Passing over.

Editor’s Note: There’s a glossary at the end of this post.

matzah unleavened breadEvery spring comes Passover, which used to be a sort of Hebrew Jenny Craig event for me. As a non-meat-eater and recent convert to Judaism (2001), I used to starve nearly to death with no beans, corn, rice, bread, pasta or beer. Okay, I wasn’t really going to die, but just about everything I normally ate was off the menu for eight days. Oy.

Like just about everything Jewish, there is a wide range of what is considered pesadik, or allowed on Passover; depends on who you ask.* I went with (and still abide by) full-on Ashkenaz Passover-kosher (see above), leaving me with fish, eggs, fresh veggies, potatoes, and all the matzah I can stomach. Also known as “the bread of our affliction,” because our Israelite forebears skedaddled from Egypt with no leavening time, matzah becomes an obsession during Passover. We grind it up to make farfel, which can then be shaped into brick-like kugels so dense our ancestors could have built the pyramids with them. We soak it, fry it, dip it, shmear it, layer it in lasagna, and make pizza out of it. I understand why we observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, I just don’t know why it has to taste exactly like the box it comes in.

In an effort to make the Passover season a little less onerous, modern Jewish living offers up many alternatives for those of us who are symbolically fleeing Pharoah and googling to see whether Metamucil is pesadik or not. (Matzah has some side effects.) Pinterest boards laden with yummy Passover recipes abound. Matzah covered with chocolate and dredged in crushed almonds looks good; what’s not to like? How about the flourless chocolate tortes so rich they would make Julia Child weep in admiration? There are dry, tasty wines other than Manischewitz (thank God, and I mean that), and there’s even kosher-for-Passover beer. Really?

Which got me to thinking: if we choose to observe the holiday, why do we try so hard to get around the tradition, food-wise? After all, the Talmud is pretty reasonable about it and actually suggests we not make it harder than it needs to be. In the Sephardic Jewish world, Passover kosher usually allows* beans and rice, making things significantly easier for vegetarians. More on that here. Is suffering really necessary?

Maybe there’s value in deprivation, beyond simply completing the commandment in the Torah to tell retell the Exodus story, beyond celebrating our very freedom to do that. It could be that switching gears gastronomically makes us change our patterns in such a way that we think about things we sometimes forget. We can kvetch about not being able to eat out as much, or we can enjoy staying home and cooking with our peeps. We can bemoan the lo-carb headaches, or we can be glad for a few ticks off the ole bathroom scale. And we can remember that some people don’t have the luxury of changing their diets to a less interesting menu, because that’s all they can afford now.

However you celebrate Passover, may it be meaningful for you. Elsewhere on this site, you’ll find some recipes that should be okay for Passover, like Sushi-Grade Salad, Junk, Swiss Chard and Avocado Salad, No-Fat Crunchy Cilantro Slaw, and Quinoa Tabouleh.

Glossary
Ashkenaz – Roughly, Jews from Western, Central and Eastern Europe. As opposed to Sephardic Jews, from the Middle and Near East, Northern Africa, Spain, and around the Mediterranean rim.
Matzah – Unleavened bread enjoyed by Jewish folk year-round but with special manufacturing stringencies at Passover. Inspiration for the phrase “let my people go” for its binding qualities.
Farfel – Broken pieces of matzah, at Passover; pieces of egg noodle at other times. Also the name of a ventriloquist’s stuffed dog dummy that appeared in Nestle Chocolate commercials. (No, I have not been into the Manischewitz already.)
Kugel – A plain pudding made with noodles, potatoes, fruit or other ingredients. Or farfel, the unleavened bread, not the dog.

*For members of the Tribe, let’s not get into a discussion here about whose rabbi says what’s okay. I know there are rules in the Torah and subsequent commentary and Jewish law codes also have a say. You do your thing and I’ll do mine. For non-members, if you’re still reading at this point, mazel tov.

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Linguine with Spinach and Sun-dried Tomatoes

linguine with spinach recipe

This is a fast, easy, healthy pasta recipe. Assemble these ingredients:

linguine, 1 lb. box
handful of sun-dried tomatoes
bag of pre-washed baby spinach
sliced mushrooms
vegetable oil, 3 tablespoons give or take
clove of garlic, diced fine or crushed
white wine
black pepper and crushed red pepper
shaved parmesan

While the pasta water is coming to a boil, remove the stems from the bagged spinach. Chop the sun-dried tomatoes (I like the dry kind with the smoky flavor, but any will do), get the garlic ready and shave the parmesan with a vegetable peeler.

Cook the linguine just to al dente; drain. Heat a large skillet to medium-high before adding the oil; this step is especially important if you’re using olive oil, which burns easily. When the oil gets all wavy, add some crushed red pepper to taste; adding it at this stage infuses the spice into the oil. Add mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes, a half-cup of white wine, and the garlic; saute until the mushrooms are just a little done. Turn down the heat to medium or a little less, and dump the entire bag of spinach into the skillet; cover.

