This Passover Season, Stress the Seasonings

Za-atar and other spices. Pixabay

Ethel G. Hofman

Passover is just a week away; there are signs of it everywhere. Kosher-for-Passover products are prominently displayed in major supermarkets.

This year, traditional dishes can be flavored and spiked with never-before-available kosher-for-Passover dried spices and herbs. Many of them, such as za’atar, shawarma and hawaij, are combination spices — three or more in one.

Although labels may state soup seasoning or meatball spice, these combos add zing to other dishes. While the hawaij label states soup seasoning, it’s a blend of cumin, coriander, turmeric and cardamom. Besides soups, use it as a rub for chicken or in stews and fish dishes, or even sprinkled over roasted vegetables.

On the eve of April 5 (the 14th day of Nissan), Jews all over the world will gather for the first seder.

Besides reading the Haggadah, which retells the story of the Exodus from Egypt; singing songs and searching for the afikomen, the festive meal is the highlight of the evening’s proceedings.

The entire eight-day celebration in the Jewish Diaspora revolves around the prohibition of chametz, leavened foods. Originally, in the Ashkenazi community in Eastern Europe, only five grains were considered chametz: wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats. Post-Talmudic authorities added rice and legumes, such as peas and beans.

But for Sephardim living in Spain, Portugal and North Africa, the main foods available were rice and legumes, so contemporary Sephardic Jews eat both during Passover.

Charoset, essential on the seder plate, is symbolic of the mortar the Jews worked with during their seemingly endless years of slavery. Ashkenazi-style, the mixture is mainly apples and nuts. For Sephardim, there’s nary an apple in sight. Ingredients are exotic, using fruits and spices that grew abundantly in the Mediterranean area and Africa (recipe below). Sephardic eggs are slow-cooked so that whites become a creamy brown color.

Besides the traditional brisket, serve fish (in this case, easily available flounder) seasoned with za’atar and lemon, and then baked on a bed of cherry tomatoes, celery and onions. Roasted vegetables are drizzled with date tahini and a sesame paste to become mellower.

All ingredients are kosher for Passover. Chag Pesach Sameach!

Sephardic Eggs | Pareve
Makes 12
You may use a crockpot. Cover the eggs with at least 2 inches of water. Eggs are pasteurized by cooking at 140 degrees for 30 minutes starting off at high. After 1 hour, reduce the heat to low. Cook for 4 hours longer. After the eggs have cooked for 3 hours, gently tap the shells with a spoon to show the marbling color on the egg whites.

Brown skins of 2-3 onions
12 eggs in shells
1 teaspoon instant coffee
2 teaspoons turmeric

Spread the onion skins over the bottom of a large pot. Gently place the eggs on top.

Sprinkle the coffee and turmeric over top.

Pour enough lukewarm water over to cover the eggs by at least 2 inches. Bring the water to a boil.

Cover and reduce the heat to a slow boil. Cook for 1 hour. Reduce the heat to simmer. Cook for at least 3 hours. (The water may evaporate, so add more warm water as needed.)

Serve at room temperature, arranged on drained onion skins.

Moroccan Charoset Truffles | Pareve
Makes 12-15

You may substitute allspice — a combination of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg — for Moroccan spice. You may substitute dried cranberries for expensive dried cherries.

Place each truffle in paper candy cups.

14 pitted dates
1 cup dried apricots, halved
½ cup pitted dried cherries
¼ cup walnuts
1 seedless mandarin orange, peeled and cut into chunks
1 teaspoon Moroccan spice
2 tablespoons sweet wine
2 tablespoons honey or to taste
⅓ cup ground almonds

In a food processor, place the dates, apricots, cherries, walnuts, orange and Moroccan spice. Pulse to chop coarsely.

Add the wine and honey. Pulse to process it to a coarse paste. Chill for 1 to 2 hours.

Roll the mixture into small balls, about 1 inch in diameter. Roll them in the ground almonds. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

 Flounder roll-ups on braised vegetables Photo by Ethel G. Hofman

Flounder Roll-Ups on Braised Vegetables | Pareve
Serves 6

Tilapia fillets or other flat white fish may be used.
Za’atar is a mixture of herbs that includes toasted sesame seeds and sumac.
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 ribs celery, sliced about ¼-inch thick
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
2 pints cherry tomatoes
1½ teaspoons cumin
3 (about 2½ pounds) flounder fillets
Za’atar to sprinkle
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 thin lemon wedges
Olive oil
Dried parsley

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet or pot. Add the celery, onion and tomatoes. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the tomatoes are beginning to soften, 4 to 5 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to a large (9-inch-by-13-inch) baking dish. Sprinkle it with cumin. Set it aside.

Cut the flounder fillets in half lengthwise. Lightly sprinkle each half with za’atar, salt and pepper. Top them with a lemon wedge. Roll up each fillet beginning at the thin end. Place them on top of the tomato mixture. Brush them with olive oil and sprinkle them with parsley.

Bake them in a preheated oven for 20 minutes until the flounder begins to brown and has lost its opaque appearance.

Serve hot.

Golden Veggie Kugel | Pareve
Serves 8-10

Use store-bought grated carrots in a bag. Chop the apples and potatoes in a food processor.

½ cup matzah meal
Scant ½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 large apples, unpeeled, coarsely chopped
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large baking potato, peeled and coarsely chopped
½ cup grated carrots
1 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
Grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 stick (8 ounces) margarine, melted

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Spray a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick vegetable baking spray.
In a large bowl, combine the matzah meal, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, salt and red pepper flakes.

Add the remaining ingredients. Mix well. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish.
Bake it in your preheated oven until firm and nicely browned, about 1 to 1¼ hours.
If browning occurs too quickly, cover the dish loosely with foil. Cool slightly, cut it into squares and serve it warm.

Roasted Broccoli and Squash Drizzled with Date Tahini | Pareve
Serves 6-8

Use store-bought broccoli florets and cubed squash.
Roast the broccoli and squash separately to tenderize.
Heat through in your microwave before serving if needed.

For the date tahini:
4 pitted dates
Hot water to cover
¼ cup tahini
1 teaspoon sumac
Water as needed

1 bag (12-14 ounces) broccoli florets
2 boxes (12 ounces each) of cubed squash
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper

To prepare the date tahini, place the dates in a cup, and cover them with hot water. Let them stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to soften. Transfer the date and water mixture to a blender or food processor. Add the tahini, sumac and ¼ cup water. Pulse 3 to 4 times to chop the dates finely. Pour them into a bowl. Add enough water to make a pouring consistency. Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the broccoli with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread it on a baking sheet.

Roast the broccoli in a preheated oven for 20 minutes or until it’s beginning to brown. Set it aside.

Repeat this process with the squash. Roast it in a preheated oven for 20 minutes or until it’s beginning to brown and is tender when pierced with a sharp knife.

Arrange the broccoli and squash in a serving dish. Drizzle it with the date tahini and serve.

Ethel G. Hofman is an American Jewish food and travel columnist, author and culinary consultant.


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