Fresh springtime dishes

Usher in the sunny season with these refreshing, kosher-for-Passover dishes.

Lamb tagine with dates and oranges (illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Lamb tagine with dates and oranges (illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
A festive slow-cooked dish with Moroccan flavors.
Serves 6
One of the lovely things about springtime is that fresh lamb comes into the markets. This recipe combines lamb and fruit in a slow-cooked tagine stew infused with the flavors of North Africa.
Tagines are slow-cooked dishes that take their name from the vessel they’re cooked in. The tagine pot consists of a round clay dish and a lid that rises to a cone shape. The food’s juices never evaporate while cooking inside a tagine pot; they rise inside the lid, condense, and fall back down, constantly basting the food. Cooked over low heat, even tough cuts of meat emerge fork-tender and deeply flavored. In Israel, many cookware stores carry elegant glazed tagine pots for cooking, or decorated ones for serving only.
Different styles of tagines can also be bought online.
But lacking the traditional pot, you can cook a delicious Moroccan tagine-style stew, as long as you have a pot that stands up to slow cooking, with a tightly fitting lid. You will need an inexpensive heat-diffusing pad to place between the heat and the pot; or cook the tagine in the oven, on a low setting.
Once the pot is on the heat, you can forget about it for the next few hours while you’re busy getting other cooking done. This tagine requires shoulder of lamb.
In Israel, lamb usually comes as an entire front quarter of the animal, with ribs and shank (a piece that resembles a chicken drumstick). Ask your butcher to separate the ribs into chops and to slice the shoulder blade into large strips, leaving the bone in. Include the shank in the tagine. The bone adds depth of flavor, and by the time the dish is ready, it will separate easily from the meat.
The half-cup of red wine included here isn’t traditional, but I include it to balance the sweetness of the dates. I recommend making this dish the day before you intend to serve it, because it’s even better the next day, with the advantage of the fat having hardened so you can spoon it off the top before reheating the dish.
1.5 kg. shoulder of lamb, thickly sliced, plus the shank
1 tsp. table salt
Ground black pepper to taste
3-5 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, thickly sliced
1 2.5-cm. cinnamon stick
4 whole allspice berries, or 1 tsp. ground allspice
1 large bay leaf
4 large garlic cloves, thickly sliced
2 medium tomatoes, unpeeled and sliced
8 large, moist dates, halved and pits removed
2 oranges, peel and white pith cut away and fruit quartered
½ cup dry red wine
Optional for chili heads: 1 tiny hot pepper or cayenne pepper flakes to taste A small handful finely chopped parsley or cilantro, to garnish Rub the meat with salt and pepper.
Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a large skillet.
Brown the meat on all sides over medium heat. This may have to be done in two batches. Add more olive oil, one tablespoon at a time, if needed. Remove the meat to a platter.
Pour 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil into the cooking pot and turn the heat on to medium-high. If using earthenware, ceramic or a tagine pot, first place a heat-diffusing pad under the pot. A metal or cast iron pot may go directly onto the heat.
Cook the onion until wilted, stirring. Add the cinnamon stick, bay leaf and allspice. If using hot pepper or cayenne, add it to the dish now.
Add the garlic and tomatoes. Stir and cook an additional two minutes.
Place the browned meat into the pot, on top of the vegetables. Tuck the date halves and orange quarters around and under the meat.
Pour the half-cup of wine over the whole.
Cover the pot and either cook on the stove over the lowest heat, with the heat diffuser under the pot, or place in a preheated 170° oven.
Turn the meat over once or twice over the next two hours. When you do, squash the dates, tomatoes and oranges pieces down with the back of a cooking spoon and stir them around, to thicken the sauce. Taste for seasoning and add salt and/or pepper if desired.
Cook a further half hour, making total cooking time 2.5 hours.
The meat will be falling off the bone and a thick, aromatic sauce will have formed.
To serve, spoon the sauce over the meat. Scatter finely chopped herbs over all for an appealing green garnish.
This is a rich dish: serve with plain steamed vegetables or a salad, and either rice or potatoes.
There’s no end to eggplant surprises. We eat the vegetable fried, pickled, roasted, pureed, stuffed and baked. But have you ever considered eggplant soup? This recipe exploits the vegetable’s meaty weight to produce an elegant, creamy soup with just enough chunky texture to keep it interesting.
Have prepared pesto on hand. Use store-bought if you must, but it doesn’t compare to the bright flavor of freshly made pesto. Refrigerated in a tightly closed container, leftovers will keep up to a week. Pesto may also be frozen for up to six weeks.