As soon as the spinach is limp, remove the lid and put the cooked linguine into the skillet, turn the heat back up to medium-high, and toss the pasta with the goodies quickly to coat the noodles with taste.

Serve with shaved parmesan and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

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Easy Egg Burrito

Image

This takes 10 minutes, start to finish, and is for two small burritos. It can be as spicy as you like. First, assemble your ingredients.

Egg_burrito_1_lo_res

small flour tortillas
1 egg per burrito
some diced poblano pepper (or jalapenos if you like it hot)
grated cheddar cheese
chopped fresh cilantro
1 pat of butter for every two burritos
salsa (medium or hot, it’s up to you), drained

Heat a non-stick skillet to medium hot. Add the butter and, as soon as it melts, add the poblano pepper and saute. Be sure not to burn the butter or over-cook the pepper. Beat the eggs with 1 teaspoon of water per egg and pour into the skillet with the pepper; toss in the chopped cilantro. While you scramble the egg mixture, heat another non-stick skillet and be warming the tortillas.

Egg_burrito_2_lo_res

When the eggs are done, divide them onto the warmed tortillas, sprinkle with cheese, add some salsa, roll up the tortillas. Spear them with toothpicks to keep them closed. Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve.

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How to be – and – feed a vegetarian on Thanksgiving.

Celery_sticks_sxc

When my husband and I became vegetarians over 20 years ago, people wigged out. Our moms, both Southern cooks who put pork fat in everything but iced tea, didn’t know how to cook for us any more. Our friends were defensive; as much as we tried to keep it from being an issue, they took our choice not to eat meat as an indictment of theirs to eat it. No matter how much we said “we don’t care what you eat,” it was guilt-inducing.

We are ovo-lacto-pesco vegetarians, which is barely vegetarian at all. We simply don’t eat pigs, cows and chickens, or anything that has bits of them in it. I added “only kosher fish” to the list of my self-imposed food restrictions when I converted to Judaism, which produced much eye-rolling from my way-Reform friends. Oy gevalt, why does food become such a battle?

Tips for Vegetarians

1. Talk to your host in advance about what you can eat; don’t announce at the table that “meat is murder” as Uncle Herman begins to carve the bird.

2. Offer to bring something vegetarian, and bring enough for everyone.

3. Get the hostess to slip some tofurkey onto your plate.

4. Eat before you go, and serve yourself small quantities of things to push around your plate.

5. Be out of town. It’s just one meal, for pete’s sake.

Tips for Hosts

1. If you didn’t know your guests well enough to know they are vegetarian, don’t be offended if they don’t eat the green beans swimming in ham broth.

2. When guests ask you about the menu in advance, be gracious. You wouldn’t treat them like alien life forms if they had diabetic food retrictions.

3. Have some things that are vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and nut-free. Oh, hell, just serve celery sticks and vodka.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Vegan Chili That Doesn’t Taste Like it.

Update: Instead of TVP, I’ve been trying out some of the soy-based crumbles. The Publix brand soy crumbles aren’t bad, the the Boca Veggie Ground Crumbles are so much like ground beef you’ll be able to fool just about anybody.
boca veggie crumbles
Chili_finished

I’ve served this chili to avid meat-a-tarians and they always love it. In fact, they usually don’t know they’re not eating meat. First, measure out 2 cups of dry TVP (textured vegetable protein). I use the small kind rather than the chunks. It looks weird dry, and the descriptions of it aren’t too sexy, but it really pumps up the chili and adds protein.

Tvp_dry

Reconstitute it with an equal amount of boiling water; put both in a bowl and stir, cover the bowl. Let that sit until all the water is taken up…maybe 5 minutes.

Veggies

Here’s how the reconstituted TVP looks:

Tvp_reconst

While that’s percolating, chop up one cup each of red bell pepper, green bell pepper, and red onion.

Tvp_saute

Heat a non-stick skillet to really not, put enough vegetable oil (corn or canola, not olive) it just cover the bottom. Add the TVP and brown it, stirring it constantly. If it doesn’t get crispy brown, that’s okay.

Chili_saute

Add the veggies to the TVP and keep stirring. Toss in 4 oz. of chili seasoning mix…any will do, so long as it’s vegan. You may need to put in some beer or water to keep it from being too dry. If you like your chili super-spicy, put in some red pepper flakes while the veggies are cooking with the TVP.

Ingredients

While the TVP and veggies are cooking, open three cans each of tomato bits (I like the fire-roasted kind) and chili hot beans (or whatever kind of beans you like) and put them in a big, deep pot.

