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Seder brings food, family together during Passover
Assortment of recipes offers options for meals
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Chaya Mentz’s nut cake recipe has been in her family for generations. She plans to make the nut cake as part of her Passover meal, which marks the Jews exodus from Egypt. Mentz shared her nut cake recipe with The Times. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Nut cake

  • 10 eggs separated
  • 1/2 cup sugar and 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 cups ground walnuts or almonds
  • 1/2 cup cooked potatoes or potato starch

Preheat oven to 325 degree. Grease a cake pan.
Beat egg whites while slowly adding 1/2 cup sugar. Slowly add ground nuts.
In a separate bowl, mix egg yolks with 3/4 cup of sugar and potatoes.
Fold into egg white mixture carefully and pour into pan.
Bake for 55 minutes.
Source: Chaya Mentz

Basic kosher macaroon

  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 cups dried, sweetened, flaked coconut
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of coarse salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine ingredients in a food processor and pulse until just combined, scraping down sides of bowl if necessary. Scoop 1 1/2-inch mounds of coconut mixture onto the prepared baking sheet about 1-inch apart.
Bake until macaroons are lightly golden, about 16 to 18 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through cooking. Cook macaroons on a wire rack.
Macaroons will keep at room temperature for 3 to 5 days, for about 3 weeks refrigerated in an airtight container and for a few months in an airtight container in the freezer.
Adapted from a recipe by Martha Stewart

Passover latkes with lox

  • 2 russet potatoes, unpeeled
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion
  • 1 large wedge lemon
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoon matzo meal
  • 1\4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Vegetable oil (not olive)
  • 6 tablespoons sour cream
  • 4 ounces smoked salmon, in 6 slices
  • 6 chives, chopped, optional

Grate potatoes, using the large holes of a grater. Place the gratings in several layers of paper towels and squeeze out as much liquid as you can (it is easiest to do this in two batches, and it makes cleaning easier if you do it over a sink).
Unwrap the potato gratings and place them in a medium bowl. Add the onion, squeeze the lemon over the top and mix thoroughly. Add the eggs, matzo meal and nutmeg, and stir to mix again.
Pour oil into a skillet. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it is very hot; the oil is ready when a little bit of the potato mixture sizzles when you drop it in. Pour in enough of the potato mixture to make 1 or 2 (4-inch) pancakes; do not make more than 2 at a time.
Flatten the potatoes in the pan with a spatula and fry a few minutes until the bottom is golden brown. Flip pancakes and cook until the other sides are golden brown.
Remove, drain on paper towels and sprinkle with plenty of salt.
Top each latke with 1 tablespoon of sour cream and 1 slice of salmon, rolled up. Garnish with chives, if desired.
Recipe by Daniel Neman

Jalapeno-shallot matzo balls

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil or schmaltz (chicken fat)
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 small jalapeno, finely chopped (remove seeds for a less spicy matzo ball)
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup matzo meal
  • 3 tablespoons seltzer water
  • Chicken soup

Heat the oil in a medium pan set over medium heat. Add the shallots and jalapeno; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
Transfer the jalapeno mixture, including the oil, to a large bowl (to speed up the cooling process). Let cool to the touch.
Once cooled, combine the eggs, salt, matzo meal and seltzer in the bowl with the jalapeno mixture. Cover; refrigerate, 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Turn the heat to medium-low; keep at a simmer while you form the matzo balls.
Moisten your hands with water. Scoop out a rounded 1 tablespoon of matzo ball batter; roll it into a 1-inch ball. Drop into the simmering water; repeat with the remaining batter. You should end up with about 18 matzo balls. Cover the pot; simmer until the matzo balls are tender and puffed, 30-35 minutes. (If you cut one in half, it should be pale in color throughout.)
Remove the matzo balls from the pot with a slotted spoon. Divide them among serving bowls and ladle soup over them. (Matzo balls can be cooled to room temperature, then stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 day. Rewarm them in your soup before serving.)

Chaya Mentz is hosting her first Seder this Passover.

After she and her husband, Rabbi Levi Mentz of Chabad of Forsyth moved from Los Angeles to Cumming last year, Chaya is pulling out her family recipes to share with new friends.

“For me, personally, this is my first year that I’m hosting the Seders at my house,” she said. “I’ve always gone to my mother’s and helped with the cooking and been in the kitchen.”

Passover is the Jewish holiday commemorating the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, Levi said.

“At that time a unified family becomes an eternal nation,” he said.

During the eight-night holiday, Jews refrain from eating any leavened items.

“Anything that consists of grain or is grain-based can not be eaten over the entire holiday of Passover,” Levi said.

Because of those limitations, Chaya said it takes time to prepare for Passover.

“I use very little product, like processed foods,” she said. “I mainly buy fresh fruits and vegetables, raw meat and fish and a few little things like sugar and nuts.”

Chaya also noted lots of kosher products can be purchased at stores for Passover. However, her family tradition includes several homemade recipes.

“(The recipes have) been in our family for many years,” Chaya said. “It’s kind of nice that one week to go all out. It’s part of the holiday at this point. It’s definitely a lot of work, but it’s something we all do look forward to.”

Charoset is one of the family recipes that regularly makes it onto her family’s Passover menu. It’s a dip made with apples, nuts, wine and a pear, all blended in a food processor.

Another family favorite is a tomato sauce with roasted tomatoes, onions, olive oil and jalapeno. It’s poured over meatballs, chicken or fish.

Chaya also is planning a homemade duck sauce to cover chicken.

“It’s almost like a jam,” she said.

The sauce is similar to a plum sauce or citrus jam. She peels oranges and grapefruits and boils them in a pot with sugar.

Gefilte fish is a Jewish food eaten year-round, but added especially at Passover, Chaya said. It’s a combination of different types of ground fish, such as whitefish and carp, and eggs and matza meal. It’s baked in a loaf and sliced.

“I buy premade loaves. The fish comes ground and shaped already,” Chaya said. “I bake it myself and tomato sauce will go over that, or sometimes onions.”

Chaya’s nut cake recipe is another that’s been in her family for generation. The recipe includes ground nuts, sugar, eggs and a baked potato. She mixes it together and bakes it and it comes out like a cake.

Levi said while the holiday is eight days, the religious experience is the first two nights. This year, Passover started Tuesday.

Levi said God asks them to eat matza and drink four glasses of wine by the Seder, the first two nights of Passover.

“Typically when family, friends, community come together to celebrate and there’s an entire Seder, which consists of 15 steps,” Leavi said.

The Seder is a meal that’s mixed in with prayer.

“It’s the study of Torah, religious experiences and the eating of different foods that commemorate different parts of our slavery and our exodus,” Levi said.

The Seder has four musts, Levi said. First Jews must eat matz. Next, they must drink four cups of wine to celebrate their freedom. Third, Jews must eat bitter herbs to commemorate the 210 years of slavery endured. Fourth, the story of the exodus must be told.

“Each and every single one of us, we have a pharaoh that lives within us,” Levi said. “Within us there’s also Egypt.

“That feeling to stay small and simple is the Egyptian talking within us to suppress us and not allow us to grow.”

During Passover, Jews think about a personal exodus and how to get free.

“We start thinking about how to unleash the shackles of the Egyptians or the pharaoh that holds us back,” he said.

Passover is a time to take advantage of the holiday and its energy and be free. It ends April 18.