The Wine Lover’s Passover Meal
by Tina D. Wasserman

I keep track of my seders. My files tell me how many people participated (usually around forty) and what dishes I prepared (my guests have made my lamb tagine mandatory, even though lamb is scarce in Dallas, so I overnight it from New York). Of course, when it comes to keeping a record of what’s eaten, I learned a long time ago that the number of servings really depends on the serving utensil. A popular dish served with a very large, antique spoon is almost guaranteed to be finished no matter how much I prepare. Still, I continue to note how much is consumed and how much is left over. A little compulsive? Perhaps, but let me assure you: having a record of the last fifteen years of seders is an invaluable tool when planning for your next one.
 
I also keep a list of the wines served and consumed. These statistics truly tell a story. In the early ’90s we purchased mostly sweet wines—Manischewitz Concord grape wine, some of the “fancy variety” Cream-finish white wine, and a few bottles of peach-flavored white wine that my teenage son liked a bit too much. We also experimented with a few bottles of dry Israeli Cabernet in an attempt to elevate the meal to a restaurant experience—a big mistake in those days!
 
Today the variety of quality kosher wine is vast and as a result, the consumption of wine at my seder has grown exponentially. We still serve two or three bottles of Concord grape wine (I, personally, only fill my four cups with this icon of my childhood seders), but now the forty of us go through eight Merlots or Cabs, one or two Chardonnays, and a number of Gewürztraminer and Rieslings (for those who like their wine a little sweeter but without the intensity of the Concord experience). We try kosher wines from around the world, including Australia and Chile and Israel. This year, in a show of solidarity, we plan to buy more wines from northern Israel, especially from vineyards near the Lebanese border that sustained hundreds of Hezbollah rocket attacks, yet miraculously did not get destroyed.
 
Recently I had the pleasure of drinking two kosher wines that were incredibly delicious—and a bit pricey, I might add. While on vacation in Barcelona, we purchased a 2004 Capcanes Flor de Primavera, a smooth, fruity, and full-bodied red wine from the Catalan region of Spain (about $55.00 a bottle). A friend and wine consultant recommended the 2004 Cove­nant Cabernet Sauvignon (about $100.00 a bottle, less when purchased on the Royal Wine Corp. website)—a phenomenal wine which I paired with some Gorgonzola dolce drizzled with honey. In my opinion both wines are worth the splurge. And if you don’t want to serve multiple bottles during the seder, invite a few friends over during the holiday. Eight days provides ample time to taste fine wine.
 
While Jewish tradition and custom mandate the drinking of wine on Shabbat and festivals, what is not customary in Jewish tradition is the use of wine in Jewish food preparation (other than charoset). This practice is not prohibited; it just wasn’t done. Until now….
 
For an unforgettable Passover meal, I’ve prepared recipes for a four-course feast with wine—from soup to dessert. Most of the recipes have limited wine content or involve cooking the wines until much of their alcoholic content has dissipated—but the flavor is wonderfully enhanced.

Eat and drink in good health!
 

Traditional Charoset, Texas-Style
 
In America there are many regional variations of Ashkenazi charoset. When I lived in New York I always used walnuts and Macintosh apples. In Texas, where Macs are scarce, we tend to select from a variety of sweet apples and the nut of choice is the ubiquitous pecan. The following is an adaptation of my friend Lynn Friedlander’s Houston recipe. Lynn always makes a large quantity of this Texas-style charoset—it’s so delicious, we eat it throughout the seder meal.
 
8–10 sweet apples, Fuji, Gala, Honey Crisp, or Jonagold
8–10 ounces of pecans, toasted
1 Tablespoon cinnamon, or to taste
1⁄4 cup clover honey, or to taste
1 cup Concord grape wine, such as Kedem

1. Peel, core, and cut the apples into 8 pieces.
2. Place half of the apples in a food-processor workbowl and pulse until the pieces are about 1⁄4 inch. (Alternatively, you can use a wooden bowl and a single-blade chopper/ hand-grater.) Transfer them to a large glass bowl and repeat with the remaining apples.
3. Toast the pecans at 350°F for 5 minutes. Cool slightly, for about 3 minutes, then add them to the workbowl. Pulse the machine on and off until the pecans are finely chopped, or hand-chop.
4. Mix the pecans with the apples.
5. Add the cinnamon and honey to the apple mixture and stir to combine.
6. Add the wine and mix well.
7. If the mixture is watery, drain off the excess liquid, adjusting the cinnamon, honey, and wine as desired.
8. Cover and refrigerate overnight, but preferably 1–2 days. Although the charoset will taste delicious right away, time will allow the flavors to mellow and balance. Makes about 1 quart.
 
