Twist on tradition: Consider these offerings for your Passover meals

April 9, 2014 

Passover, which begins at sunset Monday, is one of the oldest continually celebrated holidays in the western world.

It marks the escape of the Jewish people from their Egyptian captors more than 3,000 years ago, and is steeped in tradition and ceremony. It is said that the Jews left in such haste they could not wait for their bread dough to rise, and so to this day no leavened bread is eaten during Passover.

Moses led them on their exodus into what is modern Israel, and a grateful people have remembered the humble beginning with stark reminders in a special meal called the Seder.

The table must be set with special care, the story of the exodus is retold in 15 parts, and four cups of wine are drunk at special intervals, each with a specific meaning. Special foods might include matzo and fried eggs, a kugel, gefilte fish, chicken soup, and more. It is a feast time with special significance.

But Jewish eating habits can be a bit complicated. There are laws that describe foods and conditions that must be maintained. Those laws describe being kosher and include the following, simply rendered here. Meat must come from a cloven animal that chews its cud, fish must be easily scaled, all fruits and vegetables make the grade, dairy must not be combined with meat or poultry, fish, eggs, grains, fruits and vegetables are all allowed and utensils used for cooking and eating meat should not touch dairy and vice versa.

Here are a few Jewish-inspired recipes you might like to try.

LAMB MEATBALLS

1 pound ground lamb

1/4 cup chopped green onions

1-2 pinches cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon allspice

1 pinch salt

2-3 teaspoons semolina (sub all-purpose flour if you like)

1 farm fresh egg

Canola oil

Combine the ground lamb and the green onions, add the spices and then the semolina (or flour). Break the egg in a bowl and whisk, add it to the lamb mixture and mix well. Make sure everything is well incorporated, using your hands is the best method. Cover and place in a cool place for an hour or two before continuing. Roll out the meatballs into 1-inch spheres, make sure to have a baking sheet handy to line them up on.

Add 1/2 inch or so of oil to a large sauté pan, heat to medium and cook the meat balls in small batches, making sure to brown them on all sides, but without overcooking. Serve as a main course with rice as a side, or use a traditional tomato sauce for a different take on Italian-American style meatballs. When you are ready to cook them, heat about 1/2-inch of oil in frying pan. Line another baking sheet with a kitchen towel, and when the oil is hot, fry the meatballs in batches without overcrowding the pan. Cook them for about a minute a side, or until golden brown all over.

PASSOVER PAN-FRIED NOODLES

3 eggs 

1/4 cup water 

pinch of coarse salt 

2 tablespoons chicken fat for frying 

Whisk the eggs until fluffy, then add water and salt. Wisk again for 1-2 minutes until well incorporated. Add 2 tablespoons fat in medium size sauté pan over medium high flame. Pour entire mixture into pan. Fry as you would a pancake to golden brown on each side. Flip out onto a large platter and cut into strips and serve hot.

LENTIL SOUP

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into large pieces

1 bunch leeks, green parts discarded, white parts cleaned and chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 bunch celery, chopped

1 (16-ounce) bag brown lentils

1 (32-ounce) container tomato juice

1 tablespoon oregano

1 teaspoon cumin

1 tablespoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon salt

2-3 cups chicken stock

Add a little oil to a large Dutch oven and heat to medium. Add the onions, leek, carrots and celery, then season aggressively. Sauté for 5-6 minutes, or until the leeks are wilted and the onions taking on a little color. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer slowly until the lentels are tender. Make sure to scoop off any foam that form during the cooking process. As always this sort of recipe is best when eaten the next day. This recipe can also be made in a slow cooker. Add the ingredients, making sure not to over fill with liquid and cook for 5-6 hours.

POTATO LATKES

This simple potato pancake is popular from the Ukraine to Austria and south to Israel. If you want to try something different add a cup of cooked sweet corn.

4-5 Yukon gold potatoes

1 small grated onion

2 farm fresh eggs

1/3 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 pinch red pepper flakes

1-2 pinch salt

Good quality oil for frying

1 cup sweet corn, optional

Grate the potatoes, remove the skin if you like, but there are good nutrients in the skin and they add just a bit of flavor. Rinse the grated potatoes and dry in a twisted towel. Combine the potato, onion, flour, baking powder and seasoning. Whisk the eggs and add then as well, mixing thoroughly. Heat 1/8 inch of oil in a large sauté pan, form the potato mixture into flat cakes and fry over medium low heat until well browned, flip and repeat.

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