Matzah, Matzah… Prunes anyone?
Judy Bart Kancigor
Passover 1975. It seemed like a good idea. I'd introduce the subject of prayer to my religious school class at my local synagogue (Temple Beth Tikvah in Fullerton, CA) by asking my eager, precocious teenagers to write a telegram to G-d. I expected thank you's and gimme's. Imagine my reaction to this:
"Dear G-d stop please send prunes stop this matzo is killing me!"
I’ve never looked at a board of matzo since (nor a prune, for that matter) without thinking of Michael Porter (of blessed memory).
After the Seders fade into beautiful memory, the remaining additional matzo-filled days of Passover would loom before us as arid as the Sinai Desert itself if not for the creativity of Jewish cooks throughout the ages who have transformed that barren board into thousands of delicious permutations to delight Jewish households.
My friend Elaine Asa, wife of Temple Beth Tikvah's Rabbi Emeritus Haim Asa, developed a Passover spinach lasagna years ago when three of her four children became vegetarians. "For years I served a vegetarian Seder, much to the chagrin of other guests who hungered for meat. I just had to get creative. Now that the children are far away, we're back to brisket every year, and we just dig in!" These days Elaine saves this layered dish for a dairy lunch during the week.
I just received a gorgeous new cookbook by Janna Gur, founder and chief editor of Al Hashulchan (“On the Table”), a leading Israeli food and wine magazine. “The Book of New Israeli Food” (Schocken Books) is an outstanding collection of the diverse cuisine of Israel, and although I will be interviewing her later this week for a future story, I couldn’t help but take a preview peek at her offerings for Passover.
Mina was created by Balkan Jews, Gur writes, who customarily serve a rich, savory pastry on holidays and special occasions. This Passover dish replaces the traditional bourekas for the holiday and is prepared as you would a quiche or pie with matzo as the crust. And yes, it can be prepared ahead and reheated.
Of course, we can’t talk about cooking for Passover without mentioning Susie Fishbein’s “Passover by Design” (Artscroll), with over 130 Passover-adjusted recipes, plus 30 brand-new ones, and the leap-off-the-page, glorious photos and clever décor ideas we have come to expect from this wildly popular author of the Kosher by Design series.
“Passover by Design” contains many of the recipes we love in Fishbein’s previous books, conveniently reformulated for the holiday, plus some enticing additions, including Teriyaki Chicken Satés, Beef Roulade on Creamy Parsnips, Sliced Beef with Shiitakes and Cherry Brandy Sauce, Steamed Sea Bass in Savoy Cabbage, Cranberry Chicken, Quinoa Timbales with Grapefruit Vinaigrette and Chocolate Chip Cheesecake.
The dazzling photos by world-class photographer John Uher inspire rather than intimidate. These are very showy menus, but everything in the book is doable. “The recipes and serving ideas require a minimum of fuss to achieve the maximum esthetic impact," said Fishbein by phone from her home in New Jersey.
Celebrating Passover with her large, lively family brings back vivid memories, she recalled. “It was just a frenzy, people of all ages celebrating together. The women tended to live into their nineties. That was always so beautiful, so many generations sitting at the table. There were so many people, so much to do. It was just a really happy, busy time.”
Fishbein was raised in an Orthodox family, so the Jewish holidays were “a very big deal,” she said. “My father's sister and my mother are best friends. We always spent Pesach at her house in Queens or at my house in Oceanside (Long Island). Her family would pull up, open up the trunk, and there would be this stack of aluminum foil tins, a sea of aluminum foil.”
Everyone would join in the preparations. “My grandma would be standing there flipping out chremslach, because ten minutes shouldn't go by without her feeding us something,” she recalled. “The child in the least favor at the moment would be sent outside to scrape the maror. Someone at the table would be chopping apples or cracking walnuts for the haroset.”
Fishbein honors these memories and traditions, what she calls the “organized chaos” of her family’s celebrations. “That is the beautiful thing about making holidays at home – they become precious memories etched on us and our children.”
Yet preparing a Seder, not to mention meals for the rest of the Passover week, may be time-consuming and overwhelming. Fishbein has eliminated much of the work by doing all the food substitutions for us, “giving you more time to focus on what you love about preparing for Passover,” she said, “making delicious foods that bring family and friends together.”
Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family” and can be found on the web at http://www.cookingjewish.com.
ELAINE ASA’S PASSOVER SPINACH LAYERS
Vegetable cooking spray, for greasing the baking pan
2 boxes (10 ounces each) frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium-size onion, chopped
5 boards matzo
5 large eggs, separated
1 pint cottage cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon plus a pinch of salt
8 ounces Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 cups)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 13 x 9-inch nonreactive baking pan.
2. Drain the spinach very well. Then squeeze it in several changes of paper towels to remove as much liquid as possible. Break up the spinach with a fork.
