Seasons by the Sea: Holidays Outside the Box

Macaroons are a standard Passover dessert, but there are plenty of other options, particularly now that gluten-free baking has become more popular. Jennifer Landes

There’s no harm in planning ahead for Easter and Passover menus. Traditional Easter feasts tend to be the same thing: lamb or ham, along with perhaps some spring asparagus, and a goofy coconut-coated bunny cake if there are children involved. The food does not necessarily symbolize anything. 

Passover Seders, however, offer meaning in every dish served, and the restrictions for the meal can vary greatly. The basic no-nos are any type of leavened bread, certain meats and seafoods such as pork, shellfish, lobster, crab, rabbit, and seafood without fins or scales, like swordfish and sturgeon. No meat with dairy, and for Ashkenazi Jews, kitniyot — which includes rice, corn, millet, legumes, peas, green beans, soybeans, peanuts, mustard, poppy seeds, dried beans, and lentils — is prohibited. Quinoa, a seed, is still being debated. Foods that are allowed are matzoh in any form, any fruit, any vegetable except those listed under kitniyot, eggs, nuts, nut flours, and nut butters, beef, chicken, turkey, duck, goose, and/or fish with scales.

Probably one of the more challenging tasks for a Passover menu is coming up with a dessert that is not “doorstop heavy” as one Passover food article called it. It should also not “taste like Pesach,” the ultimate insult in the Rabbi and food writer Shoshana Ohriner’s household.

Here are the top four ingredients you can safely work with: egg whites, nuts, fruit and fruit purees, and chocolate. While researching potential dessert ideas, there are indeed a gazillion recipes for macaroons, cakes made with matzo meal, and meringues galore. Often margarine is suggested as a substitute for butter, and fake whipped cream topping in place of whipped cream. I’m sorry, but under no circumstances should anyone ever be eating either of those things! Blech. Those recipe ideas need to be brought into the 21st century.

Interestingly, the innovation with gluten-free and vegan desserts and baking can be helpful when considering Passover desserts. How about a pie crust shell made with matzo and coconut oil (instead of that margarine), then filled with kosher lemon curd or chocolate ganache? You could make a pine nut brittle to go with soft serve banana “ice cream,” or coconut lime panna cotta. It doesn’t have to be all stewed fruits and dense flourless chocolate hazelnut cakes. 

While researching recipes it was interesting to see how shoddy, or lazy perhaps, some Passover dessert ideas are. One domestic diva’s website suggested making s’mores with matzoh, disregarding the fact that most marshmallows have gelatin and confectioner’s sugar is made with cornstarch. These are no-nos. You can make your own confectioner’s sugar by pulsing granulated sugar in a food processor. It will take a long time but it works. It is also possible to find kosher marshmallows. They are more expensive but also better quality. It occurred to me that perhaps “aquafaba,” that miracle whipped creation you can make from the liquid goo from a can of chickpeas, could be used as a sweet topping, but this may be considered kitniyot. Is the “bean water” as taboo as the actual bean, or legume in the case of chickpeas?

Some traditional Easter foods are roast lamb, glazed baked ham, hot cross buns, carrots, way too many hard-boiled eggs, scalloped potatoes, spring peas, asparagus, and that cute coconut bunny cake. In Greece, a braided bread called tsoureki is served. The three braids represent the Holy Trinity and a red-dyed egg, representing the blood of Christ, is baked into the bread. In England, a simnel cake (similar to a light fruit cake, if there is such a thing) has 11 or 12 marzipan eggs on top, with one missing. This symbolizes the 12 apostles minus Judas and possibly plus Jesus, depending on the marzipan mathematics.

Here are some recipes to inspire you whether for Passover or Easter. As Rabbi Ohriner says, these recipes are “truly a manifestation of the sweetness of freedom rather than the bitterness of slavery, and that is exactly what a dessert should be.”