Kosher baker Paula Shoyer, best-selling author of The Holiday Kosher Baker, has put a modern twist on the traditional Passover seder with her new book The New Passover Menu (Sterling, $35).
Considered a leading authority on Jewish baking, the former attorney was graduated from the Ritz Escoffier pastry program in Paris while she and her husband were living in Geneva. That experience led to a catering business and to eventually teaching cooking classes back in the United States.
The mother of four took some time out of her busy schedule to invite a reporter into her Chevy Chase kitchen to talk about her favorite recipes, passion for kosher food and writing for The Jewish Food Experience.
What motivated you to become a kosher expert and write about Jewish food?
I’ve been kosher my entire life so that’s the way I eat and when I went to pastry school in Paris, I learned how to make these fabulous dairy pastries. But then I couldn’t serve them after a Shabbat meal which was usually meat or chicken, so I took all of those dairy classic French pastry recipes and I converted them into pareve dairy free desserts. And I realized I was really onto something and I could bring that to the Jewish community because I felt that kosher food was getting more and more gourmet but the desserts were still lagging behind. And it was time to take what I saw was happening in Europe and in Israel in terms of kosher and Jewish baking and bring that to the United States and to the audience here.
What suggestions do you have to improve the Passover seder?
First of all, when you’re cooking for Passover, think about what you can eat as opposed to what you can’t. People tend to gravitate towards the heavy food. The heavy potato recipes. The kugels. Things like that. It’s a spring time holiday. It’s time to lighten things up a little bit. Have more vegetables at the table. So for starters when you’re planning your menu try really hard to incorporate more vegetables and fresh and healthy side dishes into your menu.
Tell us about your new book. What makes it new and innovative?
The New Passover Menu is my first food book and I’m very proud of it and it’s basically the recipes that I cook for my family all the time. I wrote the book in about five months and I was able to do that because most of these recipes were in my head. And what’s unique about the book is that it is organized into menus. I really feel that Passover preparation is just so much work so I really wanted a book that would make life easier for you.
So you have eight menus (Ashkenazic, international, Shabbat, Yom Tov, French Dairy, Italian Vegetarian, BBQ dinner, easy chicken)… And you obviously can mix and match all the recipes. And every recipe also has an equipment list so you know right away if you have those pans and pots and utensils to make that dish. There are also estimates about how much time it takes. So I really wanted a book that was really super easy to use, had lots of gluten free recipes for that community and was a lighter approach to Passover cooking.
So I try to take what’s traditional. What we’re used to and then make it more interesting and just lighter, fresher, more modern.
What are some of your favorite recipes from the book?
It’s not a huge book. The book is 65 recipes and it’s not an exhaustive treatment of Passover food. It’s the best. These are my favorite recipes. The eggplant is one of my favorites. I have a Passover granola that is gluten free. I have gnocchi here. I love my Moroccan short ribs. I see people starting to make those a lot. One of my favorites is my seder plate salad. I took all the elements from the seder plate and charoset and put them in a salad. So I had a little fun with that as well.
And then I love my desserts. You know that is my specialty. And even though the Holiday Kosher Baker had 45 Passover desserts, I came up with some new ones. One of my favorites is the triple chocolate biscotti. Another one is, I like to do tarts and pies because people don’t really expect them, and they’re really easy to do for Passover.
How did you decide on the international flavor for this Passover cookbook? I noticed there were a few different countries that you’ve chosen for your recipes.
I like to travel, so I definitely like to bring recipes that I’ve tried in different places back. And I feel like the Jewish community is such a diverse community and we really do appreciate all the different kinds of food so no matter what your background is you want to try different kinds of food. I think as an Ashkenazi Jew in particular, we tend to gravitate more towards the more vibrant colors and spices of Middle Eastern, North Africa, French and other kinds of flavors, South American as well, because the Ashkenazi food typically is not as varied in terms of the taste. So I think Ashkenazi Jews in particular really like to try food from different places.
And I also think it’s a global world today and I think people and particularly Jewish people, watch food TV, are consumers of recipes online, go through lots of books. They are looking for something different all the time. They want to introduce their family and friends to different tastes and they like to vary their menus. When I was growing up we had a lot of the same menu over and over and I think cooks today really like to challenge themselves and look for interesting things to bring to their tables.
Tell us about your involvement in the Jewish Food Experience.
I’ve been involved with the Jewish Food Experience since the very, very beginning. And I have a column for them. And I’ve had so much fun with the column. Sometimes I’ve done cookbook reviews. Sometimes I’ve written about my travels to France, to Japan or Hong Kong. So I’ve had a lot of fun with that column.
