"Why is this night different from all other nights?"
In 1984, what made Barbara Lazaroff's Passover Seder "different" was that her family wasn't there to share it, as they had been when she was growing up in the Bronx. "We always did Seder at my grandparents' one-bedroom walk-up," the designer and restaurateur recalls, "and my brothers and I got gelt whether we found the afikomen or not."
Feeling homesick for her family Seder and realizing that some of her restaurant guests felt the same way, the partner and then-wife of renowned chef Wolfgang Puck decided to recreate one at their restaurant Spago on Sunset Strip in Hollywood. "I decided to make Spago my dining room," says Lazaroff.
What began 20 years ago as a second-night gathering of friends and patrons turned into a tradition that continued after the restaurant moved to Beverly Hills in 1997, with up to 150 guests attending each year. It also inspired Seders at other Jewish-owned restaurants around the country. Many of them donate part of the Seder proceeds to a charitable cause. At Spago, the money goes to Mazon, a Jewish hunger-response organization that helps people of all religious persuasions. "I am pleased we have been able to provide help for the hungry in our community," Lazaroff says.
Serving the matzoh ball soup at Spago.
When Lazaroff first got the idea of a Seder at Spago, she didn't mind in the least that Puck was not Jewish. "I told Wolf he didn't have to do itI'd find another chef if he didn't want to, but I said it won't be as good." Puck rose to the challenge. Since then, the Passover Seder has become one of his favorite meals to prepare. "Half of the people who attend the Spago Seder every year are not Jewish," Lazaroff says. "By demystifying our Jewish traditions, we have a starting point for understanding. One of the key messages of Passover is that no one is truly free if all people are not free."
A rabbi and a cantor are on hand to lead the service at Spago, and microphones are set up around the restaurant so that guests can participate in the readings from the Haggadah. "Some read in Hebrew, some in English," says Lazaroff, "depending on what they're comfortable with."
Prominent lawyer Manny Klausner has attended the Spago Seder with his wife, Willette, on and off since its inception. "Where else can you get such an adventurous Seder," he says, "with food that's a lot better than your mother made?"
Celebrated Jewish cookbook author Joan Nathan, who lives in Washington, D.C., attended last year's Seder at Spago Beverly Hills. "Passover coincided with our son's vacation, so we flew out to California with 15 of our friends who have always celebrated Seder with us," she says. "It was very California,' with everyone singing There is no Seder like our Seder!'and the food was just great."
Though Spago is not a kosher restaurant, it refrains from using leavened products or shellfish for the Seder meal. The kitchen separates meat and dairy items, identifies desserts that use cream or butter and serves kosher wine. "Obviously, since our restaurant isn't kosher, the Seder isn't kosher," says Lazaroff. "But it's not exactly tref [non-kosher]."
The Spago Seder menu includes Puck's renditions of matzoh ball soup and gefilte fish, and such specialties as foie gras with apple-and-potato-onion latkes, Moroccan-style lamb and six different desserts. The homemade matzoh, sprinkled with shallots and thyme, is baked in the restaurant's wood-burning pizza oven. "We make 10,000 pieces of matzoh," says Lazaroff, "and everyone gets a package of it to take home."
Puck and Lazaroff were recently divorced, but they are still partners in the restaurantand in the annual Spago Seder. "I've loved watching everyone's childrenand mine!grow up over the years," says Lazaroff. "Passover at Spago is about a tradition I love. My children, my parents, my friends and extended family will be there this year. And so will I."
In New York City, several Jewish-owned restaurants hold Seders, including Savoy, a charming Mediterranean bistro in SoHo, and Artie's New York Delicatessen. Only one New York restaurant, however, does a Seder with a Mexican-Jewish twist: Rosa Mexicano, where on all other nights the margaritas flow.
Seder at Rosa Mexicano in Manhattan.
The idea of doing a Seder came from Howard Greenstone, the president of the Rosa Mexicano restaurant group (there are two locations in New York, and a new one in Washington, D.C.). "A good portion of our guests are Jewish," says Greenstone, "and I thought it would be a good opportunity to introduce them to traditional Passover food that was perhaps more assertively flavored than they're used to."
