The heat is on. With Passover looming on the horizon, home cooks everywhere have begun their annual quest for the perfect Seder meal. But with so much culinary energy dedicated to the first two nights of the holiday, one important detail tends to get overlooked: what to eat on the other six hametz-free days.
The trouble usually begins after Seder leftovers start to dwindle. The typical weeknight staples, like pasta, rice and bread, are all off-limits, and many people find themselves unwillingly forced into a matzo-pizza diet for the rest of the holiday. “Every year, you buy Gourmet magazine, and it’s all about what to serve for the Seder,” said Laura Frankel, executive chef of Wolfgang Puck Catering at Chicago’s Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies. “But once you make it through that, it’s like, okay, what else you got? How do you feed your family?”
For years, kosher food companies have attempted to fill the Passover gap by creating convenience foods — brownie mixes, hamburger buns, coffee cakes, etc. — that resemble the real thing, without using any forbidden ingredients. But these companies often rely on chemicals and on other unhealthy “faux foods” to perform the culinary alchemy necessary to mimic a box of Cheerios or a plate of pasta. And as anyone who has suffered through a bowl of kosher for Passover cereal knows, looks can be deceiving.
“Passover mayonnaise is just bad,” Frankel said. “The smell alone will kill you. And have you ever seen kosher for Passover mustard? It’s surrounded by a neon halo.” According to Frankel, who also teaches Passover cooking classes in the Chicago area, the litmus test is simple: If you would not choose to eat a particular food during the rest of the year, then move on.
The secret to not only surviving the latter days of Passover but also actually enjoying them is to focus on all the ingredients that are available — vegetables, fresh and dried fruit, mushrooms, fresh herbs, nuts, cheese, yogurt, milk, olive oil, eggs, lean meats, fish, honey, maple syrup and quinoa, to name a few — instead of fixating on the ones that are not. The farmers’ market and the peripheral ring of the supermarket (away from all the packaged cookies and pretzels in the center aisles) are good places to find the building blocks for satisfying, filling dishes, like crispy herbed halibut and roasted beets with toasted hazelnuts (see recipes, below and on the Forward’s Web site).
Armed with a few cookbooks or food Web sites, recipes for tomato or potato leek soup, frittatas, stir-fried chicken and vegetables, salad niçoise, crispy hash browns, mashed sweet potatoes, maple-glazed green beans and eggs florentine are also fair game. Emily Freed, a field production manager at Jacobs Farm in Northern California, said she likes to make “a big bowl of egg salad with chives from the farm.” And Frankel admitted that she is “the quinoa queen,” lining her cleared-out cabinets with boxes of the grainlike miracle seed. (Tip: Try cooking quinoa in chicken or vegetable broth for an added boost of flavor.)
“I think the key to eating well during Passover is to view it as an opportunity to think outside your culinary box,” said Ariela Pelaia, whose blog, Baking and Books, includes a tantalizing recipe for flourless fallen chocolate soufflé cake covered in fresh berries. She’s right: In many ways, cooks actually have greater license to get creative after the Seder is over. Bay Area resident Alix Wall, who founded the personal chef company The Organic Epicure, said, “My family are all foodies who like to try new things, but when it comes to the Seder, they want their traditional fare.” No problem. Save your family’s favorite tzimmes recipe for Seder nights, and try your hand at homemade sorbet on one of the following days. Whatever you make, keep it fresh, clean and simple, and celebrate the freedom to eat well all week long.
Leah Koenig is a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Gastronomica and other publications. She lives in New York City.
Crispy Herbed Halibut
1 cup matzo meal
3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
1 tablespoon fresh chopped chives
6 6-ounce halibut filets, skinned
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 F.
1) Mix the matzo meal and fresh herbs in a plate.
2) Brush the non-skin sides of the halibut with a small amount of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Coat the oiled sides of the fish with the herbed matzo mixture.
3) Preheat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Brown the fish filets on the coated sides until completely browned and crispy (about 4 minutes). Remove the fish from the sauté pan, and place it in an ovenproof casserole or on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
4) About 10 minutes before serving, place the fish in the oven and cook until it feels firm when lightly pressed on top (about 8 minutes).
Roasted Beets With Toasted Hazelnuts
Leah Koenig’s Recipe — Serves 2
1 medium-sized bunch beets, with greens attached
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper
3-4 tablespoons goat cheese (chèvre) or feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
1) Remove beet greens, and set aside. Peel and quarter beets, then cut into 1/4-inch pieces. Place in a glass baking dish, drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast in oven for 35-40 minutes, until tender.
2) Meanwhile, wash greens thoroughly and chop into roughly bite-sized pieces. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium-sized pan, over medium heat. Add greens, and cover pan with a lid. (There should still be some water clinging to the beet greens; if not, add 1 teaspoon of water to pan before covering.) Let cook until greens are wilted and soft, stirring occasionally. Once wilted, remove lid, add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and a healthy pinch of salt. Stir and let cook another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove from heat.
3) When beets are soft, combine them with greens in a bowl. Add toasted, chopped hazelnuts and crumbled cheese (if using), and mix to combine. Serve warm.
Notes: Toast hazelnuts on a foil-lined baking pan in the oven or toaster oven at 375 F for about 5 minutes or until fragrant. Look for beets with attached greens at the farmers’ market or natural food stores. If you cannot find them, substitute the beet greens with green kale or spinach. If using spinach, do not add extra water in cooking process.
Find more recipes and ideas at www.jcarrot.org/recipes.