What recommendations do you have for the amateur chef who might be a little intimidated by making all this food for their guests on Passover?
I would tell people to look for easy recipes. I tried to put recipes in the book that don’t require so many steps. In my other cookbooks I’ll have desserts that have three different pieces to it. And I avoided them in this book. I really wanted recipes that people would find accessible. That don’t go on for pages and pages. So first look for easy recipes. Things don’t have to be complicated to be tasty and to be beautiful. So look for easy recipes that you can easily double or triple depending on the amount of people that you have.
SEDER PLATE SALAD
Prep Time: 10 minutes ▪ Cook Time: 10 minutes
Advance Prep: Dressing and lamb may be made 2 days in advance
Equipment: Cutting board • Knives
• Measuring cups and spoons • Small saucepan • Tongs • Small bowl • Whisk
• Large serving bowl
FOR THE SALAD
2 pieces of lamb shoulder (about 20 ounces/600g total)
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper
1 large head romaine lettuce, cut into 2-inch (5-cm) pieces
stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 cup (40g) loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1/3 cup (40g) walnut halves, roughly chopped into ½-inch (12-mm) pieces
2 Apples (Red Delicious, Fuji, or Gala), cored and cut into ¾-inch (2-cm) cubes
3 large eggs, hard-boiled and quartered
FOR THE DRESSING
½ cup (120ml) mayonnaise
4 teaspoons jarred white horseradish
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons sweet kosher wine Salt and black pepper
PREHEAT oven to broil or an outdoor grill to medium-high heat.
TO MAKE THE LAMB
RUB the lamb shoulder pieces with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Broil or grill for 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium rare, or until desired doneness. Let cool for 5 minutes and, if serving immediately, slice into thin, 2-inch-long (5-cm) pieces. If making in advance, wait to slice the lamb until after reheating. The lamb may be roasted 2 days in advance; cover and store in the fridge.
TO MAKE THE SALAD DRESSING
IN A SMALL BOWL, whisk the mayonnaise, white horseradish, sugar, and wine until well combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. The dressing may be made 2 days in advance; cover and store in the fridge.
TO ASSEMBLE THE SALAD
PLACE the romaine pieces in a large bowl. Add the celery and parsley and toss to combine. Sprinkle the walnuts and
apples on top and arrange the egg quarters around the perimeter of the bowl. Scatter the lamb pieces on top. To serve, scoop some of everything onto each plate and drizzle with the dressing.
WHOLE CHICKEN WITH DRIED FRUIT STUFFING
Prep time: 20 minutes ▪ Cook time:
1 ¾ hours
Advance prep: May be made 1 day in advance
Equipment: Cutting board • Knives
• Measuring cups and spoons • Large
frying pan • Wooden spoon • Medium bowl • Garlic press • 8-inch (20-cm) square or other small baking pan • Large roasting pan
FOR THE STUFFING
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped into 1/4-inch (6-mm) pieces
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup pitted prunes, chopped into
1 cup dried apricots (200g), chopped into 1/3-inch
1/4 cup (35g) currants or raisins
1 large apple, any kind, peeled and chopped into
1/3-inch (8-cm) pieces
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
FOR THE CHICKEN
1 large whole chicken
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
Salt and black pepper
TO MAKE THE STUFFING
IN A LARGE FRYING PAN, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 8 minutes, or until they begin to brown. Add the prunes, apricots, currants, apple, turmeric, cinnamon, salt, and pepper and stir. Cook for
3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a medium bowl and let cool for
10 minutes. PREHEAT oven to 450ºF (230°C).
TO MAKE THE CHICKEN
PLACE the chicken in a roasting pan. Stuff as much of the dried fruit mixture as you can fit into the cavity of the chicken. Place any leftover stuffing in a small baking dish, cover with aluminum foil, and set aside. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil over the chicken, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of the turmeric, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Use gloves, or cover your hand with a plastic baggie, and rub the oil and turmeric all over the chicken. Turn the chicken over. Add the other tablespoon oil, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, and more salt and pepper; rub all over the chicken. Leave the chicken, breast side down, in the roasting pan.
ROAST the chicken for 20 minutes. Carefully turn the chicken over and roast, breast side up, for another 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350°F (180°C). Add the covered pan of extra stuffing to the oven. Roast the chicken and bake the stuffing for 50 minutes more, or until the juices run clear when you pierce the chicken with a fork. Let the chicken sit for 5 minutes and then cut it into pieces for serving. Scoop the stuffing out of the chicken and combine it with the stuffing that was cooked separately. Serve the chicken pieces over the stuffing and drizzle some of the pan juices on top.