Pesto – Makes 1 cup
½ cup olive oil
2 cups fresh basil leaves, rinsed, dried and tightly packed
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¹⁄3 cup pine nuts
3 medium garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
Juice of ¼ lemon
Salt and black pepper to taste
Put the ingredients in the order given in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth.
Eggplant Soup
Serves 6
2 medium-sized eggplants
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced thickly
4 garlic cloves, chopped coarsely
8 cups (2 liters) water or vegetable stock
¾ cup fresh white mushrooms, coarsely chopped,
plus ¼ cup thinly sliced mushrooms, reserved
2 Tbsp. fresh basil leaves
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme (or ½ tsp. dried) or oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
1 container sour cream
6 Tbsp. prepared pesto
Place each eggplant on its side and cut it in half horizontally.
Cut a cross-hatch pattern deeply into the flesh.
Drizzle ½ tablespoon olive oil over each eggplant half.
Grill for 20 minutes or until the eggplant is brown, soft, and separating into cubes. With a spoon, scrape the eggplant flesh off the skin.
Chop the flesh coarsely and set it aside.
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté the onions and garlic in the heated olive oil for eight minutes.
Add the chopped mushrooms.
When the onions are golden and the mushrooms start to release juice, add the water or vegetable stock and chopped eggplant.
Bring everything to a boil, reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Stir in basil, thyme, salt and pepper.
Cook another 2 minutes.
With a slotted spoon, lift the solids out of the pot. Keep the soup hot.
Blend all the solids in a food processor or blender until smooth.
Return the puree to the hot liquid and reheat to a simmer.
Add the reserved sliced cup mushrooms now.
Simmer another five minutes. Taste to adjust seasonings if needed.
Ladle the soup into bowls. Spoon 1 tablespoon sour cream into each bowl.
Top each bowl with ½ tablespoon pesto.
Serve and enjoy.
Serves 6
Stroll around any Israeli supermarket or shuk at this time of year, and you’ll see shoppers loading up on potatoes.
I’m right there with the potato loaders because my family gets bored with matza by the second or third day of Passover week. The next trick is to avoid potato boredom. Here’s a recipe that combines potatoes with olives, resulting in a savory braised dish that’s different enough to intrigue jaded Passover appetites.
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1 bay leaf
½ tsp. ground black pepper
1 kilo potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed and sliced into 2-cm. slices
2 cups whole, green, pitted olives
½ lemon
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
¼ cup finely chopped parsley, cilantro, or celery leaves
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Fry and stir the onions in it until wilted.
Add the paprika, bay leaf and black pepper. Don’t add salt; the olives will supply enough.
Slide the potatoes onto the seasoned onions.
Squeeze the lemon half over the potatoes.
Scatter the garlic over the whole.
Gently pour room-temperature water halfway to the top of the potatoes and bring to a boil.
Cover the skillet, lower the heat, and cook the potatoes for 15 minutes.
Add the olives and cook another 10 minutes, turning everything over once or twice. Check to make sure the potatoes are tender. Let them cook a few more minutes if necessary, but don’t let them get mushy.
Sprinkle the chopped green herb over the dish before serving.
About 8 kneidlach
What’s Passover without kneidlach, a.k.a. matza balls? The recipe below details old-fashioned, homemade kneidlach. You’ll be surprised to see how easy they are to make; just handle the batter gently when you form the balls, as squeezing will make them tough. You may use plain room-temperature water, but soda water makes the lightest matza balls. The quantity of water will vary according to your matza meal; some brands absorb more water, some less. The batter should be stiff, but not doughy or kneadable.
You may boil the kneidlach directly in soup, but they result lighter if cooked in plain water.
2 whole eggs
4 Tbsp. oil or schmaltz
1 scant cup matza meal
¼ cup soda water and up to ¼ cup more if needed
1 tsp. table salt
Optional: ½ tsp. ground ginger
In a medium bowl, combine eggs, fat and matza meal with a fork.
Add water, salt, and ginger if using, stirring to make a stiff batter. Add more water by tablespoons if the batter seems too solid.
Cover the bowl and chill for two hours.
Set a large pot of salted water to boil.
Wet your hands to prevent the batter from sticking, and gently form balls about the size of a walnut.
Drop the balls into the boiling water. Lower the heat to medium. The water should be simmering. Cover and cook 40 minutes.
Drain and serve in soup.
Kneidlach accompany soup, of course, but can also stand in for potatoes. Dribble schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) over the cooked and drained dumplings and brown them in a 180° oven for 10 minutes. Lacking schmaltz, fry a small onion in olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and drizzle it over the kneidlach before setting them in the oven to brown.