Cooking with wine for Passover

Chocolate truffle cupcakes. Photo by Dan Kacvinski

Chocolate truffle cupcakes. Photo by Dan Kacvinski

Wine is an important part of the observance of Passover — at least four cups are poured during the seder service. I’m sure we all have noticed how our wine tastes have changed since childhood, when only the sweet, syrupy wines were available.

But these days, our family and friends may choose from a wide variety of kosher Passover wines, not only from California, but also from Israel, Italy, France, South Africa and New Zealand. There are sweet and dry wines — red, white and rosé — and many popular varietals, including chardonnays, Cabernet Sauvignons and Rieslings. You will find lots to choose from in markets and wine stores; even sparkling wines and champagne are available. All Passover wines are marked with a special seal and signed by the local rabbinical authority.

Besides the ceremonial uses of wine, you’ll find wine to be a great way to liven up your Passover menus. Used in cooking and baking, it makes a welcome substitute for the many seasonings, spices and sauces that are not permitted during the eight days of Passover. And remember, when you cook or bake with wine, the alcohol evaporates and only the flavor and aroma remain, so you may serve the food to everyone in the family.

The recipes shared here are not intended as a menu. You may want to serve several of them at a seder or Passover dinner, and, used creatively, they will add pizazz to your holiday menus.

The California Charoset, developed for our family seder, contains only fruits, nuts and wine grown and produced locally. And the Chopped Liver Terrine is a combination of wine, chicken livers, apples, mushrooms and chopped eggs that makes a delicious appetizer, served with matzah.

There is also a Beet and Horseradish Sauce that’s great to serve with gefilte fish, or with my recipe for Whitefish in White Wine. Our favorite main course is Lamb Shanks Roasted in Red Wine, which gives the shanks the most delicious, robust flavor. The same recipe works well with veal tongues.

For dessert, serve rich Chocolate Truffle Cupcakes topped with apricot preserves.


  • 1 large avocado, peeled and diced
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 4 dates, pits removed
  • 2 figs, peeled
  • 2 prunes, pits removed
  • 1 whole orange, including peel
  • 2 tablespoons sweet Passover wine or apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons matzah meal

Toss avocado and lemon juice in a bowl; set aside.

In a processor or blender, place almonds, raisins, dates, figs and prunes; process until coarsely chopped. Cut orange into quarters, leaving peel on; add orange quarters to blender; process briefly to combine. Add avocado and process just 1 minute more.

Transfer mixture to a glass bowl; gently fold in wine and matzah meal. Cover with plastic wrap, and store in refrigerator.

Makes about 3 cups.


  • 1/4 cup peanut oil or olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 pounds chicken livers
  • 4 large mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons dry white Passover wine
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Salad greens and cucumber slices for garnish

Heat oil in large, heavy skillet; sauté onions until lightly browned. Add chicken livers, mushrooms and apple; sauté gently, turning livers to cook on both sides. (Do not overcook.) Add wine; simmer 1 minute.

Transfer liver mixture and juices into meat grinder, add eggs, and grind coarsely into a large bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste, and adding additional oil to moisten if needed, stir well.

Line a loaf pan or mold with plastic wrap, allowing an overhang on all sides. Spoon in liver mixture, cover, and refrigerate.

When ready to serve, invert terrine onto a serving plate (the plastic wrap makes this easy). Garnish with salad greens and cucumber slices. Serve as an appetizer with matzah.

Makes 12 servings.


  • Green Herb Margarine (recipe follows)
  • Beet and Horseradish Sauce (recipe follows)
  • 1 cup thinly sliced green onions
  • 1 cup dry white Passover wine
  • 1 cup fish or vegetable stock
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (optional)
  • 8 fillets of whitefish or salmon (about 6 ounces each)
  • Lemon slices for garnish

Prepare Green Herb Margarine; set aside.

Prepare Beet and Horseradish Sauce; set aside.

Preheat broiler to high heat. Line a large broiler pan with heavy-duty foil. Place green onions, wine, stock and garlic in the pan. Place fish fillets on top. Top each portion with a slice of Green Herb Margarine. Broil fish, basting once or twice during the first 5 minutes. Continue broiling for about 5 minutes more, without turning fish, until it is tender and begins to brown lightly on top.

Place fish in center of heated serving plates and spoon Beet and Horseradish Sauce on top. Garnish with lemon slices.

Makes 8 servings. 


  • 5 small spinach leaves, stems removed
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1/4 pound unsalted Passover margarine
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Drop spinach, parsley and tarragon into a pot of boiling water and boil for 5 minutes. Drain, dry on paper towels, and set aside.

Place margarine, lemon juice and garlic in a processor, fitted with the knife blade, and process until well-blended. Add cooked spinach mixture and process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mold into a rectangle (the shape of a stick of margarine), wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate or freeze. Remove plastic wrap and slice.

Makes about 1 cup.


  • 4 medium beets, scrubbed and trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons prepared (bottled) horse- radish with beets or 2 tablespoons freshly grated horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Salt to taste

Place beets in a large saucepan; add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, and simmer beets, covered, for 30 to 40 minutes, or until very tender. Drain beets, reserving 2 tablespoons of cooking liquid; slip off beet skins.

In a food processor, puree beets with reserved cooking liquid, horseradish, vinegar and salt to taste. Transfer to glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.


Double the recipe and use leftover lamb shanks as the base for a hearty lamb stew, boning the shanks and combining the meat with steamed carrots, parsnips and potatoes.

  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 2 onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 carrots, thinly sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf, crushed
  • 3 sprigs fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 1/2 cups dry red Passover wine
  • 1 (10 1/2-ounce) can Passover tomato sauce with mushrooms
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 6 lamb shanks, trimmed of fat
  • 8 mushrooms, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Sauté onions and garlic until soft. Add carrots, celery, bay leaf, oregano, rosemary, parsley, wine and tomato sauce; simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer mixture to an oven-safe roasting pan, add lamb shanks, and baste with sauce. Cover and bake in preheated oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, basting every 20 minutes.

Uncover, add mushrooms, and bake an additional 30 minutes or until shanks are tender, turning shanks to keep moist. Arrange lamb shanks on a large platter with vegetables and sauce.

Makes 6 servings.


  • 4 ounces semisweet Passover chocolate
  • 1/2 cup unsalted Passover margarine
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup ground almonds or pistachios
  • 2 tablespoons sweet Passover wine
  • 2/3 cup potato starch
  • 1/2 to 1 cup apricot preserves

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a small saucepan, melt chocolate and margarine; remove from heat, and cool slightly. In a large mixing bowl, beat egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Slowly beat in chocolate mixture in a thin stream. Add ground almonds and wine, blending thoroughly. Beat egg whites until stiff, but not dry, and spoon over the chocolate mixture. Sift potato starch on top of batter and beaten egg whites. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites and potato starch into batter.

Place fluted cupcake cups in muffin pans; fill cups halfway. Bake in preheated oven 10 to 12 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out dry. Top with apricot preserves.

Makes 12 cupcakes (or 24 to 36 if making mini cupcakes). 

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