When food writer Melissa Clark thinks about Passover, the food she looks forward to most is actually a sandwich.
Don't worry, there's no bread involved. Instead, the Prospect Heights cookbook author and New York Times dining columnist is thinking of the Hillel sandwich, the culinary construction built of matzoh layered with horseradish (the holiday’s bitter herbs) and charoset (representing mortar the slaves built with in Egypt.)
“That’s definitely my favorite," said Clark.
At Clark’s seder Monday, which she will share with friends and family, including her sister, Prospect Heights Patch editor Amy Sara Clark, two kinds of charoset will be served: Ashkenazic charoset made of apples, walnuts, cinnamon and sweet wine and Sephardic charoset, made with all of the above, but also dried fruit, such as figs, dates or coconut and and often additional spices such as fresh ginger. Since the Sephardic kind lends itself more to creativity, if Clark makes charoset this year, that is what she will put her own spin on, maybe with some orange blossom water.
Clark, whose most recent cookbook was “In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite,” is adamant that her Passover matzoh not be from a commercial box, but be artisanal, shmura matzoh that is sold in Jewish bakeries. Before the eight-day festival of Passover, observant households rid theirs of leavened bread and other foods that include most grains, replacing it with matzoh. Unlike mass produced matzoh, each shmura matzoh is unique in appearance and shape, and because they are cooked at such a high temperature, they are crunchier than the factory-made matzoh. Naturally, Clark has made her own matzoh and says it is not difficult if you use a pre-heated pizza stone, but results in her home kitchen are not kosher.
No question about this elaborate meal’s sweet ending: flourless chocolate cake. “That’s what everyone wants. It’s the law,” Clark says.
Passover is one of the all-time, great culinary spreads, a global array of foods that help participants remember the plight of the Israelites as they fled Egypt. It is also a time of year when adults remember the seders of their past.
When Ben Daitz was growing up on the Upper West Side, Passover seders were special meals created by his beloved grandmother.
“She was a really good cook and it was her time to shine,” says Daitz, co-owner of the Vanderbilt, the restaurant on Vanderbilt and Bergen. As the youngest of three siblings, Daitz, 36, was the one to ask the all-important Passover questions.
You do not have to be Jewish to know why this night is different from all others; it is a heartfelt gathering of friends and family, the sharing of symbolic foods that tell an ancient story.
Even though his childhood seders are no more, Daitz finds his own fridge stays stocked with “some of the staples,” certain ethnic foods that connect with his heritage.
“I always have pickles, gefilte fish and horseradish,” he said.