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.
At Rosa Mexicano, a New York-based chain of upscale Mexican restaurants, tried and true dishes like matzo ball soup and beef brisket are getting a spicy makeover this year for its 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 mashups.
"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, says 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," Schmidt 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 its recipes to try at home.
Makes 1 drink
Editors' 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 ounces Herradura Silver Tequila
1/2 ounce apple juice (use any natural, unfiltered or cold-pressed 100 percent apple juice like RW Knudson)
3/4 ounce fresh hand-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 ounce cinnamon syrup (sugar dissolved in water with cinnamon)
1/2 ounce honey syrup (two parts honey mixed with one part warm water)
1/4 ounce 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. Drizzle Manischewitz reduction carefully on top of drink. It should not combine, but swirl in to add color. Garnish with apple slices.
Makes approximately 20 matzo balls.
Editors' 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, puree 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. Sautee the onion in the schmaltz until brown, and let cool.
Take a large marrow bone and scoop out marrow with a knife. Drop the marrow in cold water and gently press with your fingers until all the blood is out and the marrow 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 puree 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 1/2 tablespoons for each. Make smaller or larger depending on preference. Drop into boiling water and simmer for 30 minutes.
Serve with soup.