I was born with with lifelong passports to the joys of both Easter and Passover tables: holiday dual citizenship. My mother was raised Protestant and converted to Judaism after college. I was raised Jewish, attended Hebrew school three days a week, had a bat mitzvah, and continue to practice Jewish traditions today. My extended family was Protestant, however, and we celebrated holidays together, so I was blessed to enjoy the culinary traditions of Christmas and Easter.
For Easter, my mom bought baskets at the drugstore and filled them with chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, and squishy Peeps. We dyed Easter eggs and played hide and seek. The Jewish kids had an edge when it came to Easter-egg hunting: We'd already hunted down the afikomen at Passover earlier that week. By Easter, our seeking skills were honed.
This open-mindedness abounded as my family grew, and it continues today. My Christmas-celebrating Protestant cousin recently married a Polish Catholic man who has a lot of Greek relatives in his extended family. This year, I'll be celebrating Greek Easter with his family; they will be roasting a whole lamb on a spit.
This feast I developed derives from both traditions—a mashup. There were some challenges (I wanted a grand dessert but could use no leavening), but the first work was easy: I said buh-bye to pork and separated milk from meat (combining the two is a violation of kosher rules). Although there is dairy in the salad that comes at the beginning of the meal (before any meat is served), the entrée, sides, and desserts are completely dairy-free.
Both holiday meal traditions tend to feature foods of spring, and so does this menu: eggs (in the orange curd); spring produce (artichokes, strawberries); and lots of herbs (dill, parsley, thyme, and cilantro). With winter still in the rearview mirror, I also included citrus and beets. The carrots are a nod to the Easter bunny, seasoned with Israeli flavors (the carrots, not the bunny). The Lemon Chicken Soup with Dumplings is a twist on a Passover classic, matzo ball soup. The sweet crowning glory at feast's end is the sponge cake, leavened only with eggs, topped with tangy curd and first-of-the-season berries.
When we eat with friends and family, we share our faith in fundamental human connection. Blending food traditions is a pleasure and an honor. Spring is the most hopeful time of year, a time to share our heritage, and our foods, with guests new and familiar.
Note from the author: I would like to make a correction to the Spring Feast article that I wrote for the April 2011 issue of Cooking Light. Thank you to Marc Cutler, of Beachwood Ohio, who brought this error to the attention of the Cooking Light editorial team.
Bourbon, an ingredient I called for as part of Brown Sugar-Glazed Capon with Bourbon Gravy, is not typically kosher for Passover. Most Bourbon is made from a combination of corn and other grains. Since grains are not permissible on Passover, most Bourbons are out.
During Passover, Jews are not allowed to eat any "chametz" or leavened foods. In the Talmud, the main book of Jewish law and customs, chametz is defined as five grains: wheat, spelt, barley, oats and rye. Matzoh and matzoh meal are permissible, and are created under the supervision of a rabbi. During Passover, Jews who observe kosher dietary laws refrain from eating these grains.
Bourbon is required to be made from at least 51% corn. Most bourbons are a combination of corn and wheat and/or rye and barley, but there are 100% corn bourbons, which, Talmudically speaking, could be permissible (Hudson Baby Bourbon is an example of a 100% corn Bourbon).
Here is where it gets complicated. Though most Jews agree on Talmudic law, there are variations between the observances of different kinds of Jewish people. In the 13th century, Ashkenazi Jews split from Sephardic Jews and added legumes to the list of restricted food items, including rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, mustard, sesame and poppy seeds. Observant Ashkenazi Jews will not eat these legumes, but Sephardic Jews will.
Traditional Jewish kosher dietary law is complex; when it comes to Passover, and the difference in observance between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, the complexity increases. There's a phrase credited to David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, that comes to mind, "For every two Jews there are three opinions."
I apologize if I have caused any confusion with my inclusion of Bourbon in the Spring Feast. If you are an observant Ashkenazi and you'd like to try the recipe, try it after the holiday. If you're open to alternatives, get your hands on a bottle of 100% corn Bourbon, tell your friends you're going with a Sephardic menu this year, and you should be all set.