Sephardic Seder Flavors

Too Good To Passover, by Jennifer Abadi, is an exploration of the diversity of Sephardic and Mizrahi Passover traditions. Abadi spent six years interviewing people from Jewish communities in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Along with their sentimental memoirs, her subjects shared treasured family Passover recipes.

According to the people she interviewed, Passover preparations in their communities began as soon as Purim ended. I was impressed with the descriptions of the thorough cleaning, koshering, and in many cases, repainting of homes in anticipation of the Seder. Special efforts were made to ensure that the food was kosher for Passover. Animals were purchased while still alive to be taken to a shochet, or ritual slaughterer. Spices and nuts were purchased whole, to be processed in the home. Matzah was baked in a communal oven from flour that had been especially milled for the occasion. Almost all of the people interviewed said that they made their own wine. Many families had special dishes just for Passover.

While contemporary life is much easier than what Abadi’s interview subjects described, some traditions persist. For example, it was interesting to discover that some Jewish communities (Indian, Syrian, Lebanese) consume rice during Passover, while some do not. Similarly, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products are forbidden during Passover in the Indian tradition, while in other cultures, these foods are featured prominently in Passover recipes.

I was thrilled that the people interviewed by Abadi shared their treasured family recipes with her. In fact, you may enhance your Seder this year by making some of their dishes and adding them to your table. I am planning to prepare the Tunisian Rose Petal Dusted Date “Truffles” Haroset. Frankly, I was expecting the Persian Jews to be the ones to add rose petals to their haroset, so this recipe took me by surprise.

Abadi’s most important contribution is preserving the memory of the communities she describes in her book. As I read the book, I felt like I was listening to the people Abadi interviewed and being transported to their home countries.