After a two-year pandemic hiatus, my Italian Catholic in-laws are eager to resume holiday celebrations, including their tradition of inviting my entire extended Jewish family, including my parents, my brother’s family (and even the parents of his wife!) at their annual Easter holiday meal. It’s an incredible and thoughtful gesture of inclusivity, but one that may require some creative meal planning for all of us.
For interfaith families, food can be one of the biggest challenges of joint celebrations. My in-laws, like many of us, enjoy celebrating the holidays with the same dishes as their immigrant grandparents, passing down their favorites from one generation to the next. Their Seven Fish Christmas Eve party, for example, boasts at least seven types of fish, most platters of calamari, fried oysters, crab cakes and seared scallops. For Jewish guests who avoid shellfish or pork, it can be a kosher nightmare: there’s shrimp ceviche, shrimp cocktail, and shrimp in the pasta. The soup is clam chowder and the lasagna has capicola. Even Brussels sprouts are roasted with bacon.
There’s an even greater culinary challenge at Easter, a spring festival that often coincides with Passover. The date of Easter is determined by a complex calendar calculation that involves the lunar cycle, planetary rotation, Pope Gregory XIII, certain ancient rabbis, and a bit of earth wobble, among others. Simply put, Easter overlaps Passover about 85% of the time, as it does this year. This may require either a punitive level of discipline from Jewish guests or a punitive level of preparation from Christian hosts.
The first year I attended my in-laws’ Easter meal, I didn’t think much about the fact that it was Passover, even though I knew I was limited in what I could eat. Although I am no longer ish As a religious person, I like to go the extra mile on Jewish holidays, which for me means avoiding shellfish, pork and, when it comes to Passover, yeast or grain-based dishes. Soon I found myself at family gatherings where the kitchen counter and dining room table were overflowing with the delicious results of corn syrup and leavening agent. I drooled while everyone around me indulged in chocolate bread pudding, tiered decorated cakes, chocolate, candy, and homemade Italian Easter bread, which is braided like challah and flavored with anise. The maple-glazed ham watched me from its perch atop a vertical rack, offering no respite.
Fortunately, my in-laws want to make my family and other Jewish guests feel comfortable, and they have asked me to bring appropriate dishes to the meal, both for Easter and for Christmas. This turned out to be a fairly simple request at Christmas. We could eat as much bread as we wanted, and the beef brisket, homemade latkes and applesauce provided an easy festive touch. At Easter, however, Passover boundaries required greater ingenuity.
Over the years, I have opted for a dish that not only respects dietary restrictions, but also offers an appropriate note of springtime elegance. I needed a dairy free, gluten free and vegetarian dish. I also wanted it to be special and something more than just a salad, side dishes of vegetables and a box of matzah. That’s how I landed on my mom Marcia’s salmon dish. My mom Marcia can’t remember where this salmon recipe came from except that a friend served it at a dinner party decades ago, but it’s delicious. There’s rarely a piece of that salmon left no matter where I take it, and everyone always demands the recipe. However, I’m usually reluctant to give it away, because once people hear it, they stop being amazed by me. (The best secret recipes are the ones that make you look good while being ridiculously easy.) We don’t keep any written versions, since there’s nothing in them.
There are only four steps, if salt sprinkling can be called one step. Although the quality of the fish impacts the flavor, I find the honey covers up a multitude of sins. The cooking time should be adjusted according to the thickness of the fish (I prefer a thicker center cut). Fish is done when pink and flaky. If the nuts aren’t crunchy enough at the end, I put the oven on broil for a minute or two.
Of course, no meal is complete without dessert. This salmon was such a hit the first year I brought it to our Easter meal that it gave me the confidence to undertake the impossible: Easter desserts suitable for Passover. Yes, I tried this “so good you won’t believe it’s kosher for Passover” cake, and no, it still tastes like Passover. Instead, I bought a chocolate fountain. With heaps of fresh cut strawberries and pineapples to dip, my kids happily dip and dip. A glorious year aligned with the calendar not too long ago, the chocolate fountain ran for three days in a row, from the first seder to the second, and all night long until Easter the next day. Main course solved, and dessert solved too.
Now, every year when my in-laws email the guest list confirming who is responsible for what at Easter dinner, my name appears next to “Marcia’s Salmon.” With family reunions possible again, it’s nice to be part of another family’s traditions again, and even nicer to see how this family has evolved those traditions to include my Jewish family and me.
Boneless salmon fillet
1. Pour the honey over the salmon. Leave to marinate for a few hours or overnight.
2. Sprinkle with pepper and kosher salt.
3. Cover the fish with chopped macadamia nuts.
4. Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes, depending on thickness. Grill for 1 min for more crispiness (if needed).