Chef Eli Margulies would like to see far fewer processed foods at the Passover table.
"You see people who normally would never eat a boxed food eating all kinds of it for Passover," Margulies says. "They've already moved on the food spectrum toward an unprocessed diet. But there's no reason they can't do that for Passover, too."
Margulies, 29, is a personal chef and cooking instructor who follows a relatively simple philosophy: Ingredients should be natural, nourishing and delicious. "It should be food that your grandmother would recognize," says Margulies, whose first name is pronounced Ellie and is short for Elisheva.
That philosophy resonated with a group of 20- and 30-something Jews who gathered at the Jewish Community Center in Creve Coeur recently for a presentation by Margulies and Rabbi Susan Talve exploring why certain foods are eaten at Passover and providing natural-food based recipes for traditional dishes. The presentation was the inaugural event in the Jewish Federation's 2012 "Brew House" series, a combination of social and educational opportunities for the Federation's Young Professionals division.
Margulies pointed out that many younger Jews go to seders where their grandmothers' recipes are featured. Much of the audience nodded in agreement.
Her presentation was limited to charoset, a fruit mixture served at the seder and meant to symbolize the mortar made by Jews when they were enslaved by the Egyptians. Focusing on charoset made it easy for her to adhere to the "natural" and "nourishing" aspects of her food philosophy, but it also allowed her to expand upon the "delicious" aspect.
In all of her dishes, Margolies seeks out out-of-the-ordinary ingredients for unexpected, rewarding flavors. Ashkenazic Moscato Apple-Nut Charoset, for example, incorporates moscato instead of the traditional super-sweet kosher wine made from Concord grapes. Margulies also emphasizes that taking the 'slow food" approach of dicing the apples by hand instead of in a food processor results in a much better texture.
Sephardic Apricot-Pomegranate Charoset incorporates Persian-influenced flavors such as cinnamon, cardamom and pomegranate, while Moroccan Charoset Truffles are shaped like the candies and eaten with romaine lettuce, which counts as a "bitter herb" for the seder, even though Margulies finds it only slightly bitter.
Margulies' Passover recipe collection also includes naturally gluten-free Indian Spiced Coconut-Walnut Granola and Spring Quinoa Salad With Parsley-Walnut Pesto. She says quinoa, which recently has achieved widespread use in America, is considered kosher for Passover by many rabbis.
Margulies encourages people to think outside the box when planning their seders.
"I think a potluck seder sounds like the best idea ever!" she says.