After many years of cooking for Passover, I know there are two must-have ingredients: the ever-present matzoh, in various forms, and eggs.
Without eggs, our ceremonial meal would be incomplete – and we couldn’t produce an edible spongecake. Symbolically, they represent mourning, rebirth and the continuity of life, all part of this major Jewish holiday, which begins at sundown on March 30 this year. Passover commemorates the Exodus nearly 3,000 years ago when ancient Israelites broke free from 400 years of slavery in Egypt and, after wandering for 40 years in the desert, were reborn as a nation in the land of Israel.
For centuries since, Jews fulfill the biblical commandment to remember and retell the story of the Exodus with a special ceremony, the Seder. Symbolic foods, including eggs, are part of the story.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when a hard-cooked or roasted egg first appeared on the Seder plate, but it was certainly after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The egg was added in memory of the special festival sacrifice brought, along with roasted lamb, to the Temple as the Passover offering.
So it became customary in nearly all Jewish cultures that, at end of the Seder and before the parade of dinner food begins, hard-cooked eggs are eaten – dipped in salt water to remember the tears of the ancient Israelites and destruction of the Temple. In my home, Seder guests are served the Sephardic dish called huevos haminados: eggs cooked, uncovered, for long hours with onion skins, peppercorns, a pinch of salt and a layer of olive oil on top. The whites turn a nice light tan shade while the yolks lose their bright color and take on a lovely, creamy texture. Depending on various traditions, some haminados are cooked with vinegar, saffron, coffee grinds and/or purple onion skins in the water.
Beyond the Seder, the egg is at peak performance during Passover: in dishes like the iconic matzoh brei (fried matzoh) as well as in the abundance of baked goods that seem required for a holiday that, ironically, forbids the use of yeast and any food made from wheat, barley, oats, rye or spelt. The ban results from the fermentation and rise that begins when such grains come in contact with water for more than 18 minutes, making them leavened food (”chametz,” in Hebrew) that is not kosher for Passover.
Why does this matter? When the Israelites left Egypt in haste in the middle of the night, there was no time for their daily bread’s overnight rise. Instead, they wrapped up their bundles of dough and carried them into the desert, where the sun and heat baked them crisp and flat. We eat the flat matzoh to mark this festival of unleavened bread.
Passover baking today is a sort of a throwback to when eggs and egg whites were the main way to make food rise. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that baking soda and baking powder were introduced. Both are now manufactured in ways deemed suitable for Passover, but given the weightiness of nut flours and density of matzoh cake meal, eggs are necessary in savory and sweet dishes.
Spongecakes and flourless cakes get a lift with whipped egg whites folded in. Meringues are a Passover regular, with more than one good reason: They are easy to make, there are endless variations, they last for several days, and they seem impressive for those who have never tried making them. Trust me, making them is easier than you think.
The trick with egg whites is to beat the eggs long enough to whip lots of air into the whites, which also changes the shape of the egg proteins to allow for even more air to be trapped. Don’t skimp on this step, and your meringues should be melt-in-the-mouth sweet.
Those yolks left over from making meringues can find a delicious home in egg drop soup. Recipes for it typically call for soy sauce, which as a fermented food is not permitted at Passover. The soup is also often made with chicken broth, but vegetable broth makes an excellent substitute. Whichever broth you like, imbue it with garlic, ginger and a touch of sesame oil for Asian flavor.
Baked kugels of potatoes, broccoli or carrots are popular among Eastern European Jews. Eggs bind those components and lighten the texture. One Sephardic version of a baked savory pudding that appears annually at my Seder is quajado, a dish dating to pre-Inquisition Jewish life in Spain. In fact, testimony against Jews during the Inquisition contains references to this dish, as being seen preparing it was enough for a guilty verdict, and imprisonment or worse.
There are many varied family recipes for quajado; most are traditionally made of leeks, eggplant, eggs and sometimes cheese. We often use the New World potato instead of eggplant, while leeks, a favorite ingredient of Spain’s medieval Jews who grew it abundantly in home gardens, make the dish. Some people call quajado a frittata, but there is a difference: Quajado has more vegetables, less egg. Some versions for Passover mix in softened pieces of matzoh.
While it might be tempting to use liquid egg whites (sold in cartons) instead of separating eggs into yolks and whites, I have found that they do not whip up quite the same. The problem is that pasteurization of the packaged whites uses a heat process that changes the proteins. Consequently, those egg whites don’t take on air as well, so you need to whip them two to three times longer to get close to the results you want.
