This Passover, two new cookbooks focus on Jewish holiday meals and family recipes

Naama Shefi’s ‘Jewish Holiday Table’ brings Jewish dishes and stories from around the world, while Micah Siva’s ‘Nosh’ offers a plant-based twist to traditional foods

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Naama Shefi, founder of the Jewish Food Society and Asif: Culinary Institute of Israel, enjoys a Shabbat picnic with friends and family, also included as a chapter in 'The Jewish Holiday Table' cookbook, by Shefi with Devra Ferst (Courtesy Penny De Los Santos)
Naama Shefi, founder of the Jewish Food Society and Asif: Culinary Institute of Israel, enjoys a Shabbat picnic with friends and family, also included as a chapter in 'The Jewish Holiday Table' cookbook, by Shefi with Devra Ferst (Courtesy Penny De Los Santos)

This year on Passover, Naama Shefi, the Israeli-born, New York-based founder of the Jewish Food Society, will break matzah at a Seder of friends, colleagues and strangers, where half the people won’t be Jewish.

It’s become an annual Jewish Food Society custom to host a Seder to share the holiday’s traditions and foods.

“Everything that we do, we want to include people from all backgrounds and offer a seat at our table. We don’t want to talk just to ourselves,” said Shefi, a former kibbutznik living in New York City, who founded the Jewish Food Society based on a Friday night dinner at her now-husband’s Turkish grandmother’s home. “Our mission to connect Jews with each other and with the world.”

This year’s Jewish Food Society Seder will include dishes cooked by three of Shefi’s favorite chefs — Sasha Shor, Fany Gerson and Rinat Tzadok, who contributed their family’s stories and recipes to the Passover chapter of “Jewish Holiday Table” (Artisan), a gorgeous hardcover book by Shefi and the Jewish Food Society and writer Devra Ferst, with 135 of the society’s best recipes.

Launching this book now feels especially charged after the Hamas attack on October 7, in which some 1,200 people were killed and 253 taken hostage.

“Everything changed after October 7,” said Shefi. “The streets of New York felt so sad and lonely and especially in social media where emotions run high.”

Chanterelle Stuffed Matzah Balls in Broth from ‘The Jewish Holiday Table’ by Naami Shefi and Devra Ferst, launched March 2024 (Courtesy Penny De Los Santos)

Shefi still believes in the power of Jewish food, as illustrated in the stories told in “Jewish Holiday Table” about Jews “who mourned and strived and survived and endured despite persecution,” she said. “We’re trying to gather our community and to remind ourselves that we’re not alone.”

She described cooking as one of the most fundamental acts of kindness and care, and the cookbook as “a love letter to our very diverse heritage.”

The book is organized by holidays, each section spotlighting a handful of Jewish families with their stories and recipes.

Shefi and her team have been collecting food stories for years, and have located additional recipes for the book.

The cover of ‘The Jewish Holiday Table’ by Naami Shefi and Devra Ferst, launched March 2024 (Courtesy)

“Our criteria was the deliciousness of the recipes, but the story they tell is no less important,” said Shefi.

She cited Sasha Shor’s journey from the Soviet Union to Nashville, and Ruth Stulman’s description of Mimouna, the Moroccan celebration at the end of Passover. Stulman grew up in the vibrant Jewish community of Rabat, Morocco, before her family moved to Virginia, where they continued to celebrate Mimouna at “full volume, choosing to wear their Jewishness,” said Shefi.

Stories like those strengthened Shefi’s resolve over the last six months to communicate who Jews are as a people, and to respond to the antisemitic and anti-Zionist narrative with “all of our stories and beauty and flavors.”

Jewish food without the meat

The cover of Micah Siva’s ‘Nosh,’ a plant-based Jewish holiday food cookbook (Courtesy Hannah Lozano)

Passover is also central to the plant-based “Nosh” (The Collective Book Studio) by Micah Siva, a vegetarian of many years who combines her love and nostalgia for her beloved grandmother’s traditional dishes in this collection of Jewish holiday recipes.

Recipes include carrot lox to lay on a bagel, chickpea noodle vegetable soup with vegan matzo balls and for the holiday table, savory pulled mushroom brisket.

A wave of antisemitism in 2020, in Siva’s then-new hometown of San Diego, California, led the Calgary-born-and-raised nutritionist to focus on Jewish cuisine with a vegan twist. She saw plenty of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks, often with a focus on a specific cuisine or ethnicity, but no Jewish vegan cookbooks, and certainly none written by a nutritionist.

Now that “Nosh” is out in the world, as is her four-month-old son, Siva finds that her recipes are a way to connect with other Jews.

“I grew up as a vegetarian and sometimes I felt disconnected from Judaism because of food rituals,” said Siva, adding that she often meets Jewish mothers who don’t know what to cook for their kids who no longer eat meat, especially when the holidays roll around.

Micah Siva’s Savory Pulled Mushroom and Tofu Brisket from ‘Nosh,’ her plant-based Jewish holiday food cookbook (Courtesy)

Enter Siva’s mushroom brisket, in which she shreds the mushrooms and adds tofu for protein.

This Passover, she’ll make the brisket, along with Passover black and white cookies, herbed horseradish salad with a crunchy almond topping, cast iron potato kugel, grilled baby artichokes served with tahini sauce and s’hug, and her cauliflower schnitzel, “because no one can ever resist it,” said Siva.

Charoset Balls, by Rinat Tzadok — excerpted from The Jewish Holiday Table by Naama Shefi and the Jewish Food Society (Artisan Books)
MAKES about 3 dozen 1-inch (2.5 cm) balls

Rinat’s charoset draws inspiration from both sides of her heritage. The cardamom and sesame seeds, she notes, are from her Yemenite family, while the dates, almonds, and hazelnuts come from the Moroccan side. Like her mom, Rinat forms the charoset into snack-sized balls, which can be enjoyed at Seder or anytime as an energy snack.

Israeli chef Rinat Tzadok’s Charoset Balls in ‘The Jewish Holiday Table’ by Naama Shefi, Devra Ferst and The Jewish Food Society (Courtesy)

½ cup (55 g) raw walnuts
½ cup (55 g) blanched raw almonds
⅓ cup (40 g) blanched raw hazelnuts
¼ cup (30 g) raw sesame seeds
1 cup (200 g) Medjool dates, pitted
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ cup (60 ml) sweet red wine
1 tablespoon honey

Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Spread the walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and sesame seeds on the baking sheet and toast in the oven, stirring once or twice for even toasting, until aromatic and golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set the nuts aside to cool.

Meanwhile, put the dates in a small heatproof bowl, cover with boiling water, and soak for 5 minutes to soften. Drain the dates thoroughly.

Put the dates, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, wine, and honey in a food processor and process the mixture until it forms a paste that’s uniform but not completely smooth. If the mixture seems too dry, add up to 1 tablespoon hot water and process a bit more (but you want the mixture to be stiff enough to roll into balls). Transfer the charoset to a bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes, and up to overnight.

To shape the balls, coat your hands with a bit of neutral oil, scoop up a heaping teaspoon of the mixture, and roll the charoset into 1-inch (2.5-cm) balls. The charoset balls can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Arrange the charoset balls on a serving plate and serve at room temperature.

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