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