by Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
“Why is this night different than all other nights?” is the question that will be asked in Jewish homes across the world. In our home, one way it will be different is that with the assistance of our son and son-in-law, our family room will be transformed into a small banquet hall for 25-plus guests. Our granddaughters, as they have grown, will be playing a larger role, and the pressure will be on for our daughter Sari to once again produce her famous lighter-than-air matzo balls. This is a very special holiday and is primarily celebrated in the home. The central observance of this festival is the home Seder (meaning “order”). Seder is defined as the ritual service and ceremonial dinner for the holiday.
Nowadays, it has become the season in which many Jews do their spring cleaning. The house must be prepared for the removal of all hametz (leaven). Hametz means food prepared from five species of grain–wheat, barley, oats, spelt and rye–that has been allowed to leaven. Matzah, the unleavened bread, is eaten during Passover holiday.
The Seder and special dietary requirements of Passover are so important that it takes Carol weeks to prepare for the festival. A few weeks ago we traveled to Kohn’s Kosher Deli in St. Louis to purchase kosher meat for the holiday and an opportunity to enjoy a traditional corned beef sandwich on rye. The Seder(s) take place at the beginning of the holiday. Passover is celebrated in the home for eight days (seven in Israel and among liberal Jews) worldwide. The actual Seder meal is quite variable. Traditions among Jews in America generally include gefilte fish (poached fish dumplings), matzo ball soup, brisket or roast chicken, potato kugel (somewhat like a casserole) and tzimmes, a stew of carrots and prunes, sometimes including potatoes or sweet potatoes.
The Seder is a feast that includes reading, drinking wine (four cups-grape juice for the grandchildren), telling stories, eating special foods, singing and other Passover traditions. As per Biblical command, it is held after nightfall on the first night of Passover (and the second night if you live outside of Israel), the anniversary of the miraculous exodus from Egyptian slavery more than 3,000 years ago. This year’s Seder(s) will be on April 19. The Haggadah, which means “telling” in Hebrew, is a written guide (we still have some old Maxwell House Coffee copies) to the Passover Seder. The Haggadah includes various prayers, blessings, rituals, fables, songs and information for how the Seder should be performed. The Seder dates back to the Middle Ages, and some of the elements that make up contemporary Haggadah were used 2,000 years ago.
A question I am often asked is why Easter and Passover often are celebrated close together, and why the holidays fall on different dates every year. Unlike our secular calendar, which is based on the solar year, the Jewish calendar uses 12 lunar months of 29 to 30 days in length. The new moon marks the beginning of each month, with the full moon occurring halfway through the month. The seventh month in a normal Jewish calendar year is the month of Nisan. Passover is celebrated on the 14th day of Nisan at the time of the full moon. For the Western Church, Easter is observed on the first Sunday following the full moon that comes on or after the vernal equinox. This full moon is normally the full moon which takes place on the 14th day of Nisan. Thus, in most years, Easter is celebrated on the Sunday following Passover.
My thanks to Springfield foodies Beryl Feldman and Nancy Sage for their following Passover recipes.
(Courtesy of Nancy Sage)
Serves 8 – 10 people
*Whole beef brisket, about 5 pounds
*3 1/2 Tbs olive oil
*Salt and freshly ground pepper
*2 cups minced onion (food processor)
*3 tbs tomato paste
*1 tsp minced garlic
*3 cups beef broth (chicken broth or vegetable broth)
(Use a roasting pan that has a cover. The brisket is first seared uncovered on the stove and then cooked covered in the oven at 325 degrees)
On the stove at medium high heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the roasting pan to sear (brown) the brisket on both sides. When browned, remove the brisket from the roasting pan, then salt and pepper. Use paper towels to wipe the grease from roasting pan. Reduce the heat to medium and return the roasting pan to the stovetop, heat the remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the minced onions, stir occasionally until the onions are soft and a bit brown. Add the garlic, tomato paste, and stir. Remove the pan from the stove and add the brisket and then the beef broth. Cook in a preheated 325 degree oven. Turn the brisket every 30 minutes. The brisket is done when it tears easily with a fork. (It takes anywhere from 2 ½ to 4 ½ hours depending on when you remove the brisket from the refrigerator, the size and cut of the brisket) Return brisket to refrigerator overnight. Carve in thin slices against the grain. After slicing either reheat with sauces or freeze as brisket can be made weeks ahead, then thawed and reheated. (Flavor seems to be enhanced when frozen.) If needed, add a bit of broth for the sauce.
Passover Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Courtesy of Beryl Feldman)
Makes about 24 cookies
*2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
*1 1/2 c brown sugar
*2 tbs. honey
*2 tsp. vanilla (either Kosher for Passover or vanilla powder)
*1/4 tsp. salt
*1 1/2 c matzo cake meal
*1/4 c matzo meal
*2-3 c chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350.
Cream butter. Add brown sugar, honey, vanilla & salt. Add eggs & mix well.
Whisk cake meal and matzo meal together & add to batter. Stir in chocolate chips.
Drop by tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheets, 2” apart.
Bake 12-15 minutes until slightly golden.
On Passover and always, “May you rejoice in our traditions and always be blessed with the rich and bountiful gifts of life!” To paraphrase the famous last line in the Haggadah—“Next year at our daughters!”