The typical American seder meal served on the first night of Passover tends to be hearty, comforting and pretty bland. But it doesn't have to be.
Enter Rosa Mexicano, a New York-based chain of upscale Mexican restaurants where tried and true dishes like matzo ball soup and beef brisket are getting a spicy makeover this year for it's 12th annual Mexican Passover week.
Wait, you may be saying. Mexican Passover? There are Jews in Mexico? Actually, yes, although the country is 97 percent Catholic.
Executive Chef David Suarez, who has been with Rosa Mexicano for nine years, says he loves to educate guests about the country's diversity. "There's always a small part of Mexico that people don't know about," he says.
Suarez, a New York native with a Cuban-Jewish father and an Eastern European Jewish mother, knows about cultural mash-ups.
"A lot of people don't know in Mexico City there's a huge Jewish population... in the Polanco section," he says. There, it wouldn't be unusual to hear observant Jews, dressed in black from head to toe, speaking Hebrew with a Spanish accent.
In fact, nearly 40,000 Jews live in Mexico, mostly in the capital, "where there are 23 synagogues, several kosher restaurants and at least 12 Jewish schools," according to The Jewish Virtual Library.
Almost all of them are descended from immigrants who arrived between the late 1800s and 1939 to escape persecution in Europe. They brought with them traditional Passover foods like noodle soups, matzo and baked meats, according to Alex Schmidt of the Mexican-Jewish food blog, Challa-peno.
Still, there is room for experimentation when cultures collide.
"Every year when I was growing up, we'd go 'home' to Mexico for Passover. When I eat a spicy turkey sandwich between two pieces of matzo, feelings of being surrounded by family in a safe, loving place come simmering up," she told NPR back in 2011.
Since Passover celebrates the Jews' freedom from slavery in ancient Egypt, can you think of a better celebration of freedom than stuffing some chipotle into your matzo balls?
If you can't get to Rosa Mexicano while the Passover menu is available April 14 through 22, here are a couple of their recipes to try at home.
Rosa Mexicano's Sangria Haroset (Kosher)
Makes 1 drink
Editor's Note: Haroset is typically a relish made of apples, honey, cinnamon, wine and walnuts that accompanies matzo at Passover meals. At Rosa Mexicano, it's a cocktail that mimics those flavors, plus a kick of tequila.
1.5 ounce (oz) Herradura Silver Tequila
0.5 oz apple juice (use any natural, unfiltered or cold pressed 100 percent apple juice like RW Knudson)
0.75 oz fresh hand-squeezed lemon juice
0.5 oz cinnamon syrup (sugar dissolved in water with cinnamon)
0.5 oz honey syrup (two parts honey mixed with one part warm water)
0.25 oz Manischewitz wine reduction (sweet kosher wine boiled down to a syrup)
Garnish of 1/8-inch thick apple slices (3), fanned and skewered on a bamboo prism pick
Combine ingredients except Manischewitz reduction in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously with ice. Strain over fresh ice in a 10-ounce rocks glass. Drizzel Manischewitz reduction carefully on top of drink. It should not combine, but swirl in to add color. Garnish with apple slices.
Rosa Mexicano's Chipotle Marrow Matzo Balls
Makes approximately 20 Matzo balls.
Editor's note: The restaurant serves this in a tangy pozole broth (hominy and pepper and beef for Passover, instead of pork), but it would be tasty in place of traditional matzo balls in chicken soup, too.
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons schmaltz (chicken fat, or use vegetable oil)
1 cup matzo meal
2 tablespoons marrow
1/2 chipotle pepper
1/8 teaspoon ginger, grated
2 heaping tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon onion, chopped
In a blender, purée the chipotle pepper and cilantro with the water to make it smooth. In a bowl, beat the eggs until the yolks and whites are well-combined. Sautée the onion in the schmaltz until brown, and let cool.
Take a large marrow bone and scoop out marrow with a knife. Drop in cold water and gently press with your fingers until all the blood is out and is white. (This takes a little time but it's worth it.)
Place the marrow in a mixing bowl and cream it until it has the consistency of mayonnaise. Add the egg and mix well. Add the purée and then the onion and ginger to the mixture until it is all well incorporated. Gradually add the matzo meal until fully incorporated. Cover and refrigerate for two hours.
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Form the matzo balls in your hand using about 1.5 tablespoons for each. Make smaller or larger depending on preference. Drop into boiling water and simmer for 30 minutes.
Serve with soup.
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