I love the art of planning menus for large parties or even just for dinners with friends. I like the menus to be colorful: purple beets, green beans, red tomatoes, yellow squashes, orange, well, oranges... then I know the menu is varied enough and, as a bonus, has all the vitamins as well. I want some dishes to be spicy, some sour, some a little sweet, some crunchy and some soft. Protein and starch.
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But when it comes to holiday menu planning, especially major ones like the Passover Seder that’s approaching, it gets more complicated. To start with the obvious, it needs to be kosher for Passover. No flour, no bread. For some, no legume, rice or corn either.
I want to include a dish that my grandmother used to make (that’s easy. matzo ball soup), and one of my mother’s recipes (fried leek patties, yum!). It gets harder when you come from a mixed family, like mine. I want to add something from the Iraqi side of the family, and the Iraqi charoset of dates and walnuts in the shape of little balls is perfect for that.
I love including something from other Jewish communities, why settled only for my own? I love the Middle Eastern and Italian idea of eating lamb, artichokes, green fava beans, all in season in early spring.
I still want to have a couple of contemporary dishes as well, to keep the meal fun and exciting. Dishes like quinoa, that became kosher for Passover in America only this year, cooked in coconut milk and mixed with Tuscan kale and roasted yams.
You get extra points for symbolic food, like a dish that includes your preferred bitter herbs (that’s part of the Seder plate) or the hard-boiled eggs in salted water that symbolize, according to my late grandmother, almost choking with laughter every single year, the water of the red sea in which the Israelites walked though. Water that reached right to their, well, you get it.
Oh, yes, it also needs to be tasty. And easy to make. In advance. And it should not involve too many bowls you need to wash later.
Here are some suggestions:
Cold Borscht with egg yolk - how about this gorgeous-looking soup for a drink?
Chrien (horseradish) - from Ma’ayan Ha’bira restaurant in Haifa. The best chrein ever.
Damascus charoset - made entirely of black raisins.
Quinoa and butternut squash salad with dried tomato powder - to welcome quinoa into our Passover seder.
Quinoa in coconut milk with Tuscan kale and roasted yams - quinoa again and Tuscan kale that can pass as a bitter herb.
Artichoke bottoms stuffed with tilapia in wine sauce - simply replace the breadcrumbs with matzo meal. Artichoke are traditional Passover fare in the Moroccan community.
Sea Bass, beet and radish ceviche - a possible fresh substitute for gefilte fish.
Dandelion and potato maakouda - a modern version of a traditional Moroccan Passover potato torte. And dandelion is definitely a bitter herb. (Substitute with Swiss chard or kale if you can’t get dandelion).
Spring lamb with roasted vegetables - celebrating spring and the beautiful weather outside.
Kibbeh batata - from the Iraqi cuisine. Like knishes, but really tasty.
Roasted chicken and eggplant in pomegranate and date molasses - delicious year round.
Four-way meringue clouds - including one Iraqi charoset-flavored meringue.
This article was originally published in April 2017