3. Melt the butter in a medium-size skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and golden, about 7 minutes. Set aside.
4. Crumble the matzo into a large bowl, add cold water to cover, and soak just until the matzo is soft but not soggy. Drain the soaked matzo thoroughly, wipe the bowl dry, and return the matzo to the bowl. Add the spinach and sautéed onions, and combine well. Set the mixture aside.
5. Beat the egg yolks with a fork in a large bowl. Stir in the cottage cheese, sour cream, and the ½ teaspoon salt.
6. Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Add the pinch of salt and beat for about 15 seconds more. Then raise the speed to high and beat until the whites form stiff peaks, about 2 1/2 minutes. Add the egg whites to the cottage cheese mixture in three additions, folding them in until incorporated after each addition.
7. Spread half the cottage cheese mixture in the prepared baking pan. Top with the spinach mixture, then half the shredded Cheddar. Spread the remaining cottage cheese mixture over that, and top with the remaining shredded Cheddar.
8. Bake on the center oven rack until set and golden, 40 to 45 minutes. Cut into squares and serve.
9. Serves 8
MINA DEL PESACH – PASSOVER MATZO PIE
From “The Book of New Israeli Food” by Janna Gur
From “The Book of New Israeli Food” by Janna Gur
8 to 10 matzos
1/2 cup olive oil, for brushing
4 tablespoons oil
2 to 3 onion, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 pounds ground beef or lamb
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 to 3 tablespoons matzo meal
1 to 2 potatoes, cooked and mashed
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped (optional)
3/4 cup chicken stock
1. Dip the matzos in a bowl of cold water for a few seconds, wrap in a towel and leave for 10 to 15 minutes until they soften and become flexible.
2. Prepare the filling: Fry the onions in the oil until they become golden. Add the garlic and the meat and continue frying until the meat is done,
3. Add the spices, remove from the stove, cool slightly and add the eggs, matzo meal, mashed potatoes, pine nuts and parsley. Mix well.
4. Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
5. Assemble the pie: Grease the baking dish. Brush the wet matzos on both sides with a little oil and arrange on the bottom, draping enough over the sides to later cover the filling.
6. Spoon half the meat mixture into the baking dish and flatten. Cover with a layer of matzos and top with the remaining half of the meat. Fold the matzo draped over the side of the dish to cover the filling, brush with oil, place an additional matzo on top and brush that too with oil.
7. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven, spoon the soup over the pie and return to the oven for another 5 minutes.
8. Cool slightly and serve.
MEDITERRANEAN FATOUSH SALAD
From “Passover by Design” by Susie Fishbein
Spiced matzo chips (see below)
1 (8- to 10-inch) English cucumber, peeled
3 to 4 heads Belgian endive, separated into leaves
1/8 cup fresh mint leaves (discard stems)
1/4 cup flat-leaf Italian parsley leaves (discard stems)
1 cup small grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 cup arugula
Juice of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
Pinch of coarse sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the matzo chips below.
Slice the cucumbers in half lengthwise. With a spoon, scoop out and discard the pulp. Chop into 1/2-inch pieces. Place into a large salad bowl.
Thinly slice the endive and place into the bowl. Lay the mint leaves in a pile and tear them; they will bruise if you cut them with a knife. Add to the bowl. Toss in the parsley, tomatoes, and arugula. Mix in the lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, tossing to combine. Allow to marinate for a few minutes
Stand 2 matzo chips in each salad.
SPICED MATZO CHIPS:
4 whole matzo boards
1 teaspoon shwarma spice
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush matzo boards with olive oil. Sprinkle with shwarma spice, parsley, turmeric, and garlic. Place on baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes. Break into shards.
From “COOKING JEWISH: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family” by Judy Bart Kancigor
What a lovely ending to a beautiful meal: stuffed purple prunes layered with sunny lemon slices and perfumed with cloves -- a nice dessert anytime, but particularly welcome at Passover. It looks dazzling on the table in its own dish, or you can place two cooked prunes each into foil candy cups and garnish them with the lemon. (This one’s for you, Michael Porter!)
2 lemons, thinly sliced
3 whole cloves
1 pound large pitted prunes
About 1 cup walnut halves, toasted
1 cup sugar
1. Line the bottom of a large skillet with the lemon slices and cloves.
2. Fill the cavity of the prunes with 1 or 2 walnut halves, and arrange the stuffed prunes over the lemon slices.
3. Combine 1½ cups water and the sugar in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Pour this syrup over the prunes. Cover the skillet and boil gently for 10 to 12 minutes. Uncover and cook, basting often, until the liquid has almost evaporated, about 5 minutes more.
4. Arrange the cooked prunes and lemon slices in a single layer in an 11 x 7-inch glass dish, and allow to cool. (Discard the cloves.) Serve at room temperature.
Serves 8 to 12