LISTEN: On this seder night, cook whatever you wish

It’s going to be a very different seder night this year. Some will be mourning the loss of loved ones from the coronavirus. Others will feel the isolation of being apart from family, friends and community.

And the silver lining in all this? The freedom gained from cooking exactly what you want on this particular Passover.

“I will not be making chopped liver this year,” said food blogger Rottem Lieberson. “This is the first time in my history that I don’t have to worry about cousins and uncles. I can do whatever I want. There’s real freedom for the first time this year.”

The food blogger, whose latest cookbook was “Persian Kitchen,” and is married to an Ashkenazi, actually loves the chopped liver she usually makes, a delectable Romanian version made with horseradish.

But with just three of them sitting at the seder table — Lieberson, her husband and their ten-year-old son — without their older daughters and her parents, or the 30 to 40 cousins, aunts and uncles, it’s going to be a different kind of seder, said Lieberson.

“I will do something festive, I’ll put on the nicest tablecloth and plates, I’ll make a sweet spring flower arrangement out of the garden, but for the first time in history, I can make whatever I want,” she said.

That will mean chicken soup and matzo balls, which she made two weeks ago and froze, as well as Persian rice, and gondi, classic Persian chicken and chickpea dumplings. Lieberson’s gondi are so good, they were featured in Vogue two years ago.

As for what to prepare, “make whatever is important for you and whatever you like to eat,” said Lieberson. “If you like chicken, do it with mashed potatoes and salad. We’re already under such stress, so why be nervous about this too?”

Meat isn’t on Lieberson’s menu this year, although she usually makes a “huge leg of lamb.”

“I’ll make vegetarian gondi or maybe with ground chicken, which is cheaper and more available,” she said. “With corona, it’s a year to do less expensive recipes, and just go vegan,” said Lieberson. “Keep it simple.”

That’s a sentiment being echoed by many chefs and home cooks this year.

Food blogger Danielle Renov, of Peas Love & Carrots, will be home with her husband and six kids in Jerusalem, and plans on doing what she always does for Passover, keeping it simple and stress-free.

She doesn’t generally use processed ingredients in her cooking, and always focuses on lots of vegetables, spices and some proteins.

During the intermediate days of Passover, Renov and her family eat two meals a day, a big brunch at around 10:30, with omelettes and hash browns or scalloped potatoes. Dinner is usually a barbecue with chicken, skirt steak or hamburgers, or sometimes Renov will splurge on potato chip schnitzel, a family favorite.

TATER TOTS. Kosher for Pesach. Streamlined. 360° crunch. Pillow-y soft inside. Delicious. That’s right. Homemade tots, that are easy to make thanks to all my hacks. So once you turnover your kitchens, do this first. Stock that freezer up baby and no one will go hungry this pesach! Stay tuned to see all the ways we use these!!!!! #recipe 5 lb Yukon gold potatoes 2 eggs, beaten 4 Tbsp potato starch 4 tsp kosher salt (Neutral oil for brushing) Optional: 2 tsp coarse black pepper 4 tsp granulated garlic Peel potatoes and add to a large pot filled with cold water and 3 Tbsp kosher salt. Bring to a boil (uncovered) and allow to boil for 8 minutes. Drain, allow potatoes to cool then refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Preheat oven to 350°f. Using a box grater or the large grating blade on a food processor set to low speed, grate potatoes. Add the rest of the ingredients. Use your finger to gently “rake” the mixture to combine. On a parchment lined, liberally greased backing sheet, place 3-4 cups of the mixture in the center. Use your hands to flatten and create a 1 in high rectangle. Using a very sharp knife, cut the triangle into small 3/4 inch squares. Gently pull apart squares to distribute evenly all over the pan. There should be space between every square. Dip finger or brush in oil and brush all the sides with oil. Place tray in the oven and bake for 45-60 minutes, turning the tray once after 25 min, until they are golden brown! Eat and enjoy! *to freeze, allow them to cool completely. Stick baking tray in the freeZer. Once frozen, add to a ziplock. To cook, place frozen tots in a 350°f oven for 15 min! #tatertots #madgeniustips #cookinghacks #glutenfree #kosherforpassover #kosherpassover #pesach #passover #f52grams #bareaders #thefeedfeed #gargeran #plcpesach

A post shared by Peas Love & Carrots (@peaslovencarrots) on Apr 2, 2019 at 4:17am PDT

The key to Renov’s meals are the salads and spreads ready in her refrigerator, including beet and carrot salads, almond tahini, garlic mayonnaise and jalapeno mayonnaise.

