- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2011

The expansive nature of the Passover Seder gathering can present an opportunity to use food to bring together the different elements that are part of each family’s history.

Since Jews have spread to all parts of the world, dishes that may be traditional at Passover for many families often take on regional characteristics that can make the meal downright exotic, says Jewish cooking researcher Joan Nathan, author most recently of “Quiches, Kugels and Couscous.”

During her Seder, Mrs. Nathan serves several varieties of haroset, a mixture of sweet fruits and nuts that is meant to symbolize the mortar used by Jewish slaves to build for their masters.

She always includes two versions of a traditional Eastern European haroset made of apples, walnuts, cinnamon and wine to celebrate her and her husband’s heritage. But then Mrs. Nathan offers versions of the dish from other regions, such as a Venetian variation based on chestnut paste, dates, dried figs and nuts.

Mrs. Nathan also always includes a course of gefilte fish, a minced fish quenelle, which she prepares from her mother-in-law’s family recipe.

When it comes to the main course, Mrs. Nathan plans to include an Algerian-style beef cheek stew with cilantro and cumin that she discovered from a friend in Paris. One benefit of this exotic stew is that it is meant to be made a day ahead, then reheated. This improves flavor and frees up the host during dinner preparation.

The low-and-slow cooking results in an incredibly tender meat with lots of flavor. It also is a particularly versatile recipe. If you have trouble finding beef cheeks, use beef or veal shanks, beef stew meat or flanken, a cut of beef from the same area as short ribs.

Beef cheek stew with cilantro and cumin

5 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

3 large yellow onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 pounds beef cheeks, beef or veal shanks, beef stew meat or flanken, cut into 2 pieces

2 bay leaves

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon cumin

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