Thursday, April 21, 2011

Symbolic Passover Foods

4/6/11 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Symbolic Passover foods

Food is a component of many religious celebrations. An example is the springtime Passover when Jews retell the story of their people’s exodus from Egypt thousands of years ago with symbolic foods after a season of fasting. This year’s Passover celebration is April 19— 25.

According to the Torah, when God helped the Jews escape from Egypt, the Israelites left the country so quickly that bread dough did not have time to rise. It was quickly baked and in its unleavened state, wrapped for the journey. As a reminder of their escape, no leavened bread is eaten during Passover.

Before Passover begins, the entire household must be thoroughly cleaned of all prohibited leaven products (grains, bread, cereal, vinegar and cornstarch). The crumbs are ceremoniously brushed into a bag with a feather or palm branch and either burned or stored in a sealed off part of the house until after Passover.

On the first two nights of Passover a joyful family dinner and worship is enjoyed at home. This Seder ceremony includes the washing of hands, telling the Passover story; eating greens and bitter herbs to symbolize the bitterness of the Jews while enslaved. Celery dipped in saltwater is eaten in memory of all the tears shed during those years.

A hardboiled egg symbolizes renewal of life and their existence as a people. The dinner of lamb, beef brisket or roasted chicken symbolizes the traditional sacrificial offering. A special glass of wine is poured for the prophet Elijah and the doors are briefly opened to allow his spirit to grace them with his presence.

Dishes made of matzoh meal are common at the Seder. This meal consists of crumbs of unleavened bread and is used in many ways. A bland product it is good in soups.

Now, one might wonder what is on the table for dessert. Think about it. How does one make a sweet cake without some form of flour?

Well, butter, chocolate, cream and eggs are not forbidden. A clever cook can combine them in a deliciously decadent flourless chocolate cake to be remembered. A ganache glaze enhances its rich, dark color and deep chocolate flavor. And since it contains neither flour nor leavening, it’s perfect for Passover. Enjoy!

Matzoh Ball Soup
“Jewish Cooking 101”

1/2 cup matzoh meal
2 eggs
2 tbsp. oil or schmaltz (melted chicken fat)
2 tbsp. water or chicken broth
2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
A little black pepper
2 quarts thin chicken broth or consommé
A handful of baby carrots or regular carrots cut into large chunks (optional)
A few stalks of celery cut into large chunks (optional)

Beat the eggs, oil and water together thoroughly. Add the matzoh meal, parsley and black pepper; mix until you achieve an even consistency. Let this sit for a few minutes, so the matzoh meal absorbs the other ingredients and stir again.

Bring the broth to a vigorous boil, then reduce the heat until the broth is just barely boiling. Add the vegetables to the broth. Wet your hands and make balls of about 1-2 tbsp. of the batter. Drop the balls gently into the boiling water. They will be cooked enough to eat in about 15 minutes; however, you may want to leave it simmering longer to absorb more of the chicken broth flavor. They are done when they float on top of the broth and look bloated.

For lighter matzoh balls, use a little less oil, a little more water, and cook at a lower temperature for a longer time. For heavier matzoh balls, do the reverse. If you are using this to treat a cold, put extra black pepper into the broth (pepper clears the sinuses).

Passover Flourless Chocolate Cake
“King Arthur’s Flour recipe”

1 cup chopped semisweet chocolate or chocolate chips
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 teaspoons espresso powder, optional
3 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, Dutch-process preferred

1 cup (6 ounces) chopped semisweet chocolate or chocolate chips
1/2 cup (4 ounces) heavy cream

1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted in a 350°F oven till golden brown, about 10 minutes

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease an 8" round cake pan; cut a piece of parchment or waxed paper to fit, grease it, and lay it in the bottom of the pan.

To make the cake: Put the chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat till the butter is melted and the chips are soft. Stir until the chips melt, reheating briefly if necessary. You can also do this over a burner set at very low heat. Transfer the melted chocolate/butter to a mixing bowl.

Add the sugar, salt, and espresso powder. Espresso enhances chocolate’s flavor much as vanilla does; using 1 teaspoon will simply enhance the flavor, while 2 teaspoons will lend a hint of mocha to the cake. Add the eggs, beating briefly until smooth. Add the cocoa powder, and mix just to combine.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake for 25 minutes; the top will have formed a thin crust. Remove it from the oven, and cool it in the pan for 5 minutes. Loosen the edges of the pan with a table knife or nylon spreader, and turn it out onto a serving plate. The top will now be on the bottom; that’s fine. Also, the edges will crumble a bit, which is also fine. Allow the cake to cool completely before glazing.

To prepare the glaze: Combine the chocolate and cream in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat till the cream is very hot, but not simmering. Remove from the microwave, and stir till the chocolate melts and the mixture is completely smooth.

Spoon the glaze over the cake, spreading it to drip over the sides a bit. Allow the glaze to set for several hours before serving the cake.

Yield: one 8" cake, 12 rich servings.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! 
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing
a variety of recipes that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

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