Perfect for Passover

Nachman used her cooking and catering experience to come up with dishes that are easy to prepare and fun to serve and to eat.

Artisan matza canapés (photo credit: MIRIAM PASCAL)
Artisan matza canapés
(photo credit: MIRIAM PASCAL)
Australian-born Naomi Nachman, the author of the just-published Perfect for Pesach: Recipes You’ll Want to Make All Year, began her Passover catering business, The Aussie Gourmet, two decades ago in New York. By doing so, she was, in a way, carrying on her family’s tradition. Her parents began the first Passover hotel program in Australia and ran it for nearly 30 years.
Nachman used her cooking and catering experience to come up with dishes that are easy to prepare and fun to serve and to eat. Some are inspired by her Ashkenazi background, and others by dishes that she learned from acquaintances in the US.
A traditional dish that Nachman loves to prepare is Erev Pessah potato salad, which she fondly remembers from her parents’ Erev Pessah buffet. It’s convenient, she wrote, because there are limited food options on that day (the day preceding Passover); the hametz (bread, pasta and other foods forbidden during Passover) has already been cleared, but matza is not allowed until the Seder.
To make the potato salad, Nachman combines chunks of cooked potatoes with shredded deli meats, sliced pickles and mayonnaise, and flavors the salad with fresh dill, green onions and salt. Her gefilte fish cakes are similar to the ones my mother, who was born in Poland, used to make, except that Nachman provides the option of boosting the flavor with curry powder. Another Passover favorite of Nachman is the famous Australian dessert pavlova, a meringue cake that she adorns with whipped topping, sliced strawberries and sliced kiwifruits.
Nachman enjoys experimenting with innovative flavor combinations. For her colorful, two-layer kugel, she bakes a bright green broccoli kugel mixture on top of a kishka filling mixture. (See recipe.) She makes hush puppy potato knishes and stuffs them with pieces of hot dogs to make a finger food that appeals to children as well as adults. (See recipe.) I asked Nachman how she plans her Passover dinners, and she replied that she usually begins with a fish appetizer, a few dips or spreads like vegetarian chopped liver, and a soup such as roasted cauliflower and garlic, which is one of the most requested soups in her Passover catering. With a meat main course, she serves one or two hot side dishes and at least two salads.
Nachman’s Passover lachmajun, which is a thin Middle Eastern pizza with a ground-meat topping, caught our attention because it was unlike any we had ever seen. Instead of using the usual yeast-leavened dough, she used a cauliflower crust, which is gluten free. (See recipe.) Her topping, too, is different from that of any lachmajun that we’ve had. Usually the meat is slightly spicy or savory, but Nachman’s has a decidedly sweet note from the addition of generous amounts of prune butter and ketchup. I asked Nachman what gave her the idea to use these flavorings. She laughed and said, “Everything Ashkenazim do is sweet!”
■ Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.
Hush puppy potato knishes
Hush puppies, a specialty of the American South, are small, golden- brown balls made of fried cornmeal batter. Knishes are Ashkenazi appetizers or snack pastries with a flour-based dough and a savory filling. For this gluten- free, easy-to-make, freezer-friendly Passover appetizer, Naomi Nachman was inspired by both. To make parve knishes, she omits the hot dogs.
Makes 24 knishes
■ 6 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
■ 4 tsp. kosher salt, divided
■ 4 eggs, divided
■ 3 Tbsp. potato starch
■ 3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
■ ½ teaspoon garlic powder
■ Pinch white pepper
■ 2-3 hot dogs, cut into 1.3-cm. (½-in.)pieces
Place potatoes in a medium or large pot. Add water to cover and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil; cook until fork tender.
Drain potatoes well and put in a large bowl.
Mash the potatoes well. Add 3 eggs, potato starch, mayonnaise, garlic powder, remaining 3 teaspoons salt, and white pepper. Mix well to combine. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Scoop out ¼-cup mounds of potato mixture; place them on prepared baking sheet. Press a piece of hot dog into the center of each potato mound until it’s completely covered.
Whisk the remaining egg to make an egg wash. Brush each potato mound with the egg wash.
Bake for approximately 40 to 50 minutes, until the potato mound starts to brown.
Broccoli kishka kugel
“After making a batch of kishka for my Passover cholent,” wrote Nachman, “I tweaked the recipe and baked it under a broccoli kugel. It adds flavor and color to the dish. Everyone loved it, and a new recipe was born.”
For her Passover cholent, Nachman cuts the potatoes into small dice to give a bean-like texture. She rolls the kishka mixture in parchment paper, closes the sides well and puts it to cook slowly in the cholent.