As for desserts, “we go through hundreds of meringues here,” said Renov. “I put them in the oven at night, and they do their thing, drying and baking themselves.”

In light of the current egg shortage in Israel, she did order cartons of egg yolks and egg whites, which she plans on using for cooking, but will save her eggs for baking. Also, said Renov, make mayonnaise only with fresh eggs.

Renov, whose cookbook, “Peas Love & Carrots, The Cookbook,” is due to launch in May (Artscroll), is spending much of her time thinking about that project. It took the last 12 months to write and includes 436 pages of Renov’s energetic personality and recipes that introduce the bright, clean, fresh flavors she brings to traditional Jewish cooking.

As for this year’s smaller, stripped-down seder, it’s not a big change for Renov, who moved to Israel with her family ten years ago and usually makes seder with her husband and kids, a tradition that they now love.

“I’m trying to embrace being home with the family, and make the most of it,” said Renov, adding that she tries not to get bogged down by big things, preferring to focus on what can be accomplished in small pockets of time. “This is a life altering experience, let it alter you for the better, propel us and the world, and to apply that to the seder too.”

Adeena Sussman, whose “Sababa” cookbook gained a tremendous following when it was published in the fall, is also planning a far smaller seder this year.

Sussman was supposed to be making seder for her extended family, but will instead be with her husband at home in Tel Aviv with a seder for two, which will also mark his 60th birthday.

“I’m going to try to straddle the line of festive and sensitivity to the current climate,” said Sussman. “I’m not going to make crown roast or lamb. I’m going to be making things that feel humble but delicious and practical and can be repurposed as leftovers and that hold well in the fridge or freeze well and not things that call for too many special ingredients. Cooking simply feels like the right thing to do this year.”

Luckily, plenty of her own recipes are kosher for Passover.

Sussman and her colleague Tressa Eaton recently went through “Sababa” and shared which recipes are Passover friendly, with separate lists for those who eat legumes and those who don’t. They also provided substitute ideas for recipes that aren’t kosher for Passover.

“I was surprised at how easy it is,” said Sussman. “‘Sababa’ is  filled with elemental ingredients, and not a lot of packaged foods.”

A full listing of the Passover-friendly recipes are available on the “Sababa” website, and Sussman also pointed out the overnight chicken soup, stews, coffee-crusted rib eye steak, the braised short ribs (which can also be made with stew meat) and salmon with preserved lemons. The olive oil and chocolate spread is perfect for slathering on matzah, and Sussman also pointed out malabi made with coconut milk and matzah crack, a recipe she has made for years.

“On Passover, I like to cook the way I cook during the year,” she said. “So I look for recipes heavy on fresh vegetables and olive oil as opposed to creating the perfect pizza dough made out of potato flour and xantham gum.”

Have you noticed the emphasis on vegetables?

Passover is the perfect time for cauliflower, said Oz Telem, who immortalized the cruciferous vegetable in his cookbook, Cauliflower, available in Hebrew, English and Spanish.

A former line chef who progressed into classic French cooking in Israeli restaurants, Telem became amazed by the versatility of cauliflower, a relatively cheap vegetable that’s mild in flavor and spectacular when browned. It can be substituted for rice, mashed potatoes or couscous, is a stand-in for chicken wings when coated with breadcrumbs.

“It can be the main character and supporting cast,” he said,

This year, Oz suggests making cauliflower tabouleh for the seder, swapping out the barley with ground cauliflower and getting the best nutritional value out of its raw state. With some chopped herbs, olive oil and lemon juice, it has multiple benefits and is pretty simple to prepare.

He’s also going to use cauliflower to make his grandmother’s khichri, an Iraqi dish with Indian roots. In India, it’s known as khichdi, a rich, complex dish with rice, a legume, plenty of herbs and spices. The Iraqi version is much simpler with red lentils, rice, some turmeric and a topping of fried garlic and cumin in oil that’s added to the pot of rice and lentils.

“It’s the food of poor people, and usually made before fasting,” said Telem, who also recommended adding yogurt or a fried egg to make it a complete meal.

His version replaces the rice with cauliflower, allowing the vegetable to steam with the lentils.

Vegetables, said Telem, are just right for meal planning this Passover.

“This is going to be a different holiday than ever before, and you have to manage creating a meal that feels festive,” he said. “The main agenda is to showcase vegetables as a way of making a regular meal feel festive.”

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