I make sure to keep enough eggs on hand, which can mean at least two dozen - and that’s not counting the ones used in all the baked treats and hard-cooked eggs consumed at my Seder. I always cook as many as a dozen extra for my own meals while I make the ones for the holiday table. The extras are then ready for a quick egg salad - one of my favorite matzoh toppers - or on their own for breakfast, lunch or a snack with a squeeze of lemon and some salt and pepper, just the way my father ate them.
Sliced eggs add protein to a salad and, if you’re having company, deviled eggs make a fine Passover appetizer. I will also use eggs to bake holiday treats midweek, and in matzoh brei, of course.
Egg consumption continues a decade-long rise, with estimates that Americans eat more than 270 eggs per person each year. I certainly do my share at Passover.
Leek and Potato Casserole (Quajado)
Yield: 8 to 10 servings, healthy
Quajado is a nice change for a vegetarian brunch entree or a light dinner along with a salad. It holds up well to cutting and can be served hot or at room temperature. It’s also a good side dish, buffet offering or, cut into bite-size squares, an easy-to-eat appetizer.
Although leeks sold in supermarkets today generally are not as dirty as in the past, they still do have some grit, so it is best to know how to clean them; see the directions, below. Baking the potatoes yields greater flavor than boiling or microwaving them. Baking the potatoes also provides a drier mash for the mixture.
An added benefit is the leftover potato skins, which become their own kind of treat when layered with cheese, green onions, jalapeño peppers or other toppings and baked until the cheese melts. Add a dollop of sour cream and serve.
Make ahead: The quajado can be refrigerated for up to four days. The cooked dish freezes well, for up two months. Reheat the defrosted casserole, uncovered, in a 350-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until heated through.
Recipe from Washington cook Susan Barocas.
3 large or 6 medium russet potatoes (about 3 pounds total)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
6 to 7 large leeks (3 to 3 1/2 pounds total)
1 large or 2 medium carrots, shredded (about 3/4 cup)
5 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt (less if using feta or another salty cheese)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
1/2 cup crumbled feta or shredded hard cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
Scrub potatoes under cold water, then cover lightly with a teaspoon or two of oil using your hands or a pastry brush. Place potatoes on the baking sheet and prick the skin 4 or 5 times with a fork to let out the steam as they cook. Bake (middle rack) for 50 to 60 minutes, until the insides are very soft when pricked with a fork. Alternately, to cut the baking time, cook the oiled potatoes in a microwave on high for 5 minutes before baking in the oven for about 30 minutes, until soft. Once the potatoes are out of the oven, cut in half the long way and open them to cool faster.
While the potatoes cook, clean and prepare the leeks. Cut off the dark green tops and save for making stock. (They can be washed and stored in the freezer until ready to use.) Cut off the roots and discard. Pull off a couple of layers of the tough part of the white and any damaged parts. Split the white of each leek lengthwise, then cut across into half-inch pieces. You will have 8 to 9 cups of leek pieces.
Place the leeks in colander or strainer that fits into a large bowl (or pot) and wash under cold water. Set the colander into the bowl and fill with cold water. Let soak for a few minutes, then swish the leeks around to dislodge any grit. Give the dirt time to fall to the bottom, then lift out the colander or strainer. Toss and mix the leeks, checking for remaining grit. As needed, rinse the bowl and repeat the washing process.
Alternatively, place the leek pieces in a large bowl and fill with cold water. Let sit for a few minutes, then swish the leeks with your hands. Wait a few moments for any grit to fall to the bottom, then scoop out the leeks with a slotted spoon, disturbing the water in the bowl as little as possible. Set the leek pieces aside, rinse the bowl and repeat washing the leeks as needed.
Set a steamer into a pot with a few inches of water in the bottom and bring to a boil over high heat. Place the clean leek pieces in the steamer, cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until very tender.
Transfer the cooked leeks to a colander or strainer and force out any liquid with the back of a spoon.
Scoop out the insides of the cooled potatoes, leaving a thin layer next to the skin. The yield is about 4 cups. Mash together the leeks and potatoes, breaking up any large lumps. Add the grated carrot, beaten eggs, salt, pepper and the cheese, if using. Stir until well incorporated.
Reheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Use 2 tablespoons of the oil to grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Place in the oven for 3 to 4 minutes, or until well heated, then remove it just long enough to spread the leek-potato mixture in the dish in an even layer. (When the pan is really hot, the mixture should sizzle as it hits the oil.) The heated baking dish and its oil will help create a crust on the bottom and sides of the casserole. Gently brush the top of the leek-potato mixture with the remaining oil. Bake (middle rack) for 30 to 35 minutes, until the mixture is firm and golden brown around the edges.
