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Traditions with a Twist

Boca Negra with Tomatillo Sauce Flourless Chocolate Cake

Celebrating Passover 

With Passover around the corner, the Jewish cooking frenzy has officially begun. Passover, which begins this year at sundown on Monday, April 22, is the most celebrated Jewish holiday of the year. Even people who never step inside a synagogue will knock themselves out for this one.
   Julie Ghodsi, owner with her husband, Shahrokh, of Golden Dreidle at www.goldendreidle.com, reports that despite all the gift-giving at Hanukkah, more Jewish cookbooks are sold before Passover. “This is the time of year when people are looking for traditional childhood favorite recipes,” she said, “but they want something new too, particularly fun and creative desserts. People don’t necessarily come in specifically for Passover cookbooks, but they’ll see my display and then say, ‘I want to see others.’ At this time of year people are also looking for hostess gifts. Sometimes they’ll buy two copies of the same cookbook.” And this season all cookbooks are marked down to 25 percent off.
   While Judaica shops across the country have been closing, Golden Dreidle, is in its 33rd year.
   You’ll find everything for the holiday from Seder plates to toys and games, even matzo-printed baby bibs, plus ketubas, tallit and mezzuzot. The magnificent Seder plates by Michael Aram especially caught my eye. “There are Kiddush cups to match,” Julie pointed out. “He keeps adding Judaica in the most beautiful way.” See goldendreidle.com for more ideas.
   Just in time for Passover, two new cookbooks have got my attention. More and more each year it seems we are cooking with our guest’s dietary restrictions in mind. “Nosh” by Micah Siva (The Collective Book Studio, $35) serves up over 80 plant-forward recipes celebrating modern Jewish cuisine. That vegan at your Passover table will love this vegetable inspired take on gefilte fish, but best of all, so will the carnivores among you. As Adeena Sussman, author of the wildly popular cookbook “Sababa” and more recently “Shabbat,” writes in the forward: “Of the many nice qualities about cooking with Micah is there isn’t even a whiff of preaching us or pretension. She makes gentle suggestions for how to live a more plant-based life, but there’s no arm-twisting or guilt (Jewish or otherwise). If this is your first ride on the plant-based train, it will be the steam engine to get you going. If you’ve already hopped on, this book will get you into the first-class car.”
   “The Jewish Holiday Table” by Naama Shefi and the Jewish Food Society with Devra Ferst (Artisan, $36) (jewishfoodsociety.org) features holiday classics, “the backbone of Jewish cooking,” as Shefi puts it, through the stories and treasured recipes of families around the globe. The society is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and celebrating Jewish culinary heritage from around the world and holds a digital archive with over a thousand family stories with their recipes. “We bring them to life through events like pop-up dinners, cooking classes, and our podcast, Schmaltzy,” writes Shefi.
   The book is divided by holiday, and the unusual flourless chocolate cake from the Passover chapter featured here comes from Chef Fany Gerson, who hosted her first real Seder at 20 while living in New York, far away from her family in Mexico City. Having recently graduated from culinary school, she was homesick and wanted to re-create her grandmother Ana’s dishes handed down by her great grandmother Lena, who had emigrated from Ukraine to Mexico in 1926. “Babi’s menu was pretty traditional Ashkenazi, but she gave it a few Mexican updates,” she writes. “She served her matzoh ball soup with lime and made a ‘red’ gefilte fish served warm in a tomato sauce that was spicy from lots of white pepper.” New additions to her Passover menu include brisket tamales, her husband’s brainchild, combining both their heritages; roast chicken with apricots created by Fany, but inspired by her family’s apricot chicken; and Mexican Chocolate Covered Caramelized Matzo, which uses both bittersweet and Mexican chocolate.
   The cake featured here is a variation on the Mexican dessert boca negra—“black mouth”—so named because it is so fudgy that it turns your mouth black. It gets its kick from the addition of chipotle chiles, and the tangy tomatillo sauce gets its sweetness from piloncillo, which you can find in Orange County’s many Mexican markets.  


Vegan Gefilte Fish Cakes

Vegan “Gefilte” Cakes

Yield: 10 cakes

This vegan recipe uses a mixture of vegetables, seaweed and spices to mimic the flavor and textures of Siva’s great grandmother Freda’s gefilte fish.

Note: Whole flax seeds are acceptable for Passover, but ground seeds need certification. You can grind your own in a coffee grinder.

2 medium carrots, scrubbed, 1 roughly chopped

1/4 head cauliflower, cut into florets

1 medium parsnip, peeled and roughly chopped

1 medium russet potato, peeled and roughly chopped

1/4 white onion, roughly chopped

1/4 cup raw cashews,

1 sheet sushi nori, finely chopped

1/4 cup matzo meal

3 tablespoons flax meal

4 1/4 to 6 1/4 cups water, divided

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 teaspoon potato starch

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Flaky sea salt, for serving

Horseradish, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

2. In food processor, pulse chopped carrot, cauliflower, parsnip, potato, and onion until they are the size of peas. Add cashews and pulse until well combined.

