Passover recalls a time when the Hebrew slaves fled the tyranny of Pharoah,
crossed the Red Sea and ran into the desert on their way to the Promised Land.
The first and second nights of Passover are set aside for a special
observance called the "seder," a meal served in the home. It is during this
meal that families orally hand down the story of Passover.
Everyone is expected to be present at the table, including the cook. Even
the youngest child is expected to pay solemn attention to the story year after
Every type of food laid out on the table is connected to the ritual
retelling of the deliverance of the Hebrews. In fact, the religiously observant
tend to conduct a thorough housecleaning with a spoon and feather to rid the
home of any "hametz" - leavened foods - before the seder. A feather is used to
sweep the smallest crumbs into the spoon, and the tiny bits of "hametz" are
Thus, the only foods in the house during the holiday are constant reminders
of what Passover is all about.
The most well-known of the ritual foods served at the "seder" is
"matzah" which is like a cracker. Eating matzah reminds modern Jews
that the Hebrews ran from Egypt with such speed, they didn't have time to let
their bread rise.
In its many derivatives (i.e. matzo meal, matzo fearful, matzo cake meal),
matzah provides the foundation for many Passover recipes. Because of the
dietary restrictions forbidding such foods as grains and legumes, offering
variety is a challenge to even an experienced cook.
Barbara Freedman, a cooking instructor with the Dawn Schuman Institute in
Chicago, presented a demonstration on Passover cooking recently at Congregation
Beth Israel in Hammond. The class was the third taught by Freedman and
sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Northwest Indiana.
Along with her recipes she brought common-sense cooking tips and lots of
confidence to local cooks preparing for Passover, which begins April 5 at
sundown and lasts through April 13.
Freedman's stuffing recipe, for instance, to be used as a side dish for a
chicken or turkey main course, is also a great recipe to use throughout the
year, she said. Make extra and freeze it, she suggested. It warms up just fine
in the microwave.
In addition, when packed inside a meat cup, the stuffing makes an impressive
Passover dish. The meat cup recipe includes a mashed potato filling, but cooks
can alternate the stuffings for variety.
"These meat cups also makes nice hors d'oeuvres," Freedman said. "The recipe
makes eight cups and two are good for dinner. You can make them a little
smaller and serve them as appetizers on a tray."
Despite the fact that matzah is not fattening and is low cholesterol, many
of the recipes containing matzah can be very heavy. Although the seder is
expected to be filling, most families prefer not to eat heavy meals every day
"My family tends to be traditional at the seder and serve turkey and
brisket, gefilte fish and matzah balls, a fresh vegetable and kugle and farel,"
said Eileen Jacobs, owner of the Kosher Gourmet, a Skokie-based catering
company that serves the Chicago area and Northwest Indiana. "Desert is usually
a flourless chocolate cake and fruit compote."
The menu Jacobs uses is typical of what many families might serve.
However, after seders have ended, there's no reason to continue to prepare
heavy meals every day, she said.
"Get organized and use fresh ingredients. Use a lot of fruits and
vegetables. Have fun with the traditional foods at your seder, but grill and
stir fry a lot the rest of the week," Jacobs said.
Nonetheless, on seder night, most everyone seems committed to eating. God
forbid anyone should go home hungry, so plan for desert.
Naturally, after the many rich courses and long hours of sitting at the
table, guests will expect a rich desert that doesn't have any calories.
Believe it or not, Freedman has something that fits the bill: "8-calorie
Chocolate Kisses," a low-calorie, no cholesterol recipe.
But along with her recipe, she sends fair warning.
"These chocolate kisses are eight calories, but only if you don't add extra
ingredients such as walnuts or chocolate chips," Freedman said. But, she added,
the more ingredients you put in, the more delicious the recipe becomes.