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I grew up in a Jewish family - both sides - and Passover, which commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, was a big deal with three generations of family, including second and third cousins, getting together to celebrate.
Everyone chipped in to rent a huge room in an old private club in Brooklyn for a seder, the ritual feast that marks the beginning of the holiday. My great Uncle Lou presided over the long service in which we read from the Haggadah, a small book that recounts the story of the Exodus, when the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. Responding to our elders' reprimanding glares, we kids tried to keep from squirming and our stomachs from growling in anticipation of the five-course course meal ahead.
When I married a man who was raised Catholic, we joined the ranks of interfaith couples. Our lucky sons got to go on two hunts: one for Easter eggs and the other for the Afikomen (a piece of matzo hidden during the Passover seder) and enjoy the various traditions of both holidays.
The challenge for those of us in interfaith families that celebrate both Passover and Easter is to find common ground when the holidays overlap as they do this year.
Easter and Passover are both moveable feasts that take place in early spring. In Western Christianity, Easter is always on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25. The Hebrew calendar dates of Nissan 15-22 mark the celebration of Passover, and therefore it often falls within the same time frame as Easter.
Passover seders will be held on the evenings of March 25 and 26, but the weeklong holiday continues to be observed on Easter Sunday, March 31.
The two holidays are linked by much of their symbolism, and celebratory meals in both traditions tend to feature foods of spring.
But for observant Jews, with Passover comes the restrictions of regular kosher dietary laws: no milk and meat served together; no pork, shellfish and certain other fish; and no leavened bread, defined in the Talmud (book of Jewish laws and customs) as five grains: wheat, spelt, barley, oats and rye-that's substituted with matzo and matzo meal.
So a baked Virginia ham is a no-no at an Easter dinner attended by observant Jewish family and friends, as is lasagna, shrimp cocktail or a chocolate layer cake.
But there are many foods that suit both holidays nicely. In the main dish department, a roast rack of lamb (see recipe), roast chicken, beef pot roast or lemon dill salmon are all good choices. If gravy is being served, potato starch can substitute for flour as a thickener.
Most vegetables are fine in either tradition, such as colorful carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, beans, artichokes and salad greens, flavored with the fresh herbs of spring: parsley, dill, cilantro, mint. If you use butter or salad dressing, just make sure it's kosher for Passover.
Eggs are a symbol of the start of new life in both traditions, appearing in both Easter egg baskets and on the seder plate. They can be served hardboiled in a salad and get the green light as an ingredient in Passover desserts.
Speaking of dessert, there are many choices that don't incorporate cake flour or dairy products, like flourless chocolate cake and macaroons. Matzo meal can stand in for wheat flour in a fresh fruit tart or sponge cake. And if you can't find kosher chocolate Easter bunnies and jellybeans, jelly fruit slices and chocolate covered marshmallows (in the supermarket Passover display) are a good compromise.
Armed with a little awareness and ingenuity, an Easter/Passover meal can be a delicious, colorful and creative feast that connects people of different faiths and backgrounds and blends food traditions and creates new ones.
GRILLED LAMB STEAKS WITH ARTICHOKE LEMON SAUCE
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound lamb steaks cut from the leg (preferably about 3/4-inch thick)
1 cup artichoke hearts, patted dry and chopped (frozen is best)
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch*
Set aside 1 teaspoon of the chopped rosemary. In a wide, shallow bowl combine the remaining rosemary, the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the lamb and coat it well on all sides with the herb mixture. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour, and up to overnight.
Set an oven rack 4 inches from the broiler heating element. Heat the oven to broil.
In a small bowl, toss the artichokes with the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the artichokes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil, turning them several times, until they are golden around the edges, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the broiler and set aside.
In a small saucepan over medium, heat the chicken broth until it is simmering. In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolk, lemon juice, reserved teaspoon of rosemary and the cornstarch. Add a little of the chicken stock to the mixture in a stream, whisking. Add the egg mixture back to the chicken stock and cook for 1 minute, or until the sauce starts to bubble. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the artichokes. Keep warm over low heat.
Heat a grill or a grill pan over medium-high heat. Wipe off most of the garlic herb mixture from the lamb and spray the meat with olive oil cooking spray. Add the lamb to the grill pan. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, turning once, about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer the lamb to a plate, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 5 minutes.
Slice the lamb against the grain into slices about 1/4-inch thick. Add the lamb juices from the plate to the artichoke lemon sauce. Divide the sliced lamb between 4 serving plates and spoon sauce over each plate.
*Use potato starch to make this recipe kosher for Passover.
By Sara Moulton, Associated Press
QUINOA SALAD WITH ARTICHOKES AND PARSLEY
Parsley has its own spot on the seder plate, representing spring. Although quinoa is considered a whole grain, it is, in fact, a seed-making it a welcome addition to a Passover meal.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped spring or sweet onion
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 (9-ounce) package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
1 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth*
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
5 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and thyme; sauté 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Add artichokes; sauté 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Add broth and quinoa; bring to a simmer. Cover and cook 18 minutes or until liquid is completely absorbed.
Remove pan from heat. Stir in parsley, rind, juice, and salt. Serve warm or at room temperature.
*Substitute vegetable broth for vegetarian guests
By Allison Fishman of CookingLight.com