Tina’s Tidbits:
 
• Always use a sweet, somewhat thick kosher wine like Concord or Malaga for this recipe. The apples and nuts will absorb some of the wine while refrigerated, and the mixture will be thicker and less watery.
• If a seder guest can’t tolerate wine in its uncooked state, take the time to simmer the heavier red wine rather than using grape juice. The viscosity of the reduced Concord wine will enhance the consistency and flavor of your charoset; juice, in contrast, will make the mixture watery and less flavorful.
• Because the sweetness of apples in the spring is less predictable and wine adds acidity to a dish, it’s best to use a sweet rather than dry wine in charoset.
• Although there is no law precluding the use of white wine in charoset, the color of the finished product will not resemble mortar as much as the combination of oxidizing apples and red wine.
 

Soup:
Beef Borscht with Wine
 
Here’s a classic soup with a modern edge. A small amount of wine is added to enhance the flavor of the beef and tomato broth; the honey balances the acidity of the wine and tomatoes.
 
2 strips of flanken meat (short ribs), about 1–11⁄2 pounds
21⁄2 quarts water
1 large onion, peeled and pierced with 6 whole cloves
1 141⁄2-ounce can diced plum tomatoes in liquid
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1⁄2 medium head of cabbage, sliced lengthwise into fine shreds
3⁄4 cup dark raisins
1⁄2 cup dry red wine, Shiraz or Zinfandel
3–5 Tablespoons wildflower honey (to taste)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Rinse off the meat and place in a 4-quart pot. Add the water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 1⁄2 hour, skimming the top of the soup occasionally to remove the brown foam.
2. Add the pierced onion.
3. Squeeze the large pieces of tomato. Add them and the tomato liquid.
4. Mix in the shredded cabbage, tomato sauce, and the raisins, and cook, lightly covered, for 11⁄2 to 2 hours, or until the meat is fairly tender.
5. Add the wine and honey, and cook for another 1⁄2 hour. Remove the onion, and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or refrigerate. This soup tastes better the second day, and freezes very well. Makes 3 quarts of soup
 
Tina’s Tidbit
 
• The flavor of tomatoes is significantly enhanced by the addition of wine, even if the wine has evaporated after a long period of cooking.
 

Entrée #1:
Nirvana Chicken
 
Traditionally many families serve either brisket or roasted chicken as a main entrée for Pesach. To try something new, here’s a great chicken dish that uses wine.
 
4 Tablespoons Pareve margarine
1–2 Tablespoons McCormack red curry powder or Madras curry (or a blend of spices that includes cumin, cardamom, and hot red chili powder)
1⁄2 cup good fruity to off-dry white wine, such as Riesling or Gewürztraminer
1 31⁄2-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 cup Gold’s Cantonese Duck Sauce
1⁄4 cup shredded coconut
1 Tablespoon finely chopped scallion
2 Tablespoons finely chopped peanuts (if you are using for Passover) or toasted almonds
 
1. Melt the margarine in a saucepan and stir in the curry powder. Cook for 2–3 minutes and then add the wine. Remove from the heat.
2. Wash the chicken pieces and pat dry.
3. Place the chicken in a roasting pan and baste with the curry sauce. Bake for 20 minutes at 350°F.
4. Spread the Gold’s sauce over the chicken pieces. Bake for another 30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender.
5. Place the chicken pieces on a serving platter.
6. Heat the sauce and pan drippings in a clean 1-quart saucepan over a high flame until the sauce is reduced by 1⁄3.
7. Pour the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with the coconut and peanuts. Serves 4.
 
Tina’s Tidbits:
 
• Since the alcohol in wine begins to evaporate at 172°—well short of the boiling point of water—the wine will lose its alcoholic content during roasting at 350°F.
• When cooking dishes that contain substantial spice, use a less dry wine such as a Riesling or Pinot Noir. Your spices will mellow and not be harsh, but still stand out in the dish.
 

Entrée #2:
Braised Lamb Shanks in Orange-Merlot Sauce
 
Since leg of lamb is technically not kosher (because the sciatic nerve runs through it), lamb shanks are the meat of choice when you want a flavorful lamb dish on your seder table. Slowly braising the shanks in an aromatic liquid flavored with kosher wine yields a moist, tender, fall-off-the-bone delicacy.
 
