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SPRING 2004  
Vol. 32, No. 3

Passover DelightsWhat's Cooking?

by Tina Wasserman

I renovated part of my house for Passover. No joke! I used to have an elongated room with an archway dividing the space into living room and dining room. That wasn't good. You see, I take to heart the command in the haggadah, "Let all who are hungry come and eat." So about three years ago I tore down the wall separating my living room and dining room to make room for the forty people who come every year to our seder.

We are, of course, far from alone in observing the drama of recalling the emergence of the Jewish people from bondage in Egypt. According to the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, Passover is the most commonly observed Jewish holiday (among the respondents, more than 77 percent attended a seder). This finding comes as no surprise to me, because at the seder we achieve an immediate connection to our history and ancestors. Who can sit at a table inhaling the scent of bitter horseradish followed by the soothing aroma of chicken soup and not be immediately transported to a childhood seder memory?

Passover observance varies from community to community. Among the Sephardim, for example, foods called kitniot (the Hebrew word for small foods, from ketan, meaning small), which include beans, rice, peanuts, peas, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and mustard, are permissible; Ashkenazim, however, forbid their use during the holiday. The Talmud (Pesachim 114B) specifically allows kitniot, but at the beginning of the thirteenth century, rabbis in France began rethinking this practice. Many reasons for avoiding kitniot were postulated, including the difficulty of telling the difference between flour made from chickpeas and wheat flour (they suggested it would be easier to just avoid both), and the risk that rice, beans, and seed stored near the grains could be accidentally commingled. As a result, Ashkenazim have avoided kitniot for centuries, and over time the list of prohibited foods has continued to grow.

Whatever food customs you choose to follow, may you continue to pass down the stories of our fight for freedom and flight toward shalom, as well as the culinary heritage that binds us to the past and gives us direction for the future.

Mina de Maza

Recipes for matzah lasagna or matzah pies are common in American Jewish cookbooks, but these foods are not inventions of the American Jewish kitchen. Throughout the Mediterranean, Turkish Minas, Italian Scacchi, and Greek Pitas--all layered dishes similar to lasagna--have been prepared for at least a thousand years using matzah for dough during Passover. The following is a variation of the classic Turkish Mina and a meatless Scacchi.

Spinach Filling

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 10-ounce package of frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
  • 1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled
  • 7 1/2 ounces Friendship farmer cheese
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon minced fresh dill

Mushroom-Artichoke Filling

  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large clove of garlic, finely minced
  • 8 ounces sliced mushrooms
  • 8 ounces defrosted artichoke hearts
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons roasted pine nuts
  • 8 regular matzah squares
  • 2 cups warm vegetable or mushroom broth
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • Additional butter for greasing the pan
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Lightly grease a 13" x 9" pan with the additional butter. Set aside.
  3. Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter in a 2-quart pan. Sauté the onion until golden.
  4. Squeeze out all of the excess moisture from the spinach with your hands and add to the onions, then cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the moisture has evaporated. Mix in the feta, farmer cheese, eggs, seasonings, and dill, and then set aside.
  5. Melt the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter in a small sauté pan and add the garlic. Cook for 20 seconds over medium high heat, and then mix in the mushrooms, sautéing them for about 5 minutes, until they have given up most of their moisture.
  6. If the artichoke pieces are large, cut them in half. Add to the mushroom mixture and stir to heat through. Mix in the toasted pine nuts and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  7. Heat the 2 cups of broth in the microwave for about 1 1/2 minutes. Pour into an 8-inch square casserole or a deep dish that will hold the liquid and soak 2 sheets of matzah at a time until they are soft and pliable. Once you have 4 soft matzot, fit them into the bottom and sides of the buttered dish.
  8. Spread the spinach mixture over the matzot, then top with the mushroom mixture.
  9. Soak the remaining 4 sheets of matzah in the broth and then cover the filling, trimming or tucking in the sides.
  10. Add the remaining egg to the leftover broth in the dish (note: if no broth is left, combine 1/2 cup broth with the egg) and pour it evenly over the entire casserole.
  11. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top and bake for 35-45 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Tina's Tidbits
  • To enhance the flavor of nuts, roast them in a 325°F oven for 5-7 minutes until fragrant.
  • Always sauté onions alone for part of their cooking time. This will caramelize the natural sugars that make fried onions sweet.
  • Consider using one 10-ounce package of frozen chopped spinach instead of 1 pound of fresh spinach. You don't have to wash, de-stem, or chop the frozen variety; you just defrost and squeeze out the excess moisture.