Greenstone asked Lila Lomeli, a Mexican Jew who co-wrote the Rosa Mexicano cookbook, to consult with culinary director Roberto Santibaez on the menu. ("My parents came to Mexico from Lithuania, and I married an Italian who converted," says Lomeli, explaining her name.) Lomeli's special Passover dishes include stuffed cabbage with tropical fruits; braised and grilled veal and chicken with chile guajuillo and salsa verde; and a flourless chocolate-almond layer cake with tequila-raisin filling.
"Every recipe is based on the way my mother presented the traditional Seder in Mexico, la Mexicana," she adds. "Sometimes with a little chili, like in the soup. We added a taste of tomato sauce to the gefilte fish. With the stuffed cabbage, my mother used a sauce with tomato, pineapple and mango, for a sweet-and-sour flavor."
For its first Seder, last year, Rosa Mexicano offered the special Passover dishes along with the regular menu throughout the Passover week instead of holding one large group Seder. "I was surprised that most guests came on the first two nights," recalls Greenstone, "and that many were first-timers who had never been to the restaurant before." The restaurant made Seder plates, and each table performed its own reading of the Haggadah. "This year, we will offer Passover foods and Seder plates at both of our New York restaurants and at our new restaurant in Washington, D.C.," he says. "Big families might want to book our private rooms."
In 2004, Rosa Mexicano will also repeat the Mexican-Jewish Seder cooking class that Lomeli taught last year. "The main point of the Seder is to show how Jewish communities have adapted to other culturesin this case, Mexicanyet have still kept their traditions," she says. "Last year, I was happy to see many American Jewish families enjoying this new version of traditional food."
We add brilliant green color by wrapping each piece of gefilte fish in a blanched cabbage leaf. If you like the pungent bite of horseradish with gefilte fish, finely grate a peeled, fresh horseradish root into a bowl; cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until needed. For red horseradish, boil 1/2 pound red beets until tender; then peel, finely grate into a bowl, and add to taste to grated horseradish.
- 1 head (about 2-1/2 pounds) green cabbage
- 2 cups matzoh meal
- 1 quart fish stock, Court Bouillon or good-quality canned fish broth
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 medium (5 ounces) onion, minced
- 2 pounds whitefish fillets, such as pike, carp or whitefish, cut into chunks
- 3 eggs, separated
- 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
- 2 tablespoons (6 or 7 sprigs) chopped fresh tarragon leaves
- 2 to 3 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- Cayenne pepper, to taste
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into thin julienne strips
- 1 medium leek, white part only, cut into thin julienne strips
- Grated white or red horseradish (see note, above)
- Preheat the oven to 375F.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the cabbage and blanch it for about 5 minutes; then carefully lift it out, leaving the water in the pot, and transfer the cabbage to a basin filled with cold water. When the cabbage head is cool enough to handle, remove the whole leaves and cut away the tough core. As you peel off the outer leaves, you may have to return the head of cabbage to the boiling water to soften the inner leaves. Lay the whole leaves out to dry on a clean towel and reserve.
- Put the matzoh meal in a small bowl. Cover with 1 cup of fish stock and let soak until needed.
- In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saut until wilted but not yet browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl to cool.
- In a wooden bowl or on a chopping board, chop the fish finely with a curved chopper or a large knife. Add the matzoh meal with the stock, the cooled onions, 3 egg yolks, the chopped parsley and tarragon, 2 teaspoons of salt, white pepper, and cayenne to taste, and continue to chop until well combined.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form firm but not yet stiff peaks. Stir a little into the fish mixture; then, quickly but gently, fold in the remaining whites. To test for flavor, bring a little fish stock to a simmer, add a small ball of the fish mixture, and cook for about 5 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning, adding a little more salt or cayenne as you like.
- Heat the remaining fish stock and spoon a little into an 11-by-17-inch baking pan. Divide the fish mixture into twelve portions, about 4 ounces each, and enclose each portion in an oblong shape inside 1 or 2 cabbage leaves, wrapping the leaves around the filling like paper around a package, folding the bottom, then the two sides, and then the top over the fish; you will find that when the leaves get smaller, you will have to use two to wrap the fish. As each package is formed, place in the prepared baking pan, seam-side down. Pour the remaining stock over the fish and top with the julienned carrots and leeks. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, let the fish cool in the stock, and then transfer the fish and stock to an airtight container and refrigerate until serving time.
