to combine.
Soak the matza in warm water until pliable, about 1 minute. Line the bottom of the oiled, cast-iron skillet with the matza, breaking up the pieces as needed to completely cover the bottom and sides of the skillet. Spoon the beef mixture over the bottom and cover the top with more matza, pressing at the edges to seal. Brush with the beaten egg and bake until the mina is golden brown and crisp, about 30 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes.
Invert the mina onto a serving platter. Slice into wedges and serve topped with the haroset.
“It’s hard to believe this recipe is gluten-free!” wrote Solomonov. “And it’s very easy to make. Almond flour gives the cake fantastic structure while remaining nice and moist – almost brownie-like in texture. The cake can be made ahead of time and cut into small cubes to serve with tea or coffee, or cut into big wedges for dessert.”
For a kosher meal with meat, I would substitute parve margarine for the butter. If you like, serve the cake dusted with kosher-for-Passover powdered sugar.
Makes one 23-cm. (9-in.) round or square cake
■ 110 gr. (4 oz. or 8 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, softened
■ 1 cup sugar
■ Big pinch salt
■ 2 scant cups chopped dark chocolate (at least 60% cacao; 310 gr. or 11 oz.), melted and cooled slightly
■ 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
■ ½ cup almond flour (finely ground almonds)
Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F), with a rack in the middle.
Oil a 23-cm. (9-in.) round or square cake pan, line the bottom with a round or square of parchment paper and oil the parchment.
Combine the butter, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use a hand mixer and a big bowl) and beat on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the melted chocolate and mix just until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and mix for another few seconds. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each one is incorporated, before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again, then add the almond flour and mix on low speed until just incorporated, about 10 seconds.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula (the batter will be very sticky). Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool completely.