Let's Eat

Square matzah ‘balls’, gritty charoset and spring onion slapping

Which of these Pesach customs and recipes have you heard of?


Photo: Inbal Bar-Oz

In the largely Ashkenazi UK community, for most of us Pesach is gefilte fish and matzah brei.

But there’s a wider world of colourful rituals and food. At Sephardic Seder services, participants slap each other with spring onions; Roman Jews replace Seder plates with baskets and instead of suffering bitter herbs, crunch on celery sticks when the service requires us to eat ‘maror’. In fairness, I’d probably rather suffer the herbs than my least favourite vegetable, celery, but you get the idea.

There’s even a tradition of including grit in their charoset for some families — a custom said by historian Dr Susan Weingarten to have originated in 18th century Iberia which has (surprisingly) endured to this day. Others use banana or coconut in their recipes. Read more on those here

Plus there are also plenty of Pesach recipes from the Diaspora beyond matzah balls and brisket. Here are a few you may want to try this year:

Italian Imperial soup with matzah cubes:

In Emilio Romagna, matzah balls are replaced with cubes. The straight-edged soup fillers were inspired by the (unkosher) tradition of non-Jewish locals of throwing cheesy semolina cubes in their meat broth. Pesach cooks make theirs with matzah meal, eggs, olive oil, salt and nutmeg; baking the mixture in an oven tray before cutting it into cubes. These are served in a meat broth. Find Silvia Nacamulli’s recipe here.

Tunisian M’soki:

Everyone gets involved in preparing this harissa-spiced beef stew packed with an offputtingly huge amount of finely diced veggies and piles of chopped herbs. The tradition is that everyone sits down together to do the veg and herb prep — a family affair. Also filled with peas and spices that Ashkenazim would class as kitniyot, it’s eaten with matzah crumbled into it to soak up the meaty juices. This is Fabienne Viner-Luzzato’s Ashkenazi-friendly recipe, which contains no less than 11 types of vegetable and three herbs.

Balkan Kifteke de prasa (leek patties):

Jews from the Balkans have vibrant food traditions stemming from their Iberian roots. A dish that many Jews from the region share is Kifteke de prasa — beef and leek patties. Made with well washed leeks, minced beef or chicken, matzah meal and eggs, they’re a labour of love but a food that anyone with this heritage will associate with Passover. Shiri Kraus, who says these take her straight back to her childhood, remembers her nan’s one-woman production line as she churned these out every year for her four children and 15 grandchildren. Find her modernised recipe here.

Roman Carciofi all Giudia (Jewish-style artichokes):

Early or late, Passover falls in spring and that’s also peak artichoke season for Romans. This dish — now famous worldwide and eaten across Rome, not just within the Jewish community — is deeply labour-intensive and one that Silvia Nacamulli remembers preparing with her mother, who would prepare more than 50 for their Passover Seder. Cleaned, trimmed artichokes are deep fried to crisp perfection — a treat she and many other Roman Jews look forward to all year. Find her recipe here

Matzah Mina:

A favourite Passover meal across Sephardic communities, these are effectively pies created with softened matzah sheets. The matzah provide a crust for fillings that may include aubergine and spiced lamb or spinach, cheese and leeks. Mini mina parcels (sometimes called megina) are sometimes served as part of a Pesach mezze spread. This recipe for a single pie, from the Jewish Food Society, also includes mashed potatoes for a hearty vegetarian Seder main or Pesach lunch.

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