Pastover

Friends, it seems I’m a day late and a dollar short. I wanted to write about Passover, which is more than full of food traditions, I could not get it together before the holiday ended Tuesday night (4/2/13). Instead of starting from scratch and skipping this week’s blog, I give you the blog I should have posted last week. Though Passover is now “Past over,” I hope enjoy it.

This week is Passover and if you think cooking is tricky the rest of the year, it’s extra tricky this week. Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) is the annual celebration of the Jews being liberated from slavery, wandering in the dessert for 40 years, and becoming a cohesive group. It’s also proof positive that we are obsessed with food. For eight days, we relive the journey out of Egypt by the one thing that every Jewish person reviles: restricting our diet.

Judaism is know for laws against eating pork, shellfish, and mixing meat with dairy. During the eight days of Passover, we are also forbidden from eating bread, pasta, or anything made with certain grains, yeast, or anything leavened.* Instead, we eat matzah, a flat cracker sort of thing that non-Jews claim is delicious but talk to me after eight days of the stuff.

Being a resourceful people, there are hundreds of recipes to accommodate the discriminating palettes of dessert wanderers. Here are three of my favorites:

Haroset: Haroset is a ceremonial food that is an important part of the seder meal. Its paste-like texture is meant to evoke the mortar that holds bricks together and thus symbolizes slavery. It is made with whatever fruits and nuts are available, depending on the continent. In the U.S., haroset is typically made with apples, nuts and sweet wine, but I’ve made it with dates, coconut, apricots, etc. Haroset is the one Passover food I truly can’t wait to have. We make it for the Seder (ceremony and dinner that is the staple of the holiday), we eat it all week long.

6 peeled apples, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup chopped almonds
3 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
grated rind of 1 lemon
4 tablespoon sweet red wine

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. For chunky haroset, chop apples and nuts by hand (instead of the food processor) and combine with other ingredients.

Matzah ball soup: A matzah ball is a Jewish dumpling, made with oil, eggs and matzah meal (ground matzah). Matzah balls are most commonly eaten in chicken soup, but can also be a great side dish to brisket.

There is much debate and mythology around matzah balls, also known as knaydl (kah-nay-dul). Each family has its own traditions and conflict can ensue when, for example, someone who likes them fluffy marries someone who likes them firm. The inevitable floaters vs. sinkers debate makes an appearance in my own household every year.

There are also traditions around making the matzah balls. Some people insist that the only way to cook matzah balls is to cover the pot tightly and — this is critical — do not open the lid until they are done. Of course, this is nonsense. Everyone knows that the only way to make good matzah balls is by dropping the raw dough into boiling water from very high up. If you have a ladder, so much the better.

1/2 cup matzah meal (finely ground matzah)
2 eggs
2 tbsp. oil or schmaltz (melted chicken fat)
A pinch of salt
2 quarts chicken broth 
A handful of baby carrots or regular carrots cut into large chunks 
1 onion, chopped
a few stalks of celery cut into large chunks (optional)

Bring the broth to a vigorous boil, then reduce the heat until the broth is just barely boiling. Add the vegetables to the broth and simmer for 30 mins or up to several hours. The longer they simmer, the more the veggies will flavor the soup.

Beat the eggs, oil and water together thoroughly. Add the matzah meal and mix until you achieve an even consistency. Let this sit for a about 15 minutes, so the matzah meal absorbs the other ingredients.

Wet your hands and make balls of about 1-2 tbsp. of the batter. Drop the balls gently into the boiling water. They will be cooked enough to eat in about 15 minutes; however, you may want to leave it simmering for 20-30 to absorb more of the chicken broth flavor and to make them fluffier. They are done when they float on top of the broth and look bloated.

Matzah brittle: OK, there’s one other food I look forward to on Passover. Matzah has just the right texture for brittle, and after a week of the stuff, it’s the only way I can get it down.

2 sticks butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 sheets matzah

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper and lay matzah in a single layer on top. It’s ok to break it into pieces . Do not skip the parchment.

Melt butter and sugar together over medium heat and boil until it becomes caramel color. Pour over matzah, covering as much surface as possible. Bake 10-12 minutes. Let cool, then break into bite-sized pieces.

For more about Passover history, traditions and food, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passover.

*The laws and interpretations are quite a bit more restrictive for some. These restrictions include corn, rice, legumes, or anything derived from these items like corn syrup.

————
Judith is our Active Mama’s Munchie Maven and Yoga Maven. That means she teaches Active Mama’s Cooking Basics Chef classes, and is also our instructor for Active Mama’s Mommy Yoga with Judith.

Judith is refreshingly laid back, exceptional at what she does, and is the able mother of 3 beautiful children.

Judith comes well-accredited. She earned her Masters of Public Health and her passion is helping people find ways to make their lives healthier.

If you have questions for Judith she can be messaged throughhttp://www.meetup.com/Active-Mamas

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