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Seder dinner filled with traditional foods
Passover meal mixes Jewish and other cultural influences
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For her Passover meal, Orly Padawer makes green peas, fennel and meatballs. Passover marks the Jews’ escape from slavery in Egypt and into the promised land. The Jewish holiday begins at sundown Monday and ends April 22. - photo by NAT GURLEY

For the Moroccan green peas with fennel and meatballs recipe, click here.

Orly Padawer of Cleveland said she’s looking forward to the Passover feast known as the Seder.

Passover begins Monday and ends April 22. The symbolic holiday meal is served with four cups of wine and reminds the celebrants about the Jewish people’s escape from slavery in Egypt and deliverance into the promised land.

“This is my favorite holiday, my very favorite,” said Padawer, who grew up in Israel. “Since we moved to the States, it’s hard because usually it’s a very, very big family holiday. I’m used to spending the holiday with my family and extended family. I kind of swapped it with friends. We’ll have like 20 people (celebrate) on Passover night.”

Padawer moved to the U.S. from Israel with her family 11 years ago. As a child her mother, a Moroccan, often made a dish of green peas, fennel and meatballs for the holiday meal.

To prepare for the meal, Padawer said she begins cooking about two days in advance.

Padawer said one of the reasons she enjoys Passover is because it allows for a blending of traditions.

“I come from a few traditions,” she said. “My mother is Moroccan so a lot of the Seder, Passover night, is made from a blend of Moroccan food and Israeli food. It’s beautiful. There is a lot of interpretations. Because the Jews are spread all over the world and different people have different habits and holiday customs. It’s really nice.”

Jonathan Waxman, rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom in Smithtown, N.Y., said most other Jewish holidays have culinary components.

“You eat dairy for Shavuot, hamantaschen for Purim. For Hanukkah, you light candles, eat latkes, sing songs and take a Zantac,” he said. “But at Passover, the center of the action is the meal.”

Waxman’s wife, Sarrae Crane, makes her own gefilte fish from scratch, as well as chicken soup from her mother’s recipe.

“I think she skims off a little too much fat,” he said. “It’s an annual argument.”

One of Waxman’s go-to recipes, cabbage kugel, is also from his mother-in-law, Ann Crane.

“This is a kugel,” he said, “for people who don’t like kugel, and who don’t like cabbage.”

Mostly, Waxman likes to get creative in the kitchen. One of the nights, he’ll serve multicolored peppers stuffed with ground turkey and quinoa. (For years, there was a debate as to whether the South American seeds were kosher for Passover; since the Orthodox Union weighed in on the side of quinoa, Waxman considers the matter settled.)

Traditionally, the meal is centered around religious customs.

One area where Waxman departs from tradition is in the salad service, which he brings to the table directly after the Haggadah instructs participants to dip the karpas (green vegetable) in salt water.

“I got this idea from Rabbi Ron Wolfson (author and professor at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles). I heard him speak, and he suggested serving the salad right after you dip the karpas. I thought, ‘Wow! This will stop people from saying they are starving.’”

Along with a traditional Ashkenazic haroset of apples, walnuts and sweet wine, the rabbi always looks for something “interesting,” such as a recipe that originated with the Jewish community of Curaçao for haroset balls made with dried fruits and cashews and rolled in cinnamon.

“There are so many customs to get to this holiday,” Padawer said. “What do you eat and why? Telling the importance of why. Passing the story from generation to generation how the Jewish people become what they are. I like it because it’s about asking questions and doubts and not taking anything as it is and not being obedient.”

McClatchy Newspaper contributed to this report.

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