Detroit Pistons ad for a game against Chicago November 30, 2018
painting of wine and matzah and a seder plate and plant for Passover.
Pesah celebration concept (jewish Passover holiday)

Traditional And New Passover Food

Annabel Cohen
Food Columnist

Bring on Passover. It’s next weekend and we are busy not just thinking about the menu, but also bubbling up “shissels” of soup and forming ground whitefish and onions into the gefilte fish that starts our meal.

However, some people are already bored by the prospect of serving flavorless brisket, steamed vegetables or another nut cake or flourless concoction they hope will taste, heaven forbid, non-Pesadik.

I, on the other, like the challenge of creating delicious, savory and sweet dishes to accompany my favorite Passover brisket and chicken. But there’s something to be said about traditional foods our families crave for the Passover festive meal.

Along with the tried-and-true, we yearn for complex textures and modern flavors we’ve come to love, when possible. There’s no reason most any foods cannot be adapted, if needed, to comply with Passover customs.

We’re pretty lucky that we have so many choices. If you’re Sephardic, as I am, your choices are even greater — we eat rice and beans with our Passover meal. In the old days, while some matzah-based dishes were created especially for the holiday, most people prepared the same foods they ate every Shabbat, with just a few Pesadik modifications.  

Here we offer some old and some new ideas for Passover, and some inspiration to get you thinking about how you can adapt your favorite cuisine for the holiday. After all, there are eight days of eating, and gefilte fish and potato kugel on a daily basis can get boring very fast.

First, some brisket variations. Brisket is the breast section of beef. If you buy a “whole” brisket, it can be 10 pounds or more in weight and 4 inches thick (or more). It’s actually two parts of beef — one part “flat” and the other thicker at one end and thinner at the other, sort of a subtle wedge. This “wedge” is called the dekel and is fattier than the leaner flat. While you can cook the whole brisket, which is delicious, “Jewish” brisket is usually made from the flat part of the brisket, which weighs between 4-6 pounds. Since this cut is a tough muscle, it’s usually cooked slowly, for several hours, for utmost fall-apart tenderness.

5-INGREDIENT BRISKET IN FOIL

Start this recipe the day before or up to two weeks ahead!

   2 cups chopped onions

   1 4-5 pound trimmed flat-cut brisket, most of the fat trimmed away

   1 cup ketchup

   1 package dried onion soup mix

   Fresh ground pepper and salt to taste

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Tear off two large sheets of aluminum foil (more sheets if using regular foil) that are at least 18-inches wide. Sprinkle the foil with the onions and place the brisket on the onions. Spread the ketchup over brisket and sprinkle the onion soup mix over the ketchup. Use two more pieces of foil to top the brisket. Fold the bottom sheets of foil up around the beef. Squeeze the top and bottom layers of foil together very tightly to create a package (the bottom foil should be deeper so that the liquids don’t leak from the package during cooking).

Cook the brisket for 3 hours and chill for several hours or overnight. Carefully remove the top foil and transfer the meat to a cutting board, being careful not to spill the liquids in the foil.

Using an electric knife or other sharp knife, slice the brisket against the grain into thin slices, about ¼-inch thick. Transfer the meat to a baking dish and stack it horizontally, overlapping the slices slightly (you want to shape this to look like the roast again). Pour the juices over the brisket. (You may freeze the brisket at this point and thaw a day ahead). Reheat the beef by placing the foil-wrapped pan in a 250ºF oven for 1 or more hours, until the meat is tender. If warming for several hours, reduce heat to 225ºF and cover with foil after the first hour. Makes 8-12 servings.

ONION, GARLIC AND BALSAMIC ROAST BRISKET

   1 4-5 pound trimmed flat-cut brisket, most of the fat trimmed away (not all)

   1 Tbsp. kosher salt

   1 tsp. fresh ground pepper

   ¼ cup vegetable oil

   2 Tbsp. chopped garlic

   4 cups chopped onions

   ¼ cup balsamic vinegar

   2 cups beef stock or broth (more if needed)

   1 cup tomato puree

   2 Tbsp. dried parsley flakes

   1 Tbsp. paprika

   1 bay leaf

Preheat the oven to 325°. In a wide pot, skillet or roasting pan over 2 burners at medium-high heat, heat the oil until very hot. Add the brisket and allow to sear (without turning) for 4 minutes. Turn the roast and sear on the other side for 5 minutes more. Remove to a dish and set aside.

Add the onions, garlic and salt to the pot/skillet/roasting pan. Saute until the vegetables are softened. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil (if the pot/skillet is not deep enough for all the liquid, add only 1 cup of stock; add the remaining to the roasting pan before cooking the brisket in the oven). Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 5 minutes.

