The tastes of Passover: chewy meringues, almond flavors and pistachio fillings
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The tastes of Passover: chewy meringues, almond flavors and pistachio fillings

Five chefs, food writers and bloggers talk about what they’re making this Passover, and why

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Yeah, yeah, so everyone’s writing about what they love to make for Passover, from those who require Passover-friendly, made-from-matzah-meal rolls to others who steer clear of anything made from matzah, which is known to wreak havoc with digestive systems.

Beyond the particular needs on this flour-challenged holiday, there is simply a considerable amount of cooking that is required, between the multiple courses of the Seder (there will be 12 at the Inbal Hotel, according to Chef Moti Buchbut), to the seven (or eight, depending on one’s location) days of celebration. Unless you’re planning to subsist on matzah and butter or cream cheese (not that there’s anything wrong with that, as long as it’s whipped), some planning has to be made, hopefully with some inspiration.

We spoke to five foodies — two chefs, one pastry chef, a food historian and a food blogger — to hear what they’ve got cooking this Passover. It’s a surprisingly wide-ranging cornucopia of flavors, traditions and cuisines, and most, if not all, are pretty doable, even for the harried home cook.

Gil Hovav, chef, food spy and his family's Sephardic influence (Courtesy Gil Hovav)
Gil Hovav, chef, food spy and his family’s Sephardic influence (photo credit: Courtesy Gil Hovav)

1) Chef Gil Hovav, author of “Confessions of a Kitchen Rebbetzin,” his first cookbook in English, is the lone Sephardi in his partner’s Ashkenazi family. He has been annually tasked (for the last 25 years) with making Kubeba, the Passover version of Kubbeh — fried bulgur dumplings stuffed with meat — for the family Seder. Since bulgur is made of wheat and is not kosher for Passover, the dough is made from wet matzah and potatoes. “It’s very, very, very tricky,” said Hovav, “one of the most complicated and labor-intensive dishes to make.” Hovav’s grandmother, who taught him how to make Kubeba, also advised him to put a curse on each dumpling, since Ashkenazim don’t appreciate the effort put into each item. “Now the relatives know they’re doomed when they eat the Kubeba,” laughed Hovav. But not to worry, they eat it anyway.

Another of Hovav’s Passover favorites is his “famous” Vietnamese salad, a diced combination of any crunchy vegetables, including carrots, cabbage, beetroot, radish and kohlrabi, dressed with a sweet mixture of Chinese plum sauce or a sweet chili sauce (one cup), lemon juice (½ cup), vinegar (¾ cup), chopped garlic, chopped chilies and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Hovav suggests making it ahead of time, as it keeps for up to three days, and then dressing it when it’s time to serve, topping the salad with chopped coriander (or parsley, if you’re not a coriander lover), and chopped peanuts.

Another Buchbut seder course, a composed salad of carrot peel, endive leaves and avocado tartar with pineapple peel and a strawberry sauce (Courtesy Moti Buchbut)
Another Buchbut Seder course: a composed salad of carrot peel, endive leaves and avocado tartar with pineapple peel and a strawberry sauce (photo credit: Courtesy Moti Buchbut)

2) For chef Moti Buchbut, the executive chef at Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel — currently the temporary home to the White House press corps — the challenge is to make food on Passover that doesn’t look similar to what is eaten the rest of the year, even if it’s something like Passover-friendly rolls. “If I make rolls, I make them slightly different in look. And the same for other standards, such as gefilte fish, chicken liver mousse, or cakes.” But what Buchbut loves to prepare, both at the hotel and at home, is kneidlach for chicken broth: They are made without any matzah meal, and instead are tiny balls of ground chicken breast and almonds, which are “fluffy and delicate and airy,” he said. “People eat them and say ‘Wow.’ ”

For 10 people, Buchbut recommends using ½ kilo of chopped chicken breast, six eggs, a generous handful of chopped chives and 200 grams ground almonds, mixed with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, shaped into small balls and cooked in the chicken broth. “They’ll be eating them this Friday night at the hotel,” said Buchbut. Lucky press corps.

