On the evening of April 8 -- the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan -- Jews all over the world will come together to be with family and friends to celebrate the first Passover seder. The Haggadah will be read, relating the story of the Jews exodus from Egypt. The seder plate contains symbolic foods that are explained and tasted during the reading of the Haggadah.
But besides recalling the exodus from Egyptian slavery, Pesach is also a celebration of spring -- a time of renewal and rebirth. Winter snows have begun to melt, daffodils and tulips have broken through the still-chilly soil, and the first fruits and vegetables of the season have appeared in the markets.
Thin asparagus, purple-tipped artichokes and fresh green peas are never more appealing. Strawberries and tangelos are so succulent few can resist them.
And, in particular, aromatic fresh herbs add zing to any dish. Check out a farmer's market for the freshest and least expensive produce. Don't even consider bunches of herbs that are wilted or discolored!
The contemporary Passover menu should be in sync with the new season. In our house, a zesty chilled tomato soup has become a Passover tradition. Chicken soup with knaidlach is now reserved for the High Holidays, when there more likely may be a nip in the air.
Ring in the changing season with a menu that sparkles with flavor, bright colors and good nutrition.
This recipe comes from the Nissimov family, who escaped to Israel from Chechnya. Summer apricots and cherries from their garden were dried for year-round cooking. This charoset has now become a tradition on my seder table, along with the essential apple variety.
11/2 cups dried apricots, halved
1/2 cup dried cherries
3 large dried peach halves, cut in chunks
1/3 cup hazelnuts
2 Tbsps. shredded fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup sweet wine
honey to taste
Place the dried fruits in a bowl. Cover with warm water.
Let stand 1 hour at room temperature, or until softened. Drain well.
Place in the food processor with the hazelnuts. Pulse to chop coarsely.
Add the mint leaves, wine and 2 tablespoons honey. Pulse again to mix and chop finely.
If needed, add a little more wine and honey to taste. Mixture should be stiff.
Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Makes 2 cups.
Approximate nutrients per tablespoon: calories, 44; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 8 g; fat, 1 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 1 mg.
For children, substitute tomato juice for the Bloody Mary Mix and eliminate the horseradish.
1/2 cucumber, unpeeled and cut in chunks
3 sprigs fresh dill, cut in pieces
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, seeded and cut in chunks
1 green onion, cut in 1-inch lengths
3 medium tomatoes, quartered
2 cups Bloody Mary Mix
2 Tbsps. peanut oil
3 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice or white vinegar
2 tsps. prepared, red or white, horseradish or to taste
salt and pepper to taste
Place the cucumber, dill, bell pepper, green onion and tomatoes in the food processor. Pulse to chop coarsely. Set aside.
In a bowl, mix the Bloody Mary Mix, oil, lemon juice, or vinegar and horseradish.
Stir in the chopped vegetables. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill. Serve with a celery stick for garnish (optional).
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 58; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 6 g; fat, 4 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 241 mg.
Braised Veal Breast With Herb-Spiked Stuffing
Ask the butcher to bone the veal breast so that you have a natural pocket.
1/2 lb. ground chicken or turkey
1/2 cup cooked rice
1/2 cup finely shredded fresh mint leaves, packed
3 Tbsps. snipped cilantro or parsley
1 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 veal breast (4 lbs.), boned
1/4 cup peanut or olive oil
2 celery ribs, sliced about 1/2-inch thick
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, cut in chunks
1/4 cup dry white wine
In a bowl, mix the chicken or turkey, rice, mint, cilantro or parsley, allspice, and salt and pepper until well-blended.
Lay the veal, cut-side up, on a flat surface. Spread the chicken or turkey mixture to within 11/2-inches of edges. Roll up as for a jelly roll. Tie with string to secure.
Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat.
Add the veal and cook, turning, until golden-brown all over, 8 to 10 minutes.
Place the celery, onion and carrots around.
Pour the wine and 11/4 cups warm water around the veal and vegetables.
Cover. Reduce heat to simmer.
Cook 21/2 hours, or until juices run clear when pierced. Add a little more water during cooking, if needed.
To Serve: Place on a cutting board. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before removing the string.
Carve into 1/2-inch thick slices.
Serves 8 to 10.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 447; protein, 34 g; carbohydrates, 3 g; fat, 32 g; cholesterol, 136 mg; sodium, 370 mg.
Roasted Asparagus and Apple Chips
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and cored
2 tsps. freshly ground pepper or to taste
11/2 tsps. kosher salt or to taste
1/2 tsp. sesame seeds
2 lbs. thin, stemmed asparagus, rinsed and dried
vegetable cooking spray
1/4 cup olive oil
Preheat broiler. Spray 2 large baking sheets with nonstick vegetable cooking spray.
Cut apple into very thin wedges. Arrange on the baking sheet.
Spray with nonstick cooking spray, and sprinkle with pepper and salt. Place under preheated broiler. Cook until beginning to brown at edges, 8 to 10 minutes.
Turn and cook for 5 minutes more, or until it begins to brown all over. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Set aside.
Place the asparagus stems in one layer on the second baking sheet.
Spray with nonstick cooking spray, brush with olive oil, and sprinkle with pepper and salt.
Place under preheated broiler. Broil until browned, for about 8 minutes.
Arrange on a platter with the apple chips around.
Serves 8 to 10.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 79; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 6 g; fat, 5 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 282 mg.
Fresh Artichokes Bathed in Parsley Purée
8-10 baby artichokes
juice of 2 lemons, divided
1/3 cup cup olive oil
1 large bunch parsley, washed, stems included
1/2 cup shredded spinach
21/2 Tbsps. margarine, melted
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
To Prepare Artichokes: Tap the chokes upside-down in the sink to remove any sand. Rinse under cold running water.
Cut the stem leaving about a 1-inch.
Trim the end and thinly peel off the top layer of the stem. Remove the tough small leaves at the bottom of the choke and discard. With scissors, trim away the sharp tips of each remaining leaf.
Place in a bowl of cold water with 2 tablespoons lemon juice until ready to cook.This avoids discoloration.
To Cook: Cut in half lengthwise. Place in a pot of boiling salted water. Simmer for 5 minutes. Drain well, patting dry with paper towels.
Heat olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat.
Add the artichokes.
Sauté in the hot olive oil until golden-brown and soft when pierced with a sharp knife. Drizzle 1 tablespoon lemon juice and parsley purée over top.
To Make Parsley Purée: Place the parsley and spinach on a microwave dish, sprinkle 2 tablespoons water over top and cover lightly with a damp paper towel. Microwave for 30 seconds until wilted. Wrap in clean dry towel or paper towels to remove excess liquids.
Place in the food processor.
Add the margarine, remaining lemon juice, salt and pepper, and 1 tablespoon water.
Purée until mixture is thick and creamy. Pour over hot artichokes and serve.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 149; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 8 g; fat, 13 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 148 mg.
Ethel G. Hofman is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. E-mail her at: [email protected] .