2–4 lamb shanks
2 Tablespoons mixed herbs (basil, rosemary, oregano), finely minced
1 cup of orange juice or the juice of 2 oranges
Grated zest of 1 orange
21⁄2 cups full-bodied Merlot
4 large or 6 medium cloves of garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 cup low-salt chicken stock or water
 
1. Rinse the lamb shanks and place them in one layer in a wide glass dish.
2. Combine the mixed herbs, orange juice, zest, Merlot, and garlic and add to the shanks. Turn the shanks over so they are coated with the marinade.
3. Cover with plastic wrap and let the shanks marinate at room temperature for 2 hours (or overnight in the refrigerator). Every half hour, turn the shanks to coat well.
4. Remove the shanks from the marinade and pat them dry with a paper towel. Reserve the marinade.
5. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
6. Lightly season the shanks with freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of salt. Heat a large skillet over high heat for 20 seconds. Add 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and heat for 10 seconds. Reduce the heat to medium-high, then add the lamb shanks.
7. Cook each side for approximately 2 minutes, until the shanks are brown on all sides.
8. Place the shanks in a single layer in an ovenproof casserole. Pour the chicken stock into the hot pan. Scrape up any meat particles, add them to the reserved marinade, and pour over the shanks in the casserole. Cover with a lid.
9. Put the casserole in the preheated oven, then immediately reduce the temperature to 350°F. (The hot oven will sear the meat initially, but the mixture needs to cook at a lower temperature or the meat will toughen.)
10. Roast the shanks for 45 minutes, then baste with the sauce. Return the casserole to the oven and then roast for an additional 1–11⁄2 hours, or until the meat is very tender and easily pulls away from the bone. If the liquid has reduced greatly, add 1⁄2 cup of water to the pan.
11. Remove the meat to a serving platter and keep warm. If the gravy is too watery, boil the liquid down for about 5–10 minutes, or until it has thickened to the consistency of tomato sauce.
12. Drizzle some of the sauce on each shank and serve. Serves 4.
 
Tina’s Tidbits:
 
• Because the shanks are cooked for a long time, it is important to use a wine whose flavor won’t be lost after prolonged heating. Full-bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah/Shiraz fit the bill and balance the strong flavor of lamb.
• In general, avoid using white wines in dishes with acidic ingredients such as orange juice. Wine flavors accentuate during cooking, and white wines tend to reduce to a more acidic finish, which may throw acidic recipes off balance.
 

Entrée #3:
Poached Salmon in a Court Bouillon
 
You don’t need a high-fat sauce to make fish delicious. Poaching fish in a court bouillon—a vegetable stock whose liquid base is all or part white wine—imparts a wonderful flavor, and it’s healthy, too.
 
1–11⁄2 pounds salmon fillet
1 carrot
1 onion
1⁄2 stalk of celery
1 bay leaf
1⁄2 teaspoon fennel seed
8 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
2 cups of wine, preferably Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc
2 cups of water
 
1. Chop the carrot, onion, and celery into coarse pieces.
2. Mix the vegetables with the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for 15–20 minutes.
3. Strain the liquid and place it in a large frying pan or a fish poacher. Bring the poaching liquid or court bouillon to a boil.
4. Immediately place the salmon in one layer in the court bouillon and cover tightly. Reduce the heat to very low; the liquid should be barely simmering. Poach until the fish is firm but still springy—figure on 10 minutes of cooking time per inch of thickness of your fish.
5. Remove the salmon from the court bouillon and drain on a towel. Serves 4–6.
 
Tina’s Tidbit:
 
• Stay away from red wine when poaching fish—it will muddy the bright pink color of cooked salmon and make white fish look pink.
 

Side Dish:
Asparagus with Orange Dill Sauce
 
I love to have fresh asparagus on my seder table. You can steam the asparagus or blanch in boiling salted water, but serving it with an orange dill sauce is just as easy and brings out the sweetness in the stalks.
 
1⁄4 cup Chardonnay
1 cup prepared mayonnaise
Zest of 1⁄2 orange, finely grated
1 Tablespoon minced fresh dill
1 Tablespoon fresh orange juice
1⁄4 teaspoon sugar (optional)
 
1. Simmer the wine in a small saucepan for about 2 minutes, until the liquid is reduced to approximately 2 Tablespoons.
2. Stir in the mayonnaise until it’s smooth. Add the reduced wine, zest, and dill, and stir to combine.
3. Blend in the orange juice and taste. If it’s too tart, add the optional sugar.
4. Refrigerate for at least 1⁄2 hour to allow the flavors to blend.
5. Serve with asparagus or any vegetable or fish. Makes 11⁄4 cups sauce.
 
Tina’s Tidbit
 
• Chardonnay is a preferred choice when cooking with fish, chicken, or veal. Its relatively neutral taste—dry and not too acidic—will complement rather than overpower the taste of your finished dish.
 

