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Chef Jeff’s Thoughts on Cooking for Passover

 

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Passover is an inspiring celebration of Jewish history, tradition and family memories.  Attached to the spirituality of Pesach however, is the frantic pace of preparation that is often pushed to the extreme.  Our motors start running the day after Purim when we’re able to start cleaning for Passover; when we spend enormous amounts of money on specialty foods to take the place of much craved chometz; and when we turn our homes upside down while getting the kitchen ready.

This zealous preparation has become a tradition all its own.  In spite of the fervent planning, preparing and celebrating though, the anxiety and stress do not have to accompany the more conventional traditions of this Festival of Freedom.  Instead, you can incorporate some serenity….

The beauty of the Hagaddah is that we are free to interpret and vary it as creatively as we choose.  There’s no rule that tells guests to sit around the dining room table crammed next to each other while reading.  Instead, sit leisurely around the living room, relaxed on the couches and easy chairs, or sprawled across the floor.  Remember one of the four questions asks why we sit leaning…and the answer is that we can finally relax because we are no longer slaves in Egypt.

So relax…ritual has already dictated most of our menu for the Passover seders.  Not much room for creativity to fill the seder plate except for the ingredients in charoses… traditionally made from wine, cinnamon, chopped nuts and apples though I often replace the last two ingredients with mangoes and dates.  So far things are easy.  Likewise, the festive meal doesn’t vary much from year to year at our house either.

After the two seder nights, the pace might pick up a bit for the six days and nights of Chol Hamo’ed meals which must be planned for.  The Festival of Freedom takes on new meaning when it’s discussed in the context of your kitchen.  Therefore, as we welcome in Pesach, we can choose to free ourselves from the heavy baggage of unnecessary groceries, free ourselves from the frantic need to buy prepared foods, to imitate the meals we prepared during the rest of the year laden with excess sauces, gravies and fillers.  Instead, turn toward the basics of good, healthy eating.

The idea of dieting or eating healthy is built into the Jewish calendar two times each year.  Yom Kippur teaches us that eating (much) less is manageable, and Pesach teaches us that eating differently is an option, too.  You’ve already cleaned the house out; your pantry and fridge are free from chometz.  Like a new year’s resolution, now it’s up to you to continue to choose the right foods.

So un-stress yourself for the Chol Hamo’ed meals.  Focus on frivolous-free foods for the week.  The week’s menu is easily planned and bellies are filled to satisfaction with just the basics; no factory made packaged meals or prepared side dishes are cluttering your kitchen.  Serve these dishes with fresh vegetables for a well-balanced meal.

Passover is also a great time to go out to dinner – simply because the ballabusta of the house might want a night away from the kitchen.  You’d be surprised to find out that at Abigael’s on Broadway, I stick to a contemporary menu during the holiday, with most of our classic favorites.

So instead of being tied to your shopping cart and enslaved in your kitchen, enjoy the freedom from spending too much in the grocery stores for readymade foods.  Enjoy the pleasure in knowing that you now have an opportunity to feed your family with healthier, smarter choices.  Enjoy preparing delicious lamb chops during this festive week and any other time of the year in the recipe that follows.

Braised Lamb Chops

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About Alison and Jeff Nathan

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Chef Jeff Nathan is the executive chef of The Abigael’s Group, which includes Abigael’s on Broadway and the Green Tea Lounge. He is also the author of two popular cookbooks, Adventures in Jewish Cooking and Jeff Nathan’s Family Suppers. At his restaurants, and on his acclaimed public television series, New Jewish Cuisine, Chef Nathan emphasizes the flavors of modern America while strictly observing the laws of kashrut. Along with his wife Alison, Chef Nathan is setting a new standard for kosher cooking with his innovative dishes and creative presentations. Find out more at Abigaels.com

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