Let's Eat

Why is this Seder different from all others?

Looking ahead to Passover, we find out why some foodies will not be sitting down to chicken soup with matzah balls later this month


It's a night different from all others, but some Seders are even more unusual.

You won't find many of the usual suspects on Ines Arntz Romanelli's Seder plate. The chef was born in Brazil - of a Jewish mother and Italian father - and is an advocate of a raw, vegan lifestyle, which carries through into her Seder night meal.

"When you translate the meaning of Passover and the story of our liberation into a meal for which no animals have been sacrificed, it gives a real meaning to our life," says Romanelli, who became a vegetarian at the age of 14.

So, no shank bone on her Seder plate. "I blend raw beetroot with olives then mix in a little ground flaxseed and shape it to look like a shank bone - it tastes great and is really good for you."

The burnt egg is replaced with a raw potato - "Not very exciting," she admits. Only her charoset would mingle nicely at a Seder gathering.

Raw foodists do not heat their food above 42°C. "When you eat raw food, you lose none of the nutrients. If the food's temperature goes above that, the nutritional elements start to break down," she explains. So almost her entire meal is "cooked" in a dehydrater or a Vitamix blender, which generates a low level of heat to slightly cook ingredients as it blends.

"I'll serve raw vegetable soup made from broccoli, carrot and water blended in the Vitamix, and gluten-free, vegan matzah balls, made from quinoa flakes, Himalayan salt - which is unrefined - matzah meal, ground pepper, ground onion powder and sunflower oil. I dehydrate and grind the onions myself."

As well as matzah balls, she confesses to serving matzah at her Seder. "You could cook matzah balls and make crackers in the dehydrator instead of matzah, but as good as it is to be healthy and raw, it's also extremely important to keep traditions," she says.

Also on the menu is "mock" liver - blended shitake mushrooms, cashew nuts and onions; a huge quinoa salad with colourful beetroot, Romanesco cauliflower and purple broccoli and a raw, vegan pudding of raw chocolate sprinkled with crushed matzah, chopped pistachios and chopped dates as well as a raw carrot cake.

Allison Zionts will also be having a vegan seder. "My family isn't vegan or even vegetarian, it's only me," she says, "but we've never had a lamb bone on our Seder plate. We'd make one out of foil, and we'd write notes of the sacrifices we've made this year."

She explains that although they do include a roasted egg, they make a few changes to the norm: "We add an olive - for peace - and an orange, for women. That reference supposedly goes back to a quote that a woman has as much place on a bimah as an orange does on a Seder plate. [The orange is also claimed by US Professor Susan Heschel to have been her invention to represent all minorities at a Seder.] We also include an artichoke, to represent that we may not all look the same on the outside but it's what's in your heart (like the artichoke's heart) that is important."

For others, a different menu relates not to their ideology, but their backgrounds.

"My Seder follows the Roman tradition" explains JC contributor, Silvia Nacamulli. "We eat lamb because we remember the corban (paschal) sacrifice before the destruction of the Temple. A lot of Rome's Jews arrived there just after the time of the destruction of the second Temple and brought (and kept) many of the ancient traditions."

Nacamulli's symbolic Seder foods do not sit on a plate. "We traditionally put everything in a basket," she explains. "Instead of bitter herbs we use plain celery which tastes far nicer."

Roman charoset is also a little different. "I've never met two people who make the same recipe but it has the same thick consistency, like mortar. We use lots of dried fruits with some apples and dates as well as orange juice, kiddush wine, cinnamon and lots of nuts."

As Sephardim eat rice and kitniyot (legumes) over Passover, the Roman Seder menu is also different from an English Ashkenazi one.

"We start with antipasti di affettati (cold cuts of beef, chicken or turkey salami) then we have rice-stuffed tomatoes or a rice salad. For our main course we eat lamb with potatoes and the tiny little Roman artichokes that are generally in season for Passover. We eat them deep-fried in the traditional way (carciofi alla guidia) and may finish our meal with an almond cake, either with carrot, lemon or chocolate."

Chef and cookery teacher Fabienne Viner-Luzzato's French Tunisian heritage also allows kitniyot. "We eat a lot of rice and peas," she explains, "but the main dish is called Msoki - seven or eight vegetables cut into small cubes and cooked with herbs and spices, beef and sausage. You eat it as it is or with matzah crumbled into it. We tended not to have a starter, because very often we didn't get to eat until about 11pm and everyone was starving!"

Viner-Luzzato also says Parisenne matzah is different to what we eat here. "It is circular, flavoured with either wine or orange and known as a galette. It is also far less messy than English matzah," she says.

● JC Food was at a charity cookery book launch last week - find out more about Pru Leith's role in publishing The Social Kitchen at

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