Imagine sitting in a dimly lit room, when suddenly a stranger walks in, throws open the curtains and turns on the light. Those two small gestures can alter the scene. That’s what I experienced this week when Effi joined our staff. A petite Israeli woman, of Moroccan descent, our conversation quickly turned to food. I told her that I was heading East for Passover, and that we were having a traditional Ashkenazi Seder, but as I stood there speaking, I already knew that change was in the air, that things were about to shift. Effi talked about her traditional dishes, some of which I would not be able to make, dishes with rice and corn and peas, dishes made with lamb cooked over low heat for several hours. There was more, and just a few minutes later I walked away with recipes for a Moroccan beet salad, a variation of Matbucha, and a delicious tagine made with dried fruit and a touch of cinnamon. Effi told me that she serves sweet dishes for a sweet Passover. That’s where the differences ended, and the essence of what we both wanted for Passover converged. Wishing you a Zisn Pesach.
Effi’s Turkey or Chicken Tagine
2 Tb olive oil and more as needed
3 lbs. chicken or turkey thighs, cubed
3 large brown onions, cut in half and thinly sliced
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup dried prunes
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 Tb chicken bouillion
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp cumin
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a heavy bottomed pot, brown turkey thigh in 2 Tb. olive oil, sprinkling generously with salt and pepper. Once turkey meat is golden, remove to plate along with any liquid that accumulated on the bottom of the pot. Add another tablespoon of olive oil and all the sliced onions to pot. Add 1/2 tsp sugar and saute onions till dark golden brown. Remove half the sautéed onions to a plate. Scatter half of the apricots and prunes on top of the onions. Place turkey meat back into the pot. Add remaining apricots and prunes and then top with remaining onions. In a small bowl combine warm water with salt, pepper, cumin, chicken powder and cinnamon. Stir well and pour over meat. Cover pot and place in oven for 2-3 hours. Serves 4-6
Note: Effi said that sometimes she adds walnut halves on top of the first layer of walnuts.
My mother would saute mushrooms, onions, celery and carrots and either mix them with challah for her Thanksgiving stuffing or with matzot during Passover. It is a very simple combination but if the onions are caramelized to the perfect stage and the mushrooms are flavorful, you end up with a really good kugel.
Manya’s Mushroom Kugel
1 1/2 lbs. brown mushrooms or a combination of mushrooms
2 large onions
2 large carrots
2 stalks celery
4 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
2-3 tbsp vegetable oil
Dice onions and sauté in olive oil over low flame until a rich golden color, this can take up to 30 minutes.
Dice carrots and celery and add to onions and sauté for about ten minutes until tender. Raise heat slightly, add sliced mushrooms and cook an extra 15 minutes. Allow to cool and place in large mixing bowl.
Soak Matzot in warm water until soft. Then squeeze matzot and add to mushroom mixture. Add beaten eggs, salt and pepper.
Prepare 9×13 pan by adding 2-3 Tbsp oil, make sure bottom and sides are well greased and place in 350 degree oven for several minutes. Take out and immediately pour in vegetable mixture. Brush with olive oil.
Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes or until golden brown.
We are now three weeks away from Passover. This is the first time in about twenty years that we will be conducting the Seder in the dining room primarily because twelve of us can fit there. No need to empty out the living room, order extra tables, rent cloths and napkins. Yet instead of being happy about shedding all of the planning and angst that can accompany preparing for a large Seder, why are my thoughts drawn to Seders past with longing and nostalgia and to future Seders with something akin to dread. It has been a difficult year. My 92-year-old father passed away in September and for the first time, he will not be present at our Seder. Growing up in NYC, Seders were pretty traditional affairs; my father and the other men would stand and chant the Haggadah in unison, with no one else participating. The wives read along silently and the children wiggled and giggled and waited for dinner. It was not egalitarian or engaging or educational and yet I have warm and happy memories. The table was beautifully set, the fine china was brought out, wonderful aromas came from the kitchen, new clothing was purchased, cousins got together and my father and the other men argued about politics all through the meal. Pesach was special. Continue reading