Passover

malibupch1ox9.jpgDecades ago, as a fledging (broke) New York stage actress, I had the good fortune to be befriended by the film producer Robert Chartoff (“Raging Bull,”  “The Right Stuff,”  “Rocky’s I—VI”). We met on the basis of our identical surnames, but traced our ancestry back to different origins.  It seemed our names were accidentally namesake bastardizations of different, multi-syllabic and multi-Slavic monikers of yore, carelessly abbreviated by uncreative Ellis Island officiates.

Having the same name (although it came from different sources) and feeling like we were kin, felt almost like the miraculous time my malfunctioning checking account was so out of balance, it somehow came out balanced to the penny.  Even a broken clock is correct twice a day. How fortunate for me, who’d been thrilled when Robert first put our name in lights and on the big screen with “They Shoot Horses Don’t They.”

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darya_painting_lg.jpgIt is 1979, my first night of Seder in America since I fled Iran eight months before.  My husband remains back in Iran, hoping to salvage a small part of our valuable properties, our home and business, a chewing gum factory that remains the largest in the Middle East.  “Come with us,” I insisted, “It’s too dangerous, especially for Jews.” 

He would not hear of it.  I was "being an alarmist", as always, he will join us "in a few weeks", a couple of months at most. 

Now, in hindsight, I realize that we were blinded by a certain naiveté and senseless hope that is common with having lived in comfort—this could not be the end of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who had, with enormous pomp, crowned himself King of Kings in 1967. 

We were wrong of course.  Once we landed in LAX, I learned that the Air France Plane that carried me and my daughters, age two and ten, to safety was the last allowed out of Iran before Mehrabad Airport was shut down by the Islamic Revolutionaries.  It would take another three years before my husband would be allowed to leave the country.

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flourlesschocolatecakeMost everyone loves chocolate cake. It's just one of those classic desserts that no one can refuse. A good chocolate cake is moist and tender, sweet but not saccharine, and very chocolaty, of course. Melted chocolate—not cocoa powder—separates an excellent chocolate cake from a mediocre one. The best quality chocolate will always yield excellent results. But what about a chocolate cake made without flour? You would think it would be horrible. But it actually works, with just two ingredients: chocolate and eggs.

The best way to describe it would be to call it a baked mousse, because basically that's what it is. Melted chocolate is first combined with a mixture of beaten egg yolks and sugar, then egg whites are folded in. I choose to flavor this cake with instant espresso powder and vanilla, both of which help heighten the chocolate flavor. The final product is a dense yet moist and tender cake just right for chocolate lovers. It also makes a great dessert for Passover since there's no flour at all.

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pate bowlIf you ask my Jewish husband, he’ll tell you that, until I married him, I “didn’t know from Jewish food.” And he’s right. As a girl who was raised a Southern Baptist in Texas, my experience with Jewish cuisine was limited to toasting a bagel.

But when we had children and decided to raise them respecting the traditions of both of our religions, I really got into it. Hannukah and Christmas, Passover and Easter, we celebrated all of the holidays that honored God and Food.

Until the year he told me he craved chopped chicken liver and I was at a loss.

Thankfully, my mother-in-law gave me an amazing cookbook, The Gefilte Variations, and I realized chopped chicken liver was just a version of French pate, something that even this shiksa could understand.

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"I love trying different recipes that substitute matzo for flour. It's always interesting to see how they turn out. As you can see, this one turned out well and it tastes good too. I'm kind of a sucker for anything with apples and nuts. The matzo in place of the flour is what gives the cake its light texture. Make sure to squeeze as much water as you can from the shredded apples to keep the cake airy."

apple matzo cake Apple Matzo Cake
Adapted from Everyday Food
Serves 6

Nonstick Spray
3 large eggs, separated, plus 3 large yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
3 cups grated Granny Smith apples (from 6 peeled apples), squeezed dry
1 cup matzo meal (make your own by processing plain matzo pieces in food processor until finely ground)
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 Tablespoon brandy
2 Tablespoons honey
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly coat an 8" springform pan with nonstick spray. In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat 6 egg yolks, sugar and salt until thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Fold in apples, matzo meal, lemon zest and brandy.

In another medium bowl, with clean beaters, beat 3 egg whites until stiff peaks form, about 4 minutes. With a rubber spatula, gently fold egg whites into apple mixture and transfer batter to pan. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with pecans. Bake until golden brown and set in center, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cake cool completely in pan on a wire rack. To serve, run a small knife around edge of pan, remove cake and slice.

– Recipe courtesy of Noble Pig