Crazed about Cooking For Seder?

Take a deep breath and read this article. Kim Kushner’s mantra is one we all want—and need—to hear when it comes to Passover cooking: “Keep it Simple.”

by Sue Tomchin

“I usually don’t host the Seder, that’s the one holiday I’m off the hook for,” says Kim Kushner. “We usually spend Passover with my husband’s family at a hotel.”

This year, however, it will be a different story: The kosher cooking teacher and cookbook author is expecting a baby close to the holiday and can’t travel.

Even with the prospect of two Seders and a new baby ahead, Kushner didn’t seem anxious when I spoke with her by phone in March. “I feel that people go crazy and get scared about Passover,” she told me. “It’s not necessary. My philosophy is: Keep it simple.”

With the weeks leading up to Passover quickly disappearing Kushner’s attitude was music to my ears. When I perused her gorgeously photographed book, The New Kosher (Weldon-Owen), released a few months ago, I quickly saw that she gets it. As women we are juggling a lot and need recipes that come together quickly yet are fresh, seasonal, beautiful and flavorful. “My life is not so different from yours,” she writes. “We are all busy. Life is always hectic. Stuff is going on continuously, even when you are cooking dinner.”

Kushner finds that at Passover people tend to focus on the restrictions, rather than looking at everything that is available. She keeps her eye on the fresh and seasonal ingredients that she prefers using all year long. “I do a lot with those, and most don’t need chometz [leavened foods forbidden on Passover] in the first place,” she explains.

“I try to keep my Passover pantry filled with the same things I use during the rest of the year,” she says. Olive oil, coconut oil, herbs, and squeezes of fresh lemon and orange are go-to ingredients. “I stay away from imitations,” she says. “If it’s not real, I don’t use it.”

Kushner’s mom was born in Morocco and grew up in Israel. “Her generosity through her love of feeding other people has been the greatest influence on my cooking,” Kushner writes in her book. But aside from imbibing her mother’s love of welcoming family and friends to her table, she also draws on Moroccan traditions.

The Seder charoset for example, Kushner makes from dried Medjool Dates. She puts plump and moist dates, pits removed, into her processor, adds a drop of coconut oil and dash of red wine, and pulverizes the mixture. Then she shapes it into balls that she rolls in shredded coconut. The balls can be frozen in advance, she says, admitting that she likes them so much that she has always taken them with her when her family has spent Passover at a hotel.

Here are some of Kim’s other suggestions to help you create a delicious Passover:

Make Mine a Mezze

During Kim’s childhood in Montreal, her mom often would start meals with colorful Moroccan-style mezze platters of various dishes. This approach translates beautifully to the Seder. Prepare an array of salads, both fresh and cooked. “How about a beautiful fresh kale or cabbage salad or a quinoa and kale salad?” Kushner asks. (Just one example from her book is Kale, Carrot & Radish Salad with Balsamic Splash.) Cooked salads from such veggies as carrots, beets and eggplant are ideal because they can be made in advance and are delicious eaten with matzoh. And you can even add a bowl of her colorful and easy-to-make Butternut Squash Chips with Herbes de Provence for the children to munch on while you are getting the rest of the meal ready to bring out.

Sides with Personality

What vegetarian guests will eat at your Seder ceases to be an issue when you have great side dishes on the table. One of Kushner’s favorite sides, which she says is “simplicity at its best,” is Crispy Shaved Brussels Sprouts [link to recipe], seasoned with green onions and thyme. “I never make enough of this,” she writes. Another, Roasted Radicchio, Endive and Fennel, is easy and different from the standard roasted veggie medley.  Quinoa with roasted kale, a regular dish in her repertoire, is ideal for Passover.  She drizzles the kale with olive oil, roasts it for 10 minutes, and then crumbles it into the cooked quinoa, along with herbs and spices and maybe some raisins and pine nuts. This easily becomes a main dish for vegetarians when you use it to stuff peppers, eggplant or zucchini and then roast it in the oven.

Make a Main that Can Be Prepared Ahead

Kushner applies her keep-it- simple philosophy to Seder entrees. One of her favorites—and ideal for Seder since it can be made ahead of time and reheated—is her Braised Short Ribs with Cider-Herb Reduction [link to recipe]. Tender and moist, there’s no danger of this becoming too dry while your family goes through the first part of the Seder.

While some traditional Jews refrain from eating roasted poultry or meat at their Seder, if that isn’t an issue in your family, Kushner’s book features a recipe for Red Roast Chicken with Lemon, Whole Garlic & Vegetables. She describes this bird as “simple yet spectacular” with crispy skin and moist meat. A whole garlic bulb is roasted in aluminum foil alongside the chicken and vegetables. Kushner lines the roasting pan in parchment to make clean up extra easy. The chicken can be sliced in serving pieces before the Seder and kept warm in a low oven.  Just before taking to the table, spread the chicken with the roasted garlic.

For Dessert, Don’t Go Overboard

When it comes to Passover desserts, fresh fruit is always a good first choice, but chocolate is a crowd favorite, especially if you expect a group of kids at Seder. Kushner makes a pan of homemade chocolate bark by melting dark chocolate, spreading it on a baking sheet, sprinkling on toppings such as powdered rose petals, coconut, raisins, crushed unsalted pistachios, chopped walnuts or other nuts and then chilling for two hours. “I serve it on a board with a wooden mallet and the kids love to break it apart,” she says.

Another recommended dessert is granita, a refreshing semi-frozen dessert made from fruit or nuts. Her book features Almond Granita made with almond paste, slivered blanched almonds and almond extract. While generally made with milk, when serving it with a meat meal at Passover, she instead would use almond milk. Kushner also likes to serve Cinnamon Hazelnut Pavlova filled with whipped cream* or lemon curd and adorned with raspberries or other fresh fruit.

Sue Tomchin is the editor of JW magazine.

Editor's Note:

Cans of coconut milk are not yet available with Kosher for Passover certification but, during the rest of the year, Kushner uses cans of full-fat coconut milk. Chilled, the top part of the coconut milk hardens to creamy consistency. She whisks the coconut cream with vanilla sugar or extract to make a delicious dairy-free topping for the pavlova or other desserts. [You can try making your own coconut milk. It’s a simple process. Here is one recipe. Remember to chill the milk until the top part hardens.]