Author Archives: Victoria Sutton

About Victoria Sutton

Victoria Sutton has a BA from Barnard College, and the Grand Diploma in Classic Pastry Arts from the French Culinary Institute. She works as a freelance chef in New York City.

Passover Recipes: Spiced Quinoa with Lamb and Pickled Lemons

The lamb shank (Zeroa) is a crucial component of the seder plate, a reminder of the Korban Pesah (Paschal Lamb) sacrificed when the Israelites left Egypt, and for generations to follow, as long as the Temple was standing. Families gathered the first night of Passover to feast on the sacrifice of roasted lamb. Most Jews place a shank bone on the seder plate, to fulfill the memory of the sacrifice, which itself is forbidden in the absence of a Temple. Many take care to omit all roasted fare from their meal, in the spirit of the prohibition against the Paschal lamb in the Diaspora.

Syrian Jews have a fascinating custom that seems to defy Passover conventions. We start off our Seder meal (Shulhan Arukh) with lamb! In keeping with the interdiction, the lamb must be boiled, and not roasted, as the primary method of cooking, and may not be noted as being eaten in remembrance of the Paschal Lamb (Yalkut Yosef Volume 5: pp. 406- 7).

The traditional recipe, passed down to me by my grandmother, calls for boiling the lamb, then continuing to brown it in the oven. The tender meat is then stripped from the bone, which is reserved for the seder Plate. The delicate lamb morsels, gently warmed and served with lemon and allspice, disappear before the soup makes it to the table! In this recipe, pickled lemons add a kick that cuts through the richness of the lamb, and the addition of quinoa elevates it from an appetizer to a main dish (you can substitute rice for the quinoa if your custom is to eat rice on Passover). If your guests are not quite ready for lamb at the Seder table, this makes a delectable one dish meal for another Passover night!

Decadent Chocolate Hamantaschen Recipe

“When Adar arrives, joy is increased” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta'anit 29a). The month of Adar brings with it an air of festivity culminating in the holiday of Purim, which takes place on the Fourteenth of Adar. Looking out at the bleak landscape on a snowy Rosh Chodesh Adar (beginning of the month), the holiday spirit eluded me. Taking the adage more literally as “One who welcomes Adar will increase in joy,” I decided to take matters into my own hands. I would bring some warmth to the bitter winter day and bake up a batch of hamantaschen.Hamantaschen, the hallmark cookie of Purim, consist of triangular pockets of pastry filled with poppy seeds or a variety of jams such as prune, apricot, or raspberry. The story behind this Purim treat relates to the villain of the day, Haman, and they are known in Hebrew as oznei Haman, or “Haman's Ears.” Mythology aside, hamantaschen are ubiquitous during the Purim season and the sweet cookies would surely cheer me up.

Leafing through my recipes, however, I failed to find one that encouraged the mood of Purim. Though charming, traditional hamantaschen seemed, well, too simple and boring compared the over-the-top revelry that Purim inspires. Excess is the norm–indulgent drinking and feasting, elaborate gifts of food, silly costumes, and dancing are all encouraged. Temperance appears to have no place when celebrating Purim.

But how to transform plain old hamantaschen into a more extravagant treat that matches the decadence of the day? To a self-professed chocoholic, the solution was clear–chocolate, and more chocolate.

In this “decadent” version of hamantaschen, chocolate sucree dough is folded over a center of dark chocolate ganache. The flavor and quality of the chocolate used to make the ganache should be rich. Keeping in the “spirit” of Purim, the ganache is spiked with a healthy splash of rum. When I made these, I sprinkled the pastry under the filling with dried cherries for a hint of tartness. Dried cranberries, chopped nuts, or candy toffee chunks would also be wonderful variations.

Mujaderra

Mujaderra (Mujadara), a hearty and satisfying lentil and rice pilaf, has for centuries been a staple in the Middle-Eastern diet, as well as in the cuisine of Jews around the world with Middle-Eastern heritage. Nutritious, a good source of protein, and inexpensive to prepare, Mujaderra was often referred to as “poor people’s” fare. It now has a place on restaurant menus from Egypt to Israel to the U.S.According to some Semitic traditions, Mujaderra is the “red, red pottage” that enticed the famished Esau to sell his birthright in exchange for a portion (Genesis 25:30). A difference of opinion persists as to whether this biblical lentil pottage was in fact Mujaderra, or another of the age-old lentil dishes popular in the region. What is clear is that recipes of this kind have been essential to Levantine cultures since Neolithic times, when lentils became one of the first farmed crops.

Variations of Mujaderra can be found in the kitchens of different countries. Some use the red lentils referred to in the Bible, others use brown lentils. The lentils are pureed in some versions, or left intact as in this recipe. An assortment of grains, from rice to bulgur, can be simmered along with the lentils. Mujaderra can be enjoyed warm or room temperature.

The key to perfecting this seemingly austere recipe lies in browning the onions properly. Mujaderra calls for frizzling (frying + sizzling) the onions in oil until they curl and just begin to blacken around the edges. This provides for a wonderful flavor contrast to the natural sweetness of the caramelized parts of the onions.

The following version of Mujaderra is the one my Syrian grandmother used to make on Thursday nights. In her home, dinner on Thursday was usually a simple dairy meal, since the next night–Shabbat–would be an elaborate feast. Always health-conscious, my grandmother made her Mujaderra with brown rice, and usually served it with plain yogurt, sliced cucumbers, and salad.