A blending of Jewish and Hispanic Cultures

This year in Tijuana, Mexico, 50 people will draw their chairs up to a Seder table loaded with dishes prepared by Miguel Alvarez, the cook at the Centro Social Israelita’s Chabad House.

Guests will feast on fish and beef, gefilte fish with salsa, eggplant salad and carrot salad, and fruit compote.

At Becky Carrillo Michels’ house in Wisconsin, Seder guests will eat fish patties in tomato and cilantro sauce and orange cake.

And diners in Manhattan who want to go out for a Seder-like meal (but not a Seder) will be able to sup on roasted jalape??hicken broth with cilantro matzo balls and a roasted chicken in ancho chile and pomegranate sauce at the three Rosa Mexicano restaurants.

Mexico has a thing or two to say about the Seder.

Passover begins this year at sundown on Monday, April 2, which is the 15th of Nisan on the Jewish calendar. The eight-day holiday celebrates the Jews’ escape from Egypt and their freedom from centuries of slavery, described in the book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible.

Central to Passover’s observance is the Seder, the festive meal eaten on the first night of Passover in Israel, and on the first two nights outside of Israel. During the Seder, celebrants recount the story of Pharoah’s refusal to free his slaves, and of the Jews’ frantic night-time escape across the Red Sea.

Seder tables in the United States are often set to groaning with Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish) foods like matzo kugel, matzo ball soup, brisket, gefilte fish, roast chicken, roast lamb, asparagus and, for dessert, sponge cake.

But Jews have long lived in the country just south of us, and have folded in local flavors to their Seder meals, making them spicier, zestier and a bit more tropical.

There are between 38,000 and 40,000 Jews in Mexico, according to Dina Siegel Vann, director of the Latino and Latin American Institute of the American Jewish Committee in Washington D.C. Half are Ashkenazi and half are Sephardi — or from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East. Jews make up a tiny portion of the country’s general population of 107 million.

Jews have lived in Mexico since the 1500s, but, like their cousins living in other Spanish countries, most were killed, forced to convert “or just disappeared” during the Spanish Inquisition, Siegel Vann said. A second wave of Jews moved to Mexico at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, fleeing the Ottoman Empire and Eastern Europe. Most settled in Mexico City.

“Jews are increasingly accepted as part of the social fabric, enriching the Mexican social fabric,” said Siegel Vann, who grew up in Mexico City.

And, as happens when immigrants successfully assimilate, Mexico’s culinary culture has seeped into traditional Jewish cooking. Guacamole and chili peppers are common additions to Mexican Seders.

“Mexican Jews, third generation, don’t like their gefilte fish anymore,” said Rosa Mexicano’s culinary director Roberto Santibanez. “They at least put it in Veracruz sauce.”

Santibanez and his team interviewed Mexican Jewish “grandmothers, aunts of friends” and others to come up with a Passover meal for Rosa Mexicano, a non-kosher restaurant that has been offering Seder-type food for two years.

The Tijuana Chabad House cook, Miguel Alvarez, is not Jewish, but strictly adheres to Jewish dietary law in his recipes, said Chabad House Rabbi Mendel Polichenco. Alvarez’s recipes were enthusiastically translated from Spanish into English by Nick Doron, an importer-exporter who describes himself by saying, “imagine me like Al Pacino.”

Carrillo Michels grew up in Mexico City and moved to Wisconsin. Although she left Mexico, she did not leave behind her father’s orange cake recipe, which she makes every year for Passover.

* * *
The following are Mexican Passover recipes

Makes 5 to 6 cups. From Rosa Mexicano.

1 pear, peeled, cored and diced
3 apples, peeled, cored and diced
3 bananas, peeled and mashed
1 pound pitted dates
1/2 pound blanched almonds
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 cup sweet wine
In a food processor, combine all the ingredients and puree.

Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and simmer over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, adding wine or water as needed.

Cool, cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours to chill. Serve as a spread.

