Haroset—a sweet Passover dish made of diced apples, honey, cinnamon and sweet wine.
Besides bringing prelude showers to May flowers, this April—as is often the case—includes two major cultural holidays: Easter Sunday, April 21; and Passover, Friday, April 19-Saturday, April 27. Easter, more so, has morphed into popular culture, with Easter bonnets, Easter eggs, Easter baskets, Easter rabbit and Easter parades. But both include food traditions.
Lamb—Whole roasted lamb is forbidden during Passover. But several lamb cuts grace the Easter table. Usually roasted or grilled, leg of lamb leads the list, whether full, half, semi-boneless or butterflied.
Shanks make a suitable substitute. They are available in Cryovac twin-packs at most markets. Usually braised, they also may be slow-roasted or stewed.
Finally, perhaps the ultimate lamb dish: a crown roast. A meat-cutter ties multiple racks into a circle, forming a crown, whose center holds bread-and -aromatics stuffing.
Ham—Totally taboo on Passover menus, ham is a perennial favorite at Easter. In recent times, spiral sliced, honey-glazed hams became popular with those having meager knife skills. Offered by well-known vendors like Honey Baked, Smithfield, and national warehouse stores, a personal favorite is Costco’s boneless, butterflied ham. Look for Kirkland Applewood Smoked Master Carved Ham with natural juices.
Carbs—The most popular dishes are two year-round favorites. Scalloped potatoes, fixed any number of ways, top the list. Equally diverse presentations of mac and cheese follow, with add-ins ranging from crabmeat to truffles.
Veggies—Honey-glazed carrots are popular. But asparagus comes into season in spring. That’s why it’s neck and neck with the rabbit food: steamed, roasted, or nuked in the microwave. Just top with hollandaise or a simple dollop of Best Foods.
Appetizer—Deviled eggs are hot-ticket appetizers at trendy spots featuring endless recipe combinations. But if you color hard-cooked Easter eggs, don’t overcook them, because you might have to eat them. The outside shell may be pastel. But when properly cooked there’s no “sulfur ring” inside. A soft yoke is fine. A greenish-gray ring around the yoke guarantees an “F” at any cooking school!
Hot Cross Buns—These sweet pastries with currants or raisins are iced with a cross. They traditionally were eaten on Good Friday. Leave making these to the pros. Look for them at Sweet Adeline Bakeshop, La Farine, or Hopkins Street Bakery.
Candy—Confections abound at Easter: everything from chocolate bunnies and eggs, to those sugarcoated marshmallow Peeps found in nearly every Easter basket.
While Passover includes a pass on whole roasted lamb, it’s permissible to enjoy beef, chicken, or turkey. Note these classics.
Brisket—Beef brisket, braised in red wine becomes very tender, tasty, and juicy. A full brisket feeds a crowd. Made a day ahead, it’s ready for the holidays to begin. For the braising liquid, to beef stock, add a red wine that pairs well with the meal.
Matzo—The word refers to both the flour/meal, and the unleavened flatbread made from it.
Matzo-ball soup—This authentic Jewish-style chicken soup is a Passover staple that floats billowy dumplings made from matzo meal, eggs, water, and chicken fat typically—but may be vegetable oil or margarine—in hearty chicken stock.
Gefilte Fish—These are fish cakes formed from salmon, snapper, and cod, with vegetables and seasonings. Matzo meal binds the cakes together. They are first braised in a flavorful broth, then served garnished with parsley and carrots. Topped with horseradish, gefilte fish tastes good chilled or at room temperature. DIY hack: Forgeddabout the stuff in glass jars! Look for a homemade recipe on line instead.
Asparagus—Passover food tradition also includes this fernlike vegetable, but this time most likely roasted.
Kugel—This sweet baked casserole may be made from noodles or potato. For Passover, potatoes or boiled gluten-free noodles are mixed with eggs, sour cream, and cottage cheese, sweetened with sugar. Popular add-ins are diced onion or raisins.
Haroset—This sweet dish combines diced apples, honey, cinnamon and sweet wine. It’s served at room temperature or chilled.
One-Stop Local Shopping—Check out Saul’s Restaurant & Deli on Shattuck in Berkeley, 510.848.3354, www.saulsdeli.com. You’ll find nearly all of the dishes above, as well as complete authentic Kosher dinners, called seders. Saul’s also offers specialty vegetarian chopped liver, poached salmon, and macaroons.
Forming Food Traditions
So, locally it’s OK to continue feasting upon lamb, ham, Spam, or whatever floats your boat in April. To borrow local columnist Kevin Fisher-Paulson’s observation about the Bay Area, “Tradition’s what you do for three years in a row.”