Passover food | A Pesach cookbook with liberated menus

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For those who feel that Passover cooking can be almost as restrictive as their ancestors’ enslavement in Egypt, pastry chef and author Paula Shoyer says her new cookbook “has arrived to set you free.”

“Jews who host the holiday often feel that preparing the house and food for Passover makes them feel a little too much like the Israelite slaves,” Shoyer writes in “The New Passover Menu.”

She hopes her book will change that sentiment.

“The New Passover Menu” features an updated Ashkenazic seder menu with recipes for fresh salmon gefilte fish loaf with arugula, brisket osso buco, and asparagus, zucchini and leek kugel. And it has an international flavor, with recipes for Middle Eastern haroset, whole chicken with dried fruit stuffing, and Moroccan spiced short ribs. There’s a Shabbat menu, a Yom Tov menu, even a French dairy menu. And lots of desserts.

Shoyer, author of  “The Kosher Baker” (2010) and “The Holiday Kosher Baker” (2013), offers plenty of sweet treats like triple-chocolate biscotti, pistachio and strawberry roll, and meringue fruit tarts.  

A former practicing attorney, Shoyer has traveled globally and spent significant time in Switzerland and Paris, where she graduated from the Ritz Escoffier pastry program in 1996.

“In my travels I would meet people who told me they loved my desserts, but that I should write a food cookbook,” Shoyer recalled. “Everywhere I went, people asked me about savory food, but specifically Passover foods. They mentioned how hard it is, the food is terrible, the desserts are terrible. They made it sound like it was such a misery to cook for Passover … I realized I needed to write a cookbook and focus on what you can eat, instead of what you cannot eat.”

Her goal is to make traditional Jewish desserts more contemporary, more interesting and healthier. Many of her desserts are dairy-free, as well as sugar-free, gluten-free and vegan.

In addition to contemporary recipes, Shoyer’s book includes personal anecdotes. For “Italian Vegetarian Menu,” she writes:

“In 1945, just prior to Passover, the Rochester Jewish Welfare Board shipped a massive amount of Passover essentials —matzah, wine, gefilte fish — to the base where [her father] was stationed in northern Italy. My father and his Jewish buddies decided to organize two seders, but they needed more supplies, and most importantly, a large enough venue to host them. The Jewish chaplain convinced the quartermaster to supply the required items.

“Searching the area, they found an old abandoned farm building. They cleaned it out and convened a seder for three to four hundred Jewish soldiers. My father says this story proves that with a little bit of dedication and moxie,

you can turn nothing into something, and that it is truly possible to hold a Passover seder anywhere.”

“The New Passover Menu” by Paula Shoyer (160 pages, Sterling Epicure)