Tastes from around the world for your seder menu

Recipes from South Africa, Greece, Brazil and Ethiopia


While every culture can boast a distinctive cuisine, few have as rich and diverse a culinary landscape as the Jewish people, and few holidays highlight this richness and diversity more than Passover. The seder menus of American Jews, descendants from countries the world over, feature a dazzling and surprising array of dishes that have highlighted their Passover tables for generations.

Ironically, anti-Semitism is at the root of this culinary diversity. Through-out our history—from the destruction of the Temple to the various European expulsions of the Middle Ages to the pogroms of the 19th century to the Holocaust and its aftermath—Jews have been forced from their homes and countries. And depending on the part of the world to which they fled, they adapted their cuisine to reflect the cultural influences and native herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables of their new homes.


The Jews coming to the United States were no exception.  Since most of those immigrants came from Poland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Russia, their Ashkenazi traditions are the ones most of us are familiar with. Those Passover menus include gefilte fish, potato kugel, matzah ball soup, roast brisket and mandel bread.

But Ashkenazi menus are by no means the only Passover menus. There are equally traditional and delicious seder feasts on the tables of the Sephardic Jews who have come here from such diverse countries as Portugal, Greece, Brazil, Ethiopia, South Africa, Iran, Syria, and India. While many Ashkenazi Jews shun these cuisines because of their inclusion of kitniyot (legumes, rice, and certain grains permitted under Sephardic traditions), in doing so they miss out on many exceptional dishes that are permitted under every interpretation of the Passover laws.

This Passover I invite Ashkenazi readers to enhance their traditional menus with something exotic and delicious from the Sephardic traditions. I guarantee that you and your guests will be delighted.

To get you started, I have highlighted the traditional flavors of Ethiopian, South African, Greek, and Brazilian cuisines and included recipes for traditional Passover dishes from those countries.

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of four. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is currently working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected].