During our years in France, my husband and I had the opportunity to explore French Jewish cuisine and to attend Parisian Passover Seders. Most of the Jews in France are either of North African or Ashkenazi origin, and the taste of both groups was apparent in our holiday fare. Although tradition dictates much of the Passover menu, the French culinary influence in Parisian holiday meals was also evident.
One time we went to a Seder organized by a Parisian synagogue, where the menu featured time-honored Jewish dishes alongside classic French ones, and was the inspiration for my menu here.
For a first course, we could choose between gefilte fish or a French dish called saumon en gelée, sauce verte–French salmon in aspic with green sauce, a mayonnaise flavored with fresh herbs. Our main course was a Mediterranean-style roast lamb flavored with garlic and onions, a Passover custom dating from biblical times*. The dish had one modern-day accompaniment – roasted potatoes, which, of course, were not known to the biblical Jews, as potatoes are native to Peru. For a vegetable, we could pick a zucchini kugel or leek fritters. The Sefardi-style haroset was a delightful mélange that included dates, as well as three kinds of nuts, apples and wine.
As befitting a French feast, we were served two desserts. Because Alsace has long been the home of a large Jewish community and happens to be one of the best regions of France for desserts, it was not surprising that one of the desserts was Alsatian. It was a delicious and unusually light matzo raisin kugel with a cinnamon glaze. The second dessert was a luscious chocolate hazelnut gateau, made with a small amount of potato starch instead of flour.
*Please note that, with the destruction of the Temple, Orthodox Jews do not eat roast lamb at the seder. It can be eaten at other meals on Passover.
Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home (Morrow), 1,000 Jewish Recipes (Wiley) and Jewish Cooking For Dummies (Wiley).