Jewish cuisine, once a punchline, is enjoying a renaissance: Kosher restaurants are becoming ever more sophisticated; young Jewish chefs are re-imagining their ancestral recipes with better ingredients and modern techniques. And there has been a concomitant flurry of new Jewish cookbooks, many of which take a global view with recipes from both the Ashkenazic culinary traditions of Eastern Europe and the Sephardic traditions of the Middle East and North Africa.
Just in time for Passover (which begins at sundown on April 10 and ends on April 18), Joan Nathan, American doyenne of Jewish cookery, has published a magisterial new book, “King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking From Around the World (Knopf, $35). Nathan provides a history of Jewish food, from its ancient Babylonian roots, through Biblical times, the diaspora throughout the medieval Christian and Muslim worlds and, after the expulsion, to Eastern Europe and, ultimately, to the New World.
One of the threads that ties together Jewish culinary history across the millennia and the globe is the celebration of Passover, that most food-centric of Jewish holidays, observed not in the synagogue but at the table. The seder itself involves a group of never-changing symbolic foods, but the meal that follows it is often an opportunity for the cook to strut his or her stuff.
This Passover, cooks can peruse not only Nathan’s newest tome (her 12th) but also “Matzo: 35 Recipes for Passover and All Year Long” by Michele Streit Heilbrun (Clarkson Potter, $14.99). From these books we’ve selected recipes for gefilte fish with beet-horseradish sauce, roast chicken and a Mediterranean-inspired matzo salad.
GREEK MATZO PANZANELLA
In 1916, Aron Streit opened a matzo factory on the Lower East Side. Today, Streit’s is the only family-owned and operated matzo company in America, though the matzo is made in Orangeburg, New York. To celebrate the family’s heritage, Aron’s great-granddaughter Michele Streit Heilbrun, has published “Matzo: 35 Recipes for Passover and All Year Long” (Clarkson Potter, $14.99), co-written with David Kirschner. The cookbook features matzo-centric recipes ranging from traditional (matzo brei, matzo kugel) to re-imagined international favorites (matzo spanakopita, matzo chilaquiles). This recipe is a Greek spin on the traditional Tuscan bread salad with matzo standing in “for the hametz.”
1 red onion
3⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
6 sheets of matzos
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1⁄2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional, can also use kosher-for-Passover mustard)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1⁄2 teaspoon honey
1⁄4 cup red wine vinegar
2 cups watercress, large stems removed
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved (2 cups)
1 cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded and cut into 1⁄4-inch slices
1 cup crumbled feta (optional)
1 cup black olives, pitted
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the red onion and a few ice cubes in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Let sit for about 15 minutes, then drain, rinse and pat dry.
2. Meanwhile, lightly brush olive oil on both side of the matzos (you’ll use a tablespoon or 2) and season with salt and pepper. Lay them out on the prepared baking sheet and transfer to the oven to toast until lightly browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 5 minutes, then roughly break into 1 1⁄2-inch squares and set aside.
3. Make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, mustard, oregano, lemon juice, honey and vinegar. Whisking constantly, slowly stream in 1⁄2 cup olive oil until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.
4. In a large bowl, combine the watercress, tomatoes, cucumbers, feta, olives, red onion and matzo. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad and gently toss to combine, taking care not to break up the matzo further. Allow the salad to sit for 10 minutes so the matzo can soften and absorb the dressing. Divide among salad plates and serve. Makes 4 servings.
SALMON GEFILTE FISH MOLD WITH HORSERADISH AND BEET SAUCE
“Although gefilte innovation like the first jarred fish and the frozen loaves are taking over now,” writes Joan Nathan in her “King Solomon’s Table.” “I still, as with many things, prefer the taste of homemade that I make twice a year for Passover and Rosh Hashanah.” Nathan makes this “light, circular fish terrine that looks beautiful and has the components of gefilte fish, but is much easier to make . . . This is also a great make-ahead recipe, as it requires several hours of refrigeration before serving. Turned out onto a platter and featured as one of many foods at a buffet, it is always a big success. Even those who swear they would never eat gefilte fish come back for seconds, provided you serve horseradish sauce with it.”
