“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency, but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Or so goes the famous quote from Benjamin Franklin in his letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy dated November, 13, 1789. As a Jewish homemaker I would add one more item to the list of the inevitable, and that is the now rapidly-approaching holiday of Passover.
May I just say this about that? “ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH.”
If I had nothing to do but clean and cook for Passover, it would have been enough (Dayenu), but with a new, fulltime job as Communications Writer at Kars4Kids along with raising my large family, asking me to prepare for Passover is like asking me to split the Red Sea. Still, when the opportunity arose for me to try out a new Passover cookbook, I couldn’t resist. “Maybe it will help me get in the mood,” I thought.
At least that’s what I told myself (seriously, is there such a thing as getting in the mood for Passover?). The truth is, I like love cookbooks and am always happy to add another to my ever-growing cookbook library. And while kosher cookbooks with sections on kosher for Passover cookery may be a dime a dozen, I have never owned a cookbook dedicated exclusively to Passover recipes. That sounded like a good addition to my collection.
The authors of Passover Made Easy, Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek, have an interesting concept as evidenced in their introduction. A cartoon depiction of the authors having a friendly argument/chat complete with text balloons tells us a bit about them: Schapira is from a Hungarian Jewish background and doesn’t eat soaked matzoh on Passover (gebrokts), while Dwek is from a Syrian Jewish background and eats pulses and seeds (kitniyot) during the holiday, which many Jews of Ashkenazi backgrounds avoid at this time. The ambitious goal of the two cookbook authors is to provide an entire cookbook of Passover recipes that can be eaten and enjoyed by any Jew regardless of Passover customs that exclude certain foods or methods of preparation. By way of warning, the concept in practice is a bit misleading since the book includes some recipes that are (clearly marked) gebrokts but none that are kitniyot.
While Passover lasts an entire week, the highlight of the festival is definitely Seder night when cooks like to pull out all the stops, but are necessarily constrained by dietary rules specific to the holiday. A central focus of the celebration involves wine so the book begins with a food and wine pairing guide complete with the personal recommendations of the authors. This is a nice idea, though perhaps not in the spirit of creating a cookbook that is meant to be evergreen—who knows what wines we will be drinking ten years down the road?
I like the section called Building Blocks, which really resonates with my personal Passover cooking style. There are certain sauces and dressings that are the foundations of my Passover cuisine. Homemade mayonnaise is one of them. I think it’s very wise that Schapira and Dwek offer a Passover mayonnaise recipe somewhere near the beginning of their cookbook along with variations and alternative methods of preparation.
Purchased Passover mayonnaise is bound to be inferior to the white stuff we all know and (most of us) love, since mustard, for instance, is kitniyot, and can’t be included in the roster of classic mayo ingredients. Yet mayonnaise is a very useful basis for dips and salad dressings. I have made my own Passover mayonnaise for the past several years and find that it is both economical and a far-superior product to the store-bought stuff.
I was less thrilled with the idea that I would need a kosher for Passover food processor to prepare a number of the other recipes in this book. My personal credo for Passover cookery is to get away with as little equipment as possible. It’s only one week. Besides, roughing it in the kitchen feels kind of righteous, like getting back to my roots. Like doing math without a calculator, just to make sure you could still do computations if you didn’t have one.
There is also no doubt that this book is geared to the American Jewish housewife, since many of the ingredients would not be easily available to me in Israel, such as yucca, jicama, blue potatoes, Kirby cucumbers, and blueberry preserves, just for instance. Still, this is a nice effort that deserves some applause for such beautiful dishes as the striking Sweet Potato and Beet Terrine with Balsamic Glaze and the simple Syrian quiche-like dairy main dish based on yellow summer squash called Kusa Jiben.
Job well done.
My Passover preference is to make dishes I would not be averse to eating during the course of the year, so the Butternut Squash Salad with Sugar n’Spice Nuts spoke to me. I decided to make the dish for Purim, which fell on a Sunday this year. I roasted the butternut squash and almonds on Friday while attending to my Shabbos cooking, but left making the shallot dressing and putting it all together for Sunday, just before the Purim feast. Instead of the food processor method called for in the cookbook, I used a blender, since I have no Passover food processor, but do have a kosher for Passover immersion blender.
I really liked the shallot dressing with its mild onion flavor, but did find it a touch too salty for my taste though I tend to like things on the salty side. The almonds were delicious, prepared as described, and so was the butternut squash, though I found that the squash threatened to burn to a crisp way before the prescribed cooking time of 35-40 minutes had elapsed.
All in all, the salad was an attractive and tasty addition to my Purim table. My family votes yes to keeping this recipe in my cooking repertoire. I consider a cookbook a successful purchase if even one recipe is good enough to become a standard. It will be nice to have an easy, out-of-the ordinary salad recipe for the upcoming Passover holiday.
Butternut Squash Salad with Sugar n’ Spice Nuts
Yield: 4 servings
1 butternut squash, peeled, cut into ¾-inch cubes
2 Tbsp oil
½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
¹⁄8 tsp coarse black pepper
1 head Romaine lettuce, chopped
1 green apple, diced
Sugar n’ Spice Nuts
½ cup sliced almonds
2 tsp sugar
¹⁄8 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp paprika
1 tsp oil
¼ cup oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp coarse black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 475ºF. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread butternut squash on prepared baking sheet and toss with oil, sugar, salt, and pepper. Bake for 35-40 minutes until tender [test for doneness after 15 minutes. V.E.]. Let cool.
2. Prepare the nuts: Preheat oven to 300ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread almonds on prepared baking sheet and toss with sugar, cinnamon, salt, and paprika. Drizzle oil over spiced nuts. Bake for 10 minutes.
3. Prepare the dressing: In the bowl of a food processor, combine shallots, oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Process until shallots are completely minced and dressing is uniform. Adjust seasoning to taste.
4. In a large salad bowl, combine lettuce, butternut squash, green apple, and almonds. Toss with shallot dressing and serve.
Passover Made Easy
Leah Schapira & Victoria Dwek
Mesorah Publications, LTD.
Published by ARTSCROLL / Shaar Press
4401 Second Avenue / Brooklyn, NY 11232 / (718) 921-9000
Distributed in Israel by SIFRIATI / A. GITLER
6 Hayarkon Street / Bnei Brak 51127 / Israel
Varda Epstein is the mother of 12 children, a pro-Israel activist, and works as a communications writer at Kars4Kids.