Send me a photo of your Seder plate!

The Seder plate has become one of the most beautiful and creative portions of the Seder meal.
Won’t you please share it with me and the community, and send me your photos?
I would love to post them on the blog after Passover is over. 

And if you can’t send a photo, please just post a comment and let me know
what you used for your Seder foods!

Have a great Passover everyone. Chag Sameach!

My Sister’s Passover Poem

For all of you reminiscing about your childhood Passover Seders, here’s a poem that my sister Vanessa, the Hebrew Mamita, wrote about Seders at Grandmother Fritzie’s.

What do you remember about your childhood Seders?

Seder Plate Checklist: Are you set?

Seder_Plate2_BlogBelow is a list of all the necessary Seder foods, along with the variety of ingredients that individuals from all over the Middle East, Mediterranean, Central Asia, and parts of Africa have used on their Seder table:

Z’roah (sacrificial lamb): Roasted lamb shank or chicken wing or leg (any with or without the meat on the bone)

Beitzah (egg): Hardboiled, singed, or slow-cooked with onion skins & coffee grinds

Charoset (sweet fruit spread): Variety using any or a mixture of the following: dates, apricots, apples, oranges, pomegranate seeds, figs, raisins, bananas, sesame seeds, walnuts, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios, fresh and dried ginger, ground rose petals, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, anise, red wine, grape juice, vinegar, orange blossom water

Karpas (spring vegetable): Celery, celery leaves, cucumber

Maror (bitter herb): Romaine lettuce, red radish, bitter greens salad, lemon peel,
endive, frisée, chickory, arugula 

Representing sweat & tears: Salt water, white/red/cider vinegar, lemon or lime juice

MatzahCommercially-bought small square kind, larger Shmura Matzah type,
homemade and soft, or very  crispy and smooth: up to 3x size of a large pizza!

QUESTION: What do YOU use on your Seder plate or table?
SEND ME YOUR SEDER PLATE PHOTOS!

Ajeel: Iranian “Trail Mix”

Dried fruit and nuts are among some of the most important ingredients used during the Passover holiday. Usually some kind of dried fruit (such as raisins, dates, apricots, or figs) is blended with a variety of nuts (such as walnuts, almonds, or pistachios) to make charoset. Other times nuts are ground up finely to replace flour in cakes. In Iran, it is not uncommon to serve Ajeel, small bowls of nuts mixed with raisins, as a snack before or during the Seder, or as part of dessert along with fresh fruit. Like a Persian “Trail Mix,” Ajeel can be a mixture of walnuts, pistachios, almonds, dried roasted chickpeas, dried mulberries, and almost always maveez (Iranian golden raisins). When I was in Great Neck, Long Island recently (cooking a Passover rice dish with an Afghani-Bukharian woman) I was lucky enough to stop into a small Iranian grocery store before jumping on the train back to Manhattan. I grabbed a bag of maveez, as well as fresh dates and roasted chickpeas (all of which the owner hinted at having been “smuggled” in from Iran by unknown sources). I noticed that the shape of the maveez were slightly more elongated, and more chewy/less sticky than the ones found here in the United States. When combined with the dried chickpeas the textures and flavors were addictive.

Ajeel_RaisinsChickpeasPistachios_2_blog

Charoset of the Day: Persian Hallegh

Charoset_Halegh_4_blogPersians refer to their charoset as hallegh. Many of them use some combination of nuts with dates, often adding pomegranate juice and/or seeds to round out the flavors. Today my friend Simona stopped by to show me her family’s hallegh, and what intrigued me the most was its addition of fresh red grapes to the mixture of nuts, raisins and dates (which have been marinating overnight in apple cider vinegar and sweet Passover wine). The result was a tangy, fruity spread, the texture of a paté:

Hallegh
(Persian Charoset with Nuts, Apples, Grapes, and Marinated Raisins and Dates)

Yield: Makes 5 Cups

For Hallegh:
1 cup black raisins (preferably larger ones, if available)Charoset_Halegh_Nuts_1_blog
6 medjool dates (about 1/2 cup), pitted
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sweet Passover wine
(such as Manischewitz)

1/4 pound (about 1 cup) of each of
the following:

    hazelnuts
    walnuts
    pistachios
    almonds
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper (optional)
1/2 red seedless grapes
1 large red apple (about 8 ounces),
cut into large chunks

For Serving:
1/4 to 1/2 cup sliced red grapes

Charoset_Halegh_Nuts_2_blog
1. Place raisins and dates in a small bowl and marinate with the cider vinegar and sweet wine overnight (do not refrigerate).

