As an aspiring balaboosta (excellent host and homemaker), I’ve always wanted to know how to cook specifically for Jewish holidays. So I was excited to attend a Passover-focused modern Israeli cooking class at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue taught by Vered Guttman, a local caterer, columnist for Haaretz and The Washington Post and member of JFE®’s Advisory Council. Guttman started off the workshop saying, “While matzah ball soup is all well and good, there is more to kosher-for-Passover cuisine than Eastern European traditions.”

This workshop focused on Mizrahi and Sephardic flavors, with a divine dive into some of the spices used. The room was packed with young professionals eager to watch the cooking demonstration and taste new Passover flavors as part of a three-part series that Sixth & I is hosting with the support of a grant from JFE®.

As she masterfully conducted her cooking demonstration, Guttman offered some Jewish geographical and historical background. She said, “Israeli cuisine is one of diaspora, featuring spices from Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions. After all, as wandering Jews, we have picked up a few spices and traditions on the way.” The recipes in the workshop spanned from Iran and Yemen to the Balkans and modern-day Israel.

Guttman makes mina de espinaka (Photo credit: Emily Landsman)

Sipping Israeli wine, we watched as Guttman demoed her favorite dishes. The night started off with two different kinds of haroset, one Iraqi and the other Yemenite. She explained that date molasses, also known as date honey, is a staple of Iraqi cuisine. As she discussed her Iraqi roots, she used her grandmother’s mortar, which had actually been brought from Iraq, to grind the nuts. The Iraqi haroset was made of dates and nuts, while the Yemenite one also called for dates, but with sweet red wine and ground spices.

The next recipe was Persian green rice with fava beans. Most Israeli Jews, regardless of where their ancestors came from, do not abstain from kitniyot, which is an Ashkenazi custom during Passover to avoid not only products of the five grains, but also other grains and legumes. Kitniyot on Passover are foods that often look like chametz and swell in the cooking process, resembling the way that the forbidden grains rise. Traditions of what is considered kitniyot vary from community to community, but generally include corn, rice, peas, lentils, beans, peanuts and seeds.

Mina de espinaka (Photo credit: Emily Landsman)

Guttman then went on to make mina de espinaka, a Sephardic Passover pie that looks likes spanakopita, but is made with matzah instead of phyllo dough.

But the star nosh of the night was the almond marzipan. Guttman shared the Jewish roots of marzipan, “Spain is the birthplace of marzipan and was first created in the 15th century. Jews adopted this candy as a Jewish dessert after a meat meal.” Her recipe is comes from the Balkan Sephardi Jews. “Real Sephardic marzipan will include a few bitter almonds. Unfortunately, those are illegal in America because of the high content of cyanide. I can see the reasoning behind this decision,” Guttman said as laughter spread around the room. “But still, you can bring those back from your next trip to Israel where its available or you can get a bitter almond extract at a store, specializing in spices.”

Federation’s Jewish Food Experience® was delighted to provide a grant to support this three-part series of cooking classes sponsored by Sixth & I. For information about subsequent workshops and to register, please email Annie Simon, Jewish Programming Associate, at asimon@sixthandi.org.