- To serve, place one package of gefilte fish on each of 12 plates, garnishing with some of the julienned carrots and leeks. Pass the horseradish for guests to add to their plates to taste.
© 2004 Wolfgang Puck
Caldo Juliana con Bolitas de Mazo
Mexican Matzoh Ball Soup
- 2 quarts chicken broth
- 10 cilantro sprigs
- 2 mint sprigs
- 1 jalapeo pepper
- 1 small carrot, finely chopped
- 1 celery branch, finely chopped
- 1 turnip, finely chopped
For the matzoh balls:
2 1/2 oz. matzoh meal
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 leaves epazote (available in Hispanic and gourmet food stores, or substitute parsley)
For the garnish:
2 limes, cut in wedges
- Boil the chicken broth with the cilantro sprigs, mint and half the jalapeo for 15 minutes. Strain and reserve.
- Make the matzoh ball dough (mixing matzoh, eggs and oil) as usual, adding the chopped epazote leaves to the dough. Make 20 small balls and boil them in water for 20 minutes or until fully cooked.
- Fifteen minutes before serving, poach the finely chopped vegetables in the broth for 10 minutes. Add the matzoh balls and serve. Decorate with some fresh cilantro leaves, the remaining half of the jalapeo cut in a fine julienne, and serve with lime wedges.
Stuffed Cabbage With Tropical Fruits
- 1 big cabbage
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 2 tablespoons fresh ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, shredded
- 2 green apples, peeled and cut into cubes
- 2 green mangos, peeled and cut into cubes
- 2 cups chopped fresh pineapple
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 4 cups canned tomato puree
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon lemon salt (citric acid)
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Core the cabbage and discard the outer leaves before you put it into the water. Boil for about 5 minutes and drain.
- Mix the beef with 1 tablespoon of black pepper and a pinch of kosher salt.
- In a heavy saucepan, heat the oil and saute the onions for 5 minutes at medium heat. Add the carrots, apples, mango and pineapple. Stir constantly and season to taste with salt.
- Meanwhile in a small saucepan caramelize the sugar, stirring constantly so as to not let it burn. Pour the caramel onto the fruits, add the tomatoes and bay leaves and season with salt and pepper. Let sauce boil for 20 minutes while you make the cabbage rolls.
- Start making the rolls by separating and laying flat 20 of the better leaves. Divide the meat among them and then start to carefully fold and roll each one. Shred the rest of the cabbage and use it to line the bottom of a large saucepan. Then place the stuffed cabbages carefully in the pan; sprinkle with lemon salt and add 2 cups of water.
- Cook over very low heat for about four hours. Check constantly to see if it needs water and/or more salt. This is better if prepared 2 days in advance.
Serves 4 to 6
- 6 cups peeled, cored and grated Granny Smith apples
- 2 lemons, juiced
- 1 cup roughly chopped walnuts
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/4 cup sweet red wine
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- In a large mixing bowl, stir together all of the ingredients until thoroughly combined.
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time.
© 2004 Wolfgang Puck
Spago Shallot and Thyme Matzoh
Makes about 6 sheets of matzoh
- 1-1/2 cups finely ground semolina flour
- 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, or 2 teaspoons dried
- 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots or onion
- Put the flours, salt, eggs and half the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the stainless-steel blade or a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix or process until the dough forms a ball.
- Turn out the dough into a clean bowl and cover with a damp kitchen towel. Let rest at room temperature for at least 2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 400F. Using a pasta machine or a rolling pin, roll out the dough until it is very thin, like a lasagna noodle (setting number 1 on the pasta machine, or as thin as possible without tearing). You should have approximately 6 sheets, each about 6 by 10 inches.
- Place the dough on baking sheets and brush very lightly with the remaining olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with the salt, thyme and shallots. Bake the matzoh for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy.