Passover is the most food-centric of Jewish festivals: The first and second nights are celebrated at home with a ritual seder meal, and observance of the entire eight-day holiday entails refraining from eating chametz (leavened or grain-based foods).
It's also the perfect time to celebrate the current golden age of Jewish cookbooks. The last year or so has seen a wealth of beautiful new books that elevate Ashkenazic (Eastern European) culinary tradition and introduce the exotic flavors of Sephardic (Middle Eastern) cultures into the mix.
We've created a Passover menu from some of our favorite recipes in this new crop of cookbooks. As even nonobservant Jews tend to serve a kosher or kosher-style seder meal, the menu is dairy-free, and all packaged ingredients called for in recipes are available with "kosher for Passover" certification.
PASSOVER GREEN CHICKEN SOUP WITH HERBED MATZO BALLS
In her “Jewish Soul Food: From Minsk to Marrakesh” (Schocken, $35), Janna Gur includes this recipe from Hadassah Kavel, born in Romania, raised in Israel and married to an Algerian. “Soups with fava beans and green vegetables are a must at the seder table of North African Jews,” Gur writes. The matzo balls are “at their best if cooked on the same day” (up to 4 hours before they are served) but you “can keep cooked dumplings in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days. Warm them with the soup or separately.”
1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 turkey neck, cut into a few chunks
3 cardamom pods
3 bay leaves
2 large sage leaves
10 allspice berries
5 small onions
4 to 5 carrots, sliced into 1-inch coins
1 celery root, peeled and quartered
1 fennel bulb, only the outer leaves
1 cabbage stem (optional)
1 small bunch fresh dill
1 small bunch fresh cilantro
1 small bunch fresh parsley
3 to 4 ribs celery, with leaves
¾ cup peeled fava beans, fresh or frozen (if you can’t find fava beans, substitute more peas)
½ cup peas, fresh or frozen
1. Bring a large pot of water (about 2 gallons) to boil. Add chicken and turkey neck and boil for 5 minutes. Drain, save the meat, wash the pot.
2. Return turkey and chicken to pot and add cold water to cover ¾ of meat. Tie up cardamom, bay leaves and allspice in a piece of cheesecloth (or place in a tea ball) and add to pot. Add sage, onions, carrots, celery root, fennel and optional cabbage stem and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 1 hour. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
3. Drain liquid through a fine sieve and pour broth back into pot. Save chicken and cooked vegetables in separate containers for another use. Up to this point the soup can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 3 days.
4. When ready to serve, bring the broth to a boil. Tie the dill, cilantro, parsley and celery in a bundle, add to the broth and bring to a simmer. Add beans and peas and simmer until beans are cooked, 3 to 5 minutes for frozen, 5 to 15 for fresh. Remove and discard the herbs. Serve with matzo balls. Makes 10 to 12 servings.
RED WINE AND HONEY BRISKET
Leah Koenig writes in her “Modern Jewish Cooking” (Chronicle, $35) that this recipe includes red wine “as a nod to stracotto, the Roman Jewish take on brisket.” She advises making it a day in advance and, “once it has chilled in the refrigerator overnight, spoon off and discard any excess fat congealed at the top and transfer the meat to a cutting board. Thinly slice the brisket against the grain, then place slices back into a roasting pan, spooning some of the onion mixture over the top. Warm in a 300-degree oven until hot and bubbling, 20 to 30 minutes.”
1 (4- to 5-pound) brisket
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 large yellow onions, halved through the root and thinly sliced
8 sprigs fresh thyme
8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
1½ cups dry red wine, divided
¼ cup honey
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup chicken broth
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Generously sprinkle both sides of brisket with salt and pepper.
2. Heat vegetable oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high. Add brisket and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes total. (If brisket is too big to lie flat in pan, cut it in half and sear in batches.) Remove brisket from pot and set aside.
3. Add onions, thyme, garlic and bay leaves to the pot, followed by ½ cup of the wine. Cook, stirring often, until the onions soften slightly and the mixture is fragrant, about 5 minutes.
4. Whisk together the remaining 1 cup wine, honey, onion powder, garlic powder, broth and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Lay brisket atop the onions in the pot and pour wine mixture over it. Cover and transfer to the oven.
5. Cook brisket for 2 hours. Remove from oven, uncover and carefully turn meat over. Re-cover and continue cooking until meat is fork-tender, 2 to 2½ hours longer. Remove from oven and transfer brisket to a cutting board. Cover loosely with foil and let rest 15 minutes before slicing against the grain (perpendicular to the thin lines running in one direction along the brisket).
6. Remove thyme sprigs and bay leaves from cooking liquid and discard. Use a slotted spoon to remove the onions and arrange around the brisket. Spoon pan juices over brisket and serve hot. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
CELERIAC AND CARROTS IN LEMON SAUCE
In her “Jewish Soul Food: From Minsk to Marrakesh,” Gur writes that this classic Sephardic cooked salad is lovely as a starter or side dish. “It is usually reserved for festive occasions, mainly Passover, when celery root is at its peak.”
4 large celery roots (celeriacs), peeled, quartered and sliced into 1 / 3-inch pieces
2 carrots, sliced into 1 / 3-inch-thick rounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dash of sugar
Chopped celery leaves
1. Put celery roots and carrots in a medium saucepan with the olive oil and heat over low for 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1 cup water, lemon juice, salt, pepper and sugar. Cook for 45 minutes over low heat, or until vegetables are tender but retain some bite.
2. Remove vegetables with a slotted spoon, reduce sauce until very thick, almost gel-like. Return vegetables to pan, taste and adjust seasonings; the vegetables should be tart. Transfer to a serving dish and allow to cool. Garnish with chopped celery leaves before serving. Makes 8 appetizer servings.
FULLY LOADED PASSOVER BAR COOKIES
This recipe, adapted from “The New Passover Menu” by Paula Shoyer (Sterling Epicure, $24.95) is also gluten free.
1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil plus extra for greasing pan
3 ¼ cups ground almonds or almond meal
¼ cup potato starch
1 cup mini chocolate chips or 1 (10-ounce) bag chocolate chips
1 cup nuts (pecans, shelled pistachios, walnuts or combination), chopped into ½-inch pieces
1 / 3 cup dried shredded coconut
1 / 3 cup golden raisins
1 / 3 cup dried cranberries
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with oil and cover bottom and sides with parchment paper. Grease top and sides of parchment.
2. In a large bowl, beat the sugar, eggs and oil with an electric mixer on medium speed, or mix well with a wooden spoon until combined. Add the ground almonds and potato starch and mix well, add the chocolate chips, nuts, coconut, raisins and cranberries and mix.
3. Scoop dough into the prepared pan and use a spatula to spread it evenly. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until the edges are brown and, when you insert a toothpick into the center, it has just a few crumbs on it. Let cool. Lift out the parchment, then cut into squares or bars. Makes 24 (2-inch-square) bars.