My first foray into Passover baking came during my second year of law school. My wonderful Seder hosts asked me to bring a dessert. Knowing the somewhat crippling restraints on Passover baking (and there are really only so many flourless chocolate tortes one can choke down in one lifetime), they were kind enough to suggest that a few cans of Manischewitz macaroons would be fine – “so long as they are plain or chocolate flavor and not something gross like tutti-frutti.” I wasn’t really interested in bringing macaroons from a can, so I embarked on what proved to be a horrifyingly fraught adventure in Learning How to Make Sponge Cakes the Hard Way. The next time I feel like making that particular Passover sponge cake again, I’ll show you and I’ll detail the ways around my prior missteps. It may be shortly after I cure cancer, so don’t hold your breath.
Tutti-frutti grossness notwithstanding, macaroons are a mainstay of Passover dessertdom. There are two families of macaroons – coconut and almond. If you aren’t particularly rigid in your definitions of chometz, my Mandelhoernchen could also work (the powdered sugar in the almond paste will pose a problem for many, as it contains cornstarch). This year, I decided to try my hand at simple, straight-up, no frills coconut macaroons. Ideally, they should be little orbs of golden coconut; crisped exteriors with chewy, creamy centers. Some people extrude them from a star-tipped pastry bag, but I prefer to shape them by hand.
I’m somewhat sorry to say I didn’t get around to making these until the very tail end of Passover, and ended up finishing them after it was over. I won’t make the same mistake next year. Though not as addictive as matzoh toffee, they are profoundly good when you want something simple and tooth-achingly sweet.
The Midwest is well-known for its casserole canon. You have your hot dish, your noodle ring – the sorts of oven-baked concoctions that appear in starring roles at stock the fridge showers for a second babies in Wisconsin (and seem to make their way into every kitschy portrayal of Midwesterners in film and on television). It’s a lesser-known fact that Utah also boasts a mean casserole repertoire. I know, you’re thinking that Utah is known for having lots of one thing…
…Jello. And you’d be right. I believe Utah consumes more Jello than the rest of the country put together. As much as I have tried to disavow it at varying points in my life, I can’t help it; I love me some rainbow Jello cake. I have made it once, and it was a colossal pain, but so worth it. The next time I have a free day and am on a sugar binge, I’ll whip one up and show you. It’s just…wow. Unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
But we’re here to talk casserole (to dish about casserole? Ouch). I’m pulled in a casserole way by more than nostalgia. They are an ideal endeavor for busy people; a little work up front and you can eat well for several servings (and if the thought of eating lasagna for four consecutive meals makes you ill, they often freeze well). In some circles, the act of creating one of these baked wonders is called “putting up” a casserole, which I cannot explain linguistically but love and use often. It’s one of those charming bits of vernacular that you want to snatch up and squeeze for yourself because it hits the ear just right. Or maybe I just like things that sound vaguely Southern.
Whatever, let’s put up a Passover casserole.
Ah, the Passover diet. No bread? No pasta? No rice? Sweet! It’s like Atkins, the holy way! Just think of all the weight I’ll lose!
Wrong. The sneaky thing about Passover food is two-fold. First, many favorite recipes outside a Seder menu are variations on the theme of What Can We Do With Matzo Today? For the uninitiated, matzo is flour and water that has been shaped and baked very quickly to prevent leavening (rabbinic law states that there cannot be more than 18 minutes from the time the water hits the flour to the time the matzo comes out of the oven). Leavened or not, flour is flour and has between 400-500 calories per cup. Second, in order to hide the fact that matzo is essentially a giant, flavorless, unsalted Saltine, most variations on the WCWDWMT? theme involve great quantities of eggs, butter, cheese, or some combination thereof.
I love Passover. It’s a wonderful holiday with truly excellent traditions to savor. And though it can be kind of a pain, I actually really enjoy keeping Kosher for Passover. It’s just one of those things you do, with purpose, that helps you express your faith physically as well as spiritually. As a Jew by Choice (the modern, touchy-feely longhand for “convert”), there is extra significance to me in adopting a ritual that is older than dirt, but very new to me. It helps remind me why I made this choice, and how it is a part of my identity from here on out.
Constructing multiple, filling meals a day without the benefit of a normal complement of starches and grains can be tough. You cannot eat matzo pizza for 24 meals, no matter how easy they are to throw together in the microwave. Well, I guess you can, but I can’t.
So here you are, too far from your family to eat mom’s Greatest Passover Hits every day. Or maybe you’re like me, all grown up and newly Jewish. Or maybe you’ve decided to keep K-for-P for the first time in your life, much to your family’s confusion. Whatever reason brings you to the internet in search of Passover-friendly recipes, you may have already discovered that Seder menus are easy to find, and that what you’re supposed to eat for the rest of the week can be a bit of a mystery. Particularly breakfast.
Yes, yes, I know you can put together a satisfactory breakfast that doesn’t involve bread. On weekdays during Passover, I stick with fruit and a hard-boiled egg. But weekends for us usually involve indulging in biscuits and jam while we watch reruns of any Law & Order flavor we can find. I’ve always liked making something nice and carby for weekend breakfasts, and Passover doesn’t seem like a reason to stop.
Enter matzo brei. There are about a zillion ways to make this, and it’s one of those dishes about which people can have bizarrely strong feelings. It’s only good if you make it with onions! You have to make it sweet! The matzo should be soaked before you break it! Break the matzo before you soak it! Frittata-style! Scrambled eggs-style! It’s exhausting, really.
I like to stir mine constantly, so it comes out as a heap of little egg-covered pieces of matzo. And I add a little cinnamon and sugar at the end to make it sweet. There are dozens of recipes and techniques out there, but this is mine.