Savor Seder

Annabel Cohen
Pictured: Sweet and sour fish. (Serve this honey-sweetened preparation in place of gefilte fish.) Pignoli and dried fruit farfel pilaf. Passover chocolate, almond, and apricot torte. Photo by Marvin Shaouni

Passover (beginning on April 20) observes the exodus of Hebrew slaves from Egypt. The traditional Seder meal, which is served on the first two nights of the eight-day holiday, follows a defined menu. Annabel Cohen offers these tips for serving Seder with a culinary twist.

1. Rather than trying to create baked goods with matzo cake meal, think beyond traditional flour cakes. Flourless tortes or pies with meringue crusts are perfect for Passover.

2. Toasting matzo or matzo farfel imparts a nutty, earthy flavor. Substitute them in recipes such as traditional bread stuffing, rice pilaf, or kugel.

3. Adding fresh herbs, fresh baby spinach, roasted garlic, and dried/roasted tomatoes enlivens traditional savory dishes, even Bubbe’s mashed potatoes. Also try adding fresh lemon juice and chopped dill to gefilte fish or matzo balls.

4. Since most people observe Seder for two nights and the holiday lasts for a week, think outside the matzo ball and look for other ways to enjoy Passover food. For example, puréed all-vegetable soups are rich and hearty meal additions.

5. Since many Passover foods are brown or beige, adding color will make foods more appealing. Consider chopped parsley, chives or scallions, fresh-fruit garnishes, and chopped red or yellow bell pepper.

Passover Chocolate, Almond, and Apricot Torte

6 ounces (about 1-1/2 chopped semi-sweet chocolate or chocolate chips
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs, separated
1-1/4 cups finely chopped (not ground) almonds (no skins)
1-1/2 cups apricot preserves

Chocolate icing:
12 ounces (1 package) chopped semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease or spray an 8-inch spring-form pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place a circle of parchment in the pan (position the spring-form pan on a length of parchment and, using a pencil or marker, trace around the pan. Cut inside the traced circle to create a circle of parchment that will fit the interior). Set aside.

Place chocolate in a microwave-safe container and cook on high for 2 minutes. Stir the chocolate until smooth (if the chocolate is not smooth, microwave and stir in 30-second intervals). Set aside.

Combine butter, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add the egg yolks and almonds and process until smooth.

In a clean bowl with dry beaters, whip or beat the egg whites until stiff, but not dry (they should still be shiny). Add the chocolate-almond mixture to the egg whites and carefully fold them into the whites (you do not want to deflate the whites). The mixture will be light brown.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake for 25 minutes more (the cake will be puffy and cracked on top). Remove cake to a rack and cool for 30 minutes (the cake will settle flat at this time). Cover and chill for several hours to overnight.

Remove the cake from the pan and turn the cake upside down on the serving plate. Spread the apricot preserves over the top of the cake only (not the sides).

Icing preparation: Place the chocolate in a microwave-safe dish and cook for 2 minutes on high. Stir the mixture until smooth. Stir in the butter about 2 tablespoons at a time until the mixture is smooth. Use a thin knife or spreader to distribute the glaze over the top and sides of the cake. Top the cake with slivered or sliced almonds.

Cut the cake into thin wedges and serve with fresh berries or whipped cream. if desired. Makes 16 or more servings.

Pignoli and Dried Fruit Farfel Pilaf

1/4 cup olive oil
1-1/2 cups chopped onions
1 teaspoon minced garlic
8 cups matzo farfel
2 cups chicken or beef stock or broth
1/4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts
1-1/2 cups dried sweetened cherries or other dried fruit (golden raisins, dried cranberries, dried blueberries, or a combination of these), chopped if large
1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add the farfel and sauté until the farfel is lightly toasted and browned. Add the stock and sauté until the liquid is incorporated. Add remaining ingredients and season to taste. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Reheat in microwave and serve warm. Makes 8 servings.

Sweet-and-Sour Fish

Try serving this honey-sweetened fish in place of gefilte fish at Passover Seder. This recipe is updated for a Sephardic dish by using balsamic vinegar.

8 3-ounce portions (about 1-1/2 pounds) of firm, white fish fillet (snapper, cod, or tilapia), skin and bones removed
Kosher or sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 cup fresh chopped parsley
1/3 cup olive or extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1-1/2 tablespoon honey, heated

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place fish portions in a glass or ceramic baking dish with sides. Season the fish lightly with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Combine the parsley, oil, vinegar, and garlic in a small bowl and whisk well. Pour this mixture over the fish. Drizzle the fillets with the melted honey.

Cover the pan with foil and bake 15 minutes. Uncover and bake about 5 minutes more. Serve hot or at room temperature with the remaining juices drizzled over. Makes 8 servings.