Chili_pot

Add the TVP/veggie mixture—and maybe a little water—and turn the heat to low; let it simmer an hour. If you’ve been toying with the idea of becoming vegetarian, try this chili and you may decide you can live without meat ~ or less meat ~ after all.

Enjoy!

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Angel Hair with Asparagus and Bruschetta

Tomatos_in_marinade

With the last of the home-grown tomatoes, I made Hubby the bruschetta I had been promising. Rather than an appetizer, we like our bruschetta served with our pasta. The first thing is to dice the tomatoes small, drizzle with olive oil, dash some balsamic vinegar, add some crushed garlic and fresh, chopped basil. Stir.

Walnuts_with_butter

The pasta is going to include glazed walnuts, so let’s do those and set them aside. Melt some butter and toss the walnut pieces in it with a little brown sugar. Heat a non-stick skillet to medium-high and put the mixture; stir them around until butter and sugar starts to bubble. Be careful not to burn them. (I kinda did.)

Asparagus_ready_to_microwave

Next, pre-cook some fresh asparagus. Cut off the hard (root) ends, and chop the rest into pieces about 1.5″ or so. If you’re stinkin’ rich, just use the tips. Put the asparagus into a flat glass dish with dots of butter, a little fresh lemon juice and a light sprinkle of garlic powder. Cover the dish tightly with plastic wrap and put some slits in the wrap. (If you don’t dig plastic wrap, just put a glass lid or plate on top, as long as some steam can escape.) Microwave the asparagus until it’s firm but not hard. How long that takes depends totally on how hard the raw asparagus is and there’s really no way to tell. Start with a couple of minutes, test it and add a minute at a time. What you don’t want is limp asparagus from the git-go. When the asparagus is as done as you want it to be, take it out and remove the covering or it will continue to cook.

Bread_buttered

Before getting started in earnest on the pasta, get the bread for the bruschetta ready. Get some stout bread that comes in a long, skinny shape. We like the kind that is multi-grain and isn’t too hard on the outside, but use whatever makes you happy. Slice it with a serrated knife in diagonal pieces about an inch thick. Butter both sides, sprinkle one side with a little garlic powder, and put the pieces on a cookie sheet. If you have a Silpat mat, the bread will cook evenly and clean-up will be easier. Broil on the top rack of the oven, turn the pieces and broil the other side.

Salad_assembled

Make some sort of salad; I keep a vinaigrette made at all times. Click here for the recipe.

From here on out, it goes fast. Boil some water and cook angel hair just to al dente status.

Bruschetta_complete

While that is going on, add the marinated tomato mixture to top the toasted bread, and shave some fresh parmesan across the top. (I use a vegetable peeler.)  When the pasta is just about done, heat a large non-stick skillet and drizzle some olive oil and add a few pats of butter, and as much crushed fresh garlic as you can stand. When the garlic is wilting and the oils sizzling, add the pre-cooked asparagus and the cooked angel hair. Toss quickly, adding a little white wine so it doesn’t get too dry.

Pasta_complete

Throw in the walnuts and serve with grated parmesan or asiago cheese on top.

Dinner

Now you have dinner, and it probably took 30 minutes to make. There were’t any measurements in this set of recipes, because none are needed; these things are nearly impossible to mess up.

Pasta_leftover

We had some leftover pasta and a bit of the tomato mixture, so I threw all of that in a bowl and microwaved it for my lunch the next day. Very tasty.

Enjoy.

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Sushi-Grade Salad

1_salad_nicoise

This is a go-to recipe when I need to impress someone, including the hubby. Not cheap, but super easy. All you need is:

Sushi-grade tuna, maybe 4 to 6 ounces per person
Mesclun greens
Small new potatoes
Fresh asparagus
Boiled eggs
Soy sauce
Large capers
Vegetable oil
Lime juice
Red wine vinegar
Wasabi paste
Cracked black peppercorns

2_salad_nicoise

First, make the marinade for the tuna… whisk together a little oil, red wine vinegar, lime juice, and soy sauce. How much? Doesn’t really matter.

3_salad_nicoise

Pour the marinade over the sushi-grade tuna steaks.

4_salad_nicoise

Now make your wasabi vinaigrette. Combine oil, vinegar, soy sauce, wasabi, garlic powder, lime juice and cold water in equal parts to all of that..

5_salad_nicoise

Cut some new potatoes in quarters, cover in water in a large saucepan, and boil until tender. Submerge cooked potatos in cold water and drain.

For the asparagus, cut off the bottom third of the stalks, put them in a glass dish, add a tablespoon or two of water, cover with plastic wrap (with slits) and microwave until sort driof tender. How long to microwave the asparagus… there’s no way to know how tough the asparagus will be, so test the stalks with a fork to be sure. When they are done, dunk the cooked stalks in cold water and drain.

6_salad_nicoise

Toss the cooked potatoes and asparagus stalks in the wasabi vinaigrette. Chill.