2. Rinse nuts and spread out on a large kitchen towel to dry about 15 minutes.

3. Place nuts, salt, and red pepper (if desired)
in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground.

4. Add grapes, apple, and marinated raisin-date mixture (with soaking liquid) to the processor and pulse until fairly smooth and well-blended. 

5. Serve immediately garnished with sliced red grapes, or refrigerate in container for up to 2 days.

OUT with the OLD and in with the NEW: Time to throw out the old spices!

Spices_Down_Sink_blogMy students often ask me, “How long can I keep my spices?” This is a hard question to answer as throwing out your spices on a regular basis to replace with fresh ones can be very expensive. But one thing I will say is if you are going to do it only once a year, right before Passover is the ideal time!

Passover is all about spring and renewal, and your Seder dinner should reflect that with all fresh ingredients and spices. Many individuals that I interviewed from various countries (such as from India, Iran, Morocco, or Libya) explained that one of the first and most important things prepared in advance for the holiday were the spices. They were bought from the market as seeds, picked clean, washed, dried, and freshly ground all in honor of the holiday feast. The result? The food just tasted different. Better. Fresher. And to match a home that has been cleaned from top to bottom, the spices also had to be new.

So today, in honor of this tradition, I decided to go down to Kalustyan’s on 28th and Lexington Avenue to purchase some new spices to make sure that I would be getting rid of the old ones. If you haven’t been to this store yet, you definitely should. It’s a beautiful place, almost like a specialty food museum, and you will find yourself getting lost in all of the unusual spices, rices, sauces, and dried fruit. I walked in just for spices, but here is what I walked out with:

Roasted ground cumin (usually buy regular, but thought I would try the roasted)
Ground coriander (A staple in my house along with cumin)
Fenugreek seeds (for making Yemenite soup and Hilbeh sauce)
Turmeric (Generally need for Persian dishes)
Hazelnuts (To test my Sephardic Mustachudos cookie recipe for Passover)
Bokharian Sweet & Sour Persian Dried Plums (hope to use with Bukharian soup recipe next time!)
Whole wheat & white Moroccan couscous (for Mimounah break-fast party last night of Passover)
Tiny dried rosebuds and crushed rose petals (for Tunisian charoset recipe)
3 bags frozen fava beans (for helping my friend to make Tunisian M’soki on 2nd Seder night)

Spices_Kalustyans1_blog

The Paschal Sacrifice: Going in on the whole lamb

Lamb_BW_blogRecently a good friend of mine emailed me a photo of a lamb with only the subject line: “Want to share one with me?” My first thought was she wanted it as a pet, but after a few emails I understood that she needed to know if I would share half of it with her (the meat, that is). My first reaction was one of discomfort. A whole lamb reserved just for us? It felt wrong and sad (and the cute and fuzzy photo she had sent didn’t help). But then I thought about God’s commandment to the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb the night before their big exodus from Egypt, and how since then its consumption has become such an integral, even holy part of the Seder meal. I also thought about the stories from several individuals who recalled their traumatic experiences as children: “One spring my father brought home a lamb, who then became our pet. We would feed it and play with it in the backyard. But then one month later (the day before the Seder) the shochet arrived at our door and we knew what was going to happen. It was a terrible experience,” shared one individual from Iran. “My sisters, and brothers and I used to keep him on our terrace and feed and pet it. Then one day it was gone and it wasn’t until the Seder meal that we understood. It was very hard for us,” shared another from Morocco. In fact it was not uncommon in the Middle East for several family members to go “wholesale” and order an entire lamb that they could share for the holiday week, while others in poorer communities might have shared one between several families. The main thing was that you ate some amount of lamb to fulfill this mitzvah of the sacrifice (and remember our ancestors’ freedom from Egypt).

Now that Passover is upon us, and my freezer is filled with half of a lamb, I feel more pressure to find and develop appropriate recipes for each piece. It’s not the same thing as simply going to your local butcher and purchasing a few (“anonymous”) pounds of the same cut. There is some responsibility now in using every piece and not letting any go to waste. Corny as it sounds, going in on the whole lamb feels much more personal.

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