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The Symbols Transcend the Meal

April 08, 1998|JUDY ZEIDLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When family and friends come to our house for our Seder, they bring pillows and cushions and sit on the floor in our living room.

For many years, around our dining room table, we retold the story of the Exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. But by sitting on the floor, we believe, we come closer to re-creating the Seders of long ago, making the celebration both more meaningful and spiritual. It also makes it easier for us to keep the children's attention.

Sitting on the floor is a reminder of how our ancestors lived and how they had to eat during the exodus and, according to the Passover Haggadah, reclining on pillows also demonstrates that, when people live in freedom, they can relax and enjoy a leisurely way of eating.

We begin the Seder with the symbolic foods of the holiday displayed on the Passover plate, and we eat the traditional foods of Passover that Jewish families have eaten for generations.

Horseradish, the "bitter herb" that is a reminder of the bitterness of slavery, is eaten with matzo and charoset. Matzo, the unleavened bread, represents the haste with which the Jews had to leave Egypt, having no time to let their dough rise. Charoset, a mixture of fruits, wine, nuts and spices, represents the mortar the Jewish people made while laboring as slaves in Egypt.

Charoset is prepared differently in Jewish communities throughout the world depending on the ingredients available. We prepare several kinds for our Seder, and one we serve is from an Israeli recipe combining apples, bananas, dates, peanuts, wine and a little matzo meal.

In our family we have replaced the traditional roasted egg with a cold, salted chopped egg soup. To us, the egg represents hope for a new life and a new season. We also eat green onions or parsley dipped in salt water, as well as small boiled new potatoes, to symbolize the coming of spring. Also on the Seder plate is the roasted lamb shank, representing the paschal lamb. (By the way, it is acceptable for vegetarians to replace the lamb with a roasted beet.)

After the Seder service, we adjourn to the dining room for dinner. We usually begin with gefilte fish, followed by chicken soup with matzo balls. The main course is served buffet-style, and diners help themselves to roasted lamb shanks, sliced turkey with vegetable stuffing, candied sweet potatoes and steamed asparagus.

Besides our traditional Passover recipes, this year I am preparing two new dishes from Michael Franks and Robert Bell, chef-owners of Chez Melange in Redondo Beach: a fried gefilte fish with an English accent that Franks remembers eating for Passover when he lived in London and chicken breasts stuffed with prunes, onions and carrots from Bell.

After dinner, the table is reset with Passover desserts: sponge cakes, cookies and chocolate-covered fruit. This year, I am adding a chocolate marble cake frosted with chocolate glaze. The rich flavors of cocoa, strong coffee and chocolate make this cake extra special.

Wine is an important part of the Seder, and sweet Concord grape wine has always been synonymous with Passover. But today dry Passover wines are gaining in popularity, and the availability and varieties from California, New York, France, Italy, Chile and Israel are remarkable. At our Seder we provide both sweet and dry wines and grape juice to satisfy everyone's taste.

Zeidler's newest cookbook, "Master Chefs Cook Kosher," will be published by Chronicle Books in May.

CHOCOLATE MARBLE CAKE WITH CHOCOLATE GLAZE

CAKE

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup oil

6 eggs, separated

1/2 cup matzo cake meal

1/2 cup potato starch

1/2 cup apple juice, wine or water

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1/4 cup strong hot coffee or water

GLAZE

1/2 pound semisweet chocolate

1 tablespoon strong brewed coffee

1 tablespoon oil

1/2 cup (1 stick) pareve margarine, cut into small pieces

CAKE

Blend 3/4 cup sugar with salt and oil. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Sift matzo cake meal and potato starch together. Add to egg yolk mixture alternately with apple juice.

Beat egg whites in large bowl until stiff enough to hold peak. Fold beaten egg whites into egg yolk mixture. Pour half of batter into separate bowl. Combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar, cocoa and coffee and fold into 1 bowl of batter.

Pour 2 batters alternately, about 1 cup at a time, into 10-inch tube pan. Bake at 325 degrees until cake springs back when touched and toothpick inserted in center comes out dry, 45 to 55 minutes. Remove cake from oven and immediately invert pan and let cool. When cool, loosen sides and center of cake with sharp knife and unmold onto cake plate.

GLAZE

Melt chocolate with coffee in top of double boiler over simmering water. Add oil and margarine, stirring until margarine is melted. (This recipe can be doubled.) Drizzle over Chocolate Marble Cake.

10 to 12 servings. Each of 12 servings:

370 calories; 210 mg sodium; 127 mg cholesterol; 23 grams fat; 43 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0.33 gram fiber.

FRIED GEFILTE FISH WITH BEET HORSERADISH SAUCE

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