Cook: Something old, something new for seder menu

Because the Passover holiday feast is different than any other, I love cooking for it. But my culinary creativeness is put to the test to find alternatives to the proscribed Passover foods, and sometimes the substitute produces a better product than the original.

I like to take my  guests on a culinary adventure by adding something new each year to the seder menu. Beyond the regulars like matzah ball soup, chopped liver and sponge cake (my family would be devastated if we didn’t have them), there are the mavericks that depend  on contemporary tastes of fresh, seasonal produce such as asparagus and strawberries. 

My brisket with prunes and apricots represents Sephardic cuisine at its best, with a sauce redolent of herbs, spices and dried fruits.

In addition to the classic Ashkenazi recipes that were passed down to me, I hope all of the above will become part of my children’s heritage.


Haroset California-Style

Makes about 2 cups

4 dried pear halves, cut into small pieces

2 firm pears, peeled and cored

1 cup almonds

1 cup dried cherries

sugar to taste

lemon juice to taste

1⁄2 tsp. cinnamon

4-6 Tbs. kosher sweet red wine

Chop all ingredients in food processor until a rough paste forms.


Moroccan Brisket

Serves 6-8

9 large garlic cloves

31⁄2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. salt

1⁄4 tsp. ground cinnamon

1⁄4 tsp. ground black pepper

41⁄2- to 5-lb. flat-cut beef brisket

3 Tbs. olive oil

4 cups chopped onions

2 medium carrots, coarsely chopped

1 Tbs. minced peeled fresh ginger

1 tsp. ground coriander

1⁄8 tsp. cayenne pepper

2-3 cups dry red wine

1⁄2  cup beef stock

2⁄3 cup pitted prunes, quartered

2⁄3 cup dried apricots, quartered

Combine 3 garlic cloves, 1 tsp. cumin, salt, cinnamon and pepper in processor. Spread mixture on surfaces of brisket.

Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 300 degrees. Heat oil in heavy, large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add brisket to pot and sauté until brown, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to plate, fat side up. Add onions to same pot. Sauté over medium-high heat 5 minutes. Add carrots, ginger, coriander, cayenne pepper, remaining 6 garlic cloves and 21⁄2 tsp. cumin; sauté 3 minutes. Add wine and boil until reduced almost to glaze, stirring up any browned bits, about 5 minutes. Return brisket to pot. Add stock and bring to simmer. Spoon some of vegetable mixture over brisket.

Cover pot and place in oven. Roast brisket 21⁄2 hours, basting every 30 minutes with pan juices. Add prunes and apricots. Cover; roast until brisket is tender, about 30 minutes longer. Cool brisket uncovered 1 hour. Wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Spoon off any solid fat from top of gravy; discard fat. Scrape gravy off brisket into pot. Place brisket on work surface. Slice brisket thinly across grain. Bring gravy in pot to boil over medium-high heat. Boil to thicken slightly, if desired. Season gravy with salt and pepper. Arrange sliced brisket in large ovenproof dish. Spoon gravy over. Cover with foil. (Can be made 2 days ahead; refrigerate.)


Roasted Asparagus

Serves 6-8

2 lbs. asparagus, trimmed and peeled

2 Tbs. orange juice

2 Tbs. olive oil

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange asparagus in one layer on baking sheet. Sprinkle with orange juice, oil, salt and pepper.  Roast for about 10 minutes or until the asparagus are just getting charred.


Savory Sephardic Spinach Pie

Serves 8-10

About 4 matzahs

11⁄2 lbs. fresh spinach, chopped (or 2 packs chopped frozen spinach, thawed)

3 eggs, beaten

salt and pepper

3 Tbs. oil

1⁄4 cup chopped walnuts

Break matzah into 1- or 2-inch pieces and soak in cold water about 30 seconds. Drain and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine spinach with eggs, salt and pepper. Brush an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with 1 Tbs. oil. Spread half the matzah pieces on the bottom, add spinach mixture and top with remaining matzah. Brush with remaining oil and sprinkle with walnuts. Bake about 30 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature, cut into squares.


Strawberry-Pineapple Compote With Papaya Sauce

Serves 10

2 pints strawberries, hulled and quartered

1 medium pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks

1 small papaya, seeded and peeled

2 Tbs. honey

2 Tbs. lemon juice

2 Tbs. sweet Passover wine

sponge cake slices

mint leaves for garnish

Combine strawberries and pineapple in bowl. In blender or food processor, purée papaya with honey, lemon juice and wine. Thirty minutes before serving, combine papaya mixture with fruit. Serve over slices of sponge cake and garnish with mint leaf.

Louise Fiszer
is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Faith Kramer. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to

Louise Fiszer