BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Matzo, Matzo Man

Sundown on Monday, April 14 marks the beginning of Passover, a week devoted to celebrating spring, remembering the past, and eating cardboard instead of delicious grains, whole or otherwise processed. Needless to say, it’s that last part that really gets to me, as matzo has never been my favorite food in the world. Perhaps they would come in handy as mulch or filler for the litter box, but unadorned sheets of the unleavened bread hold little if any culinary value in my eyes. Thankfully, immense improvements in flavor can be made with just a little bit of work, and I’ve had the opportunity to photograph and give Nava Atlas’s truly tasty suggestions a test drive well in advance of the holiday. Proving the power of a well-written recipe, there are now matzo-based dishes that I can claim to genuinely enjoy!

A show-stopper for any Passover meal, this Spinach, Leek, and Potato Matzo Gratin is an impressive but surprisingly simple dish to pull together. It sounds like a humble side dish but eats like a hearty lasagna, which makes it an incredibly versatile addition to any festive menu.

Matzo toffee is a classic treat that always shows up on our seder table, but for an even quicker fix, Nava’s Chocolate Matzo Brittle takes all the boiling sugar and candy making out of the equation. Straight-up chocolate-covered matzo with any sweet toppings your heart desires, it’s perfect for keeping cravings at bay. Sliced almonds with espresso salt are a top pick around here, but it’s hard to go wrong no matter what goodies you choose.

And let’s not forget the indispensable classic, the Jewish staple known around the world: Matzo Ball Soup. This recipe is the only vegan rendition I have yet to encounter that not only yields consistently cohesive, plump dumplings, but also tastes just as good as my memories suggest. It’s the kind of dish that could make me willingly break out the matzo any time of year, which should really say it all.


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Don’t Pass Over Quinoa

The beauty (and exquisite torture) of many Jewish holidays like Passover is that they’re not just one-day affairs, but week-long “celebrations.” When those particular events carry dietary restrictions as well, it can add up to an extra load of work simply planning out a standard set of meals, beyond the mandated festive meal with family.

Serving dish provided by Steelite

While this offering of quinoa, a pseudo-grain that just barely escapes the label of kitniyot, may come a bit late for your seder, it will be a delicious respite from dry boards of matzo in the days to come. Gently caramelized and naturally sweet onions carry this dish of hearty cooked quinoa, roasted gold beets, and nutty toasted pistachios. Redolent of cumin and bright, fresh herbs, the flavors could be suitable for either a formal dinner or a spur of the moment picnic, easily enjoyed both hot and cold. Tender beets yield to a satisfying crunch of nuts, creating a textural harmony throughout. I used an attractive blend of white, black, and red quinoa from Trader Joe’s for added eye-appeal, but of course, any one color would taste just as good.

Pistachio-Quinoa Pilaf

2 Medium Gold Beets (About 2 Cups Diced)
1 Cup Uncooked Quinoa
2 Cups Water
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
1 Medium Yellow Onion (About 1 1/4 Cups Chopped)
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Pinch Cayenne Pepper
1/4 Cup Packed Fresh Parsley, Chopped
1 Tablespoon Packed Fresh Mint, Finely Minced
1/2 Cup Shelled and Toasted Pistachios

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and wrap your beets in aluminum foil so that they’re completely covered. Place them in the oven, and allow them to bake, much like you would for a baked potato, for 60 – 75 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. When the beets are done, they should yield easily to a knife, if not be quite fork-tender. Let rest until cool enough to handle, and then peel and dice. Measure out 2 cups of diced beets, and set aside.

While the beets are roasting, you can save some time and get started on the quinoa. Bring the water to a boil in a medium sized saucepan, and then add in the dry quinoa. After the water returns to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and let simmer for about 15 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed. Leave the quinoa covered and let rest for at least 15 additional minutes, so that it can steam a bit and fully hydrate. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl and toss lightly with the chopped beets.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat, and add in the chopped onion. When it begins to sizzle lively, turn down the heat to medium-low or low, depending on how hot your stove runs. You want to cook the onions very gently so that they don’t brown around the edges and char, but slowly soften and caramelize. This process can take 30 – 40 minutes, so be patient, and continue to stir periodically. Add in the salt after the first 10 minutes, and be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan thoroughly to prevent pieces from sticking and burning. The onions should take on an amber brown color and a become highly aromatic. Incorporate the balsamic vinegar and add the onions into quinoa mixture, along with the remaining tablespoon of oil.

Finally, sprinkle in all of the spices, chopped herbs, and pistachios right before serving. Stir well to distribute evenly. Serve either warm, or refrigerated in an air-tight container for up to 5 days, and serve chilled.

Makes About 3 Main Dish Servings; 6 Side Dish Servings

Printable Recipe


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Busted by the Passover Police

Not a thing gets past you guys, my dear, astute readers. Rest assured, I wasn’t trying to pull a fast one on anyone, but somehow it managed to slip past my grasp that limoncello is made with vodka, and yes, vodka is in fact made with grain, rendering it chametz for Passover. Doh! Though this oversight can happily be corrected by simply substituting lemon juice for the alcohol, nothing could correct the composition of my finished cheesecake bites. A new dessert was needed for the approaching seder, and soon. So I took to the kitchen and made a lavish semi-freddo, a beautiful thing with ribbons of chocolate and emerald green pistachios… Using cornstarch (corn is considered kitniyot.) Strike two.

Despite the fact that I was bat miztvahed eons ago, I sure do suck at being Jewish.

Not one to give up, though, it was back to the drawing board. Frantically scrambling to mix and match the odd ingredients on hand into something both delicious and kosher, it seemed there was no good resolution in sight… Until I fell upon the leftovers from an experimental whipped creme. Made merely from nuts, this was just the ticket.

