If you hadn’t noticed or haven’t been following local food trends, the celebration of all things regional and seasonal has been steadily informing the fare at our restaurants, markets and shops with the flavors of local purveyors and with abundant fruits of our seasons. As Passover approaches, those winter staples — the parsnips, turnips, winter squash, apples and pears — are finally, firmly, graciously making way for the peas, spinach, scallions and fresh herb greenery of spring.
Our busy plans for Passover always include clearing away the chometz, sweeping out the corners, and getting rid of those sprouting potatoes that feel spring coming on. We plan the seders around dishes we love, family traditions that it just wouldn’t be Pesach without. But wouldn’t it be even more special to celebrate the both the bourgeoning “locavore” trend and the ancient Passover tradition of remembrance and renewal by making some dishes inspired by the new spring vegetables and herbs just coming into the markets from local sources? Here are some recipes that are both easy and so delicious you may want to include them in the as part of your traditions for the very special meals of Pesach this year and next!
Fresh Spring Pea Soup
The first fresh sugar snap or snow peas to arrive mean spring is truly beginning, even if it’s still raining cold and hard and peas are coming from a few miles to the south. Pea vines and tendrils are beginning to show up in Asian markets and add a delicious, unusual sweet and crunchy garnish. New radishes with their crisp leaves, now at farmers markets, are a spicy accent in this light creamy soup. Try it instead of chicken soup and matzoh balls to begin the second night seder meal.
1 lb. fresh sugar snap or snow peas
1 small bunch very fresh radishes with their leaves
3 large scallions
3 Tbs. butter or olive oil
1 qt chicken stock or vegetable stock or 3 vegetable boullion cubes dissolved in 1 qt. warm water
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves or 2 tsp. dried mint
2 oz. fresh pea vines or pea tendrils, as available
1 tsp. kosher or sea salt, or to taste
1 cup half and half, sour cream, soy or light sour cream or yogurt
Wash the peas and radishes. Clean and reserve about 1/4 cup radish leaves. Grasp each pea stem and pull down the side of the pea, pulling away the tough pea strings; discard the strings. Clean and roughly chop the scallions. Wash the pea vines and dry on paper towels; cut larger vines into attractive sections or pull the tendrils apart for a pretty garnish. Slice a few of the radishes into thin rounds.
Melt the butter or heat the olive oil gently in a large saucepan. Add the scallions and cook over low heat until wilted. Add the peas and cook over low heat, stirring for about a minute or until the peas are coated with oil and are just starting to turn a deeper green color. Add the chicken or vegetable stock, increase the heat slightly and bring to a simmer. Add salt and the radish leaves and cook just until the leaves are wilted, turn off the heat. Let the soup sit for a couple of minutes to let the peas cook in the hot stock.
While the peas are still bright green, pour the vegetables and liquid into a blender jar in batches, being sure to only fill the jar halfway each time. Blend each batch until very smooth, adding some mint leaves each time. Don’t be afraid to let the blender run for a few minutes; the smoother the soup the better the pea flavor.
Pour the blended soup through a strainer into a clean pot or container, discard whatever pulp remains in the strainer after pressing. You can chill the soup at this point and hold for a day or so tightly covered. To serve, gently reheat over low heat, being sure not to let the bright green pea color turn grayish so the fresh pea flavor is retained. Serve in soup bowls or plates, swirling a couple of tablespoons of cream or creamy yogurt into each bowl. Garnish with the pea vines and red radish slices. You can also serve the soup chilled, garnished in the same manner.
Yield: About 6 servings
Salsa Verde Italiana
This fresh green Italian pesto-like sauce is a refreshing dressing for simply cooked fresh fish, served cold or hot, and is a beautiful bright green contrast to roasted or steamed cauliflower or new potatoes. It can be accented with a broad variety of flavors, from garlic and gherkins to anchovies and green olives, and is based in a background of lemon juice, pine nuts or walnuts and light, flavorful olive oil.
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch (1 oz.) fresh chives or garlic chives
1 to 2 oz. young arugula
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 cup pine nuts or walnuts, lightly toasted in the oven (5 min. at 350º)
1-1/2 cups light extra-virgin olive oil
Pick the parsley leaves from the stems, and roughly chop the chives and arugula. Put the herb leaves, lemon juice and salt in the jar of a blender or the bowl of a food processor. Blend on low speed until the herbs are finely chopped, adding a tablespoon or two of water as needed to aid the processing. Add the nuts and any additional flavoring ingredients and process until well blended. Add the oil gradually until the mixture is a light paste. Taste for salt and tartness and adjust the flavoring, adding flavoring ingredients or lemon juice as desired. Store tightly covered for about a week in the refrigerator, or freeze for a month.
Yield: Makes about 3 cups, or 6 to 8 servings
Some traditional additions:
3 or 4 crushed garlic cloves
5 or 6 small pickled gherkins or onions
8 to 10 small plain or jalapeño- or almond-stuffed green olives (reduce the salt)
1 or 2 small anchovies or 1/2 tsp. anchovy paste (reduce the salt)
1 or 2 Tbs. wine vinegar (reduce the lemon juice if you like)
1/4 cup orange juice
Juice of 1/2 lime
Have fun choosing your favorite additions!
Persian Fresh Spinach Cake
This lovely popular Sephardic dish can be a seder accompaniment or a main course during the week of Pesach. You can make a heartier version with the addition of a few tablespoons of toasted, chopped nuts or a small handful of toasted matzoh meal.
1 lb. fresh spinach
4 Tbs. light olive or vegetable oil
2 small bunches scallions (about 12), cleaned and chopped thin
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
2 Tbs. fresh dill or 2 tsp. dried dill
3 Tbs. currants or 1/4 cup golden raisins
Salt and pepper to taste
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. allspice
1 cup creamy yogurt
1/2 cup chopped toasted almond or pine nuts
Wash the spinach and remove any thick stems. Drain and squeeze out excess water. Put into a large pan with 2 Tbs. olive or vegetable oil, cover and steam over medium heat until just wilted. Cool until easily handled and press excess water out in a colander. Chop the leaves coarsely.
Heat the oven to 350º. Lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl, add the drained spinach, the scallions, cilantro, mint, dill, currants or raisins, salt, pepper and spices. Mix well. Heat a medium baking pan in the oven for 5 min., add the remaining 2 Tbs. oil and heat for 2 minutes more. Pour the spinach mixture into the hot pan and bake for 30 min. or until puffed and browned. Loosen the sides of the cake and slide out onto a warm serving platter. Serve with the yogurt and toasted chopped almonds. May also be served cold for lunch or light dinner.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6 as a main course or side dish