While all Jewish holidays seem to be food-centered, Passover is about what you can’t eat. (OK, Yom Kippur, we are not talking about you. You’re in a league of your own.) With the holiday fast approaching – it begins this Friday night, April 3 – we’re fixated on some of the new products we can and will be eating this year.
Once again, we were inspired by our pilgrimage to the amazing ShopRite supermarket in Cherry Hill, NJ, with its “Kosher Experience,” aisles loaded with Pesachdik groceries and products imported from Israel. (We wrote about it a few years ago.) This year, we trolled the Internet, read our Jewish Twitter feed, and perused the “Takeout Seder Menu” from local gourmet stores. We discovered that there are a few new tastes available for this old holiday.
What would Passover be without an oval of gefilte fish attractively placed on a bed of lettuce, on a little plate and topped with a carrot curl? We bought a few jars in the supermarket, the native habitat of gefilte fish. Gefilte fish don’t swim in any ocean; they live in a glass jar, nestled in goo. We didn’t have a choice of farm-raised or wild gefilte fish either. They are all tame, bland and captive.
We were drawn to the Rokeach brand because we saw the Yiddish word heimeshe on the label. Huh? First of all, we spell it haimish and we wrote the book. We define haimish as “unpretentious and homey, informal and friendly.” We would enjoy an appetizer that fits this description, but how exactly can gefilte fish be unpretentious? We guess they just sit there politely and wait to be eaten.
We do know a pretentious gefilte fish when we see it: the sustainably sourced, “artisanal small-batch gourmet loaf” with a layer of salmon on top marketed by the hipster chefs at Gefilteria in Brooklyn. Our mass-produced gefilte fish have no illusions that they are special. They know that they are the exact same as their jar mates.
One way to expand our Passover palate this year is to embrace our hidden Sephardic ancestry (Jews whose ancestors come from Mediterranean countries) and eat kitniyot, the rice, corn, soybeans, peas, lentils and peanuts that Ashkenazic Jews traditionally don’t eat on Passover. We’ve visited the Sephardic synagogue in Florence and enjoyed Istanbul. That’s good enough for us. We’ve read that everyone is descended from the same eight people anyway, so we’ll be putting peanut butter on our matzah this year.
Evidently, Manischewitz has some Sephardic relatives too. The venerable Jewish foods company has a new line of Pesachdik “Kitni” products that include tahini, rice cakes, popcorn and peanut butter. Marketing to Sephardic Jews – that’s targeted segmentation! Just make sure you read the little cautionary note on the label: “Acceptable for those who consume kitniyot on Passover.”
As a side note, we’ve noticed that Sephardic recipes are in vogue, too. This year, The New York Times’ Cooking section includes Passover recipes for fried artichokes (Italian), lamb with dried fruit (Israeli/Middle East), and stuffed grape leaves (Greek/Turkey). Even Jewish cooking maven Joan Nathan, an Ashkenazic Jew, is jumping on the bandwagon. We love her recipes, and this year her haroset includes dried figs, pitted dates, apricot preserves and cardamom, all ingredients usually found in Sephardic haroset.
The ubiquitous Passover sweet is the macaroon, the flourless, chewy, ball-shaped cookie made with ground nuts, shredded coconut and egg whites. You could serve a macaron, the elegant French-accented meringue and almond sandwich cookie that’s trending right now. In fact, macarons are kosher for Passover, but you’d never confuse the two once you’ve tasted them – and there’s no food truck cruising the city selling Passover macaroons.
Each year manufacturers invent new flavors of the Passover macaroon. Last year it was Rocky Road. Ooh, Rocky Road…. We anticipated breaking the seal on the can, only to discover that it was the same old chocolate chip macaroon – with a small shred of marshmallow added in. Disappointment. For Pesach 2015, Manischewitz is touting red velvet, pistachio orange, and carrot cake macaroons as hot new flavors. We can can’t wait. Instead of wasting calories on Red Velvet macaroons, we’ll be hunting down that macaron food truck.
This year, Ben & Jerry’s has introduced a new flavor for Passover – Charoset Swirl ice cream. It costs 20 shekels (about $5) because it’s only available in Israel. We can’t taste test it for you so we’ll have to rely on the description of Elli Fischer, a writer for the Times of Israel, who described it as “vanilla based with apples and cinnamon and lots of walnuts.” He added, “While it’s definitely premium ice cream and quite tasty, it’s also not very haroset-y.” Maybe we can buy a pint of vanilla and swirl in our leftover haroset. Ben & Jerry’s is known for creative flavor concoctions, like Chubby Hubby and Pumpkin Cheesecake. Haroset is sweet and delicious. It is a good choice. We’re just happy they didn’t decide on “Chunky Gefilte Fish Swirl.”
Happy Passover to all our readers, friends and family!