Dessert:
Sabayon
 
Here is an elegant way to finish your meal and dress up fruit. It only takes minutes to make, so with the ingredients on hand and the fruit already cut and plated, you can whip it up right before serving.
 
4 egg yolks
1⁄4 cup sugar
1⁄4 cup kosher Sauternes
1 Tablespoon fruit liqueur (see Tina’s Tidbits) or apricot juice
1 pint of fresh berries or fruit
 
1. Place the egg yolks and the sugar in the top of a double boiler or in a 1-quart saucepan and whisk them together until a thick ribbon of mixture pours off the whisk.
2. Place the pan with the sugar-egg mixture over another pan containing hot but not boiling water. (If the mixture is too hot, it will cook the yolks.)
3. Add the wine and liqueur to the sugar-yolk mixture and whisk constantly over the warm water for 3–4 minutes until a thick custard has formed. Immediately remove the custard from the heat (otherwise you will have fancy scrambled eggs!).
4. Divide the fresh berries into 4–6 serving dishes or glasses. Pour the sabayon over the fruit and serve.
Serves 4–6.
 
Tina’s Tidbit
 
• Sauternes is a dessert wine from the Bordeaux region of France. Muscadelle, Semillon, and Sauvignon Blanc grapes are exposed to “noble rot,” which creates a raisin effect on the grapes and gives the wine its golden, sweet finish. In America an inexpensive, sweet white or rose wine is legally misspelled Sauterne to mimic its expensive, high-quality French cousin—so don’t be misled!
 

Tina D. Wasserman, a member of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas, teaches at her own cooking school, writes a kosher cooking newsletter on the Internet, and serves as a culinary scholar-in-residence throughout the United States.
 
Feasting:
Tina’s Tested Tips on Cooking with Wine
 
When you’re cooking with wine, it’s best to keep these four cooking considerations foremost in your mind:
 
1 Cook only with wines that you yourself would drink. Practically speaking, if you judge a particular bottle of wine as unsuitable to drink, then it is equally unsuitable to use when cooking. A thin, flavorless, or bitter wine will not enhance any food, whether it costs $7 or $70 a bottle. And remember: if a sauce is to be reduced, it will concentrate the flavor.
 
In general, I recommend using a good quality wine ($10–$15) for cooking. Its flavor will stand up to prolonged cooking times and higher temperatures better than expensive wines.
 
2 Never cook with cooking wine (even though it is available for Passover). By definition, cooking wines are usually the poorest quality wines produced by the wineries. And to make matters worse, salt is added to cooking wine. Some say this practice is a throwback to Victorian times, when the cooks were unsupervised in the downstairs kitchen; adding salt to the cooking wine deterred them from nipping at the bottle.
 
3 Know the evaporation times for heated alcohol. This way you’ll protect children as well as adults with sensitivities to alcohol.

When wine is heated, the alcohol and sulfates diminish. Alcohol begins to evaporate at 172°—well short of the boiling point of water. But instead of boiling wine, which is not advisable for quality flavor retention, you can simmer it for 30–45 minutes. If you’re baking or simmering:
 
40% of the alcohol and sulfates will remain after 15 minutes
35% of the alcohol and sulfates will remain after 30 minutes
25% of the alcohol and sulfates will remain after 1 hour
20% of the alcohol and sulfates will remain after 1.5 hours
10% of the alcohol and sulfates will remain after 2 hours
5% of the alcohol and sulfates will remain after 2.5 hours
 
4 Save leftover wine with rebottling and refrigeration. If more than half a bottle of wine is left over, place it in a clean jar that can be filled all the way (so there’s little air space). Wine stored this way will last up to a month in the refrigerator.
 


Matchmaking:
Pairing Wines with Your Pesach Meal
 
If you’re planning a traditional seder meal, here are some fine wine choices to accompany each course:
 
APPETIZER: Gefilte Fish with Horseradish
1. Abarbanel, Pinot Blanc, Alsace
2. Yarden, Viognier
 
SOUP: Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls
1. Baron Herzog, Zinfandel
2. Recanati, Petite Sirah-Zinfandel
 
MAIN COURSE AND SIDE DISHES: Brisket with Prunes, Sweet Potatoes and Carrots; Matzo Stuffing with Mushrooms, Onions, and Celery; Oven-Roasted Herbed Potatoes; Fresh Asparagus
1. Herzog, Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah, Special Reserve
2. Carmel, Carignan, Appelation Series
3. Galil Mountain, Yiron
 
DESSERT: Almond-Hazelnut Raspberry Torte
1. Yarden, Heightswine
2. Yarden, Noble Semillon
3. Hagafen, Johannisberg Riesling, Potter Valley, Napa
Union for Reform Judaism.