I figured, in light of the current holiday festivities, I would try and describe what Passover to me and what its significance really is.
I don’t claim to be very religious, I am not a biblical aficionado and I wouldn’t be the first one to say that the world is the way it is because of God. That’s just not me. But what I would tell you is that I am connected to Judaism as a culture. I love the holidays and what they represent and I think they are key in passing on tradition and developing a love for your cultural heritage.
Jewish holidays, for the most part, are a simple recipe.
- Get family, friends, relatives, loved-ones around a table and set it nicely.
- Bring out copious amounts of good food, so much in fact, that your guests end up waddling out of your house in a state of pure dismay, the food coma of all food comas.
- Fill your cups to the brim, Manischewitz please, because no Jewish holiday wouldn’t be complete without that one person getting a little too hammered.
- Lastly sit back, relax and enjoy the show, be thankful for the good things in life
Most Jewish holidays come to fruition at a Seder, which is basically a combination of religious tradition focused on a dinner. The Passover Seder is one of my favorites, focusing on a biblical story of the Jews exodus from Egypt. The story itself is always a classic, but mainly a formality, as many people at the table, including myself, are just trying to get through the pages quickly and get the bevy of food, quietly waiting in the kitchen to the hungry people.
Passover has an awesome connection with food. The whole holiday itself is basically centered around it. At each table, all around the world during Passover sits a Seder Plate. The Seder plate has a special meaning; connecting the past traditions and teachings to the present. It has five component parts: an Egg, a bitter herb (parsley), a lamb shank, charoset and horseradish, and each represents an important teaching from the Passover story. While I am not an expert in what each mean, I can say that this is a unique tradition of tying a cultures food and tradition within a greater religious context. There has been a sprig of parsley on every Jewish persons Seder plate since the beginning of time, and I think that is pretty damn inspirational.
The holiday is also focused on the bread of life, Matzoh. Matzoh is a cracker like flatbread made from literally only flour and water, and is eaten every year as a sort of bridge between our current lives and the suffering of our ancestors on their journey out of Egypt. It is tasteless, bland and stale but its nostalgic and holds a deeper meaning. The eating of matzoh itself is paying homage to the hard times, and is an apparent reminder of how far we have come, that we should never forget the journey it took to get here.
This is a food blog and I like writing about cultural significance more than the next guy but let’s get to the good stuff. My home, being an Ashkenazi one, meaning my family is from Europe, has its own food culture passed down from the traditions of my ancestors.
Course 1: Charoset, Matzoh, Horseradish
Traditionally we start with a course of Matzoh with horseradish and charoset, a lovely mashed dish of apples, honey and walnuts. Charoset is one of my favorite side dishes ever invented, combining the best of this planets natural sweetness options. This course is done by families all over the world, and I am sure everyone does it a little different.
Course 2: Matzoh Ball Soup and Gefilte Fish
The Matzoh Ball soup has become ceremonial at this point. The perfect combination of chicken stock, vegetables and Matzoh. The matzoh ball should be the size of a golf ball, and fork tender. Simple and delicious.
Gefilte fish is one of those odd, acquired taste kind of dishes. Normally, I get them right out of the jar and plop them on my plate with a little horseradish. Gefilite fish is comprised of different sorts of white fish and binder of some sort, matzoh most likely, creating a small potato sized fish ball. It’s not inherently fishy or salty. Its a weird flavor, kinda sweet, kinda salty and has a similar texture to the matzoh ball. It should be served cold, although if it is homemade, room temperature is the norm.
Course 3: Brisket, potatoes, salad
Brisket or roasted chicken is the norm for the main course and I am not exactly sure why. Brisket in general is a classic Jewish dish being the main facet of any proper Jewish deli. Its tried and true comfort food. The key to brisket is to buy it fatty and let it cook for a long period of time. If doesn’t break apart with your fork, it’s just not done correctly! My family does it with beef stock, caramelized onions and stewed mushrooms.
Course 4: Unleavened dessert, Coffee and tea
The desserts are a challenge during Passover because anything with flour is just off limits. Normally, we have kosher sweets. My favorite ones are little gelatinous orange shaped candies, so cloyingly sweet, yet so crave-able and nostalgic. A few years ago my grandmother made a flour-less chocolate cake, decadent and delightful. Truly, the dessert really doesn’t matter that much, because if you still have room in your stomach for dessert and your belt isn’t bursting at the seams, seconds away from a full fledged explosion, you just didn’t do Passover right.