3. Transfer vegetables to medium bowl. Add nori, matzoh meal, flax meal, 1/4 cup of the water, pepper, salt, lemon zest, potato starch, and baking powder and mix until combined. Let sit 10 minutes.

4. Using a 1/4-cup measure, form mixture into 10 patties.

5. Heat olive oil in nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Cook patties until golden, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer patties to prepared sheet pan and bake 15 minutes. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt.

6. Meanwhile, cut remaining carrot into 1/4-inch slices. Combine carrots and enough water to cover by 1 inch in medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat to a simmer, and gently cook carrots until tender. Drain and set aside. Top patties with sliced carrots and serve with horseradish.

Source: “Nosh” by Micah Siva

Boca Negra with Tomatillo Sauce Flourless Chocolate Cake

While Fany uses a regular cake pan, it may be easier to remove the cake from the pan if you use a springform. Because the cake is baked in a water bath, you’ll need to wrap the springform tightly with foil.

Makes one 8-inch (20 cm) round cake

For the cake

12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter or nondairy butter, cut into small pieces, plus 1 teaspoon for the pan

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

6 medium dried chipotle chiles

10 ounces high-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

6 tablespoons fresh orange juice

4 large eggs

11/2 tablespoons cornstarch or almond flour

Pinch of kosher salt

For the tomatillo sauce

1 pound tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed and coarsely chopped

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

8 ounces piloncillo

1/4 cup sugar

1⁄3 cup water

1 small cinnamon stick

1. Cake: Preheat oven to 325°F. Cut a round of parchment paper to fit inside of 8-inch round cake pan (you don’t need parchment if using a springform pan). Grease bottom and sides of cake pan or 8-inch springform with 1 teaspoon butter, line bottom with parchment, if using, and grease parchment with a bit more butter. Dust interior of pan with 1 tablespoon sugar, shaking and turning pan to distribute it all around, and tap pan to remove excess. If using a springform pan, wrap bottom and sides securely in foil, making sure to tightly seal any seams so water can’t seep into pan.

2. Remove and discard the stems, seeds, and veins from the chipotles. Heat medium skillet over medium-high heat, then lay chiles in skillet and toast for a couple of minutes, until fragrant, pressing them flat with spatula and flipping them frequently so they don’t burn. Transfer chiles to bowl and cover with very hot water. Soak until softened, 20 to 30 minutes, or longer if chiles still have hard spots. Drain chiles, reserving the liquid.

3. Put the chiles in a blender or food processor and process until you have a smooth paste, adding a bit of the soaking water as needed. Press the paste through a sieve into a bowl to make it completely smooth. Measure out 1 1/2 tablespoons of the paste; if you have more than that, you can freeze the extra for another use.

4. Put the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Combine the remaining 1 cup sugar and the orange juice in a small pot and heat over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Bring the liquid just to a simmer, then remove from the heat and immediately pour over the chocolate. Let stand for about 1 minute, then stir until all the chocolate is melted (you can use a whisk, but don’t beat the mixture, simply stir, as you don’t want to incorporate air).

5. Stir the 12 tablespoons butter little by little into the still-warm chocolate mixture until melted. Add the eggs one by one, stirring until each egg is incorporated before adding the next one. Add the chipotle paste, cornstarch, and salt and stir until the batter is smooth.

6.  Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Set up a water bath: Put a large deep baking dish in the oven (large enough to hold the cake pan). Place the filled cake pan in the center of the dish and carefully pour enough hot water into the baking dish (around the cake pan) to reach about halfway up the sides of the cake pan.

7. Bake the cake until a thin, crusty layer forms on top and the cake feels firm when gently pressed with your finger, 55 to 75 minutes.

8. Tomatillo sauce: While the cake is baking, put the tomatillos in a medium saucepan. With the tip of a paring knife, scrape the sticky seeds from the split vanilla bean and add the seeds and bean to the tomatillos, then add the piloncillo, granulated sugar, water, and cinnamon stick (the piloncillo will soften and dissolve as the sauce cooks). Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently to dissolve the piloncillo, until the tomatillos are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat.

9. Remove and discard the vanilla bean and cinnamon stick and, with a food processor, puree the mixture into a slightly chunky but uniform sauce. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and chill the sauce completely.

10. When the cake is ready, remove the water bath from the oven, remove the cake pan from the water bath, and cool the cake for about 10 minutes. If using a springform pan, remove the foil after cooling. Transfer the cake to the refrigerator and chill, covered, for at least 
2 hours and up to overnight.

11. When ready to unmold the cake from a regular cake pan, dip a small sharp knife in hot water, dry it quickly, and run it around the edges of the cake to release it from the pan. Dip the bottom of the cake pan in very hot water for about 3 minutes and then unmold onto a cake plate; peel off the parchment. Or, if you used a springform pan, unclip and remove the sides, slide a spatula under the cake to loosen it from the base of the springform, and transfer to a serving plate.

12. Serve the cake at room temperature. To slice the cake, use a sharp knife dipped into hot water and dried between each slice to ensure that the sides of each piece are smooth. Serve each slice with a spoonful of tomatillo sauce.

Source: Naama Shefi and the Jewish Food Society with Devra Ferst

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


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