Let’s face it: even without the charoset, we honor mortar on Passover. The food of this holiday isn’t—how can I say this nicely?—easy on digestion. Matzoh, potatoes, eggs, various proteins, cheese, it seems that most of what we eat is pretty heavy, and we often pay the price, feeling sluggish and fatigued, especially after the Seders. Yes, we are commanded to relax and to relish in our liberation, and the food of Passover makes this quite easy. When thinking about lightening up some traditional Passover dishes to avoid this eventual fate, we don’t often think of charoset as something that can be modified, especially since it’s already so delicious. And how and why would we lighten up the food that symbolizes cement, right?! Well, by integrating a few key culinary concepts from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it’s easy to make charoset a bit more activating and invigorating, so it can do more for your body than just sit there in your belly, mortar-like.
A Greek-American friend of mine told me about Artopolis bakery in Astoria. This bakery is the real deal; there are both savory and sweet pastries of all varities – from spanakopita, to biscuits, to cakes, to tarts. Once I knew of its existence, I found myself going out of my way to stop by Astoria and load up on their treats. I immediately fell in love with a cookie called melamakarona. These honey soaked biscuits were kept in a tray behind glass, which added to the allure. They looked so precious; their golden-brown color, glistening with honey and topped with chopped walnuts. The aroma is fragrant, with hints of clove and cinnamon. The texture of the cookie is baklava-esque, as it’s soft from the honey bath it sits in.
Imagine this: you’re at your local greenmarket vegetable stall picking out a beautiful green speckled summer zucchini. Standing next to you is a man choosing his summer bounty. You begin to discuss recipes, and he explains his approach to summer vegetables. “Keep it simple,” he says, and continues to describe his plans for the zucchini he just picked up, “I’m going to slice it thinly and drizzle with good quality vinegar”.
I don’t know when it happened, but one day I started liking a little spice in my food. It started slowly, little by little, and before I knew it, I found myself sprinkling red pepper flakes or squirting Sriracha on many of my meals. Not to say that I don’t appreciate non-spicy cuisine. On the contrary, I love simple roasted vegetables with the perfect sprinkle of sea salt, or a sun-warmed summer tomato with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. But I also love reaching for hot sauce to give certain dishes a kick. Not one for Tabasco-style sauces (no flaming XXX bottles here), I started experimenting with more complex chili sauces. After a recent affair with North African cuisine inspired by picking up a few recipes from a friend’s Jewish Moroccan mother, I have been enjoying harissa, a blended hot pepper condiment. Most people think Jewish food is quite tame in the spice department, but not so! This fiery condiment is a testament the diversity of Jewish culinary roots, and our love of flavor. If you’ve ever asked for your falafel “spicy” — then you, too, have had harissa.
We tend to think of seasonal eating as a buzzword in today’s foodie scene, but it’s actually an old concept. As a practitioner of Chinese medicine, I spend a lot of time sifting through ancient Chinese treatises on diet and healing, all of which stress the importance of eating with the seasons as a means to living a healthy, long life. In my acupuncture practice, I find seasonal food recommendations and recipes extremely useful and empowering to patients, who start cooking for themselves and feeling better. Little did I know, much of what the classics of Chinese Medicine say can also be found in the writings of Maimonides, the great 12th century Jewish scholar.