She uses mayonnaise in the broccoli layer of this parve, freezer-friendly kugel to make it creamy.
Serves 12
Kishka layer:
■ 1 carrot, peeled
■ 1 potato, peeled
■ 1 stalk celery
■ 1 small onion, peeled
■ ¹⁄3 cup oil
■ 5 Tbsp. potato starch
■ ½ cup matza ball mix or nongebrochts matza ball mix
■ 1 tsp. kosher salt
■ 1½ tsp. paprika
Broccoli layer:
■ 1 onion, finely chopped
■ 680 gr. (24 oz.) frozen broccoli, defrosted and chopped
■ 4 eggs
■ ¼ cup potato starch
■ 1 cup mayonnaise
■ 1 tsp. onion powder
■ 1 tsp. kosher salt
Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Grease a 23- x 33-cm. (9 x 13-in.) baking pan; set aside.
Prepare the kishka layer: In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the “S” blade, puree the carrot with the potato, celery and onion. Add the oil, potato starch, matza ball mix, salt and paprika.
Stir to combine.
Pour kishka mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the broccoli layer: Add the onion, chopped broccoli, eggs, potato starch, mayonnaise, onion powder and salt to a large bowl; stir to combine.
Pour broccoli mixture onto baked kishka layer; bake for 55 minutes, until firm and lightly browned.
Cauliflower crust lachmajun
“I’ve always enjoyed serving – and eating! – lachmajun, a Syrian meat pizza meze, or appetizer,” wrote Nachman.
With cauliflower crust pizza so popular these days, she wanted to make a pizza with a meat topping, and thought of lachmajun, which she had learned about from Syrian-Jewish acquaintances in New York. You can serve these as appetizers or as a main course.
To freeze the crusts, bake them as in the fourth paragraph below before freezing them. Then thaw them, add the meat topping and continue baking.
For a dairy Passover meal, Nachman recommends using this crust to make mini pizzas. After baking the crusts as in the fourth paragraph below, top them with pizza sauce and cheese, and bake them in a preheated oven until the cheese melts.
Serves 12 Cauliflower crust:
■ 1.8 kg. (4 lb.) frozen cauliflower, thawed (to use fresh cauliflower, see note below)
■ 2 eggs
■ ½ tsp. salt
■ 1 tsp. onion powder
■ 1 tsp. dried oregano
Meat topping:
■ 454 gr. (1 lb.) ground beef
■ 1 cup prune butter or plum jam
■ 1 small onion, diced
■ ¼ cup tomato paste
■ ½ cup ketchup
■ 1 tsp. salt
■ tsp. cinnamon
■ 1 cup pine nuts (optional)
Prepare the crust: Shred the cauliflower in a food processor until it resembles small crumbs.
Tightly wrap the cauliflower crumbs in a clean dish towel. (I divide the crumbs in half and use a separate dish towel for each half.) Squeeze the towel until the crumbs are dry. If the cauliflower is still cold from the freezer, let it sit out for 20 minutes and squeeze it again. The cauliflower should be very dry or the crust will become soggy.
Place the dry crumbs in a bowl; add eggs, salt and spices. Mix really well until a “dough” forms.
Preheat oven to 205°C (400°F). Line a baking pan with parchment paper; set aside. Form ¼ cup dough in a 5- to 7.5-cm. (2- to 3-inch) round; place onto prepared pan. Repeat with remaining dough. Bake for 15 minutes, until they start to brown. Remove pan from oven.
Meat topping: Combine beef, prune butter, onion, tomato paste, ketchup, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Mix well to combine.
Reduce oven temperature to 180°C (350°F). Spread ¼ cup meat topping onto each baked round, pressing down so it sticks to the dough. Make sure to spread topping all the way to the edge, as the meat shrinks while it cooks. Sprinkle a few pine nuts on each, if using.
Bake until the meat is cooked through and browned, about 30 minutes.
Note: To make this with fresh cauliflower, chop 2 large cauliflower heads in a food processor; then place in a bowl and cover with water. Microwave or boil in a pot until soft; then drain and squeeze dry, as in the second paragraph above.
Artisan matza canapés
For dairy appetizers, Nachman recommends setting up a garnish bar with small bowls of assorted garnishes.
Some toppings she recommends are “poached, boiled, or fried egg, tomatoes, goat or feta cheese, red onion, Greek yogurt or leben, strawberries with balsamic vinegar, beets with scallion, lox, cucumber, or just plain avocado.”
Use the amounts of topping ingredients to your taste.
Serves 4
■ 1 whole matza
■ Choice of toppings, below
Divide matza into four pieces. Spread with toppings of your choice, or use the 4 topping suggestions below. Serve immediately.

Goat cheese & beet topping:

■ Goat cheese
■ Pesto
■ Very thinly sliced raw beets, or substitute peach slices
Spread goat cheese on matza. Top with pesto and raw beet slices.
Avocado feta topping:
■ Avocado
■ Lemon juice
■ Salt
■ Sliced tomato
■ Sliced red onion
■ Feta cheese, crumbled
Mash avocado with lemon juice and salt to taste; spread over matza. Top with tomato, red onion and crumbled feta cheese.
Cream cheese & lox topping:
■ Cream cheese
■ Smoked salmon or lox
■ Fresh dill
Spread cream cheese on matza. Top with smoked salmon and fresh dill.
Ricotta apple topping:
■ Ricotta cheese
■ Sliced apples
■ Honey Spread ricotta cheese on matza.
Top with apples and drizzle with honey.