This Friday evening Jews all over Washington will be participating in the first of the Passover seders, probably one of the oldest and most difficult theatrical evenings to prepare. The script will be essentially the same in every household -- the narration of the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt -- and no leavening will be used in any of the dishes. But menus will vary from household to household.
Except for matzo balls and matzots, there is no single Jewish food. Every dish is a kosher adaptation to the culinary meanderings of Jews throughout the world. The apple and nut charosets served at the seder are an Eastern European adaptation of the Babylonian date dipping sauces used thousands of years ago. Potato latkes were originally a Ukrainian dish. Gefilte fish was an Eastern European way of stretching the pieceof fish needed for holiday meals.
One of the more exotic menus this Friday evening will be prepared at Minerva Etzioni's Mexican seder in Bethesda. Married to Amitai Etzioni, a German-born, Israeli-raised sociologist who teaches at George Washington University, Minerva Etzioni has adapted Mexican dishes to kosher cuisine.
"Mexican food is ideal for Passover," says Etzioni, a convert to Judaism. "Most sauces are thickened with nuts and chilies. It is easy to substitute matzo for tortillas in vegetable dishes." Etzioni, who is writing a book on Mexican cuisine, maintains that there is no such thing as a Jewish Mexican Passover. "In Mexico, Jews use the recipes at holiday times that they brought with them from Europe." Almost. Gefilte fish is sometimes served in a hot tomatillos-and-chili sauce.
Etzioni has found it a challenge to adapt Mexican cuisine to a Passover seder menu. Since her husband prefers the lightness of her cooking to the heavier German Jewish food with which he grew up, she exercises free rein.
The Etzioni seder will begin with a southern Mexican fish with green sauce rather than gefilte fish. Etzioni will serve her chicken broth thickened with potatoes and accented with celery, dill, onions and garlic. Her matzo balls will be small; and avocado cubes, chopped scallions and a dash of lime juice will add Mexican character.
She will continue with a baked lamb with echayote and a saut,eed spinach dish served on top of matzot rather than tortillas -- a Mexican rendition of the Sephardic mina, or spinach pie, served at Passover. Dessert will be a typical Mexican flan. Those guests attending the Etzioni seder will taste how she has adapted her native food to the tradition of Passover -- as Jews have done throughout the centuries, throughout the world.