Passover and Easter have much in common and this year they even fall on the same weekend. So it seems appropriate to acknowledge their relationship with a menu that can serve for both holidays.
Though exact details are lost, in the ancient world people celebrated nature festivals at the time of the spring equinox, the same time we observe Passover and Easter. Passover embodies the concepts of freedom associated with the deliverance of the Jews from slavery and the exodus from Egypt while Easter commemorates the death and resurrection of Christ.
The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke place Christ's Last Supper on the first day of Passover. And the paschal lamb that in ancient times was traditionally slaughtered and eaten on the eve of Passover has come to be associated with Christ, who is sometimes called the Paschal Lamb.
My choice for a Passover/Easter entree is pot roast, a dis famous for its ease of preparation and delicious taste. Though it may seem pedestrian, it has a long tradition that is based on the ancient technique of braising meat in a heavy pot in a small amount of liquid.
The braising liquid is up to you (beer, water, wine, tomato juicebroth), and the seasonings can vary from simple salt and pepper to a complex combination of cinnamon, cloves, mace, bay leaves, thyme and dill. The meat of choice is brisket but chuck, rolled rump and eye of round work well, too. And, of course, lamb can also be cooked this way with good results.
If you stir in potatoes and carrots about an hour before the end of the cooking time, you'll have a one-dish meal. Jews might like to add prunes and dried apricots for a tsimmeslike taste. And to make the meal festive, dress it up with green salads, pickled beets and cucumbers and steamed asparagus that are just in season.
Since flour-based cakes are forbidden at Passover and since rich desserts are bypassed by many, a fruit and angel food cake seems right for this menu. I like fruit compote, a tradition at Passover that would taste just as good at the Easter table. What gives my compote its special kick is the addition of dried cherries and lemon slices.
Their symbolism and traditions are different, it's true, but Passover and Easter are so closely linked that a meal suited to both holidays makes good sense.
HOLIDAY POT ROAST
2 tablespoons oil 1 onion, chopped
garlic clove, minced
4 pounds brisket or other pot roast
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
8 whole peppercorns
salt to taste
1/2 cup dry red wine
8 small carrots
8 small potatoes, peeled
8 small white onions
chopped fresh parsley for garnish
Heat oil in a Dutch oven, add onion and garlic and saute until lightly browned. Remove onion and garlic and reserve. Add pot roast to pan and brown well on all sides. Return onion and garlic to pan and stir in thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns, salt, wine and 2 tablespoons water. Cover tightly and braise 2 1/2 hours. Add carrots, potatoes and white onions and cook 1 hour longer or until meat and vegetables are fork-tender. Carve meat into thin slices, arrange on a serving platter and sprinkle with parsley. Surround meat with vegetables. Strain pan juices and pass on the side. Serves four.
@HOLIDAY FRUIT COMPOTE
2 cups water
1/2 -1 cup sugar, or to taste
1 cinnamon stick
1 lemon, sliced and seeded
1/2 pound pitted dried cherries
1 pound dried apricots
1/2 pound prunes
Place water, sugar and cinnamon stick in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until sugar is dissolved. Add remaining ingredients, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Allow to sit several hours or overnight. Serve warm or cold over angel food cake. Serves four to six.