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A Mexican Passover

The country that gave the world tacos, enchiladas and tamales would hardly seem to be a haven for kosher cuisine, but small numbers of Jews have lived in Mexico for centuries. Today's approximately 50,000 Jews are mostly based in Mexico City, are typically rather religious and enjoy a variation on Mexican cuisine with sauces based on vegetables and moles based on seeds or fruits.

I was inspired to create this menu after attending a Mexican seder at the Washington, D.C. location of Rosa Mexicana, an upscale Mexican chain.

Mexican haroset
Tropical haroset is made with pears, apples, bananas, dates and almonds.

Tropical Haroset

An unusual haroset, in that it is cooked. If possible use Mexican cinnamon which has a completely different taste (available in many supermarkets and Latino markets). The color changes in cooking so don't worry, just enjoy.

1 Bartlet pear, peeled, cored, diced
3 golden delicious apples, peeled, cored, chopped
3 bananas, peeled and mashed
1 lb. pitted dates
1/2 lb. blanched almonds
2 Tbsp ground Mexican cinnamon
1 cup sweet wine

Place everything in the food processor and puree. Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and simmer over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, adding wine or water as needed.

Stir and mix well. Remove from heat and let cool. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or two to chill.

Makes 5 to 6 cups.

Tiritas de Salmon al Jocoque (Salmon Sushi)

This is a real fusion recipe that is as beautiful as it is tasty! The plates should be kept cold before serving. You can buy the salmon already cut at a sushi bar or any good market. Or if you would like to slice the fish yourself, make sure you have a very sharp knife since fish has to be cut very thin, about 4-inches long and 1/2-inch wide.

12 oz raw king salmon, cut like a sushi log, sliced in sashimi style to make 18 slices
3/4 cup chipotle marinade for ceviche de atun (recipe follows)
1/2 cup cucumber yogurt sauce (recipe follows)
1/2 cup beet salsa (recipe follows)

Place the slices of salmon onto four refrigerated plates, seven pieces per plate.

Spoon the beet salsa on one side of the salmon and the cucumber relish on the other. Top with a sprig of cilantro or decorate as desired.

Before serving put marinade on salmon and let plate sit 10 minutes.

Marinada de Chipotle Para Ceviche (Chipotle Marinade for Ceviche)

Chipotle chili in adobo sauce is hot, so add very little at a time and taste as you go. A quarter tsp is more than enough for me, but friends who love spicy use a lot more.

1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice
1 Tbsp chipotle in adobo (canned chilies in sauce), pureed
2 tsp white vinegar
1/2 Tbsp salt
1/2 Tbsp sugar

Mix all ingredients, check seasoning, and strain. Makes 1 cup.

Passover Salsa de Betabel con Habañero (Beet Salsa with Habañero)

You will not burn your tummy with this, but it may burn your mouth a little. Wear gloves to chop chilies and don't touch your face or body! This would be a great substitute for bitter herbs.

2 cups diced (1/8-inch) boiled beets/or roasted with skin on*
2 scallions (1 oz) finely sliced
1/4 cup yellow bell pepper diced (1/8-inch)
1 jalapeno (fresh only, remove seeds and veins), chopped
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 orange
1/4 cup firmly packed cilantro, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt

Mix all ingredients together and let sit at room temperature 20 minutes before using. Place on one side of salmon, place yogurt/cucumber on the other.

*Boil beets 25 to 30 minutes or roast at 350¢ªF to 375¢ªF. To test for doneness, knife should go in very easily.

Yogurt and Cucumber Sauce

This recipe came to Mexico with the Spanish? yogurt, cilantro and string cheese, but the Spanish learned it from the Arabs who lived in Spain.

1 cup plain yogurt, after draining (or buy Labenan, Greek drained yogurt)
1/2 cup cucumber with skin on, finely chopped
2 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice, strained
1/4 tsp chili de arbol powder or chili powder (or toast or dry chili on griddle then chop in spice grinder or fast blender like a Vitamix)

Combine all ingredients together and season with salt to taste.

