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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

during Passover.

"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.