Tori Avey is a food blogger and culinary anthropologist and you would never guess she hasn’t been Jewish her entire life. Tori found that in many ways food brought her to Judaism and she has explored her spiritual path through immersing herself in traditional Jewish cooking which she shares at Shiksa in the Kitchen. She officially converted to Judaism in 2010 and regularly hosts over 40 people at her house for Seder.
1. Jewish holidays like Hanukkah and Purim are easy to share with non-Jewish family, but Passover, the seder in particular, can be intimidating and sometimes confusing. How do you share this traditional meal with your non-Jewish family?
One of my favorite things about food is that it breaks down all boundaries–a yummy meal is something we can all agree on, no matter where we come from or what our background is. Passover is such a food-oriented holiday, which makes it a great opportunity to bring people together. Taking a moment to explain the blessings–and why we’re doing strange things, like eating bitter herbs–helps everybody to enjoy the evening more. My non-Jewish family actually looks forward to the seder. My mom likes to help me cook. Usually I have 40-50 guests for my seder, and many of them aren’t Jewish, but everybody has fun… it’s a festive evening of storytelling, singing, tradition, and incredible food. As a Jewish family, it’s a way for us to welcome others in, to help them better understand our faith. What’s not to like?
2. Dessert is the quintessential ending to a wonderful meal, but unfortunately the words, “kosher for Passover dessert” usually elicit a groan or two. Can you share with us your favorite Passover dessert recipe?
Oh gosh, there are so many! I don’t really look at the Passover laws as restrictive—they actually inspire me to be a better cook. I thrive on the challenge, particularly when it comes to desserts! It would be hard to pick just one Passover treat, but if I had to, I guess I’d choose my Chocolate Crackle Cake with Raspberry Coulis. Or Passover Apple Pecan Pie. Or Lemony Almond Macaroons. Could I make it a top 10 instead??
3. I converted to Judaism in 2007 and have yet to prepare my own seder, there’s just something about this HUGE! IMPORTANT! DINNER! that gives me anxiety. What advice can you give to a convert planning a seder for the first time?
Don’t be scared!! Preparing this meal can be challenging, but there are lots of ways to make it easier on yourself. I’ve found that planning ahead really helps me. I like to make a “game plan” to keep me on schedule–an actual written plan of what to start cooking when. Brisket goes into the oven at 10am, soup stock is simmering by noon, etc. I’m kind of a freak about making everything fresh on the day of the seder, but you can definitely make it easier on yourself by making certain dishes ahead. You can also make dishes that freeze well in advance, then defrost them and finish cooking on the day of the seder. Also, if you’re making a lot of brisket, you can use a slow cooker to free up oven space. Brisket always turns out best with low, slow cooking. At my larger seders, I’ve been known to borrow up to five slow cookers, just to make sure I have enough brisket for everybody!
Invite friends and family who are familiar with the Passover kosher laws to bring their own dishes, so you can celebrate potluck style. Make sure you know the dietary restrictions of those who are joining you–is anybody vegetarian, or gluten-free? Put another family member in charge of the blessings–purchasing and organizing the wine, matzah, bitter herbs, etc. It will allow you to focus on the meal itself, which is a big enough job on its own… don’t be afraid to delegate!
Finally, make sure you are very familiar with the Passover laws, and the degree to which your guests keep kosher. In my home, we celebrate with some Sephardic dishes (which contain kitniyot), but we make sure to warn our guests in advance in case they are more strict about that particular kosher restriction. I’ve written a guide here that covers a lot of the basics, to help people who are new to keeping (and cooking) kosher for Passover. A lot of my readers have found it helpful!
4. Passover Seder is a rough night for picky eaters at the table. What are some ways to make the foods served at Passover Seder more kid-friendly?
My stepdaughter is the pickiest eater in the history of picky eaters (and she freely admits that), so I totally know what you’re talking about! But she usually enjoys the seder meal, because we always serve three foods that she likes a lot: brisket, mashed potatoes, and matzah ball soup. She never tries the more interesting dishes, but she’s very content with these three Passover staples. The key to picky eaters is options, and having a few choices that are “normal” on the Seder table (who doesn’t like mashed potatoes?). And if you can get them to try something new, like Sephardic Charoset Truffles–which I think even the pickiest eater will enjoy–you’re officially a rock star!
5. You write about your love of food, particularly Mediterranean and Sephardic style cuisine. Is there a traditional Jewish food that you completely dislike?
Yes. Regel Krusha, aka Pitcha. Never heard of it? Google it. You’ll understand.
6. Shiksa-to-Shiksa, can we expect a Shiksa in the Kitchen cookbook anytime soon? (Please? My printer is running out of ink!)
Yes, ma’am! I am working on it right now, and I hope to have news for you on that front very, very soon.