The Festive Meal
In a few short weeks, we open our homes for Passover and welcome family, friends, people with no place else to go — and Eliyahu.
As with any holiday repast, the food during the seder — and the rest of the holiday — should be special. After all, it is called “the festive meal.”
The easiest choice is the protein. When it comes to Passover, most people serve brisket — so popular that a drought-induced beef shortage sent the Jewish community into a panic a couple of years back.
The good news is there is plenty of beef this year and people are already buying their roasts and freezing them in anticipation of the holiday.
A little something about brisket: The whole brisket is a huge, heavy cut of beef. The kind most of us use for roast brisket is the top cut. It’s lean and easy to cut into nice, neat strips. You don’t find the deckel (or bottom cut) too often, unless you buy the whole roast, but your butcher can get it for you. It’s juicier and more tender, due to the fat. Try making one recipe with each cut, if desired.
And if you’re looking for a good recipe, use the one here — with just five basic ingredients, it’s the simplest of the simple to prepare.
If you’re looking for more than just beef, I’ve included two chicken recipes plus two more for vegetarian entrees — all with just five ingredients (besides salt and pepper).
Of course, you can add other ingredients to your recipes as well — like seasonings and flavor enhancers (such as garlic, herbs and spices) or other ingredients, such as chopped tomatoes to serve over the chicken or coconut milk to the spinach.
2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for searing
4 cups chopped onions
3½-4 pounds beef brisket, flat cut (mostly trimmed)
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
4 cups beef broth
1 cup tomato sauce
Heat a deep saute pan or cast-iron skillet over medium heat with the olive oil. Add the onions and cook on medium-low to medium heat, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.
While the onions are cooking, season the meat generously with salt and pepper.
Heat a large skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat and add about 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Sear the brisket until a golden-brown crust appears on both sides of the meat. Remove and place in a roasting pan (or large disposable aluminum pan), fatty-side up.
Sprinkle the onions around the brisket (not over). Mix the broth and tomato sauce and pour over the onions.
Heat the oven to 325°F. Cover tightly with foil and cook 3 hours. Let rest out of the oven until warm. Chill for several hours to overnight.
Scrape away the layer of fat that has formed around the meat and discard.
Place the beef on a cutting board and cut against the grain (not along with it — the beef will be stringy if you cut in with the grain).
Taste the liquid to see if it is salty enough. If not, add more salt to taste (it should be a little salty or the meat will be bland).
Heat the oven to 300°F. Transfer the cut brisket back into the pan and cover tightly with a lid or two layers of foil. Warm in the oven for 2 hours. Remove the foil, adjust seasoning to taste again and serve. Makes 8 servings.
LEMON CHICKEN WITH GARLIC AND GOLDEN RAISINS
2 chickens (about 3½ pounds each), each cut into 8 pieces
¼ cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 cup golden raisins
4 cups (1 quart) chicken broth or stock
½ cup fresh lemon juice
Place chicken in a large roasting pan (or disposable aluminum pan). Drizzle oil over. Sprinkle with garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Toss the chicken to coat and arrange in a single layer. Roast uncovered for 30 minutes. Sprinkle the raisins over. Cover with foil and cook for 30 minutes more.
Pour the broth, lemon juice and parsley into a large saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until the sauce is reduced by half. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer chicken to a platter. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve sprinkled with fresh chopped parsley or fresh dill if desired. Makes 8-12 servings.
SEPHARDIC SPINACH WITH CHICKPEAS STEW
This is my version of a family favorite. It is sort of a stew, perfect served over quinoa, rice (if you eat it at Passover) or potatoes. If you’d like to add interesting seasonings, add a couple of tablespoonsful of minced fresh ginger, a bit of coconut milk and a tablespoonful of curry powder.
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped tomatoes
2 (15-ounce each) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 pound (16 ounces) or more fresh baby spinach
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot. Makes 8 servings.
ALMOND CRUSTED CHICKEN
Substitute walnuts or pecans for the almonds, if desired.
1½ cups unblanched almonds
2 large eggs
1 cup matzah cake meal (or flour after Passover)
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste
8 boneless and skinless chicken breasts (about 2½ pounds; pounded if thick)
Olive oil to sautee
Finely chop the almonds in a food processor. Transfer the nuts to a shallow dish.
Lightly whisk the eggs in another shallow dish.
Place matzah cake meal/flour in another dish.
Pat the chicken dry and season both sides with salt and pepper. Dredge each piece of chicken with flour. Dip in the egg. Dredge and press both sides of the chicken into the nuts to coat. Place on a baking sheet, cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes to set the crust.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Heat oil a large nonstick skillet over medium. Place the chicken breasts in the pan and cook, turning once, until the nuts are golden, 3 to 4 minutes per side (note that the chicken will not be cooked through). Transfer meat to the baking sheet and bake until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Makes 8 servings.
PORTABELLA STEAKS WITH BALSAMIC SHALLOTS
Wipe the mushrooms clean with a damp cloth or soak to clean. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and chop. If desired, use a teaspoon to remove the fanned “gills” under the cab.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until softened.
Stir together remaining ingredients in a small bowl and add to the pan. Bring to a simmer, then add the mushrooms and chopped stems.
Cover and cook for about 10 minutes. Serve the steaks hot with the pan sauce spooned over. Makes 6 or more servings.
CHICKEN WITH OLIVES
Use turkey cutlets or thighs, if desired, for this dish. For a more “Marbella” recipe, add 1 cup of dried fruits, such as pitted prunes, apricots, raisins, chopped apples, pears or cherries.
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (breasts, if desired), trimmed of fat
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup chicken broth
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup pitted olives, any variety (no liquid)
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook on both sides. Add broth and vinegar to the pan. Add olives. Reduce heat and simmer until cooked through. Serve with sauce spooned over. Makes 6-8 servings.