For Michelle Bernstein, chef of Michy’s in Miami, Passover is a time to connect her American and Argentine family traditions with her Jewish roots.
“Being Latin Jews we are used to combining traditions and cultures, remembering our roots and adding flavors that we grew up with,” she explains.
And now, with her husband, David Martinez, the manager of her new restaurant, she has added traditions of his native Oaxaca, Mexico. All will come together at her Passover table. A traditionalist who adds fusion touches to her delicious food, Michelle will make Cornish hens that can be grilled or roasted. She marinates them first in what she calls a Middle Eastern mojo, made from za’atar, a combination of wild oregano (called hyssop in the Bible) or thyme and sumac, whose flavor is a cross between Greek oregano and thyme. To accompany the hens, she’ll prepare Eggplant Caponata, a cold Middle Eastern salad.
“David couldn’t stand eggplant at first. It isn’t commonly eaten in Oaxaca,” she says. She’ll also serve traditional Italian Carciofi Alla Giudea (fried artichokes), a dish as old as the ghetto of Rome, and Apple Fritters (go to www.relishmag.com for recipes). Michelle will also include a dish like Chili Nogado, a stuffed chili recipe of Mexican origin that will be comfortable for her husband, who is not Jewish but will still comply with the rules of Passover such as using no corn products, no yeast or fermented bread, and no beans.
As Michelle talks about the food she’ll serve at home and at the seder at her restaurant, she pauses. “So much is based on the cooking of the Middle East. Today you can play with those flavors and fuse them with other flavors.” And this Michelle does beautifully.
—By Joan Nathan, a food writer in Washington, D.C.
For more Passover dishes, see: