Cokie Roberts Shares Personal Traditions From Her Interfaith Marriage


Of course my sharing in the feast also means my cooking it. And I think the thought of cooking the Passover meal is as intimidating as the recitation of the service to someone who has never done it. That wasn't as true for me as it might be for others because I had no hesitation about cooking the Seder dinner my own way. To Steve and the kids he grew up with "Jewish cooking" meant brisket and boiled chicken and delicatessen and matzo balls and gefilte fish and chopped liver. And some combination of those dishes had been part of whatever Passover meals he had attended. But to me that seemed crazy. That wasn't "Jewish" cooking (with the exception of the matzo), it was eastern European cooking, and the first Passover—thankfully, from my point of view—did not take place in eastern Europe. It took place in Egypt. And we know exactly what the main course was: lamb. Phew. I knew how to cook lamb. And from there I went on to other foods that would have been around in Egypt in the spring—eggplant, zucchini, maybe even tomatoes and okra—all much easier for me than kugel and tsimmes. Since Steve was not raised as an observant Jew, we do not follow the custom of cleansing our house of leaven and we don't have special china for Passover. Steve also doesn't feel the need to ask men to wear yarmulkes or skullcaps at our Seders. And though we don't regularly keep kosher, for this one night a year I am mindful of kosher rules about meat and milk and shellfish, which for a New Orleans cook isn't easy. When I first started serving my Passover meals and insisting that I was simply taking my menu from the book of Exodus, I got a good deal of ribbing from Steve and some of our friends about my shiksa Seder. Then, happily, the New York Times published a piece about Sephardic Passover recipes, which looked like replicas (or instructions) for mine. The only thing on our dinner plate that is still from the European branch of the family is the haroset, made with apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine (thank heaven for the food processor!) instead of the North African dried apricots, dates or raisins, and nuts. There's only so much a shiksa can insist on. And on the hors d'oeuvres table, where I put out such Middle Eastern dishes as hummus and eggplant salad with the matzo, I do include some storebought gefilte fish and I make some chopped liver just to keep the sentimental Jews in the crowd happy.

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