Bold, new menus for Pesach
Paula Shoyer’s eggplant parmesan, featured in her latest cookbook, The New Passover Menu. (photo by Michael Bennett Kress)
The New Passover Menu by Paula Shoyer (Sterling, 2014) emboldened me. It was the whole package: the full-color photos, the clear text (blue for tools and ingredients; black for instructions), the organization by menus, the exotic-sounding nature of some of the offerings (gratin dauphinois, anyone?) and Shoyer’s dedication of the book:
“For all the kosher baker fans who asked me to write a cookbook of savory recipes. But, as my friend Suzin Glickman believes, you should still eat dessert first.”
Shoyer, of course, is famous for her baking. Bestselling The New Passover Menu joins her dessert bestsellers The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-Free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy and The Holiday Kosher Baker. She is a contributing editor to several kosher websites and cookbooks, as well as magazines, and is also a consultant for kosher bakeries and companies. She is no stranger to the Jewish Independent, as an internet search will show, and so it was with excitement that we received her latest cookbook.
In the press material accompanying The New Passover Menu, Shoyer says, “These recipes have been inside my head for years. As a book of 65 recipes, it offers not every possible Passover recipe but rather the best possible versions of food and desserts adapted for the Passover holiday.”
It lays out full menus for the two seders, as well as a Shabbat and Yom Tov menu, and menus for the holiday week, including lunch suggestions. There are several breakfast options and, of course, a lengthy list of dessert choices.
There is a chart of Passover cooking and baking substitutes, and a brief discussion of the holiday and its preparations (removing chametz and kashering the kitchen). Shoyer shares some memories of her seders past, and this leads into a description of the Passover table, the seder plate and its symbolic items, matza, salt water and wine.
Each recipe includes the preparation time, cook time, what items can be prepared in advance (and how long in advance) and all the equipment that will be needed. A brief paragraph accompanies each recipe, either a personal story about it or advice on cooking with some of its ingredients.
It was hard to narrow the selection of which recipes I would try. Since one of my taste testers is vegetarian, I shied away from such tempting creations as Seared Tuna with Olives and Capers with Kale Caesar Salad, and Moroccan Spiced Short Ribs. I opted instead for one main dish – eggplant parmesan – and something unique (and easy to make and transport) that I could bring to my host’s seder – banana charoset.
The New Passover Menu emboldened me in a couple of ways. First, I felt confident to adapt right from the beginning. So, for example, while Shoyer did not call for the eggplant slices to be sprinkled with salt and let sit for awhile to reduce their potential bitterness and bring some of their moisture to the surface (which I dabbed away with paper towel), I did it just in case. The recipe lists tomato sauce but, not wanting to buy or make any – as so many bought brands contain a lot of sodium and to make my own sauce would have been one more thing to do – I used a can of crushed tomatoes and added garlic powder, oregano and pepper to it, ingredients already included in the recipe. Finally, Shoyer offers a frying and a baking method for the eggplant slices, and I picked a middle version: I coated the slices as if for frying but then baked them, drizzling a little olive oil over them once they were laid out in the pan.
As for the banana charoset, I kept to the recipe for the most part, only adding more wine than recommended to brighten it up. I think the banana I selected for the mixture was on the too-ripe side. One thing to note with the charoset is that it tasted even better the next day, so I’d make it in advance if possible. The bold part of this recipe is that I pretty much insisted on bringing it to a seder once I’d tasted it.
The following recipes are reprinted from the cookbook, so the “I” and “my” from here on refers to Shoyer. Enjoy!
Serves: 12–15. Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 20 minutes to fry eggplant; 35-40 minutes to bake. Advance prep: may be assembled one day in advance, fully baked three days in advance, or frozen; thaw completely before reheating. Equipment: cutting board, knives, measuring cups and spoons, two shallow bowls, large frying pan, nine-by-13-inch baking pan, silicone spatula.
Eggplant parmesan is one of my favorite Italian dishes. It is best made by my brother Adam Marcus, who has paid his rent for occasionally living with us by lovingly making his master version of this dish with a homemade sauce. Although I try to avoid frying foods (except for doughnuts and chicken once a year), I find that eggplant parmesan tastes better made with breaded and fried eggplant slices. If desired, you can grill the slices in the oven until fork-tender and then layer and bake as described below. If you go the healthier route, sprinkle the oven-roasted slices with some garlic powder, salt and black pepper. Depending on the size of the eggplants, you will end up with two or three layers in the pan.
1/3-1/2 cup oil for frying
3 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups Passover breadcrumbs or matza meal
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
salt and black pepper
2 medium eggplants, not peeled, sliced into 3/4-inch-thick rounds
1 1/2–2 cups tomato sauce
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, or more as needed
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Place a large frying pan on the stovetop and add 1/3 cup oil. Pour the beaten eggs into a shallow bowl. In another bowl, stir together the breadcrumbs, garlic powder and oregano and season with salt and pepper to taste. Heat the oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, fry the eggplant slices in batches, browning both sides, until fork-tender, about 10 minutes per batch. Transfer to a plate covered with paper towels. Add more oil to the pan between batches if the pan gets dry.
Using a silicone spatula, spread about 3/4 cup of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a nine-by-13-inch baking pan. Place one layer of eggplant slices on top. Sprinkle with one cup of the shredded cheese. Cover with a second layer of eggplant. Pour another 3/4 cup sauce on top and use the spatula to spread the sauce on top of the eggplant pieces. Sprinkle with one cup of the shredded cheese. If you have more eggplant slices, place them on top, then add some tomato sauce and more shredded cheese. Sprinkle the parmesan all over the top.
Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the eggplant layers are heated through and the cheese is melted. If you assembled the dish in advance and stored it in the fridge but did not bake it, bake for an extra 20 minutes.
Makes three cups (serves 25 for seder). Prep time: 10 minutes. Advance prep: may be made three days in advance. Equipment: cutting board, knives, measuring cups and spoons, food processor, box grater, silicone spatula, small serving bowl.
Charoset is the element on the seder plate that represents the mortar used by the Israelite slaves to build bricks. Growing up, I had seders almost exclusively at my parents’ house or a handful of other relatives’ homes, and everyone made the same charoset: walnuts, apples and sweet wine all smooshed together. It was only when I began hosting my own seders that I discovered a wide variety of charoset recipes from every corner of the world where Jews have ever resided. This recipe comes from my friend Melissa Arking, who is a fabulous cook. I added chopped walnuts at the end for some texture.
You can buy nuts already ground, with the skin or without. I have a coffee grinder dedicated to grinding nuts. You can also use a food processor, as long as it can reduce the nuts to a fine grind, almost like a powder, when you need almond flour for baking. If you grind nuts for too long, you will end up with nut butter.
3 large ripe bananas
2 cups ground walnuts
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp sweet kosher wine
2 apples, shredded on the large holes of a box grater
1 cup walnut halves, chopped into 1/3-inch pieces
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade [a hand blender also works], place the bananas, ground walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and wine. Process until the mixture comes together. Transfer to a small bowl, add the apples and chopped walnuts, and stir to combine.