2 pounds salmon fillets
1 pound cod, flounder, rockfish or whitefish
3 medium red onions, peeled and diced (about 2 pounds)
3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons matzo meal
2 large carrots, peeled and grated
4 tablespoons snipped fresh dill, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional, can also use kosher-for-Passover mustard)
2 tablespoons sugar
Parsley, for garnish
Horseradish and Beet Sauce (see below)
1. Have your fish store grind the fillets or pulse them yourself, one at a time, in a food processor or meat grinder. If using a food processor, pulse the fish in short bursts, being careful not to purée the fish — you want some texture. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 12-cup Bundt pan and fill a larger pan (such as a large Pyrex dish) with 2 inches of hot water.
2. In a large pan over medium-high heat, sauté the diced onions in the oil for about 5 minutes, until soft and transparent but not brown. Set aside to cool.
3. Put the fish, onions, eggs, 2 cups water, matzo meal, carrots, dill, salt, pepper, mustard and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer equipped with a flat beater. Beat at medium speed for 10 minutes.
4. Pour the mixture into the Bundt or tube pan, then put the pan inside the larger water-filled dish (called a bain-marie). Smooth the top with a spatula. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour, or until the center is solid. Remove the Bundt or tube pan from the water dish, then allow the terrine to cool slightly for at least 20 minutes. Slide a long knife around the outer and inner edges of the Bundt or tube pan, then carefully invert the terrine onto a flat serving plate.
5. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. If any water accumulates on the serving dish, carefully drain it away before serving. Slice the terrine as you would a torte and serve as an appetizer, garnished with parsley and dill and served with Horseradish and Beet Sauce. Leftovers keep for up to 5 days. Makes 15 to 20 slices.
HORSERADISH AND BEET SAUCE
Jews serve horseradish, sliced as a root or ground into a sauce, at Passover to symbolize the bitterness of slavery,” writes Joan Nathan in her “King Solomon’s Table.” “It was in Ashkenaz, what is now Alsace-Lorraine and southern Germany, that the horseradish root replaced the romaine and arugula of more southerly climates as the bitter herbs at the Passover dinner. Horseradish with beets originally came from farther east in Poland, to which Jews immigrated from the west in the 14th century, and from the east probably earlier. It was a condiment served at Easter and represented the blood of Jesus Christ, something that I will bet most Jews did not know when they bought it from farmers at outside markets in Poland.”
3 large beets (about 2 pounds), trimmed but not peeled
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
4 ounces (about 1 cup) peeled and roughly chopped fresh horseradish root
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Rub the whole beets with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and wrap in foil. Bake the beets for about an hour or until tender in the center when pierced with a knife. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then peel and cut into large chunks.
2. In the bowl of a food processor, mix the horseradish and the vinegar. Process with the steel blade until finely chopped; do not purée. Add the beets and remaining olive oil. Pulse until the beets are coarsely chopped, but not puréed. Transfer to a bowl and add the salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.
3. Adjust the seasoning as needed. Cover and refrigerate for at least a day. Makes 4 cups.
DOUBLE-LEMON ROAST CHICKEN
This one-pan dish from Joan Nathan’s “King Solomon’s Table” can accommodate whatever vegetables are in season. “For Passover,” Nathan writes, “I use artichokes [trimmed, chokes removed] with the chicken as one of my main courses.” Note: some Jews do not serve roast meats at the seder.
1 whole (4-pound) chicken
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons za’atar (optional, see note)
1 teaspoon sumac (optional, see note)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 preserved lemon, divided (optional, see note)
5 cloves garlic, peeled
Handful of fresh thyme sprigs, divided
Handful of rosemary sprigs, divided
Handful of sage leaves, divided
1 onion, cut into roughly 8 pieces
2 lemons, cut widthwise in thin circles
3⁄4 cup dry white wine
Optional: 1 celery stalk, 1 carrot, peeled, 1 fennel bulb, and/or 1 zucchini, all chopped into 2-inch pieces, or a handful of Brussels sprouts, black olives and sun-dried tomatoes or a fresh tomato, cut up
1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, za’atar if you like, and sumac. Then rub the outside with the olive oil.
