Not your Bubbe’s matzoh: Cooking for Passover gets creative at local synagogues

04/11/2014 7:42 PM

04/11/2014 7:43 PM

As Passover Seder leftovers start to disappear and the kosher-for-Passover foods in the supermarket thin out, one of the biggest challenges for those observing the eight-day Jewish holiday is deciding what to eat each day.

With leavened breads off limits for the duration of the observance, as well as other foods made with wheat, barley, rye, spelt or oats, making meals can be a challenge.

Consider it a kosher version of Chopped.

As such, synagogues often turn into cooking schools, showing their congregants, community leaders and neighbors how to transform the traditional dishes to reflect today’s tastes.

At the Chabad House in Miami Beach, the Jewish Women’s Circle invited celebrated chef Sean Brasel to demonstrate how to whip up kosher Passover dishes that were anything but traditional.

“The holiday is a lot about food, but there are much less ingredients to work with, so we wanted to host a cooking class for the women this month,” said Chani Katz, who organizes the group’s monthly meetings.

Katz and her husband, Zev Katz, the Chabad’s rabbi, came to know Brasel from the neighborhood. He is the head chef and co-owner of the Lincoln Road steakhouse, Meat Market, a short walk from the synagogue.

Known for grilling Latin American ingredients with top-quality meats, Brasel has made a name for himself, appearing at major food festivals and on the Food Network’s popular cooking show, Chopped. While he is not Jewish, the Colorado native knows a thing or two about kosher cooking from owning a catering service, Glatt Touch Kosher.

“As someone who never knew anything about cooking kosher, I had to find ways to cook what I wanted in the kosher fashion,” Brasel said.

For last Monday’s class, the rabbi helped Brasel purchase kosher-for-Passover ingredients and supervised their preparation. Even with culinary limitations, Brasel knew he wanted to create quick recipes that used common ingredients.

“I wanted to cook dishes that they can prepare in advance and then heat up later when guests come over,” Brasel said.

As an appetizer, he prepared a flavorful smoked salmon tartare, which he mixed with lemon juice, capers and red onion.

For the entree, Brasel roasted a snapper in a Mediterranean sauce of Sriracha, oranges, squash and tomatoes. He cooked the fish in bags of fata paper, a clear, foil-type bag used by food professionals. In 25 minutes, the fish was done.

Miami Beach resident Judith Hofman decided to attend the cooking class when she heard about Brasel’s reputation, hoping to get new ideas. She says she plans to cook the dishes even after Passover ends.

“Usually the food for Passover is heavy, but these were very healthy,” said Hofman, 41. “It had easy ingredients and was easy to make.”

Across the bay, Temple Israel also hosted Passover cooking classes, making traditional Passover dishes healthier and amenable to various dietary restrictions, such as vegan and gluten-free diets.

Temple Israel invited people of all denominations to learn about the traditional dishes, holding the class last Sunday morning at the temple, 137 NE 19th St.

Brian Hirsch, vice president of membership, and his wife, Dolores, taught the class. Since Hirsch has a gluten allergy, he and his wife knew they wanted to teach a class that included recipes for everyone.

“We felt it was important to have modifications to traditional recipes because Miami is so diverse,” said Hirsch, 38. “This helps modern families keep the tradition alive.”

The couple, who live in Doral, prepared double chocolate coconut macaroons and gluten-free matzoh balls made with tapioca paste-based matzoh, among other dishes.

Inspired by recipes from a vegan chef who visited the temple last year, the two also taught the class how to make mock chopped liver and Sephardic charoset, a mixture made with dates, nuts, cinnamon, raisins and honey.

Paula Xanthopoulou helped prepare the mock chopped liver. She lives near the temple and attended the class to learn new recipes even though she is not Jewish.

“I am interested in cooking, and I really liked the mock chopped liver recipe because it is less fattening than regular chopped liver,” said Xanthopoulou, 68.

Xanthopoulou says she often attends events at the temple because she appreciates how welcoming the congregation is. The temple emphasizes healthy living at many of its events, said Rabbi Tom Heyn.

“We are unique in that we focus on the connection between spirituality and health and fitness,” Heyn said.

He says the Passover cooking class is one of several ways the temple has linked living healthier and observing Judaism.

“A lot of people relate to the cultural and culinary aspects of Judaism,” said Heyn. “Being with family and getting together in the home for the holiday is one way people stay spiritual. With these accommodations to the dishes, the class helps them do that.”

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