Apart from nourishing our bodies and tasting so delicious, food often plays another role: It can tell stories that feed our minds and souls. In this column, I've sometimes shared with you stories of my own life told through recipes: the vegetable soups my mother made from the produce we grew in our garden in Austria, for example, or the dishes I made as a young apprentice chef, or the pleasure I take in cooking pizza or pasta for my sons.
Sometimes, especially during holidays, foods can play an even more deliberate storytelling role. And I can think of no holiday for which that fact is more true than Passover. This celebration of the Jewish people's escape from slavery in Egypt three millennia ago, observed through a family meal called a seder (from the Hebrew word for "order," describing the ritualized way in which the tableside service is conducted), uses a procession of ingredients and dishes as symbols of the Passover story, including grated horseradish to represent the bitterness of slavery, and the unleavened bread called matzo recalling the dough baked in haste before Moses led the people of Israel to freedom.
I love celebrating Passover with my sons, helping them learn about their own Jewish heritage, and sharing with them the history recounted and the lessons learned through the seder foods. And, of course, I love coming up with my own versions of some of the traditional Passover dishes, to enjoy not just during the seder ceremony itself, but also as part of the full meal that traditionally follows. I'd like to offer two such recipes here, in the hope that you'll make them part of your own table this springtime, whatever your faith may be.
The first is a quick and easy preparation known as charoset, a chopped mixture of fresh apples, walnuts, raisins, honey, cinnamon, and sweet wine. The name comes from the Hebrew cheres , meaning "clay," and charoset represents the mortar of the pyramids. Charoset is also among the most popular seder dishes simply because it tastes great, and it often finds its way onto dinner plates as a sort of condiment alongside anything from sweet-and-sour braised brisket to roast chicken or turkey. Try it with your own main course at any hearty meal.
The Passover ceremony also often features some sort of springtime greens. During the seder itself, this often takes the form of fresh parsley or lettuce leaves. But springtime vegetables also figure prominently in the meal following the seder. That's the inspiration behind my recipe for a Moroccan-style mixture of baby spinach and carrots, lightly seasoned with garlic, orange and lemon juices, and cumin.
Enjoy both these recipes throughout the coming days and months. I hope they bring new meaning to your own meals with family and friends.
Apple-Raisin-Walnut Relish (Charoset)
Serves 6 to 8
1 cup walnut pieces
6 organic Granny Smith apples
2 organic lemons, juiced
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup kosher-for-Passover sweet red wine
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Put the walnuts in a skillet large enough to hold them in a single layer. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until they darken slightly and turn fragrant, 4 to 7 minutes, watching carefully to make sure they do not burn. Transfer immediately to a dish to cool.
Quarter and core the apples. Using the large holes on a box shredder/grater, or the shredding disk on a food processor, coarsely shred the apples. Transfer them to a mixing bowl and immediately toss with the lemon juice.
Add the raisins, honey, wine, cinnamon, and walnuts to the bowl. Toss thoroughly. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until serving time.
Moroccan Carrot-And-Spinach Salad
Serves 6 to 8
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 large organic carrots, cut diagonally into 1/4-inch slices, to yield about 5 cups)
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon fresh organic lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups fresh organic baby spinach leaves, rinsed well and patted dry
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
In a large saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the carrots, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, 1/2 cup lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are just beginning to soften, 10 to 15 minutes.
In another saute pan, heat another 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add the spinach and remaining salt and saute, stirring continuously, just until the spinach has thoroughly wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the pan to a clean cutting board and chop coarsely.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the carrots, spinach, remaining sugar and lemon juice, orange juice, garlic, cumin, and remaining olive oil. Toss well. Serve warm.
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