Passover Granola

After years of lamenting the lack of a tasty commercial Passover breakfast, I realized that a good granola recipe could be tweaked to conform to Passover rules, since most, if not all, of the ingredients--with the exception of the oats--are fine to use. This recipe makes a great snack for after school or watching TV, and it is incredible when covered with melted chocolate molded into small mounds and chilled.

  • 3 cups matzah farfel
  • 2/3 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup sweetened or unsweetened coconut
  • 2/3 cup pecans, broken into large pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter or pareve margarine
  • 1/3 cup wildflower or clover honey
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped dried mixed fruit of your choice, including raisins, or one 7 oz. bag of dried fruit pieces
  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  2. Combine the farfel, almonds, coconut, pecans, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in 2-quart mixing bowl.
  3. Microwave the butter and honey in a small glass bowl for 1 minute until the butter is melted and the honey is more fluid.
  4. Stir the butter mixture into the farfel mixture until all of the farfel is lightly coated.
  5. Spread the mixture over a large cookie sheet with 1-inch sides and bake for 15 minutes. Halfway through baking, stir to brown evenly.
  6. Remove from the oven. Cool until room temperature, then toss with the dried fruit.
  7. When the fruit-filled granola is totally cooled, serve, storing what remains in a zip-lock bag or airtight container for all 8 days of Passover--if it lasts that long!
Tina's Tidbits
  • This recipe can be made with old-fashioned oatmeal when Passover ends.
  • Salt should always be added to a sweet mixture to accentuate the flavors of individual foods.
  • Never pre-roast nuts if they will be baked in the oven; otherwise, they may burn.

Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Prunes

Sephardim commonly eat lamb or "Pesach" for Passover, though ever since the destruction of the Temple, Ashkenazim have prohibited its consumption during the holiday because lamb was the sacrifice of choice at that time. Personally, as an Ashkenazi Jew I find it exciting to explore Sephardi cuisine for the holidays, and recommend the following recipe, which is easy to make and delicious.

  • 1 large or 2 medium onions, grated
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder or 4 lamb shanks
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 cups pitted prunes
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 1 or more teaspoons lemon juice or to taste
  • 1/2 cup almond slivers
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds (omit if not eating kitniot)
  1. Heat a large Dutch oven or 4-quart covered saucepan on high for 20 seconds. Add the oil and heat for 10 seconds. Reduce heat to medium high, add the onion and garlic, and sauté for one minute until soft.
  2. Remove any noticeable chunks of fat and gristle (fibrous, chewy parts) from the lamb and cut into 1-inch pieces. Add to the onion-garlic mixture and cook for 2 more minutes, until the meat and bones (if using lamb shanks) begin to lightly brown.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients except the honey and the lemon juice and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.
  4. While the meat is cooking, lightly toast the almonds in a 350°F oven for 5 minutes and the sesame seeds (if using) on a different baking pan for 2 minutes. Do not let them burn! Set aside until needed.
  5. After the hour, if the meat is tender, add the honey and adjust the Tagine's sweetness with the lemon juice. Sprinkle the top of the Tagine with the almonds and sesame seeds and serve.
Tina's Tidbits
  • To allow the sauce to fully permeate, cut smaller pieces of meat--but not smaller than 1-inch cubes, as they won't be visually appealing.
  • If you are only feeding one or two people, consider freezing smaller sized portions. (If freezing, don't add the nuts until just before serving, as they will become soft and lose flavor.)
  • Consider cooking foods with fruit and/or spices a day or two earlier and refrigerating them until you're ready to reheat and serve. The difference will be worth the preparation!

Tina D. Wasserman, a member of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas, has been teaching at her own cooking school for more than thirty years and writes a kosher cooking newsletter on the Internet.

Any Questions About These Recipes?

Tina will be delighted to assist you. E-mail

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