Once all the vegetables are cooked and cooled, it’s time to cook the marinated tuna. It’s important to go fast in this final step.

Heat a non-stick skillet to medium high. When it’s good and hot, drizzle some vegetable oil in it, swirl it around, and add the tuna steaks. Grind some more black peppercorns on the tuna, and turn the tuna after a minute or two. Then turn the tuna on its side and sear all the edges. Don’t overcook, but do be aware of how you like your tuna… cook it according to your taste, from “walk it thru a warm room” to “all the way through.” High-toned chefs will recommend leaving your tunanearly  raw, but it’s your tuna.

Arrange the mesclun greens on a large plate. Add sliced boiled eggs, the potatoes and asparagus. Slice the seared tuna and put it on the greens. Scatter some drained capers around the greens. Drizzle the wasabi vinaigrette over all, then dust the whole thing with cracked black peppercorns. And seriously impress somebody.

1_salad_nicoise

Isn’t that pretty? Enjoy.

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Junk

1_junk

When I was a kid, Momma used to make something she called “junk.” It was sliced tomatoes, onions and cucumbers doused liberally with red wine vinegar, cold water, and salt. Of course, it was really only fit to make when the fresh tomatoes came in. Here’s a variation on the “junk” theme.

2_junk

Make a vinegar-heavy mixture of oil and vinegar dressing (I add a little balsamic), then add the same amount of water as the mix, plus a little garlic powder. Don’t worry about measuring; whatever you do will be good.

3_junk

Slice fresh, home-grown tomatoes, a little red onion, and a cucumber just out of the garden. Pour the oil/vinegar/water mix over all that, and give it a good dusting of sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper. Chill well, drain off the liquid, and serve.

If anybody ever heard this dished called “junk,” or knows why it was, please comment here.

Enjoy!

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Mama Carbone’s Marinara

5_served

Growing up in Nashville in the 1960s and 1970s, there wasn’t much “ethnic” food. For Italian, there were a couple of mom-and-pop places that had spaghetti. But I was lucky enough that my best friend, Lisa, came from a real, by-God Italian family. Meals were lengthy, the food was out of this world, the more people around the table, the merrier. Needless to say, I hung out there a lot. Dinner was always the whole family, and they treated me like one of their own. When Lisa and I hit the back door after school, on the stove there would always be a big, deep pot of something that smelled amazing. Likely as not, it was Mama Carbone’s marinara.

1_herbs

Chop up a LOT of fresh, flat-leaf parsley, and mince some fresh garlic. How much of each depends on your taste; err on the side of more-than-you-think.

2_cans

Open some good canned tomatoes, about one regular-sized can for each person. (You may want to make three times what you need for one meal, as it freezes well and also makes a good sauce for homemade pizza if you drain it more after it’s done.) You can also use diced canned tomatoes; I like the fire-roasted kind for a little more flavor.

3_shredded

Probably the best canned tomatoes for marinara are the imported Italian romas. Drain off the juice but keep it in case you need liquid later. Shred the tomatoes with your fingers (watch out, they squirt) into a bowl.

Heat a large deep saucepan to medium high before you add the oil, especially if it’s olive oil, which burns easily. You can also use any kind of vegetable oil if you prefer. Put just about enough oil to almost cover the bottom of the pan.  When the oil starts getting wavy, add the garlic and stir quickly; you don’t want it to brown. You can also add some red pepper flakes if you like a little zing. Dump in the tomatoes, all the chopped parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Turn down to a low simmer; the longer it simmers, the better it gets.

4_cooking

Sticklers will notice that there’s no anchovy in this marinara. If Mama Carbone put some in hers, I don’t remember and, anyway, I am not a fan of anchovies. But purists say that real marinara includes seafood. I’m not a purist, but my friend Neil was and he told me that marinara needs fish. Neil was a fabulous cook (who, unlike me, measured ingredients to the atomic level); more about him here.

This sauce is light, fresh, and vegetarian, and it can be used for lots of dishes. We usually have it over linguine, with some grated fresh parmesan or asiago cheese on top, with a salad. When I freeze it, I put a large ziploc bag in a large glass, pour in the cooled marinara, and suck out all the air. It keeps like that for weeks. Mangia!

If I haven’t remembered this recipe exactly right, I apologize to Mrs. Carbone. The spirit is there, along with some of the happiest memories of my childhood. Tu sei sempre nel mio cuore.

Marian_and_ercole

Marian and Ercole Carbone

Buon appetito!

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Swiss Chard and Avocado Salad

Swiss_chard_salad

My neighbor, Joyce, often shares the bounty of her organic garden with me, just minutes from harvest to table. This salad combines her swiss chard, arugula, and basil with store-bought avocado (cubed), mushrooms, and shaved parmesan, tossed in an easy vinaigrette; for that recipe, click here.

Enjoy…

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