Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Passover Panorama!

Well, on behalf of my rather odd housemates, I apologize (I think?) for that little April Fool's post. If you found it entertaining rather than odd/undesired, good for you.

Anyway, running right alongside April Fool's this year was pesach, the Jewish Holiday celebrating the exodus from Egypt and the 40-year journey across the desert to the promised land. The Israelites (in the Biblical sense of the word) had to run from pharaoh in a hurry and, as such, didn't have time for their bread to rise, so during the eight days of Passover Jews avoid all leavened products and basically grain in general. No bread, pasta, cereal, oatmeal, barley, etc. The exception is matzo. Now, matzo is not exactly what one would consider the pinnacle of fine food, but matzo, like tofu, can be combined with other ingredients to produce excellent results.

Iain, Bozzie, and I spent much of last week in Chicago with Iain's family, and while there I got to (re)introduce some fun foods from my childhood Passovers. Although the holiday ended last night (yay pasta!!), for those of you not currently sick of matzo these recipes should still be fun to try. And the macaroons are, of course, good year-round. This'll be a long post, because it involves several recipes (simple though they may be), so pick and choose as you like.

Matzo Brei Two Ways
Matzo Brei is a traditional passover breakfast dish, although it would also make a good lunch/dinner. Depending on how it's made (and the possibilities really are endless) it can be more like a scramble or french toast (in a liberal sense of the term), sweet or savory. My favorite varieties are savory scrambles and sweet french toast. I'm giving both recipes in proportionate rather than set measurements, since I was cooking for a crowd at Iain's house.

Savory Scrambled Matzo Brei
  • 1 egg per piece of matzo
  • a dash of milk (or glug, depending on how big the recipe)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • scallions, chopped (optional)
  • break the matzot into small pieces and run them under cold water for a few moments before placing into a bowl
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, salt and pepper together. Pour over the matzot
  • Heat a skillet to medium with a little butter and pour the matzo-egg mixture in. Cook like scrambled eggs until the matzo is starting to brown a bit, seasoning with additional salt and pepper (and scallions, if desired). The matzot and eggs will cluster together deliciously.
  • Eat!
Sweet French-Toast-Like Matzo Brei
  • 1 egg for every 2 matzot
  • about 1/8 cup milk per egg
  • dash-glug orange juice (optional-- add it if you have it)
  • pinch-3 of sugar
  • 1 tsp.ish vanilla extract (or try almond or whatever)
  • dash cinnamon
  • dash nutmeg
  • knob of butter for the pan
  • maple syrup or powdered sugar, for serving
  • Run the matzot under cool water for a moment and break each matzo into several large pieces (maybe 4. If they crumble into smaller pieces, don't worry too much)
  • Whisk the eggs and add the other ingredients (except the matzot)
  • Pour some of the egg mixture into a wide, shallow dish of some sort (this can be a big plate if nothing better presents itself).
  • Place matzot in a single layer into the egg dish (this will need to be done in shifts). After 30 seconds or so, flip the matzot over so the other side is equally immersed.
  • Heat a pan to medium heat, melting some of the butter.
  • Carefully move the eggy matzot to the skillet, frying as in french toast until the bottom side is crispy. Flip so the other side gets equally crispy. Meanwhile, get the next batch of matzo soaking.
  • Continue cooking in batches until done, replenishing egg mix as needed, and serve drizzled with maple syrup or sprinkled with powdered sugar.
(Vegetarian) Matzo Ball Soup!
So this is basically one of if not the most amazing passover dish in existence. I'm not sure what it is--the comfort of matzo balls, the simplicity of the broth--but somehow nothing else can quite match it. Most of the time matzo ball soup is chicken based, but obviously I wasn't going to do that. The vegetarian option, in my opinion, works just about as well. The soup itself is super simple, the matzo balls simple enough once one gets the hang of them.

Matzo Balls
  • 1 cup matzo meal
  • 4 eggs
  • 1-2 tsp salt (ish--to taste, as always)
  • 1/4 c. vegetable oil
  • 1/4 c. water
  • pepper to taste
  • Beat the eggs in a bowl, mixing in the matzo meal, salt and pepper, and oil.
  • Add the water and mix well
  • Cover the bowl and put it in the freezer for 20-30 minutes (Don't skip this step. It's important.)
  • Pour water into a large saucepan and get it boiling.
  • Gently, break off small pieces of batter (1- 1 1/4 inches in diameter) and pat them (again, gently!) into balls. The less you handle these things, the better. Stick 'em on a plate until they're all formed.
  • Reduce the heat on the water to medium-low and drop in the matzo balls
  • Let the matzo balls simmer, covered, for at least 40 minutes. Check them by cutting one in half and tasting. They should be firm and lightly chewy but not about to fall apart. Mmm.

  • slug vegetable or olive oil
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped
  • 2-3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 large onion (or two small), diced
  • dash dill
  • dash oregano
  • dash thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 quarts veggie broth (if using less broth, add water to make up the difference and increase the herbs)
  • heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat.
  • add the carrots, celery and onion and saute for a few minutes, mixing in the herbs
  • pour the broth and water in and bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for at least half an hour until the veggies are softened as you like them and the broth is flavorful, adding more herbs as desired.
  • add additional salt and pepper before serving.
  • Serve by placing 1-2 matzo balls in each bowl, then ladling soup over the top.
Chocolate Chip Coconut Macaroons!
This is without a doubt one of my favorite pesach treats. It is also ridiculously easy to make. Don't believe me? Just read.

  • 1 14 oz bag sweetened coconut flakes (or half a bag sweetened and half a bag unsweetened)
  • 1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk (fat free works equally well)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • about 2/3 bag chocolate chips (or mini chocolate chips)

  • Mix all ingredients together, stirring well.
  • Drop bits of dough onto a baking sheet (maybe 1 TBSish?)
  • Bake on a greased cookie sheet at 350°F for 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned
  • Remove immediately to a plate to cool, or they will get very sticky very fast.
See? That simple. Even my kitchen-fearing grandpa can make them.

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