Jewish Journal


March 29, 2007

Get your juices flowing with fruit-infused foods


It's an odd sight to walk into an all-kosher grocery store during Passover. Drop cloths and big sheets cover the forbidden chametz products and the kosher-for-Passover items rest on shelves lined with paper towels, newspapers and brightly colored contact paper. In many traditional supermarkets there are typically one or two aisles devoted to kosher-for-Passover foods.

Whatever grocery store you visit for your Passover shopping, the shelves are bound to include the traditional matzah, borscht, gefilte fish and horseradish. But you should look past these familiar items, as well as the new attempts at kosher-for-Passover foods, such as breakfast cereal, pasta and cake mixes. Manufacturers try hard to cash in on the buying frenzy and produce unnecessary food items they hope people can't live without.

Once you've filled your shopping cart with the items from the pesachdik aisle, you should continue your shopping in an area of the market that is always kosher for Passover: the produce section. Filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, it will offer many options for each day's meals. Just the citrus section alone will add the variety you've been missing.

Oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes are the best-known members of the citrus family, which gets its name from the citron, another fruit in the citrus family common in Mediterranean countries. A smaller variety of the citron is the etrog, the fruit we use during Sukkot.

The use of citrus fruits and other produce is inexpensive compared to the exorbitant costs of manufactured kosher foods at this time, and the fact that they can last in the fridge for weeks at a time is an added bonus.

Of all citrus, the orange is the most popular, and there are many varieties to choose from. The navel orange is seedless and good for eating. That sounds odd, but other oranges are best for juicing; a large part of each year's orange crop goes to juice making.

I feel like puckering up from the tartness just thinking about grapefruits, a crop that got its name because the fruit grows in bunches like large grapes. Adding red grapefruits to your diet would be beneficial as it aids in lowering bad cholesterol levels by 15 percent, according to a Hebrew University study released in 2006.

Although grapefruit gets a bad rap for its sourness, lemons and limes really hit the high numbers on the pucker scale. In the 1700s, Scottish surgeon James Lind, who served in the British navy, found that the juice of lemons and limes would cure sailors who were sick with scurvy, a disease common aboard ships at the time. So many limes were used by the navy that the sailors came to be called "limeys." Years later, it was found that all citrus contain vitamin C, the cure for scurvy.

Within every produce aisle there are more creative dishes than you can imagine. Perfect for Passover, try Mango Date Charoset for your seder meal. The recipe also does double duty during the week. Simply substitute lime juice for the wine, add chopped red onions and cilantro and you have a terrific mango salsa.

If brisket or turkey leftovers are getting tedious, and the Passover pasta simply isn't cutting it, try importing some Japanese flavor with Matzah Tempura Asparagus, a recipe that taps the tang of pineapple.

Passover is a great time to experiment with new dishes that can be added to lunch or dinner menus for the rest of the year. For starters, try your hand at an arugula salad with grilled Portobello mushrooms and grapefruit with citrus-honey vinaigrette. Make a mango or pineapple salsa to serve with grilled chicken or fish. And a lemon butter and fresh herb sauce are certain to brighten up pan-fried or grilled fish. Or serve thin slivers of papaya drizzled with lime for dessert.

Mango-Date Charoset
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup pecan pieces
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon fresh minced ginger
2 ripe mangos, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
1/2 cup pitted dates, roughly chopped
2/3 cup red seedless grapes, quartered
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sweet white wine
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

In a food processor, chop the walnut and pecans with the sugar and ginger. Transfer the nut mixture to a medium-sized bowl. Add the mangos, dates, grapes and cinnamon. Using a rubber spatula, gently combine. Stir in the white wine and lemon juice to moisten.

Spoon into a serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least two hours for flavors to blend. (Charoset can be prepared up to one day ahead of time.) Stir well before serving.

Makes 2 cups.

Matzah Tempura Asparagus
vegetable oil, for frying
2/3 cup matzah meal
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
kosher salt
1/3 cup pineapple juice
1 egg, beaten
water, as needed
1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus, trimmed

Heat vegetable oil in a deep skillet to 350 F.

Place the matzah meal, onion and garlic powders, nutmeg, kosher salt and pepper in a large bowl. Stir to evenly combine. Add pineapple juice and beaten egg. Stir well with a whisk. Slowly add water until a thick, batter-like consistency is achieved.

In batches, dip the asparagus spears in the batter and fry in hot oil on all sides until golden. Transfer to baking sheet, lined with paper towels. Before serving, continue baking in 350 F oven until asparagus is just tender.

Makes eight servings.

Jeff Nathan is executive chef of Abigael's on Broadway in New York, host of television's "New Jewish Cuisine" and author of "Adventures in Jewish Cooking" and "Jeff Nathan's Family Suppers." His food columns will appear monthly in The Journal.

See more Jeff Nathan at JTN. JTN bug

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