Each year the Pico-Robertson community center, which embodies progressive Jewish values, features a "third" seder with a theme, such as immigration or labor. This year's event, "The Sustainable Seder," will be held on April 27 and will be catered by Meg Dickler-Taylor, owner of Large Marge Sustainables, whose motto is "Fresh. Local. Organic. Don't Panic."
"Passover is a celebration of a lot of things, primarily the freedom of the Jews [from] enslavement of Egypt. Every year, if we are to create a dynamic civilization, we have to reapply that concept of freedom to what we're experiencing in our environment right now," she said.
Dickler-Taylor said she feels enslaved to relying on sources far from home for her food.
"If we can find a way to eat locally, in the coming years, we will feel more secure," she said.
Dickler-Taylor spoke at the Workmen's Circle on April 3 about how to create a sustainable, organic seder.
Shop With Recyclable Bags
"Bring your own bags to the supermarket," Dickler-Taylor said. You can purchase canvas totes from Whole Foods or Trader Joe's or buy flour sacks for transporting groceries.
Use Durable Table Settings
Why not use your grandmother's old dishes? If your seder is too big and you must use disposable settings, make sure they're compostable and "make sure you compost them. Either start own home compost, or take them to an L.A. composting facility."
Buy Organic and Local
"To guarantee you're getting California produce, I think farmers markets are the best way to go," Dickler-Taylor said.
Wine would also be better local, such as Herzog from Oxnard or Hagafen from Northern California.
For the seder plate, eggs should be organic, and maror can be bought organic, too, at many farmers markets. You can also buy organic romaine lettuce or bitter root. Charoset should be made with the few apples that are still in season, or, better yet, make a Sephardic charoset with dates, figs, pistachios, prunes and cinnamon. For vegetarians, the shankbone (which is not eaten in any case) can be a roasted beet.
While Dickler-Taylor says she buys her matzah from New Jersey-based Manischewitz, Chabad often offers a Model Matzah Factory for kids to learn to make their own. For more information, visit chabad.com.
Vegetarians can still have their soup and eat it, with vegan stock "chicken soup" made from roasted vegetables, tomato paste and wine. It may not look the same, but it still has the matzah balls.
Make Smart Gefilte Choices
Between contaminants in fish and concerns over farmed fish, gefilte fish can be problematic these days. To check which fish are "kosher" visit www.oceansalive.org or www.montereybay.org.
Let Your Meat Go Free-Range
Meat and Chicken should be free-range and organic, although pastured meat might need to be braised and slow-cooked.
Don't Forget to Buy Seasonal
Just because you can buy blueberries now doesn't mean you should, the Silver Lake-based caterer advises. Take what is in season right now and try and work that into seder meals, she says. She recommends a strawberry and asparagus salad, artichokes, fresh cherries, fresh fava beans (for those who eat legumes) avocado, leeks, ramps and radishes.
Strawberry Asparagus Salad With Walnut on Endive
This salad takes advantage of California's spring season. Every ingredient, except the cassis vinegar, can be purchased at a local farmers market. It can be presented as a tossed salad with no endive or lettuce, or as bite-sized assembled appetizers.
1 large or 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
1/4 cup verjus
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 bunch fat asparagus
1 basket strawberries, preferably Gaviotas or other sweet, lower acidity variety, halved
1 to 2 heads endive (optional)
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup walnut oil
1 or 2 teaspoons cassis vinegar (apple cider vinegar can be substituted)
goat cheese (optional)
Marinate the sliced shallots in the verjus and salt for at least 15 minutes and up to an hour. Toast walnuts on a baking sheet in a 350 F oven for seven to 10 minutes or until you smell them.
Bite into a stalk of the asparagus at the woody end. If it's too tough to chew, hold each spear at either end and bend -- the asparagus will break where the stalk turns soft. Steam the asparagus for three to four minutes until crisp-tender, then immediately plunge in bath of ice water for a few minutes. Rinse and pat dry.
Add the walnut oil, the cassis vinegar and some freshly ground black pepper to the shallot mixture and beat with a fork. Taste and adjust seasoning. The dressing should be fairly acidic; if not, add a little more cassis vinegar. Toss the asparagus with a healthy amount of dressing, reserving some dressing to drizzle on top of the endive bites.
Separate the individual endive leaves and arrange in a flower pattern on a serving platter. If the asparagus spears are longer than the endive leaves, cut them in half.
If you aren't using the endives, toss all of the asparagus, all but a few slices of strawberries, all but a few of the walnuts and all but a few pinches of the goat cheese (if using) together to coat, and plate, or mound in salad bowl.
Garnish with remaining strawberry slices, walnuts and goat cheese, and serve.
Lay a spear of asparagus, a strawberry slice, a whole walnut or two, and a pinch of goat cheese (if using) inside each endive spear. Drizzle each spear with the remaining dressing and serve.
Makes 10 or more servings.