Passover Before You Know It
The joy of spring is about to get crushed by the burden of Passover. Yay.
This is an early warning. Over the next several days you will probably hear more complaining from me than usual. Part of this is because I love bread, pastry and pasta. They are some of my favorite things on this planet. Pizza? I’m going to go a week without pizza? And Hoagie Haven is off limits? Egads.
What am I supposed to eat? Matzoh. Which you may remember is endearingly called “The Bread of Affliction” amongst my people. And honestly, the first day it’s not so bad. The second day is fine too. By day three it starts to get tedious and you realize how much of Passover is still ahead. The last couple of days are pure torture.
Around the world, this celebration begins at sundown on Monday night. And despite all of the awfulness that’s involved in the holiday it is in fact a celebration. If that doesn’t make any sense, please allow me to explain.
Just recently an adult about my age asked me what Passover was all about. I kind of take it for granted that everyone knows, but I’ll try to quickly sum it up so we can get to some more talk about food.
Next week we celebrate the journey the Israelites took from slavery into freedom. As an interesting point of fact, we weren’t Jewish yet, since we had received neither the ten commandments nor the Torah that would later follow.
To make a long story short, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. Moses came along, and with God’s help (kind of), the dynamic duo were able to get the Israelites expelled into the desert. As the story goes, we were in such a rush to leave, our ancestors didn’t wait for their bread to rise, but took it on their backs. So today we eat matzoh. It’s gross.
But the goal, every year, is to try and actually feel as if we ourselves are slaves, and take a symbolic journey from slavery to freedom. To be honest, some years I’ve been able to intellectualize it, but I’ve never felt it.
We eat horseradish to try and feel the bitterness of slavery.
We dip foods in salt water to try and taste the tears of slavery.
We roast a shank bone to remember that we used to sacrifice animals.
Charoset is good. The widely adopted American version is a sweet mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon and sweet kosher wine. Charoset in the Middle East is better, as it’s made with dates, honey, sesame seeds and chestnuts. Regardless of the form, it’s supposed to remind us of the mortar we used to build the pyramids. Symbolically, this always falls short for me. Maybe if we threw some sand in it that would help.
I have no idea why we eat gefilte fish, but I love it. Every family has one. It’s kind of like a fish hot dog. And really, I only eat them during this season and then spend the rest of the year eating pickled herring. Man, I do enjoy the foods of my culture.
All of this happens during the festive meal. And that’s called a seder. This year we’re doing it in Princeton, and I’m going to be doing most of the cooking. I’m still working on the details of the menu, but I really want to make the lamb version of my Tonno del Chianti. I think when you change up the protein like that, one might have to change the name of the dish.
What sounds better?
a) Olive oil braised lamb
b) Olive oil poached lamb
We’re going to have one of those. Lamb is a great spring meat, and this is a smart preparation because it can be easily made in advance, and just heated through for dinner. The tricky thing will be side dishes.
Ordinarily, I would pair this with beans. And I’ll have to poll our guests because beans constitute a bit of a gray area within Passover observance. Technically, they aren’t forbidden. Legumes and pulses fall under a category called kitniyot. And since the practice of any religion involves picking and choosing, I’ve decided that I’m totally fine with these.
Yes, it makes eating during Passover a much simpler affair when you just avoid eating the vilified grains of wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt.
This often begs the question of, “Well if you can’t eat wheat, what’s matzoh made from?”
And it’s a great question. Because matzoh is totally made from wheat. It’s just wheat that has had limited contact with water. Funny story, if a matzoh factory line moves too slowly, the whole run needs to be scraped and the equipment must be cleaned of every trace of the contaminated dough. It sounds like an incredible pain in the ass. For the record, I don’t take my observance nearly that seriously.
So I’ll be checking with our guests if they eat kitniyot on Passover too. Regardless, there will be plenty of matzoh ball soup and some great hard boiled eggs to dip in the salt water. It’s hard to think of something as tears when it’s just so delicious. The only thing that brings tears to my eyes is when I see overcooked hard boiled eggs.
Now I’ve got to get cooking. The seder is only a few days away. Eek.