(credit: Lucca Cafe)

(credit: Lucca Cafe)

Passover is a holiday that celebrates the release of the Israelites from generations of slavery. The story of this is presented in the first 15 chapters of the book of Exodus. The Passover Seder is a big part of the celebration and incorporates a lot of symbolism of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Seder means “order” and it is compulsory that those who observe Passover follow all 15 steps of the Seder from the opening blessing to the closing, which includes a wish that Passover may be celebrated in Jerusalem the following year.Even for an experienced chef like Cathy Garland, owner and chef at Lucca Cafe, preparing a Passover Seder can be a challenge considering that the meal must follow all the dietary laws of the Kashrut, the laws which determine whether a food is Kosher. “The meal must be prepared in a Kosher kitchen.” (This process involves removing anything made from barley, oats, rye, spelt and wheat and cleaning all surfaces that contacted any of those grains.) “My kitchen isn’t Kosher, so this Seder was prepared at the JCC,” she says. However, it’s not just the explicit laws that concern the chef. “You want to make sure that you honor the 3,000 years of tradition in preparing this meal.”

Garland opened Lucca Cafe in 2007. When asked to prepare a Passover Seder for a family at her restaurant, she accepted not only the invitation, but also the challenge of abiding by all the regulations that govern the meal. By phone, she explained all the extra care that went into preparing the Seder as well as the reward of gaining a whole new respect for the people that have been preparing Passover Seders for more than 3,000 years.

Lucca Cafe
6507 Quail Hill Parkway
Irvine, CA 92603
(949) 725-1773

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Not Your Bubbie’s Matzoh Ball Soup

(credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

(credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

6 Tbsp rendered duck fat
1 medium leek (1/2 cup) white and light-green parts only, cleaned then finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
4 large cage-free eggs
1 to 1-1/4 cup plain matzoh meal
2-3 Tbsp club soda or seltzer water
1 Tbsp Turbinado sugar
1-1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground black pepperPreparation:

  1. Melt the duck fat in a skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add the leeks and sauté until leeks are translucent.
  3. Remove from the heat and add the chopped dill.
  4. Beat the eggs in the bowl of a mixer or a hand-held electric mixer on medium for about two minutes until frothy.
  5. Whisk in the leek-duck fat mixture.
  6. Gradually add the matzoh meal, club soda, sugar, and ginger.
  7. Add the salt and pepper to taste and stir well.
  8. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours and up to one day.

Assemble the Matzoh Balls:

  1. Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap.
  2. Wet the palms of your hands and form 16 medium-sized balls with the matzoh dough. Do not overwork the matzoh balls, work lightly forming them into round balls, making them as smooth as possible.
  3. Place the matzoh balls on the baking sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Bring a large pot of salted (think ocean water) to a boil over high heat.
  5. Working in batches, drop the balls into the water; reduce the heat to medium, partially cover the pot and cook for 40 to 60 minutes until the balls are tender. Be careful not to let the water boil — this will tear the matzoh balls apart. Transfer the cooked matzoh balls to a bowl and cover loosely.
  6. Add to the chicken stock for the soup.

Ingredients for Chicken Stock:

2 whole chickens (3 to 4 lbs each)
2 Tbsp Kosher salt
4 Tbsp olive oil
10 celery stalks with leaves, chopped
6 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled
8 sprigs fresh parsley
6 sprigs fresh dill
1 tsp black peppercorns
4 fresh Bay leaves


  1. Rub the chickens with salt inside and out. Let rest on a plate in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
  2. Rinse very well under cold running water and then pat dry with paper towels.
  3. Add a little olive oil in a stockpot and lightly brown the chickens on all sides.
  4. Add the celery, carrots, onion and garlic, one at a time and sauté in pan drippings.
  5. Cover the chickens by about three inches of water and bring to a boil.
  6. Add the parsley, dill, peppercorns, and bay leaves and return the liquid to a boil.
  7. Skim off any foam that rises to the top. Skim again.
  8. Reduce the heat and let simmer uncovered until the chickens are cooked, about 45 minutes.
  9. Transfer the chickens to a large bowl and, when cool enough to handle, take the meat off the bones (reserve the meat for another purpose).
  10. Return the bones to the pot and simmer the soup for one hour more.
  11. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined sieve, discarding the solids.
  12. Cool the broth slightly, then refrigerate until cold, overnight or up to three days.
  13. Using a slotted spoon, skim off the solidified chicken fat from the broth.
  14. Save for making matzo balls or another purpose.
  15. To serve, gently reheat the matzo balls in a pot filled with matzo ball cooking liquid or fresh water to cover (when the water comes to a simmer, taste a matzo ball to see if it’s hot enough, and either use immediately or continue to simmer until warmed to taste).
  16. In a separate pot, bring the chicken broth to a boil.
  17. Add carrot and parsnip rounds, if you like, and simmer until soft, about seven minutes.
  18. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  19. Ladle the broth into individual serving bowls.
  20. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the warmed matzo balls into the soup and serve piping hot.

Related: Passover Begins At Sundown Friday

Rosemary and Garlic-studded Leg of Lamb

Rosemary And Garlic Studded Leg Of Lamb (credit: Cathy Garland)

Rosemary And Garlic Studded Leg Of Lamb (credit: Cathy Garland)

8-lb leg of lamb (semi-boneless)
2 cups whole grain mustard
12 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp ground black pepper
4 to 6 sprigs of fresh rosemary, cut into pieces
Salt, to taste


  1. Using a paring knife, poke 12 holes into the leg of lamb about one inch deep.
  2. Stud the lamb with the whole garlic cloves and the rosemary.
  3. Slather the leg with the whole grain mustard, and let it marinate in the refrigerator for about a day.
  4. Take the meat out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature, season the meat with the salt and pepper.
  5. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  6. Place the lamb into a roasting pan.
  7. Place the lamb in the oven and roast for 30 minutes.
  8. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F and continue to cook for about one hour longer for medium-rare, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the roast registers about 140 to 145 degrees F. Be careful that the thermometer does not touch the bone.
  9. Remove lamb from pan and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving.
  10. Position the roasting pan over your stove burners.
  11. Add some mixed herbs and onions to the pan, and stir to combine with pan drippings.
  12. Add chicken stock (from the soup) and some wine, if you have it, to deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon to release any bits.
  13. Reduce over high heat until sauce consistency.
  14. Strain before serving, if desired.
  15. Slice lamb and serve with sauce drizzled over the top.

Lemon Tart With Mandelbrot Crust

Lemon Tart with Mandelbrot crust (credit:  Cathy Garland)

Lemon Tart with Mandelbrot crust (credit: Cathy Garland)

4 lemons, zested and juiced
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
8 cage-free eggs
1/3 lb butter
10 oz. Mandelbrot, crushed
3 Tbsp butter, melted


  1. Zest the lemons into a stainless steel bowl and place the bowl on top of a sauce pan of simmering water.
  2. Add the lemon juice into the bowl. Add the sugar and eggs and beat until blended.
  3. Add the butter and stir until thickened. It should coat the back of a wooden spoon.
  4. Strain the curd through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl.
  5. Use immediately or cover with a sheet of plastic wrap pressed to the surface.
  6. Refrigerate until needed.
  7. Blend the crushed Mandelbrot and the melted butter together and press into a 10-inch tart pan. You can make ahead and freeze until you are ready to assemble tart.
  8. Pour the curd into the tart pan.
  9. Place the tart into a preheated 350-degree oven and bake for about 20 minutes, just until the curd is set.
  10. Cool on a rack, then put into the refrigerator to chill.

Gary Schwind is a freelance writer covering all things Orange County. His work can be found on Examiner.com.