The food challenge of Passover is not the seder. It’s the seven days that come after.
After all, you know what to make on seder. Torah and tradition are right there by your side, cooking: matzo, charoset, chicken or brisket, kugel if you’re Askenazi, something people actually like if you’re Sephardic. It’s all preordained. God is your sous chef.
But then the holiday of Passover is over, and you’re facing seven days of elaborate, seemingly all-encompassing food restrictions.
Not only are the usual non-kosher food off limits, but so is all bread, pasta, beans, rice, and, of course, beer. The idea is to avoid not just leavened bread, as it says in the Torah, but anything that can or will be used against you to harbor leavening.
Sephardic Jews are a bit more lenient. They get to eat beans, seeds and rice. Observant Ashkenazic Jews ar the most exacting—I’ve passed evenings arguing whether it’s okay to serve fresh green beans.
Where do I fall on the spectrum? During Passover, I go full Ashkenzi. I’m not sure why—the rest of the year I have a very expanded and convenient idea of what kosher means to me. (OUTSIDE our home, I hasten to add. Inside I am under rabbinical supervision).
But during Passover it feels right to forego the weightiness of flour and starches and legumes. It’s liberating. The rabbis who developed these arcane rules perfectly understood that spirituality begins with what we eat. By spending a week free of the heavier stuff, I really do feel lighter, more free. The Exodus continues, just in my stomach.
But… it ain’t easy. Thinking of menus that don’t involve bread, pasta, beans rice, but excite you, satisfy you—that takes some doing . As I said, anyone and their grandmother can give you a matzo ball recipe, but what about dinner on Day 5?
Here’s how I solved the problem this year: by looking at iPhoto. We traveled to some great places this year, and I’m one of those people who takes photos of food and menus, and keeps notes. I went back through my photos and found favorite dishes that happen to be Passover friendly. They are mostly from restaurants in Amsterdam, Barcelona, London and Milan, with a few local places, including my home, thrown in. Many involve fish, and there’s a lot of vegetables. The flavors are strong. The ingredients are fresh. My pet peeve are those prepared Passover foods, like brownie mix and cereals, that completely subvert the spirit of the holiday, if not the law. These recipes are springy: herbs, fresh vegetables, fresh fish.
Check back here each day next week. I’ll post at least one main dish recipe each day during the intermediate days of Passover, along with a bit about where I ate it.
It’s a long holiday, but I promise, you won’t go hungry.
I’ll start with the last recipe, for Chef Micah Wexler’s Roasted Beet Salad with Grilled Haloumi Cheese. Micah is the chef/co-owner of Mezze on La Cienega Blvd., and many of his Levant-inspired dishes are Passover friendly. This one uses garbanzo beans in the original—boiled and fried, if I remember correctly. But you can leave them out. If you’re Ashkenazic.
Here’s what’s on my non-seder Passover menu the rest of the week:
Cod Gratinée with an Artichoke Mousse “Café de l’Academia” in Barcelona
Lemon and Olive Oil-Roasted Artichoke “da Toni” Venice
Sole with celery puree and roasted cherry tomatoes “Arcana” Barcelona
Sweet Potato and Soft Goat Cheese Gratin with Spring Herb Salad “Struisvogel” Amsterdam
Seared Trout with Berber Spice and Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette (okay, this one is mine)
Asparagus Milanese “Biffi” Milan
Padron Peppers “Santa Catalina” Barcelona
Cauliflower, Courgette, Mint and Ticklemore “Great Queen Street” London
Potato Cake, Bell Onion, Romesco and Fried Egg “Great Queen Street” London
Grilled Fillet of Sea Bass with sauce antiboise “Struisvogel” Struisvogel
Roasted Beet Salad with Grilled Halloumi Cheese, “Mezze” Beverly Hills
Roasted Beet Salad with Grilled Halloumi Cheese
3 baby red beets
3 baby gold beets
3 baby striped beets
1 block halloumi cheese
1/2 cup greek yogurt
1 tbsp dried mint
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1 tsp sea salt
Trim the beets of their leaves and stems. Place each type of beet in a separate foil packet with 1 tbsp EVOO, 1 tsp sherry vinegar, and some salt. Place the three packets on a roasting pan and roast at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until tender.
Remove beets from oven and allow to cool. Using a dish towel, rub the beets to remove the skin and discard the skin. (Please use a towel you don’t care about - the beet juice WILL stain it.) Cut the beets in halves and marinate in a quarter cup of EVOO and 2 tbsp sherry vinegar.
Cut the halloumi into cubes and fry in a pan with oil until golden. Mix the yogurt with the lemon juice, dried mint, salt, and a quarter cup of EVOO.
To dress, place the marinated beets in a bowl, and garnish with the yogurt dressing and fried halloumi.