Middle-Eastern flavors add tang and interest to dishes from matzo brei to cold chicken.
by Jayne Cohen
According to the recent opinions of some Conservative rabbis, Ashkenazi Jews may now eat kitniyot, such as rice and seeds, during Passover, just as their Sephardi co-religionists have always done. I don't think my family is quite ready for tahini at the Seder—maybe next year—but we will be channeling Jerusalem with these other Israeli ingredients to enhance our holiday fare.
Like Greek yogurt, but exponentially richer and creamier, labneh is a far better alternative to cream cheese or butter as a topping for plain or egg matzo. No more explosions of matzo shards; labneh spreads like silk velvet. You can stir in some jam or pomegranate molasses for a sweet topping, or salt, herbs, and a drizzle of olive oil for savory.
I often stir this date syrup into my charoset. But after the Seder, it's delicious mixed with crushed walnuts on sweet matzo brei, matzo meal pancakes, or vanilla ice cream.
I use this tart-sweet syrup year-round in sauces, bastes, vinaigrettes, and more. But on Passover, I've found a special use: I stir some into mayonnaise and use that to moisten the cold boiled chicken leftover from preparing vats of matzo ball soup.
These flavorings lend nuance to simple fruit desserts and beverages. Just a smidgen, though; less is definitely more here: the difference between seductive fragrance and overwhelming grandma perfume. Sliced fresh oranges (Cara Caras are especially good) sprinkled with cinnamon and a few drops of orange blossom water make an easy, refreshing treat after a Passover meal; add date slivers, sliced almonds, and/or fresh mint if you want to glam it up. Or include a few drops of orange blossom water in a dried fruit compote. Rose water is wonderful with fresh berries (raspberries and roses are members of the same family); stir a bit into whipped cream to top raspberries, spoon a drop into sliced strawberries, or mix into strawberry lemonade or a berry-flavored tea. I rarely think of adding these flavorings to savory dishes, so the peach and goat cheese salad with orange blossom-scented dressing that Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich serve at their Israeli-inflected Honey & Co. (my hands-down favorite restaurant in London) was a delectable surprise. They also add a few drops of orange blossom water to their iced Earl Grey and fresh mint tea. (Find both recipes in their cookbook, Honey & Co.)
Jayne Cohen writes and lectures extensively on Jewish cuisine and culture. Her most recent book,Jewish Holiday Cooking: A Food Lover’s Treasury of Classics and Improvisations (John Wiley), was named a finalist for a James Beard Foundation award in the international cookbook category.