Transfer the brisket to a roasting pan, pour the onion mixture around the brisket, not over it. Cover the roasting pan tightly with foil (I use heavy duty or 2 sheets of regular foil).

Cook for 3½ hours. Allow the brisket to cool (covered) and refrigerate overnight.

Remove the brisket from the refrigerator and remove the congealed fat that has floated on top of the pan juices.

Using an electric knife or other sharp knife, slice the brisket against the grain into thin slices, about ¼-inch thick. Transfer the meat to an attractive baking dish (this is dish where you will serve the brisket) and stack it horizontally, overlapping the slices slightly (you want to shape this to look like the roast again). Pour the juices over the brisket, adding more stock or broth if you like your brisket “saucy” (I do.)

You may freeze the brisket at this point and thaw a day ahead.

Reheat the beef by placing the foil wrapped pan in a 250ºF oven for 1 or more hours, until the meat is tender (if the beef is not super-tender, warm it longer or as long as necessary). Adjust salt and pepper in the pan juices to taste.

If warming for several hours, reduce heat to 225ºF and cover with foil after the first hour. Makes 8-12 servings. Reheat gently before serving.

CHICKEN WITH TOMATOES, OLIVES AND CAPERS

   6 small boneless and skinless chicken breasts (about 2 pounds)

   Kosher salt and pepper to taste

   1 cup matzah cake flour

   3 Tbsp. olive oil

   1 cup chopped red or Bermuda onions

   2 tsp. chopped garlic

   2 tsp. dried tarragon

   5 cups diced plum tomatoes

   3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

   2 Tbsp. drained capers

   ½ cup pitted olives, chopped

   1 cup dry white wine

   ½ cup fresh chopped parsley

Remove visible fat from chicken breasts and flatten them lightly with a meat mallet to uniform thickness. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dredge in the flour. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken breasts and sauté over medium-high heat, turning the pieces often until lightly browned, about 5 minutes (you may need to do this in batches). Add the remaining ingredients except parsley to the skillet (if your skillet is not large enough, place the sautéed breasts in a larger pot and add the remaining ingredients). Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, uncovered. Add half the parsley and cook for 5 minutes more or until the sauce has thickened. Serve the chicken with the sauce spooned over, alone, or over hot, fettuccine. Makes 6 servings.

ROAST CHICKEN PIECES WITH GINGER-ORANGE MAPLE GLAZE

2 3½-pound chickens, cut into 6 or 8 pieces, breast backbones removed, excess fat trimmed (alternately you may purchase individual parts such as breasts, thighs, and drumsticks — figure one breast or thigh or two drumsticks per person)

   ¼ cup olive oil

   Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Glaze:

   ½ cup minced onion

   1 Tbsp. minced garlic

   1 Tbsp. mince ginger root

   2 cups orange juice

   ½ cup maple syrup

   ¼ cup ketchup

   1 Tbsp. dried dill weed

   Grated zest of 1 orange or lemon

   Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425oF.

Rub chicken pieces with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Arrange the chicken, skin side down in a large disposable aluminum pan or in one or two large roasting pans (it’s OK to crowd the chicken). Roast the chicken for 15 minutes (if you have two ovens, put one pan in each oven if using more than one pan; if you have one oven, place pans on separate shelves and switch positions during the second cooking.) Use tongs (not a fork) to turn the chicken over and cook for 15 minutes more. NOTE: You may prepare the chicken up to this point a day ahead and finish cooking the day you plan to serve it.

While the chicken is cooking, make the glaze. Combine all glaze ingredients except salt and pepper and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes.

Remove chicken from the pan(s) and strain pan juices. Add 1 cup of stained juices to the pan and cook for 10 minutes more. Discard remaining juices or keep for another use. Place the chicken back in the pan, skin side up, and drizzle the glaze over. Roast, uncovered, for 20 minutes more.  Makes 12 servings.

SPAGHETTI SQUASH KUGEL

   5-6 pound spaghetti squash

   1 cup sugar

   ¹⁄³ cup vegetable oil

   6 large eggs

   ½ cup potato starch

   2 tsp. ground cinnamon

   1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350oF. Spray a 9- by 13-inch baking dish or tube pan (bundt) with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

Use a sharp knife to split the squash in half and use a spoon to remove the seeds and strings (If you’d like to cut the squash into 4 pieces, that’s OK, too.) Place the halves, cut-side down, in a microwave-safe dish large enough to hold them (you may need to cook the squash “in batches” if your microwave oven is small). Add ½ cup water to the dish. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and microwave on “high” for 7-10 minutes.