Folded in with ample amounts of melted bittersweet chocolate and fresh strawberry puree, this fluffy filling was right at home on top of a thin layer of fresh, sliced strawberries, all in an almond meal and cocoa crust. Nothing wheat-y, grain-y, or otherwise offensive here! Fingers crossed, I think that this one will finally appease the Passover police.

Happy Pesach!

Edited, because I woudn’t want to anger the hungry hordes…. I wasn’t planning on posting the recipe, since it was so last-minute and I’m not prepared to sign off on that whipped topping experiment, but I realized that by substituting a store-bought version, it should work out just as well. So, consider this an extra-special little Passover gift!

Strawberry-Chocolate Mousse Pie

Cocoa Crust:

1 1/2 Cups Almond Meal
1/4 Cup Natural Cocoa Powder
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar

Strawberry and Chocolate Mousse Filling:

1 Cup Fresh Strawberry Puree*
1/4 Cup Light Agave Nectar
Pinch Salt
12 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1 10-Ounce Carton Whippable Vegan Cream
1/2 – 1 Cup Sliced Fresh Strawberries

*To make strawberry puree, just take about 1/2 pound of fresh or frozen and thawed strawberries, and blend them into smithereens in your food processor or blender. Strain, if desired (I was in a rush and didn’t; I don’t think the finished pie suffered because of it.)

For the crust, preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and lightly oil a 9-inch round pie pan. Mix together all of the crust ingredients in a large bowl, and transfer the well-blended mixture to you prepared pan. Use your fingers and the palms of your hands to smoothly press it into the bottom and up the sides, making sure there are no bare patches. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the top edges are slightly deeper brown. Set aside and let cool.

Meanwhile, you can start to get the filling together. In a large, microwave safe dish, combine the strawberry puree, agave, salt, and chopped chocolate. Microwave for 1 – 2 minutes, stirring thoroughly at 30 second intervals, until completely melted and smooth. Set aside for the time being to let cool.

Dump the whippable “cream” into the bowl of your stand mixer, and whip on high speed for 3 – 4 minutes, until its about tripled in volume, light and fluffy. Take a dollop out and stir it into the chocolate mixture, just to lighten it up a bit. Now, move half of the remaining whipped “cream” and place it in the bowl of chocolate mix. Use a wide spatula to gently fold it in, being careful not to knock out the air bubbles. Add in the remainder of the whipped “cream,” and fold once more.

Evenly cover the bottom of the baked crust with sliced strawberries, and then spoon the finished chocolate mousse on top. Decorate the edges with additional sliced strawberries, if desired.

Serves 8 – 12

Printable Recipe


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Flourless and Fancy-Free

Never has it been accused of being a particularly fun occasion, but Passover can be an especially loathsome event for those who already must seek alternatives to mainstream fare. After one dreadful and nearly deadly week of subsisting on nothing but cardboard incarnate matzo smothered in sticky peanut butter many years ago, the ritual simply became too much for me to bear. Yes, I’m a bad Jew, and I don’t observe Passover beyond the initial sedar. I now know that there are plenty of good eats to be had for Jewish vegans during this period of repentance… But not so much here. That isn’t to say that it’s a meaningless date to me in the least, and I do at least try not to tempt my slightly more pious family with my typical barrage of wheat-filled baked goods. At the end of the day, it’s simply a matter of favoring health, rather than adhering to a tradition that doesn’t quite resonate with me, and to each their own.

To that end, it was a matter of luck that one of the most recent recipes that ended up being cut from Vegan Desserts fits perfectly into the requirements for this wheat-free holiday;  The fact that it happens to be delicious for the remaining 51 weeks of the year is an added bonus.  Combining simple but pleasing flavors, easy to whip up, and the perfect size to feed a small dinner party, the recipe could also be doubled to accommodate a larger crowd… Or so that you can freeze leftover mini cheesecakes to snack on throughout the week.

Being a non-drinker myself, I could have easily gone years without even knowing about the astringent citrus liqueur known as limoncello, had it not been for a friend’s request to make something with it. After doing a bit of research, through both reading and tasting, it turned out to be a whole lot like concentrated lemon juice with an extra kick. To allow this spirit to shine, a blank canvas like cheesecake seemed to be an excellent fit, and by making it into small bites, you can enjoy a little burst of flavor whenever you please.

Limoncello Cheesecake Bites

Almond Crust:

1/2 Cup Almond Meal
1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Tapioca Flour
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted

Limoncello Filling:

8 Ounces (1 Cup or 1 Container) Vegan “Cream Cheese”
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch [Not Appropriate for Passover] or Potato Starch
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/3 Cup Limoncello (Homemade Version on Page __* of Vegan Desserts)
1/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

*I’m not sure of the page number yet, since I haven’t seen the finished book yet! As soon as I get my first copy, this will be updated.

Preheat your oven to 350 and lightly grease and flour 12 mini muffin cups.

For the crust, simply combine all of the ingredients to form a moist but crumbly mixture, and firmly press 1 tablespoon of this into the bottom of each mini muffin cup. Stash the pan in your freezer while you assemble the filling.

Beat together the “cream cheese,” corn starch, and sugar in your stand mixer on low speed, or with a wide spatula, until smooth. Pour in the limoncello and vanilla, mixing until thoroughly combined. Distribute the filling between all of your crust-lined cupcakes, and bake for 15 – 20 minutes. Like a standard cheesecake, they will seem very loose when fresh out of the oven, but continue to firm up as they cool, so be careful not to over bake them. The cheesecake bites will puff significantly in the oven, but will fall as they cool.

After chilling in the fridge for at least an hour, slip a thin paring knife down the sides of each cheesecake bite and use it as a lever to remove them. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Makes 12 Cheesecake Bites

Printable Recipe

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