2. Put the chicken in a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Fill the cavity with half the preserved lemon, 2 cloves garlic and a sprig each of the thyme, rosemary and sage. Cut up the remaining preserved lemon and scatter it with the remaining cloves of garlic, the onion and the rest of the thyme, rosemary, and sage, as well as the regular lemon slices, around the chicken. Add enough wine just to let the chicken sit in the liquid. You can do this the night before and cover with tin foil in your refrigerator.
3. When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the refrigerator for about a half-hour to return to room temperature. Here is where you can be creative. Add cut-up celery, carrots, zucchini, and/or fennel, Brussels sprouts, black olives and sun-dried or fresh tomatoes, or leave as is.
4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, then roast the chicken until it is golden brown and crispy, about an hour and 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature says 160.
5. Cut the chicken into roughly 8 pieces, place them on a platter, spoon the vegetables and juices with the preserved lemon and lemon slices over and around the chicken, and serve. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Note: Za’atar and sumac, Middle Eastern seasonings, and preserved lemons (cured in salt and completely edible, rind and all) are available at Middle Eastern and specialty grocers.
THE KING OF MACAROONS
Macaroons, tender cookies made from egg whites, coconut and sugar, are the classic Passover treat since, in their natural state, they are absolutely free of flour. Lately, they’ve been given a run for their money by that upstart French confection, the macaron: a confection whose creamy filling is sandwiched between two meringue cookies made from beaten egg whites, sugar and ground almonds.
In his book “The Macaroon Bible” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99), Dan Cohen writes that both names derive from the Sicilian “maccharruni,” sweet and savory pastes made from nut or wheat flours, water, butter and honey. Maccharunni (whose name derives from either “maccare” (to knead) and / or “ammaccare” (to crush or grind) were brought to Italy in the Middle Ages by Arabs (who had discovered them in Persia). Over the centuries, the Sicilians codified a recipe using ground nuts, sugar and eggs, and named the almond-based maccharruni amaretti — as in Amaretti di Saronno, the flourless almond cookies whose most famous purveyor is Lazzaroni (of the orange tin).
Cohen not only wrote the book, he makes the macaroons. His company, Danny’s Macaroons, founded in 2010, ships macaroons all over the country — hundreds of thousand of them every year. At dannymacaroons.com, a half dozen classic macaroons are $16; assorted are $20. Order by April 1 for Passover delivery.
Or make your own. Here’s the recipe that launched Danny’s Macaroons.
Original vanilla macaroons
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (14-ounce) bag sweetened, shredded coconut
2 large egg whites
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
1. Preheat oven to 350 with a rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
2. In an extra-large bowl, measure out 10 1⁄2 ounces by weight of the condensed milk and add the vanilla, incorporating it with a rubber spatula. If you don’t have a scale, use approximately 1 cup. Add the coconut to the condensed milk mixture and combine until thoroughly mixed.
3. Add the egg whites and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer and whip on medium-high until very stiff peaks form, 2 1⁄2 to 3 minutes.
4. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped egg whites into the coconut mixture. After it’s combined, push the mixture into one big blob to make it easier for you to portion out the macaroons.
5. Dip 2 spoons in a small bowl of water, shake them off, form the mixture into balls approximately 1 1⁄2 inches in diameter, and place them on the baking sheet about 1 inch apart. (You can also form them by hand, but be sure to wet your fingers frequently.)
6. Place the sheet into the oven to bake for 20 to 25 minutes. After about 22 minutes, start checking for coloring. Look for an even, light golden color and for the undersides to be nicely tanned.
7. Remove from the oven and let the sheet rest on a cooling rack, leaving the macaroons on the sheet until they’re cool enough for you to pull off (about 2 minutes depending on how sensitive your fingers are). Transfer the macaroons to the cooling rack to let cool completely. The macaroons will keep at room temperature for 3 to 5 days, for about 3 weeks in an airtight container in the fridge, and for a few months in the freezer. Makes 24 (2-inch) macaroons.