Remove from oven to check doneness. Using a fork, pull at the squash flesh. It should separate easily into strands if it’s done. If not, return to microwave, cover and cook for 3-4 minutes more and check again. When tender, allow to cool.

Combine sugar, oil, eggs, starch, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl and whisk well.

Scrape squash onto a cutting board.  Measure about 8-9 cups of squash and add it to the bowl. I find it’s easiest to toss all this together with your hands to mix (or use a spoon).

Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and bake for 45 minutes (the tube pan will take longer, so bake for 1 hour). If the kugel is set, remove from the oven; otherwise cook until the mixture is set and golden. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving (allow the bundt to cool a bit longer). Can be made a day ahead and reheated at 250oF for 30 minutes. Makes 15-18 servings.

SCALLOPED POTATOES

   ¼ cup (½ stick) butter or margarine

   ¼ cup matzah cake meal

   4 cups chicken or vegetable broth or non-dairy “milk”

   Salt and pepper to taste

   2 Tbsp. dried parsley flakes

   8 cups russet potatoes unpeeled and sliced

Preheat oven to 375oF. Spray a 9- by 13-inch pan or equivalent ceramic or glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray or brush with melted butter or margarine (should be attractive because you will serve the potatoes in the baking dish).

Make the sauce: Melt the margarine in a large saucepan over medium-heat. Add the cake meal and stir for 1 minute. Add the liquid (broth or milk) and bring to a low boil, stirring often. Reduce heat to medium and whisk until the liquid thickens to a pancake batter consistency. Add the parsley and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste (the mixture should be a bit salty to balance the blandness of the potatoes).

Layer the potatoes in the prepared dish, standing the slices up in the baking dish to allow the sauce to penetrate the potatoes. Ladle the sauce over potatoes (use all the sauce).

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake one hour more.

Allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving. Makes 8-12 servings.

ABC Salad

(ANNABEL’S BROCCOLI CRUNCH SALAD)

Dressing:

   ¾ cup mayonnaise

   ¼ cup vinegar, red wine or cider preferred

   1 tsp. minced garlic

   Salt and pepper to taste

Salad:

   6 cups finely chopped broccoli florets and stems (about 2 medium broccoli crowns)

   ½ cup finely diced celery

   ½ cup finely diced carrot

   ½ cup chopped red bell pepper

   ¾ cup finely diced red onion

   1 cup dried cranberries or golden raisins

   ¼ cup toasted sunflower seed kernels

Combine the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl and whisk well.

Combine all the salad ingredients in a large bowl, pour the dressing over and stir to combine. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving, stirring once or twice. Makes 8-12 side dish servings.

Sephardic Apple and Dried Fruit CHaroset

There are countless recipes for charoset. This one uses fresh apples and some dried fruits. While some people cook and puree this mixture to a paste, I prefer my charoset slightly chunky and uncooked.

1 pound, approximately, sweet apples or pears (Golden Delicious are a good choice), peeled or unpeeled, cut into chunks

   1 cup pitted dates

   1 cup golden raisins (soaked for 1 hour in warm water)

   1 cup dried figs, any variety (tough stem removed)

   2 cups walnuts

   Juice and grated zest of 1 orange

   ½-1 cup red wine

   2 Tbsp. honey, or more to taste

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well chopped. Adjust seasonings to taste and transfer the mixture to a serving dish. Cover and chill until a few hours before servings. Serve at room temperature. Makes 12 or more servings.

Roasted dilled root vegetables with garlic

Sometimes I’ll add 8 ounces of brussels sprouts (though not a root vegetable), halved to this dish for color and texture.

   2 cups peeled, diagonally sliced carrots (thin ovals or rounds)

   2 cups, peeled diagonally sliced parsnips, (thin ovals or rounds)

   8 oz.  fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and cut lengthwise in halves

   1 medium onion, trimmed, peeled and halved, each ½ cut into quarters

   1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

   10 garlic cloves, peeled

   Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

   Extra-virgin olive oil

   ¼ cup fresh chopped dill

Preheat the oven to 400oF. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment.

Put all the vegetables in a large bowl (not the dill). Season well with salt and black pepper, about 3 Tbsp. olive oil, and toss them your hands to coat them evenly.

Arrange the vegetables on the prepared baking sheet and cook until they are beginning to brown, about 20 minutes. Test for doneness. They should be tender but not mushy (they will continue to cook as they cool). Toss with the fresh dill and serve warm or at room temperature. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar, if desired. Makes 8 servings.

Get more recipes for a healthy and delicious Passover. 

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