Rafi Cohen arranges a piece of braised kosher lamb with a saute of exquisitely carved baby turnips, carrots and fava beans and then drizzles the sleekest, glossiest reduction sauce on the plate.
"This is kosher for Passover,'' he says proudly. "You can make this.'' Um, I can?
These days, Cohen spends Passover as he spends most holidays - preparing thoroughly kosher Mediterranean-inspired French cuisine at La Regence, the fine-dining room in Jerusalem's top-rated King David Hotel.
"He's brilliant,'' enthuses Daniel Rogov, the dining critic for the daily Isareli newspaper Ha'aretz. "Rafi cooks with a great amount of inventiveness and daring. He shows there are no contradictions between the laws of kosher and good food.''
At La Regence, kosher lamb with wheatberries keeps company with sashimi in sesame-wasabi vinaigrette, sweetbreads with gnocchi and shiitake mushroom caps, a fondue of fresh white and dark truffles, and an array of miniature tarts and cookies for dessert. Only in retrospect do you realize the meal unfolded without shellfish, without cream and butter, without a single porcine moment.
When Cohen was growing up, Passover was a time for his family to gather, to pay tribute to the Jewish people, and to feast on his Moroccan-born grandmother's special dishes. Long-simmered tagines, sweet spices and dried fruits were the hallmarks of her holiday kitchen.
Below, Cohen offers a Passover menu that combines his two worlds of fine dining and Moroccan roots.
Makes 6 servings
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 chicken, cut in 8 pieces
2 pounds onions, thinly sliced
1 packed cup pitted prunes
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil. Brown the chicken on all sides. Remove and reserve. Reduce heat to medium-low, add the onion slices and cook until golden, stirring often, about 25 minutes. Add the prunes and reserved chicken, cover, and cook for 35-45 minutes, or until juices run clear.
Moroccan Soup for Passover
Makes 8 servings
2 tablespoons corn oil
2 pounds shoulder of veal, trimmed of excess fat and cut in 1-inch pieces
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
8 ounces fresh double-peeled fava or lima beans or frozen lima beans
2 white onions, quartered
2 leeks, sliced crosswise
4 carrots, peeled and cut in large chunks
5 celery ribs, cut in large chunks
1/2 teaspoon saffron
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
In a large pot over medium-high heat, add the oil. Sear the veal on all sides. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 3 hours. Add the fresh beans, onions, leeks, carrots, celery, saffron and paprika, cover and simmer an additional 2 hours.
with Green Bean Salad
Makes 4 servings
3/4 pound grouper or red snapper fillets, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 ounces haricots verts, or small green beans, cut widthwise into 1/4-inch slices (about 3/4 cup)
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato, peeled, seeded and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
In a 13-by-9-by-2- inch baking pan, combine the grouper, 3/4 cup lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, coriander seeds, jalapeno and salt and mix to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours or overnight, stirring occasionally. The fillets should be opaque throughout.
Blanch haricots verts until al dente, 1 to 3 minutes. Rinse under cold water and drain. Combine beans with shallot and tomato. Toss with 4 tablespoons olive oil and remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Remove the grouper, draining any excess marinade. Arrange on a plate and top with green bean salad. Season with salt and pepper.