Do salsa and gefilte fish mix?
They do if you're Howard Greenstone a "nice Jewish boy from Jersey," who is CEO and president of Rosa Mexicano, a small chain of upscale Mexican restaurants.
The idea of offering Passover-themed food came up seven years ago when some of Greenstone's investors, who are from Mexico, began talking about the tradition of Jewish culture in Mexico City.
"I thought it would be great," says Greenstone. "I grew up eating Eastern European Jewish food _ not the highest flavor profile you'll ever find."
Working with his chef at the time he developed a menu and "people loved it. It was pretty amazing."
According to the National Jewish Population Survey, two-thirds of U.S. Jews hold and/or attend a Passover seder. Restaurants serving kosher-style food like Rosa Mexicano wouldn't be suitable for the 21 percent of U.S. Jews who keep kosher, according to the survey. But its menus do make use of traditional ingredients while avoiding things like mixing meat and milk or serving leavened bread.
The Rosa Mexicano menus also follow guidelines for Sephardic Jews, the Jews of Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East and their descendants vs. those for Ashkenazi Jews, the Jews of France, Germany, and Eastern Europe and their descendants. A key difference is that during Pesach, or Passover, which begins at sunset April 19 this year, Sephardic Jews can eat corn and rice.
Mind you, mixing Passover and the restaurant experience can bring challenges. Pairing wines with traditional Passover foods, for example, isn't easy, says Scott Pactor, owner of Appellation Wine & Spirits in New York City. Luckily, the number of high-quality kosher wines has been growing in recent years, meaning there's a lot to choose from.
If the menu has some kick to it, like Rosa Mexicano's food, he would recommend something with a little residual sugar, like the White by W white blend from Weinstock Cellars. Another choice is a lighter-bodied red such as cabernet franc or pinot noir.
For starchy traditional dishes such as potato kugel and noodle kugel, blends of savory and sweet, Pactor would go again with a wine that has a little residual sugar to complement the cinnamon often found in noodle dishes.
Matzo, the unleavened bread which commemorates the hurry with which the Jews left Egypt and slavery _ they didn't have time to wait for bread to rise _ is a key ingredient at Passover, and also presents a bit of a pairing challenge.
"It makes me think of Thanksgiving. You have a number of different foods that dry out the palate. I would keep the wines light, aromatic and juicy _ gamay (the red grape found in Beaujolais wine), pinot noir, cabernet franc," Pactor said.
For those seeking a fuller-bodied red, malbec from Argentina or sangiovese (the grape found in Chianti) would be good choices.
Going out to eat during Passover is popular, but finding a certified kosher restaurant open on Passover can be tough, says Elan Kornblum, publisher and president of Brooklyn, New York-based Great Kosher Restaurants Magazine, which deals only with fully kosher restaurants.
To get certification for Passover, a restaurant has to be strictly supervised by kosher authorities and follow a number of labor-intensive procedures, including blow-torching the surface of the ovens to remove any food residue from before the holiday. The handful of restaurants in Manhattan that are certified are "just slammed" during the eight days of Passover.
While few restaurants go to those lengths, kosher-style meals seem to becoming more popular, offering items like matzo ball soup and brisket for people who want to get the feeling of the Passover meal. "This is, for them, a connection of Passover," he says.
On the menu at Rosa Mexicano restaurants this year (in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami and New Jersey) there'll be corned beef flautas with a spicy mustard salsa verde. "I'm sure whether you're Jewish or not there will be lots of folks that will try it," says Greenstone.
Another option, brisket baked in a banana leaf and stuffed cabbage. In this case the stuffing will be salmon and it will be served with a Veracruzana sauce, a traditional Mexican sauce made from tomatoes, capers, olives and jalapenos.
Or how about a pickled herring salad? "We're shaving jicama really thin, like a little round taco and we put homemade pickled herrings on top with a green bean pico de gallo."
"We like to have some fun with it and we like to showcase some Jewish foods, authentic Jewish foods with a little bit of a Mexican twist," says Greenstone.
Do salsa and gefilte fish mix?