Every year, Passover puts Jewish cooks to the test. As someone who converted to Judaism as an adult, I missed some years of this (which I’m not too sad about!), but sometimes I think it means I feel it more acutely—what do you mean eight days without (decent-tasting) cookies, pasta or bread? And you want me to make a holiday showstopper dessert without dairy and without flour?
Like many other cooks, whether born Jewish or new to Jewish food, I haven’t been willing to settle for less flavor and texture—at least not without a rip-roaring creative fight. Each year, I’ve won a few battles, adding more solutions to my Passover recipe repertoire. For ideas, I often turn to my Italian background. I added fresh basil and Parmesan to my matzah brei. Instead of roast chicken, I honed a recipe for chicken cacciatore with colorful peppers that nicely brightens both the palate and the palette. To address my pasta withdrawal symptoms, I created a recipe for Passover gnocchi, which I love just sautéed with olive oil and garlic slivers.
Passover also often overlaps Easter, and that’s another challenge if you want to get together with non-Jewish family members and friends. Last year, my search for a recipe that could straddle both holidays (and get me out of the matzah-and-chicken fatigue that sets in) had me looking longingly at recipes for Italian meat and cheese pies sometimes featured for Easter brunches and also some Jewish-Italian recipes for matzah pies. That led me to create a vegetarian Mediterranean-themed pie full of herbs, zucchini and cheese enclosed in an almond flour crust.
This year’s recipe development kicked off with a request for a “green” (and nondairy) dip for my congregation’s upcoming pre-holiday Seder. Recipe-less in this department, I got to work, but veered a little off the Italian course. Recipes for avocado and spinach dips came to mind, minus ingredients like cream, yogurt or cheese, not to mention other items that wouldn’t work for Passover.
Starting with a base of avocado, spinach, lime juice and oil, which was already pretty tasty, I added flat-leaf Italian parsley for its bright, herbal notes and a generous amount of roasted garlic to accent flavor and give a hint of creaminess without making the dip overly garlicky. I also wanted to include jalapeños, but knowing their raw heat would be too much, I turned to a trick I’d seen for quickly pickling them. That added just the right pepper flavor and zing without overwhelming fire.
In the blender, these fresh ingredients become a creamy, irresistible vegan dip (which can also be thinned and used as a sauce, by the way). It goes well with mild vegetables like celery, endive leaves and cucumber. For a crunchier dipper, I took plain Passover crackers and made them more chip-like by baking on a coating of olive oil and southwestern seasonings. And who knew how pleasurable warm crackers are to eat? I might never eat them room temperature again.