Tag Archives: Matzah Ball Soup

Are we ready for a Thanksgiving Seder plate?

SederPlate_Thanksgiving1_blog

As I continue to work on my Passover cookbook, I am struck by certain parallels between Passover and Thanksgiving. Just as Thanksgiving is the most popular holiday enjoyed in the United States by Americans of all backgrounds (a billion-dollar industry with thousands of cookbooks around one food holiday alone!), Passover is the most loved of all holidays in the Jewish calendar celebrated by Jews from all streams of Judaism. Like Thanksgiving, Passover takes place with family and friends of all generations sitting around a big table (or two) at home, outside of any house of worship. For Thanksgiving, turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and sweet potatoes have become the symbols of the holiday, while matzah, charoset, gefilte fish, chicken soup (with matzah balls), eggs, and either brisket or lamb have become synonymous with Passover here in the United States.

The message behind each occasion also has some striking resemblances. While there may be a bit of a debate these days about the true story behind how Thanksgiving came to be, the overall mood or feeling around this festivity has become one of inclusiveness, sharing, giving, and last but not least: gratefulness. As immigrants from all backgrounds we reflect (if only for a tiny moment between bites of sweet potato pie and savory stuffing) about being lucky to live in “America,” and for having those who are special to us around to share the meal and essentially “break bread.” It also has become a time to pause and think more locally about those of us who are poor, sick, or struggling in other ways, and as a result many volunteer their time to soup kitchens providing free Thanksgiving meals to those in need. While retelling the story of the Exodus from the Bible, we express gratefulness for our ancestors being released from slavery in Egypt, making their journey through the desert to Jerusalem, and for us surviving as a people time and time again. In my interviews of individuals from all over the world for my Passover cookbook, many have shared with me their stories of making a concerted effort to invite any Jews into their home for the Passover Seders so that they would not be alone and would have a place to eat and “break matzah” with others. (And we can’t forget about the custom of setting out a glass of wine and opening up the door for Elijah, the prophet and eternal guest.)

Some individuals and Jewish organizations have even taken up this opportunity to take aspects of the Passover Seder and weave them into their Thanksgiving meals. During these meals, mini Haggadot or prayer booklets are distributed at the table to discuss the topics of “Struggle, Freedom, and Gratitude” as a universal concept.

Maybe this is the time to create a new Seder plate for Thanksgiving,
one that would include various foods to represent the following principles:

STRUGGLE: leeks, scallions (slavery, abuse, poverty, sadness)
LUCK: head of garlic (protection against evil)
FREEDOM & SHARING: pumpkin bread (sweetness/”breaking bread” with others)
GRATEFULNESS: cranberries/cranberry sauce (sweet & sour taste representing balance)
INDIVIDUALITY & STRENGTH: multi-colored carrots (various cultures/building roots)
HOPE: pumpkin (growth)

QUESTION: What would you put on your Thanksgiving Seder plate?

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Menu for Marge’s Passover Seder, 2013 (2nd Night)

Apricots_Chocolate1A

Chocolate Dipped Dried Apricots
with Slivered Almonds

For the last few years I have taught several Passover cooking classes at three of the major cooking schools in Manhattan (ICE, The Natural Gourmet, and The JCC) that focused on Sephardic specialties. One year one woman contacted me saying that she was very disappointed that she could not attend my upcoming Italian style Passover cooking class, but would I instead be interested in preparing that same menu for her family Seder? (Her husband then drove in from upstate to pick it all up.) This ended up being my first official Passover catering job, and since then every year I get several requests for anything from Middle Eastern Passover desserts, to appetizers, full entrees, and even entire Seder meals.

Of my regular clients, one of my most favorite is Marge, who lives just across the park from me in New York City. Together we have cooked two Chanukah meals, and now I am planning my third Passover dinner menu for her and her family. As is often the case with several of my clients, Marge likes to have some of her own family’s traditional Ashkenazic dishes (such as gefilte fish, matzah ball soup, chopped liver, or perhaps a kugel) while adding some new and unusual Sephardic dishes to change things around and make her meal more unique. With Marge’s family I now know that I have to balance certain individual likes and dislikes, such as the following: apricots and dates are preferred over prunes, cumin over curry (but not too much), no bell peppers, and not to put onions into every dish we make. This year the meal will be for 15 people. Here is my working menu (but there might be changes):

STARTERS:
Syrian Charoset with Dried Apricots, Orange Blossom Water, and Slivered Almonds
Gefilte Fish (Marge’s cousin will bring)
Chicken Soup with Matzah Balls (check with Marge who will bring?)

MAINS:
Tossed Green Salad with Artichoke Hearts, Avocado, and Toasted Walnuts
(with olive oil, lemon juice, and dried mint vinaigrette)

Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Parsnips, and Carrots (toss with olive oil and salt)
Syrian Meatballs with Allspice and Cinnamon in Tomato-Cumin Sauce
Sephardic Style Brisket with Coriander, Ginger, Tamarind, and Apricots (leave out the prunes)
Potato Kugel (with lots of onions and eggs–not too dry!)

DESSERT:
Syrian Flourless Pistachio Macaroons with Orange Blossom Water (1 1/2 dozen enough)
Egyptian Toasted Walnut-Pecan Macaroons with Dates and Cinnamon (1 dozen enough?)
Chocolate-Dipped Dried Apricots with Slivered Almonds (make fewer than last time)
Other Passover-friendly Cake or Chocolates (someone will bring?)
Fresh Fruit, Sorbets

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