The Passover Seder is usually described as a ceremonial meal: Participants sit down to a set of ritualized foods and tell the story of the exodus from Egypt. But more than just tell it, we are bidden to relive it. We engage in ritual and discussion and debate, until each of us feels that we’ve made a journey ourselves. It’s a singular, time-stopping evening. And if you don’t abridge it, it can take a very long time. As an adult, I don’t love this ritual, and I often even skip it. But as a kid, it was very special to me because of the gathering.
When you’re a kid the world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises. You don’t realize that you are both separate from it and part of it. Even with stories in the news and rituals like Passover seders, we as kids only know the reality that is ours. The only world that exists is the world as we know it. The world at large, with heartbreak, plague and loss is–if we’re lucky–an abstract idea.
As we grow up we learn our histories and life’s bitter lessons by heart. Every once in a while, usually while I’m cooking, I’m hit with an intense nostalgia of that vanished glory, of lost wholeness, a memory of the world untainted, but also unlived. Last night, while making these meatballs, I had a memory of gathering in my uncle’s house at a seder table with my entire family from my very old great-grandfathers to my newborn baby brother. For some reason that moment has remained static in my mind and I had such an intense longing for it last night that it stung my eyes. I asked myself as I was washing dishes if I’d give up everything and everyone I have now to go back to that moment when I was a kid sitting at the seder table when everyone I loved was still alive and together. The answer: Maybe for a moment, but not for good. That’s the nature of life and cycles I guess. We are all tending our gardens in the shade of the giant trees that were there before us and in due time we will be those trees too. There is something beautiful about that. Undertaking this meal brought me closely back to that moment in time and in that way I was there again because the kitchen, like a novel, is not bound by linear time. You can have conversations over time and space through the food, the act of preparing it and eating it.
Anyway, I’m not that religious, but because I grew up with a Passover tradition, I thought I’d take a normally insipid holiday and infuse it with new life in the spirit of freedom and renewal. I made Grandma’s sweet and sour meatballs and honey-roasted sweet potatoes with goat cheese and zhoug, which is basically, a sort of chili-laced Middle Eastern chimichurri. It’s a nice springtime interplay of sweet and herbal, rich and briny. I also used the leftover beets from the red velvet cake and made beet root and goat cheese croquettes fried in Passover- acceptable oil and breaded with matzo meal (not seen here because I ate them all as I was cooking the rest). And, not to worry, I ate the meatballs with spinach way more than 6 hours after the dairy dishes, though they did grace the same table for the photos.
Honey-Roasted Sweet Potatoes With Goat Cheese And Zhoug adapted from NPR’s Kitchen Window
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced or crushed
- 1 fresh green chili, such as serrano, stemmed and seeded
- 1 handful parsley
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- About 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch quarters
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
To make the zhoug, place the garlic, chili, fresh herbs and lemon juice in a blender. Add about half the olive oil and blend, scraping down as needed. Add more oil as needed to create a balanced, pourable pesto. Season with salt to taste. Set aside.
To make the sweet potato, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the sweet potato with the olive oil, and roast until they’re quite soft and starting to caramelize, 30 to 40 minutes. When they’re almost ready, drizzle on the honey and scatter the goat cheese. Return to the oven for another few minutes, until the cheese has started to warm and soften (if you want, the dish can be made in advance, then reheated at the last minute). Remove from the oven, let cool slightly, drizzle with zhoug and serve.
Sweet and Sour Meatballs adapted from Grandma’s Sweet and Tangy Meatballs and The Shiksa in the Kitchen
- 1 pineapple cut up
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar (or another Passover-approved vinegar)
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3/4 tsp salt, divided
- 1 garlic clove chopped
- 1 lb chopped turkey meat
- 1 egg, beaten
- 3-4 tbsp matzo meal
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 handful cilantro leaves
- Pinch of cayenne
If you are able to preserve any of the juice from your pineapples save it in a separate cup. In a large pot or dutch oven, mix together tomato sauce, cider vinegar, brown sugar, tomato paste, 1/2 tsp salt and the juice from the pineapples. Stir together and turn heat to low to let the sauce slowly warm.
Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl use a fork to mix together the ground turkey, egg, matzo meal, paprika, 1/4 tsp salt, garlic, onion, black pepper, coriander seeds, cilantro and cayenne. I like a little heat in the meatballs, so I add a 1/2 tsp of cayenne or sometimes I just use Spanish smoked paprika, which also brings heat, but here it could overwhelm. If you don’t want them spicy, you can omit it completely– or just add a pinch of cayenne for depth of flavor.
Form the meat mixture into small 1-inch meatballs. If the mixture seems to moist or stick, add another tablespoon of matzo meal to the mixture. Place the meatballs into the warming sauce. When all the meatballs are formed, bring the mixture to a boil and stir to cover the meatballs with sauce. Lower the heat to a low, even simmer and cover the pot.
Let the meatballs cook for 40 minutes, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens and meatballs cook all the way through. After 40 minutes, add the pineapple chunks to the sauce and stir to coat. Let the chunks warm in the sauce for 5 minutes. Serve hot with cilantro to garnish.