On PASSOVER, Sephardic Jews don't serve gefilte fish and chicken soup," says Viviane Miner. "My family serves stuffed vegetables, lentil soup, lamb, pepper salad and melon cream -- all Turkish dishes."
Miner, a graphic designer with green eyes and black hair, is Turkish. She was born in Switzerland into a long line of Sephardic Jews who were merchants, scholars and wonderful cooks.
Sephardim, descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews and Jews from Mediterranean countries, cook the foods of Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Tunisia, Morocco, Bulgaria and Rumania, changing the ingredients to meet jewish dietary laws.
"I grew up watching my mother cook," says Miner. "She never cooked for less than an army."
For Passover, never less than an army participated in the preparation. First, there were her mother and grandmother. "They worked under pressure, because there was so much to do. A week before the holiday they tackled the kitchen and scrubbed everything until it shined. They removed all the everyday dishes and brought in the Passover dishes. Then they started cooking, and the lovely aromas wafted through the house, making us impatient for the holiday," recalls Miner.
Then there were her grandfather and uncles, who made and baked the matzoh -- always round -- in the synagogue oven.
Miner's family came to America when she was 10. By the age of 12 she was cooking for her family because, she said, "There was no such thing as not helping."
"Mother called me from work -- she was a fashion designer -- and told me what to cook for dinner. And she also depended on me to help with the holiday meals, which were still elaborate," recalls Miner. "In fact, our guests used to stare as mother and I carried the many platters of food from the kitchen."
One satisfied guest was Miner's future husband, who wasn't an adventuresome eater until he met her family.
"He wasn't used to the kinds of food we ate or our gaiety during meals," said Miner. "First he fell in love with Mother's cooking, then with me. He proposed after one fabulous meal," said Miner.
Her husband's work brought her to Washington, and two years ago she started teaching Sephardic cooking at the Jewish Community Center because she missed the conviviality of her family, and she found it in the classes.
"Most people think Moroccan when they think of Sephardic food," she says, "but it's much more than that. So, particularly before Passover, I teach some old family recipes, so that someone might try lamb basted with vinegar or my special haroset made with dates, almonds, walnuts and apples."
"The cooking becomes a social occasion," she says. "We laugh, gossip and tease each other while we cook. I remind Mother that she used to send me a list, so I'd go back and forth until I was exhausted. But I didn't mind because when we all sat down together it was a very special time." HAROSET 1/2 cup raisins 1/2 cup dates 1/2 cup walnuts 1/2 cup almonds 2 cups apple Juice of 1 orange 1/2 cup sweet wine 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Chop raisins, dates, walnuts, almonds and apple medium fine. Add the juice of 1 orange, 1/2 cup sweet wine and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Mix well and let sit for several hours before serving. If it becomes dry, add a little extra wine before serving. LEG OF LAMB GARNI leg or shoulder roast of lamb (approximately 8 to 10 ounces per person), fat removed* 1 medium clove garlic, sliced, for each 2 pounds of lamb 1 medium potato, per person 1 green pepper, per person 1 ripe tomato, per person 1 onion, per person Paprika Oregano Salt and pepper 1/4 cup vinegar diluted in 1/2 cup water
Cut slits in lamb and press a slice of garlic into each slit. Wash, peel and thickly slice vegetables and place them around the lamb. Dust with paprika, oregano, salt and pepper. Bake in 350-degree oven, 15 to 20 minutes per pound, boasting with diluted vinegar. Lamb should not be overcooked. If a more piquant sauce is desired, use double the vinegar with the same amount of water.
In this country, kosher leg of lamb is generally not available, so shoulder can be substituted. FRIED CAULIFLOWER (6 servings) 1 1/2 cups matzoh meal 1/4 teaspoon each paprika, oregano, basil, marjoram, dill, garlic powder, salt, pepper 1 head cauliflower, broken into flowerets 6 eggs, beaten Olive oil Season matzoh meal with spices. Boil cauliflower until just done. It should still be slightly crisp. Drain and dip in egg, roll in the matzoh meal. Dip in egg again and fry in 1/2-inch olive oil until golden on both sides. Drain excess oil and serve cauliflower immediately or keep warm in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. MELON CREAM (6 servings) 4-pound ripe cantaloupe 2 eggs 1/2 cup potato starch 1/2 cup sugar (scant) 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1/2 teaspoon anise extract
Puree half the cantaloupe in a blender and pour into a pot. Puree rest of cantaloupe in blender with eggs, potato starch, sugr, gelatin and vanilla. Blend 2 to 5 minutes and pour into pot with other half of melon. Stir well and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until very thick and coats the spoon. Add anise extract and stir again. Pour into individual cups. Serve at room temperature.