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Wisdom from the Pesach Kitchen

During the past few weeks, I’ve discussed the advanced preparations that can make for an easier Passover.  As the Seder night approaches, other important preparations come to the fore, all part and parcel of the Passover experience.

When I was a child, I remember begging my mother for a job to do on those momentous days leading up to Passover.  The anticipation in the house was contagious, and I couldn’t help but sense the urgency – something big was coming and I wanted to be a part of it.  Fortunately for me, my mother was adept at putting me to work, getting me involved in the Pesach preparations and effectively igniting a spark in her daughter to experience the joy and excitement of Pesach.  The mitzvah of chinuch habanim (educating your children) of the story of the Exodus from Egypt began there – not at the seder, but before in the kitchen.

Each part of the Seder is carried out in such a way as to arouse curiosity in the children in order that they might ask questions.  According to the Sages, one should explain the story in the way that will be most understood on their level.  By doing so, you will fulfill the mitzvah of “v’hegaditah l’bincha,” teaching the story to your children.  Children learn experientially.  They need to engage all of their senses to really internalize a concept or lesson.  By drawing your children in and inviting them to take part in the Pesach preparations, you will help stir their interest and make Pesach real for them, enabling them to take ownership of their own holiday experience.

There are many jobs that are perfect for this purpose and are appropriate for a wide range of ages.  Here are few suggestions:

  • Making CharosesWhen I was a kid, I thought making Charoses was an all-day process.  Peeling, coring and chopping the apples took forever.  And dicing nuts in our little manual glass jar chopper was such hard work for a little kid that by the time I finished, I truly felt as though I were enslaved in Egypt, too!   Truth be told, it was the perfect job – it kept me busy for a long time and I felt very accomplished afterward.
  • Peeling hardboiled eggs – all kids think this is fun.  I have no idea why, but they do…so teach them how and let them.
  • Setting the table – There are many more things to prepare on the Seder table than for a regular meal.  Assembling Haggados and pillows and preparing the Seder plate all take time.  In addition, if your children are creative, perhaps they can create some pretty folded napkins and/or handmade place cards.
  • Cooking and Baking for older kids who are able to follow a recipe (or interested in learning), this is a great opportunity to teach your kids basic lessons in cooking and baking.  I still remember being called over to taste and help season a dish simmering on the stove.  And there is nothing like Pesach baking to teach one how to separate eggs and beat them up stiff.  It was in my mother’s Pesach kitchen that I quickly learned what “stiff peaks” were and what exactly “folding” meant.  (And my mother?  She had to bake no more!).  

 

No matter how you enlist your child, the real secret to getting them involved is by exhibiting the joy and fun (yes, fun!) of making Pesach yourself.  When your kids see you enjoying yourself and getting into the spirit, then they will follow suit and reflect that joy into your home.

With the Seder plate in mind, here is one last recipe to share and enjoy.  Because we no longer have a Temple in which to offer the Paschal lamb, it is a strong custom not to serve roasted meats.  For this reason, braised dishes such as brisket have become a traditional choice for the Seder entrée.

Braised Brisket with Horseradish-Parsley Pesto

Inspired by the symbolic foods of the Seder, this brisket gets a boost from fresh horseradish and parsley, and is balanced with bright orange flavors.

Ingredients

½ cup parsley leaves, lightly packed

3 cloves garlic

½ cup fresh horseradish root, peeled and sliced

Zest of one orange (about 1 tbsp.)

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 (4½ lb.) first-cut brisket

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided

2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tsp. dried rosemary

1 cup dry red wine

½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice

2 tbsp. dark brown sugar

1-2 tbsp. tomato paste

Directions

Place parsley, 3 cloves of garlic, horseradish, orange zest and olive oil in the bowl of a food processor fitted with an “S” blade. Process ingredients until finely ground into a paste.  Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Season the brisket with salt and pepper.  In a very large, deep skillet or enameled, cast-iron casserole, heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the brisket and brown, turning once, about 2-3 minutes per side.  Using tongs, carefully transfer the brisket to a platter, fat side up.  Spread an even layer of horseradish-parsley pesto over the brisket and set aside.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan or casserole and return to medium-high heat.  Add the onions and chopped garlic and sauté over moderate heat until translucent, about 5-6 minutes.  Add the rosemary, season to taste with salt and pepper and cook for another minute.  Add the wine, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add the orange juice, brown sugar and tomato paste, and stir to blend.

If using a cast-iron casserole, set the brisket, horseradish side up, in the center of the casserole. (Alternatively, if using a skillet, transfer the mixture to a 9×13 baking dish and set the brisket in the center of the baking dish).  Cover and transfer to the oven.  Bake for 2-3 hours or until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and allow brisket to rest for 20 minutes before slicing.

Transfer brisket to a cutting board and using a sharp carving knife, make thin slices against the grain.  Transfer to a serving platter, spooning some of the gravy over the brisket and serve with additional remaining gravy on the side.

Do Ahead: This recipe can be prepared 2-3 days in advance, with the flavors intensifying after marinating in the cooking liquid.  To reheat, skim the fat from the surface of the liquid. Slice the cold brisket, return it to the casserole and reheat gently in a 350° oven. Transfer the brisket to a platter and serve.

Cook’s Note: For thicker gravy, reduce cooking liquid in a saucepan over medium heat prior to serving until it reaches desired consistency.

Have a happy and kosher Passover!

-Naomi Ross and the Park East Kosher Family

By Naomi Ross

 

 

 

 

 

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