Serve right away, or cool completely before storing.
Nutrition | Per serving (based on 10): 220 calories, 7 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 95 mg cholesterol, 290 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar
Spring Egg Drop Soup
Yield: 6 servings, healthy
This soup is a good way to use up some of the egg yolks generated by all the whites used in Passover baking. Add more of the yolks (or use less), depending on your taste and how many extra yolks you have around.
Unlike most egg drop soups, there is no soy sauce in this version. Soy sauce is among the group of foods not kosher for Passover because it is fermented. Instead, this soup relies on ginger, garlic, mushrooms and the bright spring flavors of asparagus and dill.
Recipe from Washington cook Susan Barocas.
8 cups no-salt-added vegetable broth (may substitute no-salt-added chicken broth)
One 1 1/2-to-2-inch piece fresh ginger root (unpeeled), sliced into several pieces
3 to 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
6 to 7 large cremini (baby bella) mushroom caps, cleaned and thinly sliced
12 asparagus spears
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil (regular or toasted)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish (may substitute 1 tablespoon dried dill)
1 large carrot, shredded (4 ounces; about 1 cup)
7 scallions, green parts, sliced thinly on the diagonal
Freshly ground black or white pepper
6 large egg yolks (may substitute 4 large whole eggs)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
Heat the broth in a soup pot over high heat. Add the ginger, garlic and mushrooms; once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, trim any tough/woody asparagus ends, then arrange the spears on the baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with a couple pinches of salt. Roast for 12 to 15 minutes, depending on thickness, until crisp tender. When cool enough to handle, cut asparagus in two-inch pieces on the diagonal.
Use a slotted spoon to extract the ginger and garlic pieces from the broth. Discard the ginger; mash the garlic and add it back to the broth. Stir in the sesame oil.
Add the dill, carrot and scallions to the broth, holding out about 1/4 cup of the scallions for garnish. Let cook uncovered another 10 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Beat the egg yolks with a fork just until smooth. Use the tines of the fork to slowly drizzle the egg yolk into the broth on low heat, moving around the pot as you drizzle. Do this in 3 or 4 times rather than adding all the egg yolk at once. Each time, wait a moment and then stir to create ribbons of eggs. If using both the yolk and the white, beat the eggs with a fork until almost blended, then add slowly, stirring consistently.
Serve garnished with roasted asparagus pieces, the reserved scallions and more dill.
Nutrition | Per serving (using 1/2 teaspoon sea salt): 100 calories, 5 g protein, 185 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 185 mg cholesterol, 240 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 8 g sugar
Mocha Chip Meringues
Yield: 24 pieces
Like snowflakes, each of these meringues is light, airy and unique; there's no need to make them look perfect or all the same. The recipe can easily be halved or doubled.
One of the best ways to separate the eggs is Julia Child's method of letting the whites drip through your slightly parted fingers, leaving the yolk intact for other jobs. To make sure there's no yolk at all in your whites (so they will beat up light and fluffy), separate each egg over a small bowl and add the whites one by one to the larger bowl where they will be beaten. It's easiest to separate cold eggs, but then let the whites sit for at least an hour to warm up a bit so they will beat better.
In testing, we liked using mini chocolate chips for these meringues, but regular-size ones will work as well.
Make ahead: The meringues can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.
From Susan Barocas.
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
3 large egg whites (see headnote)
Pinch kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup semisweet mini chocolate chips (see headnote)
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper, then grease the paper with cooking oil spray.
Pulse the cocoa and espresso powders in a blender or food processor several times to create a powdery mixture.
Combine the egg whites and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer, beat on low speed until frothy, then on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, about a tablespoon at a time, continuing to beat until stiff peaks form, and the mixture is thick and glossy. This process should take 8 to 10 minutes. Stop to scrape down the bowl a few times as you work.
Sprinkle the cocoa-coffee mixture over the egg mixture; beat on low speed until well incorporated. Increase the speed to high; beat for about 15 seconds. Gently fold in the mini chocolate chips by hand, until just blended.
Use two spoons (tableware) to deposit a total of 24 dollops of the meringue mixture onto the baking sheet; they do not need to look perfect and can be just 1 inch apart. Bake (middle rack) for 50 minutes, until crisped and set. Let cool completely before serving or storing.
Nutrition | Per piece: 46 calories, 1 g protein, 7 g carbohydrates, 2 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 1 mg cholesterol, 18 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 7 g sugar