After a two-year pandemic hiatus, my Italian Catholic in-laws are eager to recommence the holiday celebrations, including their tradition of inviting my entire extended Jewish family, including my parents, my brother’s family (and even his wife’s parents!) to their annual Easter holiday meal. It is an amazing and thoughtful gesture of inclusivity, but one that can require some creative meal planning for all of us.
For interfaith families, food can be one of the biggest challenges to joint celebrations. My in-laws, like many of us, like to celebrate the holidays with the same dishes their immigrant grandparents made, passing favorites on from one generation to the next. Their Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes, for example, boasts at least seven types of fish, most of them shellfish-heavy 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 the Brussels sprouts are roasted with bacon.
There’s an even greater culinary challenge at Easter, a spring holiday that frequently aligns with Passover. The date of Easter is determined by a complex calendar computation which involves the lunar cycle, planetary rotation, Pope Gregory XIII, some ancient rabbis, and a bit of earth wobble, among other things. Put simply, Easter overlaps with Passover about 85% of the time, as it does this year. This can require either a punishing level of discipline from Jewish guests, or a punishing level of preparation for the Christian hosts.
My first year attending my in-laws Easter meal, I didn’t think much about the fact that it was Passover, even though I knew I was restricted in what I could eat. Thought I’m more ish than religious, I like to make a bit of an extra effort on Jewish holidays, which for me means avoiding shellfish, pork, and — when it comes to Passover — dishes with yeast or grain. Soon, I found myself at family gatherings where the kitchen counter and dining room table overflowed with the delicious results of corn-syrup and rising agent. I drooled as everyone around me indulged on chocolate bread pudding, tiered decorated cakes, chocolate, candy and home-made Italian Easter bread, which is braided like challah and flavored with anise. The maple-glazed ham stared down at me from its perch atop a vertical stand, offering no reprieve.
Fortunately, my in-laws want to make my family and other Jewish guests comfortable, and they asked me to contribute appropriate dishes to the meal, both for Easter and Christmas. This proved a fairly simple request on Christmas. We could eat as much bread as we desired, and brisket, home-made latkes and applesauce provided an easy festive touch. On Easter, however, the limitations of Passover required greater ingenuity.
Over the years, I’ve settled on a dish that not only fulfills dietary restraints, but also offers a suitable note of springtime elegance. I needed a dish that was dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegetarian. I also wanted it to feel special, and be something more than just salad, veggie sides, and a box of matzah. Which is how I landed on my mother Marcia’s salmon dish. My mother Marcia doesn’t remember the origination of this salmon recipe, other than that a friend served it at a dinner party, decades ago, but it’s delicious. There’s rarely a morsel of this salmon left no matter where I bring it, and everyone always demands the recipe. I’m usually reluctant to give it out, however, because once people hear it, they cease to be amazed by me. (The best secret recipes are the ones that make you look good while being ridiculously easy.) We keep no written version, since there’s nothing to it.
There are only four steps, if one can call sprinkling salt a step. While the quality of the fish does impact flavor, I find that honey covers a multitude of sins. Baking time should be tweaked according to the thickness of the fish (I prefer a thicker, center cut). The fish is done when it looks pink and flaky. If the nuts aren’t quite crunchy enough at the end, I turn the oven to broil for a minute or two.
Of course, no meal is complete without dessert. This salmon was such a success the first year I brought it to our Easter meal that it gave me the confidence to take on the impossible: Passover-friendly Easter desserts. Yes, I have tried that ‘so good you won’t believe it’s Kosher for Passover’ cake, and, nope, it still tastes of Passover. Instead, I purchased a chocolate fountain. With piles of freshly cut strawberries and pineapple to dip, my kids dunk and plunge happily away. One glorious calendar-aligned year not that long ago, the chocolate fountain ran for three days straight, from the first seder, to the second, and right on through the night to Easter the next day. Main course solved, and dessert solved too.
Now, every year, when my in-laws email the guest list to confirm who is responsible for what at Easter dinner, my name appears next to “Marcia’s Salmon.” With family gatherings possible again, it is lovely to be a part of another family’s traditions once more, and even lovely to see how that family has evolved those traditions to include my Jewish family and me.
Boneless Salmon Fillet
1. For honey over salmon. Marinate for a few hours or overnight.
2. Sprinkle with pepper and kosher salt.
3. Cover fish with chopped macadamia nuts.
4. Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes, depending on thickness. Broil 1 min for more crunch (if needed).