* * *

Serves 6. From Rosa Mexicana.

1 white cabbage, about 2.5 pounds, roughly chopped
1 small white onion sliced
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon allspice berries
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3 granny smith apples peeled, cored and sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
3 Poblano peppers roasted, peeled, deseeded and cut in thin strips
Salt to taste
Heat oil in a pot.

Add cabbage, onions, peppercorns, cinnamon and allspice, and cook covered at medium heat for 45 minutes.

Add vinegar and sugar.

Add apples and keep cooking (45 minutes) or until apples are fully cooked but still keep a texture.

Add Poblano peppers, and salt to taste and mix well.

* * *

Serves about 12. From Miguel Alvarez at Chabad House in Tijuana, Mexico.

4 pounds red snapper, cut into chunks
2 onions (or more to taste)
2 Jalapeno peppers (or more to taste)
4 potatoes cut into 1-inch cubes
5 carrots sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup green olives with pimentos (or more to taste).
Saute onions, peppers, potatoes and carrots in olive oil until onions are softened, about 5 minutes.

Add water just to cover and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and add red snapper and olives.

Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, until fish is cooked and the mixture resembles stew.

Season with salt to taste.

* * *

From Miguel Alvarez at Chabad House in Tijuana, Mexico

5 pears, peeled, cored and cut into quarters
5 apples, peeled, cored and cut into quarters
3 cups fresh plums or peaches
1/2 cup raisins
3 cups sugar
2 cups red wine
Put all the ingredients into a large pot

Pour boiling water over mixture just to cover.

Cook on high for 20 to 25 minutes.

Cool to room temperature before serving.

* * *

From Becky Carrillo Michels

2 cups matzo meal
1-1/2 cups sugar
5 eggs, separated
1 cup coarsely ground walnuts
Juice of two oranges
Peel of one orange
2/3 cup walnut oil
To coat cake pan:
2 tablespoons matzo meal
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
In a bowl mix matzo meal, sugar, walnut oil, orange peel, orange juice and 5 egg yolks.

Fold in walnuts.

In a separate bowl beat egg whites until stiff.

Fold egg whites very gently into the matzo meal mixture.

Coat a spring-form bunt cake pan with a kosher cooking spray.

Mix together 2 tablespoons matzo meal, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon and sprinkle bottom and sides of cake pan, so they are coated.

Pour mixture into pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

Turn off heat and let cake sit in oven for 15 minutes to cool.

Take out and sprinkle with walnuts or drizzle with warm orange marmalade.

Reach Andrea Gurwitt at 973-569-7159 or gurwitt@northjersey.com.

* * *
Mexican Passover specials at Rosa Mexicano

Available April 2-7

Tropical Haroset

Pears, apples, bananas, dates, almonds, cinnamon and sweet wine


Caldo de Pollo con Bolitas

Matzo ball soup: roasted jalape??hicken broth with cilantro matzo balls, carrots and black garbanzo beans

Higadito de Pollo para Tacos

Chipotle chopped liver topped with egg, tempura scallions, chicken chicharrones and tomatillo-avocado sauce served with warm corn tortillas


Tacos de Lengua

Seared beef tongue served with chile de arbol salsa and pickled jalapeno cabbage

Lunch only

Lengua de Res a la Veracruzana

Traditional beef tongue simmered in a Veracruz sauce of tomatoes, olives and roasted peppers served with matzo-potato-chive fritters

Dinner only

Medio Pollo Rostizado

All-natural roasted half chicken served with an ancho chile-pomegranate sauce, Mexico City ratatouille and spicy leek casserole

Lunch and dinner

Robalo Relleno

Baked stuffed sea bass with zucchinis and roasted pecans served with pureed pumpkin and prunes with spinach-potato kugel “Izmir-style”

Dinner only


Pastel de Datil

Warm pecan, date and bittersweet chocolate flourless cake served with piloncillo butter sauce and orange whipped cr? fraiche


Chocolate Egg Cream


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