Not Your Bubbie’s Passover

Goodbye, Grandma’s gefilte fish; Shalom, arugula fishcakes with horseradish aioli.

With bagels, pasta, and pizza literally off the table for those observing the eight-day Jewish holiday of Passover (it starts the evening of April 3 and concludes the evening of the 11th, with special Seder dinners on the first two nights) matzo gets old fast. “Jews traditionally avoid eating any leavened bread and the five forbidden grains of rye, wheat, barley, oats, and spelt during the holiday,” explains Rabbi Eytan Hammerman of the Jewish Community Center of Harrison. “And all processed foods—even soda—need to be labeled ‘kosher for Passover.’” With apologies to my Grandma Rose, the trend is Passover cuisine that’s more gourmet than ever before. We asked local chefs for tips on how to take Passover fare from boringly traditional to brilliantly creative.  

Break Out of the (Matzo) Box

“I grew up on cream cheese and jelly on matzo for lunch during Passover as a child in Brooklyn,” says Laurie Pearlman of Harrison, a cofounder of the cooking school Cooking Well Done (find her on Facebook). Today she sends her family off with homemade flatbread or grilled panini sandwiches. And think matzo pizza—tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella melted on a piece of matzo—is the height of Passover culinary art? Pearlman serves a cauliflower crust pizza that is both healthy and delicious. “Create a menu that balances traditional favorites with modern dishes and new flavors,” suggests chef and caterer Nisa Lee of Pelham ( And focus on variety, urges Pearlman. “The more color on your plate, the healthier your meal will be,” she says. A favorite holiday dinner of hers is cedar plank salmon with an avocado honey sauce served with quinoa and cashews.

Try a Twist on the Traditional

Any dish can be reinvented,” says Lee. “The key is using the right ingredients so that the flavors are well balanced.” Pearlman, who remembers her grandmother making gefilte fish in a hand grinder (“Sometimes we’d find the fish swimming in the bathtub first!”), still serves that traditional dish but in new versions like arugula fishcakes with horseradish aioli. And while chef and co-owner of Plates in Larchmont Matthew Karp calls himself a traditionalist, he says the application of professional technique to any recipe can in itself be a thrill. Or what about using a traditional ingredient in a nontraditional way? Witness Karp’s Passover guilty pleasure—adding some sugar to Kedem Concord grape juice to make sorbet. 

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Go Global

Karp, who grew up celebrating the holiday in Scarsdale, suggests “opening up our minds to the fact that the Diaspora took Jews and our cuisine everywhere” as a step in the right direction. He suggests taking cues from other more exotic, Sephardic countries that use varied spices and other meats like goat. Lee says she’s also a fan of using a global combination of flavors to “customize the menu to reflect various regions from around the world using specialized ingredients” for a Mediterranean, Asian, or Latin Seder. 

’Tis the Seasonings

Use exotic ingredients, spices, and herbs to enhance the flavors of dishes. Lee likes using Spanish port in lieu of red wine as a marinade for the lamb or brisket and ginger Mimosa vinaigrette for a quinoa garden spring salad. Some of her favorite seasonings include tarragon and lemongrass in matzo ball soup and Jamaican thyme on meat, poultry, and vegetables. 

Shake It Up With New Products

Pearlman remembers when packaged Passover pasta used to be gluey and heavy; newer versions are thankfully lighter in texture and come in different shapes and sizes. Plus, she says, “Companies are bringing new products to market every year—from baked goods to quinoa to gourmet cheeses.” Two of her favorite new kosher for Passover products: Yehuda brand gluten-free cake meal, which she uses to make her mini sweet potato tarts, and Gluten-Free Panko Flakes by Jeff Nathan Creations. “Not only do they make a great crust on chicken or fish, they contain no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives,” she says.

Goose Bay tops Manischewitz in sophistication and flavor.  

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Don’t Whine About the Manischewitz 

For some, it isn’t a Seder without that good old, syrupy sweet Manischewitz wine. For those with a more delicate palate, Pearlman suggests Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand for white, and for red she says the Tzora Vineyards in the Judean Hills of Israel is a terrific choice, especially the Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend. Lee recommends Zachys Wine & Liquor in Scarsdale for their selection of organic Passover wines.

A Takeout Seder

Don’t feel like cooking? Plates offers a special takeout menu including a $400 Seder package for 10 to 12 people plus other choices like slow-braised savory brisket at $30 per pound and a matzo lasagna with peas, leeks, carrots, and potatoes that serves six to eight for $50. Call (914) 834-1244 to order.

Go to for recipes from Laurie Pearlman at Cooking Well Done.

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