TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) Why is this night different from any other night? Jews all over the world will recite this on the evening of April 12, while gathered among family and friends to celebrate the Passover Seder.
This is one of the most important and beloved events on the Jewish calendar. Other Jewish holidays are primarily celebrated with enough food to feed the entire neighborhood, but the Seder includes food and more a reading of the Haggadah, a traditional collection of narrative sources interspersed with ritual, legend, prayers, blessings and songs of thanksgiving collected throughout the ages.
Remember you were slaves unto Pharaoh in Egypt, the Haggadah reminds us, as it recalls the journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land and inspires discussion of individual freedom and social justice today.
The original Passover in Egypt entailed hurriedly consuming a sacrificial lamb and unleavened bread (matzo). Generations later it included a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Seder as we know it was created by the rabbis of the Talmud living in exile in Babylonia after the destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70.
But theres a lot more to the holiday than just the Seder. For the observant, preparations for this Festival of Freedom may start at least a month before. Since the Bible says that during the holiday no hametz (leaven) should be found in the home, some families innocent zeal in spring cleaning might start with dusting off the books and end up with renovating the entire house.
Then theres thought to be given to getting that other set of dishes, flatware, cookware and utensils reserved especially for the holiday, out of storage, cleaning and switching it with its secular counterparts, but only after carefully cleaning out and relining the cabinets.
Smell is the strongest memory I have of Passover, a 55-year-old friend who grew up in Newton, Mass., recalled recently.
I remember the fresh, clean smell of my parents house when everything was scrupulously cleaned to remove the hametz before the holiday. But, most of all, I remember the smell of plain foods, like just-washed fresh vegetables, just plain potatoes and eggs. Thats what our diet consisted of. But it was a good smell, and my kids dont experience it today.
Sadly, thats right. If theyre not eating bottled gefilte fish, canned chicken soup and frozen matzo balls, youngsters today can enjoy Passover pasta and Cheerio-clone Passover breakfast cereals.
But growing up with Passovers that rely on prepared foods and virtual products can never provide the joyous memories of intergenerational teaching in the kitchen, and the sights, scents and flavors that make Passover much more than matzo.
Here are some suggestions for Passover meals that begin at home in the kitchen, including some special but not difficult-to-make dishes for all to share.
The following scrumptious eggplant rolls would be great for your holiday repertoire. Perfect as a first course, this traditional Passover dish comes from Georgia (not the deep South, but rather the eastern European country on the Black Sea).
The rolls savory filling can also be stuffed into fresh mushrooms or spread on egg matzo. Feel free to vary the recipe with different nuts, perhaps macadamias and hazelnuts, or different herbs like basil, sage, or cilantro, throughout Passover week.
Note: Using long, slim eggplant will result in smaller more delicate rolls with less filling, suitable for a first course, while fatter eggplant is better for larger rolls, suitable as a main course.
Walnut and Herb Stuffed Eggplant Rolls
About 1 cup vegetable oil
33/4 pounds eggplant (2 to 3 medium)
11/2 cups walnut halves (about 1 pound)
2 medium garlic cloves, pressed (1 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon white- or red-wine vinegar
1/3 cup chopped onion
Scant 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1 small dried hot pepper, or cayenne to taste
1/2 cup packed chopped cilantro
1/3 cup packed chopped fresh Italian parsley
Cut the stem ends off the eggplant, and slice lengthwise into 3/8-inch slices. Sprinkle both sides with a little coarse salt and pepper and rub in. Let stand for 10 minutes, rinse off and pat dry.
Heat half the oil in a frying pan and saute half the eggplant slices on both sides till golden brown. Remove and place between two sheets of paper towels to absorb excess oil. Repeat with the rest of the oil and eggplant.
Grind the walnuts to a powder in a food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients, blending until the paste forms a ball. Lay the eggplant slices on a work surface and place 2 or more tablespoons of filling (depending on type of eggplant), at the base. Carefully roll up from the bottom into a compact roll. Place on a serving platter decorated with fresh greens if desired, and serve. This is best at room temperature, but it can also be served chilled.
Makes about 20 to 30 pieces. Serve 2 pieces per person as a first course, 3 or more as a main course.
This easy and fabulous Seder recipe combines main and side dish.
