Who knew last Passover when we were all sheltered in place, Zooming with family and friends while trying to enjoy seder with our immediate households, that the following year the fallout from Covid-19 would still be an unwanted guest at the table? Hopefully by sundown March 27, the first night of Passover, many of us will have received the vaccine and regained a little of that freedom we took so for granted, but we have been warned that precautions are still necessary. Perhaps with our mild California weather we can observe outdoors, or maybe our “pod” of safe contacts may celebrate together, but social distancing means that seder as we knew it, with hordes of guests crowded around an overflowing table, may still be a dream for next year.
Passover is my favorite holiday, and no bug will deter me from creating a special holiday meal, no matter how small the guest list. This year I look for inspiration from Paula Shoyer’s “The Healthy Jewish Kitchen” (Sterling Epicure, $24.95). I know what you’re thinking. What? Healthy? You mean you want us to diet through Passover?
Nothing could be further from the truth. Shoyer doesn’t suggest foregoing your favorite foods completely. “This is a way for you to start eating better,” she says, with an emphasis on “start.” “I am not standing here preaching. I go to Paris and Israel and eat my way through their best restaurants and bakeries. Good nutrition is about balance and finding a way to introduce into your diet more and more healthful food as often as possible. I am simply offering you a subtle shift towards better health without giving up your favorite foods.”
Although I had been a fan of Shoyer for years through her previous books,
“The Kosher Baker,” “The Holiday Kosher Baker” and “The New Passover Menu,” as well as her many TV appearances, I first met her at the book launch of “The Healthy Jewish Kitchen” at Melissa’s Produce headquarters in Vernon. Melissa’s, the nation’s leading distributor of organic and specialty produce, was the perfect setting for this book. We were treated to a delicious lunch prepared by Melissa’s chefs using recipes from the book, and then Shoyer demonstrated a few of them revealing her special tips, like whipping mangoes into her dressing for the coleslaw instead of tons of mayonnaise. “I took recipes that I loved, like chocolate babka, and substituted coconut oil rather than margarine,” she revealed. “I swapped out beef for ground turkey in some recipes. I started taking the recipes that I grew up with and started changing them around.
“The typical American diet relies too heavily on processed ingredients, salt, fats and sugar with not enough whole grains, fruits and vegetables,” she noted. “My goal was to create recipes that use only natural ingredients. I gave up ingredients that I had been using for years: ketchup, brown sugar, puff pastry. I banished margarine, processed stocks and powders and most jarred sauces—though I gave Dijon mustard a pardon. I gave up frying and created baked goods with as much whole-grain flour as I could. I reduced salt and sugar, using honey wherever possible.” Little substitutions can produce big results by adding more nutritious ingredients like sunflower, safflower and avocado oils; whole wheat, spelt and almond flour; and brown rice, quinoa and kasha, she noted.
Instead of brisket this year, I’m going for Shoyer’s lighter version of Coq au Vin Blanc, brightened with the addition of fresh herbs and kumquats, or if you can’t find them, oranges. And eating more healthfully doesn’t mean you have to forego dessert. They say you eat first with your eyes, and Shoyer’s Chocolate Quinoa Cake is a stunner. Gluten-free and high in protein, quinoa is a rich source of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. And although it resembles some Passover forbidden grains, it is considered a pseudo-cereal and is actually related to beetroots and spinach.
“Quinoa is the greatest new addition to the Passover pantry,” she said. “It finally received definitive rabbinic approval for Passover in 2014 after a rabbi was dispatched to Peru and Bolivia to see how quinoa is grown,” she explained. “He learned that quinoa grows at very high altitudes, while the grains that are prohibited on Passover are grown much farther below it. The authorities concluded that there was no risk of intermingling.”
Chocolate Quinoa Cake
¾ cup quinoa
1 ½ cups water
2 tablespoons potato starch
1/3 cup orange juice (from 1 orange)
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons Passover vanilla extract
¾ cup coconut oil
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup dark unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
Fresh raspberries, for garnish (optional)
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 tablespoon sunflower or safflower oil
1 teaspoon Passover vanilla
Place quinoa and water into small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, cover saucepan, and cook quinoa 15 minutes, or until all liquid has been absorbed. Set pan aside. Quinoa may be made 1 day in advance.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Use cooking spray to grease 12-cup Bundt pan. Sprinkle potato starch over greased pan and then shake pan to remove any excess starch.
Place quinoa in bowl of food processor. Add orange juice, eggs, vanilla, oil, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, and salt and process until mixture is very smooth.
Melt chocolate over double boiler, or place in medium microwave-safe bowl, and microwave 45 seconds, stirring and then heating chocolate another 30 seconds, until melted. Add chocolate to quinoa batter and process until well mixed. Pour batter into prepared Bundt pan and bake 50 minutes or until skewer inserted into cake comes out clean.
Let cake cool 10 minutes and then remove it gently from pan. Let cool on wire rack.
Glaze: Melt chocolate in large microwave-safe bowl in microwave or over double boiler. Add oil and vanilla and whisk well. Let glaze sit 5 minutes and then whisk again. Use silicone spatula to spread glaze all over cake.
Source: “The Healthy Jewish Kitchen” by Paula Shoyer
Coq Au Vin Blanc
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces
3 large shallots, halved and sliced thinly
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced into
¼ -inch slices
1 onion, cut into ¼-inch slices
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 head garlic, cloves separated but unpeeled
1 bottle white wine
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
10 kumquats, each sliced into 4 pieces or 3 ½-inch orange slices, peel intact, cut into 8 triangles
8 to 10 ounces pearl onions
Preheat oven to 350°F. In large frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Using tongs, add chicken in batches and brown well on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Place browned chicken into 9 x 13-inch roasting pan.
Reduce heat to medium-low and add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to frying pan. Place shallots, leeks, and onions in pan, and cook, scraping up browned bits from chicken, about 6 to 8 minutes, until they start to brown. Add salt and pepper and stir.
Scoop shallot, leek, and onion mixture out of frying pan and place under chicken pieces in roasting pan. Do not wash frying pan. Scatter garlic cloves around chicken. Pour wine on top. Add rosemary and thyme sprigs and sprinkle tarragon over chicken pieces. Please kumquats or orange pieces on top of chicken. Cover roasting pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake 1 hour.
Meanwhile, bring small saucepan of water to a boil, add pearl onions, boil for 2 minutes, then drain. When onions are cool enough to handle, cut off ends and squeeze them out of their skins. Heat unwashed frying pan over medium heat and add pearl onions. Cook about 5 minutes, shaking pan often, so onions brown on all sides.
After chicken has cooked 1 hour, remove foil, add pearl onions and cook until chicken is done, about another 30 minutes, uncovered, and serve.
Jlife Food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.