In the past, I’ve written about the emotional and spiritual experience of celebrating the Passover seder as Hebrew Catholics.
This year, I’d like to talk about what’s really important: THE FOOD.
We do not keep kosher, and we don’t clean the house of chametz (leavened bread), and we don’t follow the special, even stricter “kosher for Passover” rules. The foods we prepare for Passover are symbolic and nostalgic, as well as delicious; but I wouldn’t serve them if we had a rabbi for a guest! We serve some homemade and some store bought food.
To keep this post from getting too long, I’ll post all the recipes on a separate page. Click on the names of any of the homemade foods below to get to the recipe page. Here’s what’s on the menu:
For the full Jewish American experience, you should at least know what Manischwitz tastes like.
I’ll save you some trouble: It’s completely awful. With every swallow, you will feel like a giant hand made out of hot syrup is squeezing your brain to death. MD 20/20 (here listed as #3 in the top five Bum Wines) is only marginally better. So unless you’re keeping kosher, which you’re not if you’re coming to me for recipes, then go ahead and just have whatever goyishe red wine you actually enjoy drinking (for cheap and drinkable, I’m partial to Yellow Tail). The seder is supposed to be a spiritual exercise, but not a penitential one.
CHICKEN SOUP WITH MATZOH BALLS
You know what schmaltz is, right? It’s anything corny, sappy, sentimental, and overdone (but you secretly love it)
But literally, schmaltz is rendered chicken fat. That’s the secret ingredient in what is sometimes called “Golden Chicken Soup.”
That tightness you feel in your chest is just your heart being happy!
Talk about “beaded bubbles winking at the brim!” You want to give the flavor ple-e-e-e-e-e-enty of time to develop — all day, at the very least. You know it’s almost done when the air in the kitchen is shimmering with a golden, chickeny haze. If you can walk through the room and not come out smelling like a happy childhood in Eastern Europe, keep simmering.
Some years, the matzoh balls turn out fluffy and airy; some years they stay small and rubbery with a dry nut of undercooked matzoh meal in the center. Every year, they all get gobbled up.
If you can get your hands on one of these:
then do! (The good ones are pretty expensive, new.) You could, of course, use a food processor, but there are few tactile experiences more fulfilling than turning a heavy steel crank and watching the velvety pate come churning out the other end. If, you know, you like that kind of thing. WHICH I DO.
I was never, ever, ever tempted to make this by hand. Apparently the authentic method is to buy a few live cod and pike from the fishmonger in the Bowery, dump them in your bathtub, and then on Friday morning you head in there with a club and WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK.
Then the real work begins. “Gefilte” means “stuffed,” as in “a fish stuffed with other fish”
For those days when you have seven or eight hours to spend wrist deep in a fish that you have clubbed to death. So, we get it in jars.
I prefer the Manischewitz brand — the other ones I’ve tried are sweeter. I prefer the fish packed in gel, rather than broth. We serve this on top of a sheet of matzoh with a dab of horseradish. It’s likely that, if you haven’t tasted gefilte fish by age five, you’ll never learn to like it. I’m okay with that. More for me.
Best best best best best. Chopped walnuts, chopped apples, red wine, cinnamon, and sugar or honey.
The charoset is supposed to remind us of the mortar the Hebrew slaves used between bricks as they worked building Pharaoh’s cities. When I was little, this gave me the impression that maybe slavery wasn’t so bad after all, because best best best best best!
This is the year I finally bought what is apparently called a mezzaluna
a sharp rocking knife, for chopping all those apples and walnuts. I like this tool very much. It’s heavy and quite sharp. And if this is the year that Elijah comes back and he turns out to be a zombie– wait, no, that’s inappropriate.
SPICED GARLIC CHICKEN
I don’t remember where I found this recipe, but it’s moist and yummy, and I only make it at Passover, so therefore it’s Passover chicken. You already know what roast chicken looks like, so here instead is a picture of something that is very, very important to our family:
We put the lick in garlic!
as well as to this particular recipe. And here is a gratuitous chicken joke:
Tevye: As the good book says, when a poor man eats a chicken, one of them is sick.
Mendel: Where does the book say that?
Tevye: Well, it doesn’t say that exactly, but somewhere there is something about a chicken.
A vegetable dish for the times when you can’t bring yourself to say, “But we areserving something green! See? Olives!” It’s pretty, anyway, and doesn’t take much time to throw together, especially if you have a food processor. Bunch of vegetables shredded up, sauteed, mixed with egg and matzoh meal, and baked (no crust involved).
not to be confused with tsuris. I don’t actually make tsimmis, but I remember when my mother used to, and it gives me an excuse to tell this joke:
Two old friends reunite after many years. One brags about her children, their professional success, their beautiful houses, their talented offspring. The other one says, “Well, I don’t have any children.” The first one says, “No children? So what do you do for tsuris?”
Anyway, Wikipedia describes tsimmes as “Ashkenazi Jewish sweet stew typically made from carrots and dried fruits such as prunes or raisins, often combined with other root vegetables. Some cooks add chunks of meat.” Am I punchy, or is that hilarious? You can almost hear the sigh at the end. “Look, this is what we eat, what do you want from my life.”
Some day, when we win a million dollars or a sheep farm, we’ll serve this as the main dish. As it is, we usually buy the biggest leg of lamb we can afford for the seder dish. Last year, the electricity went out just as we were putting the lamb in the oven, so we ended up grilling it outside
and it was magnificent. Gonna do it that way every year now.
Two kinds of horseradish, olives, and dill pickles. We ground our own horseradish one year, and it was unbelievably strong. The air around the dish went all wobbly, and it made an audible snarling sound when you spooned it onto your plate. Call me a coward, but I’m sticking with the jarred kind. I’ve never really tasted bad horseradish, so I don’t have a particular brand to recommend. The red horseradish is just dyed with beet juice, but tastes about the same.
Also, don’t forget a little dish of blonde raisins. These are like raisins, only they areyellow. I know.
Not to be confused with macarons, which are an entirely different food! I always think I’m going to make these myself, but I always run out of time, so I buy them ready made. My favorite are the plain almond-flavored ones, but there are dozens of varieties.
Halvah is not strictly a Jewish food, but just a Middle Eastern one. It’s made of crushed sesame seeds, and I’m not gonna lie to you, it tastes kind of like sweet, gritty Play Doh.
I usually buy a few bars of it, some plain, some dipped in chocolate, and serve it in little slices. You gotta have it, but a little goes a long way.
CHOCOLATE MATZOH CRUNCH
Nice easy recipe. I didn’t grow up with this, but my kids go berserk for it.
We usually have two kinds of sponge cake made with matzoh cake meal and made poofy with tons of egg whites. We usually make two chocolate walnut cakes and two white ones. So nice with the slightly eggy crunch of the crust and the light, spongy insides.
JELLY FRUIT SLICES
possibly my kids’ favorite part of Passover. These symbolic confections remind us of, um, the Land of Caanan, I guess? With fruit? Anyway, I like them, too.
Passover begins on the evening of April 3 this year. We always have our seder on Holy Saturday, regardless of when actual Passover is. Since Jesus’ last Passover seder with the disciples (the Last Supper) was on Holy Thursday, it almost works out this year! We usually spend Holy Week cooking and baking, and try to schedule things so the most fragrant foods are already made and in the freezer before we start fasting for Good Friday, because nobody needs to suffer that much.
Again, click here to get to the page with just the recipes.
L’chaim! Let’s eat.