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Seder Dinner: Communal Meal

During this Passover season, I was invited to share the Seder dinner at my neighbor’s table. The traditional Passover meal is grounded in history, and all of the food components have symbolic meanings. The Seder plate comprises foods that serve as stand-ins to retell the story about the journey from slavery to freedom. One plate around which people gather together has the all the makings of a communal meal, which happens to be my favorite blog theme (fondue, shabu shabu, injera, and raclette)!

As the dinner progresses from past to present, I wanted my contribution to honor traditions. As grain and flour are absent at a Passover meal, and eggs, orange, nuts signify new beginnings; I combined as many of the ritual foods to end on the sweetness of hope.

Orange Tart

(Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Lemon-Almond Tart)

Eggs – 4

Ground almonds – ½ cup

Sliced almonds – ½ cup

Cream – ½ cup

Sugar – ¾ cup

Oranges – 1 ½, juice and zest

Butter – 2 tbsp

Powdered sugar – for decoration

Kosher Salt – ¼ tsp

  • Heat the oven to 375ºF.
  • Process the almonds in a food processor to a fine flour-like texture.
  • Juice the oranges and zest the skin.
  • Beat the eggs in a bowl.
  • Add the almonds, cream, sugar and zest to the bowl. Mix well.
  • Add the orange juice and mix.
  • Melt the butter in an ovenproof skillet. When the butter has melted, add the egg-almond mixture. Cook until the sides of the egg mixture start to firm up.
  • Remove from the stove and transfer to the hot oven.
  • Cook for 10-12 minutes, until the mixture is lightly browned.
  • Remove and set it under the broiler for 30-40 seconds, for a caramelized brown.
  • Decorate with powdered sugar.

 

Happy Passover!

 

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Oranges

When oranges and clementines appear in grocery stores, they serve as reminders that winter is almost upon us – a time to boost up vitamin C. Clementines are an easy-to-peel fruit, while the more difficult Navel, Jaffa, and blood oranges are still worth the effort as they can add color and crispness to a salad. The acidity in oranges also helps counter fats in poultry. As I was roasting my favorite bird, duck, this past week, news started to trickle in about Beirut and Paris.

As both these cities share history, and both have world-renowned cuisines, honoring their food traditions seemed appropriate for the time. Food, in both these cities, is more about celebration of life, and eating out  is part of both cultures. In the classic French dish, duck à l’orange, duck is served with a rich orange sauce. In the mezze traditions of Lebanese cuisine, oranges perk up simple salads and orange blossom water suffuses desserts with delicate flavor.

Roasted Duck, Lettuce, and Orange Salad 

Frisée lettuce – 1, bunch

Oranges – 2, large

Wine vinegar – 6-8 tbsp

Olive/Sesame oil – 3 tbsp

Salt and pepper – to taste

Roasted duck leg/breast – 1, thinly sliced

  • Wash the orange. Julienne about 10 zests into thin slivers and keep aside. Cut the oranges crosswise in ¼-inch rounds.
  • Add the wine vinegar in a pan, and heat until it is just warm. Remove from heat.
  • Add the orange zests, and let them steep in the warm vinegar.
  • Add the olive oil, salt, and pepper to the vinegar. Keep this vinaigrette aside.
  • Assemble the washed lettuce on a platter. Remove the white pith from around the oranges and place them on the lettuce.
  • When ready to serve, pour the vinaigrette over the orange and lettuce.
  • Layer the duck slices between the oranges.

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Cranberry: A Superfruit

Cranberry, the fall fruit, has much in common with the gooseberry. Both are tart, astringent, and contains phytochemical, a chemical compound that is said to have cancer-fighting properties. When my mother’s friend asked her to drink the juice of Indian gooseberry (amla) to build up her immune system after chemotherapy treatments, every meal thereafter also contained pickled or stewed version of the fruit. Cranberries are  just as versatile. As cranberry glaze, sauce, and bread grace Thanksgiving tables, I decided to experiment with new ways to embrace its tartness over this holiday season.

One of my favorite sweets is the classic English dessert called fool. Traditionally, a fool is made with stewed and pureed gooseberries that are folded into custard. The advantage to making fool is that the fruit and custard can be prepared ahead of time, a smarter and elegant way to end an elaborate meal. Modified versions of fool substitute gooseberries with strawberries or raspberries, and custard with whipped cream or yogurt. My version with cranberries embraces the customary cranberry and orange combination and homemade custard.

Cranberry Fool

Cranberries – ½ lb., washed and drained

Sugar – ¼ cup

Orange – 1, zest and juice

  • Add the cranberries, sugar, zest and juice to a pan.
  • Cook on low for about 10-12 minutes.
  • Puree the fruit when it is cool, setting aside some of the whole cooked berries for decoration.
  • Refrigerate the berries until ready to use.
  • Fold the berries into the custard.

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Pickled cranberries are a great addition to a Thanksgiving meal and can be used as relish. Borrowing some of the pickling ingredients (sesame oil and fenugreek) from Indian cooking, my version of pickled cranberries has a familiar texture of  relish – but with an added kick from mustard and chili spices.

Pickled Cranberries

Sesame oil – 3 tbsp

Cranberries – ½ lb., washed and drained

Mustard powder – ½ tsp

Chili powder – ½ tsp

Fenugreek seeds – ½ tbsp

Curry leaves – 4 (optional)

  • Heat the oil.
  • Add the fenugreek seeds.
  • Once the seeds start to sputter, add the mustard powder, chili powder and curry leaves.
  • Sauté for a few seconds, and then add the cranberries.
  • Cover and cook on low for about 10 minutes.
  • The cooked cranberries can be eaten immediately or they can be stored for two weeks.

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Happy Thanksgiving!