A Few New Twists on Popular Spring Holiday Dishes
Ham. Lady fingers. Taco plates and tequila shots. From Easter to Cinco de Mayo, the staples of spring holiday dishes have all worn thin and been played out. But chefs are revamping offerings with bold flavors and unexpected creations at the table.
“For many Jews around the world, the thought of spring equals Passover,” says chef Sharon Beck of Miami’s Kosher Private Chef, which serves discerning clients from home dinner parties to yacht excursions and more. “While many equate Passover with matzoh, matzoh ball soup and the seder plate, there are many other foods eaten.
“One of the most requested dishes we serve is General Tso’s chicken, which literally melts in your mouth, and you would never know that it’s kosher for Passover unless someone told you.” Other popular dishes she prepares include duck confit crepes with apricot dipping sauce, roasted root vegetables and for dessert—coconut fingers.
Chef Jessica Shillato, owner of Columbia, S.C.’s Spotted Salamander, also spins the globe when it comes to traditional fare for spring occasions. Primarily known for the local Southern cuisine she serves, including fried chicken and deviled eggs, Shillato—named chef ambassador by South Carolina’s governor in 2019—turns to the flavors of Turkey for an inventive twist. Menemen, an egg dish similar to shakshouka, gives diners an opportunity to try something different, yet still reflects her cuisine.
“My style is Southern cooking, but I enjoy bringing in other spices and flavors to put a spin on traditional dishes,” says Shillato. Menemen also comes with the added benefit of being easy for a restaurant to dish out during a busy holiday service. “This spring, go for an uncomplicated dish that can feed the crowd,” she recommends.
Sometimes the best way to surprise guests is doing a traditional protein with pops of bright color—along with fresh spring produce, of course. Publican Quality Meats, Chicago’s daytime café and butcher shop, serves (and sells from its shop) an abundance of lamb in the spring, especially around Easter.
Head butcher and chef Rob Levitt spruces things up with tangy acids on his leg of lamb. “I like to slice it thin and serve with spring produce and herbs from the garden, splashed with a little red wine vinegar, olive oil and coarse sea salt, then dotted with pieces of pickled feta,” he says. “Leftovers also make a great sandwich.”
Likewise, El Segundo Sol, in Las Vegas, adds additional color to its usual Mexico City-inspired fare for Cinco de Mayo menu items, crossing geographic lines in a delicious way. One such example is the skirt steak. Chef Luis Sanchez says his inspiration is the restaurant’s love of fusion between the flavors of Latin America.
“The plate features plenty of Mexican influences with some South American flavors thrown in as well,” he explains. “During spring, what better way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo than with bold and bright herbs, lime and roasted peppers?”