A New Orleans Seder, Israeli Style

During Passover week, Israeli-born chef Alon Shaya is rolling out a Seder menu at his acclaimed New Orleans eatery, Shaya, that riffs on his Jewish roots, while pulling in local Louisiana flavors and Italian elements inspired by his other restaurant, Domenica.

“I wanted to follow the traditional flow of a Passover Seder,” Shaya said, “but make each course — including the Seder plate items — unique to how we cook at Shaya.”

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The meal begins with a series of small plates, which reference the traditional foods that help tell the Seder story.

Matzo is cooked in a wood-fired oven; Yemenite eggs come with crispy chicken gribenes, which are skin cracklings with fried onions, and herbs; bitter greens are served with a Middle Eastern red pepper dip. Instead of a lamb shank, there are smoked lamb ribs. Because he is Israeli, there is tabbouleh.

Shaya’s charoset is a Sephardic blend of dried fruit, apples, nuts and spices, flavored with a touch of Italian sparkling wine.

Matzo ball soup is made with Louisiana chicken. “This one has black garlic oil drizzled on top, which adds a umami flavor to the broth and makes it richer,” Shaya said. Snapper poached in olive oil comes with harissa; slow-cooked short ribs are spiked with Moroccan spices.

Shaya said that one of his favorite childhood Passover memories was of eating his mother’s matzo brei. “They were the best,” he said, “and I loved deciding whether I would eat them with simple syrup or sour cream. I looked forward to making those with her every year.”

No wonder, then, that matzo brei is on the menu. This year, Shaya decided to take it in a sweetly seductive direction, incorporating Ponchatoula strawberries, warm chocolate and rose-infused dipping sauce.

This isn’t the first time the chef is offering Passover dinner — he did it at Domenica for years. He says that while he sees a lot of Jews on the first and second nights, the menu always draw a diverse crowd over the course of the week.

“Every year a few Catholic priests will make appearances, interested in tasting and exploring the history of the meal,” Shaya said. “I love talking to people about the traditions of the meal if they have never experienced it before.”

“Jews have been everywhere around the world for thousands of years,” Shaya concluded, “and this menu helps to bring it all together on one page.”

The menu will be available at Shaya from April 22 to April 29. Reserve at www.shayarestaurant.com.

Liza Schoenfein is the food editor of the Forward. Find her on Twitter, @LifeDeathDinner.

Olive Oil Poached Snapper with Skordalia and Harissa

Note that the recipes for skordalia, a creamy potato purée, and harissa are below the fish recipe. Prepare the skordalia before you cook the fish. The harissa can be prepared while the fish and potatoes are cooking.

For the Olive Oil Poached Snapper
6 boneless filets of Mediterranean branzino, 8 ounces each, skin on
Salt 1½ cups of extra-virgin olive oil
6 cloves of garlic
1 sprig of rosemary
Zest of 1 lemon peeled off in large strips

1) Take each filet of fish and season it with salt. Let the salted fish sit out at room temperature for about 20 minutes to absorb the salt.

2) In a wide shallow saucepan, place in the olive oil, garlic, rosemary and lemon zest. Turn the heat on to very low, and let the oil heat up very slowly for about 15 minutes. The oil should not be hot enough to make the garlic and lemon zest sizzle. If they do begin to sizzle, turn the heat down even more. Once the oil feels hot to the touch, add in the fish filets, skin-side down. Let the fish sit in the oil until cooked through, about 10–¬12 minutes.

3) Remove and dab off extra oil on a paper towel. Serve on top of the skordalia (recipe below) and top with harissa (recipe below).

For the skordalia 2 tablespoons almond milk
3 1/8 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature 2 tablespoons mascarpone, at room temperature ½ cup Extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled
1 tablespoon salt

1) Preheat an oven to 400˚ F.

2) Crush the garlic clove on a cutting board with the side of a knife. Place in the extra virgin olive oil and let sit for 1 hour or more.

3) Combine the almond milk and heavy cream in a small saucepan. Heat on low flame until warmed but do not boil. Cut Yukon gold potatoes into 1½” to 2” dice. Cover the potatoes in water in a medium saucepot.

4) Bring up slowly over medium heat and cook until potatoes are just tender. Don’t let the water boil rapidly. Remove the potatoes from the pot and place on a baking sheet in the oven for 3¬5 minutes until dry but not browned.

5) Put the potatoes through a food mill or potato ricer directly into a mixing bowl. Fold in the warmed milk mixture, the garlic oil, butter, mascarpone and salt and mix with a rubber spatula. Serve warm.

For the Harissa
15 dried chiles de árbol
2 dried guajillo peppers
1 dried ancho chile
1 tablespoon whole cumin
1½ teaspoons whole coriander seeds
2 cloves garlic
1½ tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon tomato paste
½ cup olive oil

1) Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the dried peppers and remove from heat. Let steep for 1 hour.

2) Strain the peppers, pat them dry, and gently pull them open to de¬seed with your fingers. Here’s a trick: Keep a bowl of water next to you and dip your fingers in the water to rinse off the seeds as you work. You want to get rid of them all; otherwise, it’ll be crazy spicy. Finely chop the peppers together.

3) Toast the cumin and coriander in a small skillet or saucepan over low heat for about 3 minutes, or until fragrant. Whack the garlic with the side of your knife’s blade a few times to crush it. Grind the seeds in a mortar and pestle or food processor until they’re pretty fine, then add the garlic and grind to a paste.

4) Stir in the chopped peppers, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, paprika, and tomato paste; once again, crush to a paste, pulling out any of the papery pepper skins as you work. Add the olive oil and pass everything through a food mill or medium mesh sieve.

Recipe courtesy of Chef Alon Shaya of Shaya.

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