Robalo al limon
Fish in lime cream sauce

Fish in Lime-Cream Sauce

This recipe is interesting in that it uses the cilantro stems instead of the leaves. The stems have a completely different flavor than the leaves. Note there are alternatives to some ingredients.

4 pieces (7 oz each) white fleshed fish like red snapper or sea bass, about 1-inch thick
2 tsp olive oil
Zest of 1/2 a lime
2 tsp chopped garlic
1/4 cup crème frache, or half-and-half or labenan
3 Tbsp cilantro stems, washed well and finely sliced, set aside leaves for garnish
Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lime, divided
kosher salt
pinch roasted chile de arbol powder (prepare by roasting a long skinny red pepper, then grinding) or freshly ground black pepper or chili flakes

Preheat oven to 350¢ªF.

Heat oil in a small saucepan. Sear the fish in the oil on both sides, shaking the pan to keep the fish from sticking.

Add the lime zest and garlic and cook 30 seconds.

Cook about three minutes per side, turning once.

Add the cream and mix well to coat fish. Place the pan in the oven for five more minutes or continue cooking on the stove top.

Remove pan from oven and return pan to stove. Add the cilantro stems and cook for 30 seconds--must be done at last minute.

Add 1 tsp lime juice and taste before adding salt and pinch of pepper. Serve with a sprinkle of fresh cilantro leaves.

Place each piece of fish on a bed of green beans, spoon on some of the pan sauce. Top with a few of the tomato piloncillos.

Peras rellenas
Peras rellenas are stuffed pears poached in red wine.

Peras Rellenas Para Passover (Stuffed Pears Poached in Red Wine with Warm Chocolate Sauce and Spicy Vanilla Sabayon)

Once the pears are poached, stuffed, and dipped with chocolate they are ready to go. Serving the Spicy Vanilla Sabayon is optional if you don't want to be bothered.

6 whole Bosc pears. DO NOT wash pears or put in lemon juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 cups red wine like Merlot
1 vanilla bean, seeds and skin separated or vanilla bean paste
6-inch Mexican cinnamon bark
2 tsp anise seeds
2 Tbsp lemon zest
1 circle parchment or wax paper to fit over pears in the pot. Cut by folding parchment sheet in half, and in half again, etc. and cut in circle.

Peel and core pears from the bottom, leaving the stems on and scraping a little bigger opening once the pears were cored.

Using a small, short pot, dissolve the sugar in the wine and 4 cups of water (so wine/water covers most of the pears) over medium heat.

Add, vanilla and break in cinnamon stick. Add seeds and zest and mix well.

Add the pears. Place the parchment circle directly over the pears to keep them submerged in the liquid (it also serves to hold the steam closer to the food).

Bring liquid to a light simmer, and cook the pears until just tender--about 10 to 12 minutes.

Remove pears from the liquid and chill.

Stuffing:

2 Tbsp margarine or butter
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots, or peaches, cranberries, raisins
1 Tbsp brown sugar

Melt the butter or margarine in a sauté pan over medium-low heat.

Add the pecans and toast lightly. Be careful not to burn them.

Stir in the chopped apricots and sugar. Mix well, stirring constantly until light bubbly/foamy syrup develops. Remove from the heat and cool.

Take the chilled pears and stuff the mixture into the hollowed bottoms. Place back in the refrigerator to chill again.

Spicy Vanilla Sabayon

4 large egg yolks
4 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp non-alcoholic vanilla (for Passover) or regular
1/2 cup white wine, optional
1/4 tsp red chile powder, optional

Place the yolks, sugar, vanilla, wine and chile powder (if using) into a small mixing bowl. Whisk over a double boiler over simmering water until the yolks become light and frothy and all the sugar is dissolved (about three to four minutes). Sauce should coat a wooden spoon thickly. You can cool (and refrigerate) it but serving warm is better.

To serve, spoon sabayon onto plates. Set a pear in the center, sprinkle a little of the stuffing around if desired. Serves 6.

The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." Hebrew for "fit" (as in, "fit for consumption"), the Jewish dietary laws. Hebrew for "order," refers to the traditional course of events, or service, surrounding the Passover and Tu Bishvat meals.

Sheilah Kaufman is a traveling cooking teacher and author of 25 cookbooks.

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