Roasted Chicken With Two
Potatoes, Garlic and Rosemary
One 3- to 4-pound roasting chicken, cut into 6 to 8 pieces
11/2 pounds small unpeeled potatoes, halved
1 pound sweet potatoes or yams
1 medium onion, cut crosswise in rings
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, each broken into 3 or 4 pieces
20 unpeeled cloves of garlic (about 2 heads)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 425 F.
Wash the chicken, pat dry and place in a roasting pan.
Wash, dry and peel the sweet potatoes and cut into large chunks. Scatter the potatoes, sweet potatoes, onion, garlic cloves and rosemary around the chicken. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the olive oil over all.
Place in a preheated 425 F oven and roast for 20 minutes. Turn the heat down to 350 to 375 F and continue to bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until the chicken and potatoes are golden and the garlic is crisp. Turn the chicken and potatoes over occasionally during baking. (If the vegetables are browning too fast but the chicken is still not done, cover the pan with aluminum foil during baking).
Makes 6 servings.
Iraqi Jews make potato patties for Passover, when potato dishes are popular instead of grains. This very special generations-old family recipe comes from Jerusalem chef Moshe Basson.
Iraqi Chicken-Stuffed Patties
11/2 pounds boiling potatoes (about 4 or 5 medium) cooked, peeled, mashed and chilled
1/4 cup matzo meal
3 eggs, beaten
Extra matzo meal for dipping
For the filling:
1 cup finely chopped red onions
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 butterflied chicken breasts, de-boned, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
1/3 teaspoon each black pepper, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts (optional)
Olive or vegetable oil for frying
Combine the mashed potatoes, matzo meal and eggs in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and let stand 10 minutes.
For the stuffing: Heat 3 tablespoons oil and cook the onion till golden. Add the chicken, raisins and pine nuts and stir in the spices. When the chicken turns opaque, remove from the flame. Let cool slightly, then cover and chill.
Oil hands and make a ball of potato mixture the size of a large egg. Flatten it out between your palms and make an indentation for the filling. Put a heaping tablespoon of filling in the center, and fold the edges over it. Close and flatten out, making sure that there are no holes with filling peeking through.
Dip on both sides in matzo meal and deep-fry as the Iraqis do, or fry in a generous amount of hot oil till golden. Turn carefully, and fry the other side. Place on a paper towel to absorb excess oil. Serve hot.
Makes about 25 patties.
This savory cheesecake is delicious as a quick lunch or dinner, or for entertaining during Passover. Serve warm or at room temperature with a salad of mixed greens. Very satisfying a little goes a long way.
Goat Cheese Cheesecake
2 cups matzo meal
3/4 cup melted unsalted butter
1/4 cup ground or finely chopped walnuts
12 ounces soft goat cheese (preferably Israeli), at room temperature
Three 8-ounce packages cream cheese
4 eggs, beaten
1 and 1/3 cups sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh tarragon leaves
Generous grind of freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Cut a circle and a 3-inch-wide strip of parchment paper to fit the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Affix with a little butter.
In a bowl, blend the matzo meal, melted butter and walnuts with a wooden spoon. Press the mixture into the bottom and slightly up the sides of the pan. Chill while preparing the filling.
In the bowl of a food processor or using an electric mixer, blend the goat- and cream cheeses. Mix in the eggs, followed by sour cream, salt, tarragon and pepper, beating well. Pour the mixture into the chilled crust and place the pan on a baking sheet, to avoid dripping onto the bottom of the oven. Bake for 1 hour. Turn off the oven and let the cake remain in the oven for 30 minutes.
Cool down to just warm. Carefully remove the outer ring and remove the bottom disk by placing the cheesecake on the serving platter, inserting a flat spatula between the disk and cheesecake and circling around gently to detach it (do not attempt to remove the paper if it sticks). Place the cheesecake on a serving plate.
(Cheesecake may be prepared in advance and chilled in the pan. Just before serving, remove the outer ring and bottom disk. Serve at room temperature. To re-warm, remove the outer ring and base from the chilled cheesecake, and slide onto a baking pan. Place in a preheated 250 F oven for 8 minutes or until just warmed. Remove and carefully transfer to a serving plate. Individual slices may also be reheated in the microwave.)
To serve: Slice the cheesecake with a knife dipped in ice water and serve. Best consumed within 3 to 4 days.
Makes 10 to 12 servings as a main course, 15 to 20 as an hors doeuvre.
All recipes adapted from The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking by Phyllis Glazer with Miriyam Glazer, Harper Collins, 2004, $29.95.