Orly Ziv's pre-Passover beet-rich kube (Courtesy Orly Ziv)
Orly Ziv’s pre-Passover beet-rich Kubbeh (photo credit: Courtesy Orly Ziv)

3) Nutritionist, culinary guide and instructor Orly Ziv was just picking up the first copies of her cookbook, “Cook in Israel: Home Cooking Inspiration with Orly Ziv,” which has three kosher-for-Passover recipes, including one of her faves: rich chocolate brownies made from matzah meal. But we talked about what Ziv — whose Greek and Middle Eastern heritage often guide her cooking — was going to be preparing for her Seder. A lover of rich beet Kubbeh soup, she was planning on making a different version of her Kubbeh, leaving out the forbidden legume bulgur casing and placing the meatballs in the sauce made of beets, crushed tomatoes, a little sugar, lemon juice and herbs. The filling is made of chopped meat and some Baharat spice mixture. “It’s really more of a saucy dish served on top of rice,” said Ziv, “but we didn’t grow up with chicken soup and kneidlach.”

4) Food historian Gil Marks, a recent immigrant to Israel, was gearing up for two days of pre-Passover baking when we spoke, bemoaning the lack of certain non-legume, kosher-for-Passover ingredients that he was accustomed to using during his many years of holiday prep in the US. Nevertheless, said Marks, his pastry assortment was going to include traditional and non-traditional cookies — from chocolate chip and lemon cookies (made from the lemons of his sister’s tree), to Turkish wine cookies (made with oil, wine, sugar and cinnamon), as well as an assortment of pastries made with almond paste, such as marunchinos, Sephardic almond macaroons, using the leftover almond paste to fill the hollows in baked apples, an easy, mostly healthy treat.

Acibadem Kurabiyesi, Turkish almond cookies (photo credit: Mcozturk/Wikicommons/CCbySA)
Acibadem Kurabiyesi, Turkish almond cookies (photo credit: Mcozturk/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA)

“I’m not going to try Parisian-style macaroons, because there’s no margarine to work with here,” said Marks. “But I will do Turkish walnut cookies,” which are made from ground walnuts, sugar, eggs, cinnamon and cloves, and shaped as crescents. He’s also aiming to make several bar recipes, such as walnut bars with a meringue topping, and meringue bars. Maybe we should all be heading to Marks’s house for Pesach?

Meringue Nut Bars (12-16 large servings)

  • 10 large eggs, separated
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups (480 ml/14 ounces/400 grams) granulated sugar
  • 10 ounces (3 cups/720 ml) ground nuts
  • 8 ounces (225 grams) bittersweet chocolate
  • ¾ cup (180 ml) vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract or 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (175 C). Grease a 13×9-inch pan.
2.  Beat the egg whites on low speed until foamy (about 30 seconds). Add the salt, increase the speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form (about 1 minute). Gradually add 1 cup (240 ml) sugar, 1 tablespoon (15 ml) at a time. Continue beating until stiff and glossy (about 5 minutes). Fold in the nuts.
3.  Spread the meringue evenly into the prepared pan. Bake until light brown (about 30 minutes).
4.  Meanwhile, melt the chocolate with the oil, stirring until smooth. Let cool. Beat the egg yolks, remaining 1 cup (240 ml) sugar, and vanilla until thick and creamy (5-10 minutes). Stir in the cooled chocolate.
5.  Pour the chocolate mixture over the warm meringue and bake for 10 minutes. Let cool. If the chocolate is too loose, chill until set. Cut into bars.

A mountain of Francois Payard's macarons (Courtesy Francois Payard)
A mountain of Francois Payard’s macaroons (photo credit: Courtesy Francois Payard)

5) Having just spent some time in Paris, it’s pretty clear that the French have figured out some smart methods for dealing with the culinary challenges of Passover. They use their share of matzah meal, baking bagfuls of anise-flavored biscotti and muffin-shaped rolls, but they’re also big users of pistachio, creating mini almond-pistachio cakes that are perfect for snacking, while re-purposing the all-famous ganache-filled, chewy, almond macaroons and egg white-and-sugar meringues into flourless, Passover treats. Renowned New York City pastry chef Francois Payard created half-a-dozen new Passover items this year, including a chewy meringue kiss with ground toasted nuts that shatters upon that first bite. “It’s going to be popular,” he said.

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