Conversations at Levana's Passover Table

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Tamar Genger MA, RD
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Levana-Rhubarb

What is your favorite part of Pesach?

Well, when all is said and done, who could resist a spic and span house, full of gorgeous flowers, wonderful food and interesting people? Typically, many of our Seder guests are sort of "blind dates", people who are sent by friends or by our schul, who have no idea how to make their own seder but would love to be in a good traditional home. It's always great to see that people who you would think are  far removed from everything just love the closeness and togetherness. Many of them come back to us regularly.

What was your most memorable Seder?

Once we were sent a whole family of Russians. A young married couple with their children, and both sets of parents. That night we also had my husband's aunt and uncle, also Russians. Only the young couple and their children spoke some English, and we were outnumbered. We spoke in lots of hugs and kisses, and I remember their delight when they saw Borscht arrive at the table, and poached salmon, and the beet-carrot-potato salad they call "vinaigrette". It was quite plain to see they were delighted to be here, as were we and our English-speaking guests! We had Russian Haggadahs for them, and one of the bubbies mentioned tearfully it was their first Seder. It must have been 2 in the morning when dinner ended.

At your cooking demo you push your audience to make their own salad dressings and never to use a bouillon cube, what do you say to the people who feel they just don't have time especially on Pesach when they have even more cooking to do?

The equation of a bouillon cube saving time is something I absolutely don't understand. When you ask people who use bouillon cubes why they do, they never say it is to save time.  They say it's to give their food some flavor.  This shows a regrettable absence of relationship with their ingredients.  Once they have used some good and fresh veggies for their soup, don't they think it will be delicious as it is?  Apparently they don't: They were told for much too long that some MSG-salt powder mixture will make it taste better! Do you know how often, in my great desire to show people that nothing beats the real thing, I boil a couple potatoes with a little water, olive oil and salt and absolutely nothing more, and cream the whole thing with an immersion blender, and they are always exclaiming, "this is absolutely delicious!"

Exact same goes for salad dressings: They were told that by buying them, they will get excitement, variety, convenience and whatnot. Of course not a word about the chemicals and the salt and the insipid flavors that come with those store-bought dressings. You can whip up a gallon, yes a gallon of delicious salad dressing in less than a minute, it will last you weeks and will make your salad fabulous each time. So my answer is: It's BECAUSE you are harried and are concerned about nutrition on the fly that you should whip it up yourself in minutes and with pennies.

How did you come up with the idea to use a hammer in the kitchen to help you cut beets and other hard vegetables?

I've been a tinkerer in the kitchen all my life, so it's only natural that I would end up discovering this tool's usefulness in the kitchen: Not only for lumberjacks! I couldn't be without it. Some fans of my demos have made me an arts-and-crafts hammer cover with some colorful adhesive paper. I absolutely love all those roots, but not surprisingly, the apparent difficulty of cutting and peeling them would each time act as a deterrent. Still I found it a real shame to forgo all those wonderful dishes using them, and explored with a long knife and hammer, and cutting right through them became a real breeze!  It's a total win-win: Now that cutting all those brutes is so simple, we tell ourselves we will be able to enjoy them more often. It also does short work of cutting huge blocks of chocolate and watermelons. So what if it doesn't look so feminine? It saves loads of time and affords us those treats regularly!

Here is a sampling of recipes from my Passover food demo:
Roasted Garlic Artichoke Soup
Quinoa with Fried Onions and Chestnuts
Brisket in Coffee Brandy Sauce
Strawberry Rhubarb Molds

Levana Kirschenbaum is a chef, cooking teacher, cook book author and entrepreneur. Levana teaches a weekly food demo in New York City.  Go to Levanacooks.com to learn more.