The Power of Matzah
-- Lisa Kelvin Tuttle
Avadim hayinu. Slaves were we, and in our haste to flee our enslavement, we ate bread made from a simple mixture of flour and water that did not have time to rise.
Of all the symbolic foods on our Seder plates, the one with the most significance to the festival of Passover is matzah --- the humblest of foods.
On all other nights we eat either chametz --- leavened bread --- or matzah, but on this night we eat only matzah. Ingredients considered chametz include wheat, barley, rye, oats, or spelt to which a leavening agent has been added (or which has come into contact with water and been left standing for 18 minutes or longer, allowing the dough to begin to ferment and rise). Although Ashkenazic Jews also refrain from eating rice, beans, and other legumes (kitniyot) that have properties similar to leavened grains, Sephardim
have the custom of continuing to eat these foods, which are staples of the Mediterranean diet.
Every bit of the frenzy associated with ridding our homes, cars, and pockets as thoroughly as we can of chametz is in response to the Torah’s command that we not: eat it, derive benefit from it, or even own it. Not even a crumb.
In spiritual terms, we are invited to do a fearless search of our own egos, to examine the places where our own “puffed-up-ness” gets in the way of being our authentic selves. If chametz is the symbol of arrogance, then matzah is the symbol of humility. Through this simple food, we are given an opportunity to come down to earth and focus on our spiritual natures.
One interesting custom with which many American Jews are unfamiliar is the practice of refraining from consuming any foods prepared with matzah (even further, mixing matzah or matzah meal with any liquids) for the first seven days of Passover. The custom not to eat gebroks, as these foods --- which include matzah balls, cakes made with matzah meal flour, and foods prepared with whole matzahs such as matzah lasagna --- are called, helps one to avoid the possibility of eating even the tiniest amount of leavened dough. For those who abide by this custom, whenever matzah is eaten, it is eaten alone. However, even those who customarily avoid eating gebroks throughout Passover do enjoy eating such foods on the eighth day. It is seen as a way to unite with all Jews, including those who eat gebroks throughout the holiday, and to show that they do not consider their custom a lack of observance.
Enjoying matzah only at a seder or as a treat on its own is a great way to keep the carbs at bay and to take the opportunity to lighten our holiday menus with lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, and salads.
I have found that the “between” days following the seders and the end of the holiday (chol hamoed) are a fun time to challenge my creativity and experiment with new dishes and ingredients. Some years ago, I came upon a fun cookbook aptly named
Matza 101 --- literally 101 recipes all made with matzah! Imagine taco shells and tortilla chips made from matzah; quiche with matzah pie crusts; and baklava using matzah instead of phyllo dough. This one book answered the question of “what to make for supper” on so many breadless Passover nights.
In my home growing up, Passover was a time I looked forward to all year. I love all of the marvelous foods that were served just at this holiday - my mother’s wonderful Passover sponge cake (made with matzah meal flour and a dozen eggs!) served with fresh strawberries and whipped cream; crispy matzah brie with maple syrup for breakfast the first morning after the seder, and other mornings too; matzah meal pancakes with my Aunt Dorothy’s fruit compote or jam; and fluffy matzah kugels.
But for me, there is nothing like that first taste of matzah all by itself, helping me imagine, if only for this short time, that I once was enslaved, and now I am free.
Until we eat again...
Passover Table: New and Traditional Recipes for Your Seders and the
Entire Passover Week,
makes about 3 dozen 2-inch pancakes and serves 4-6 people.
- 1/2 cup matzah meal
- 3/4 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3 eggs, separated
- 1/2 cup cold water or apple juice
- 1 tart apple, peeled, cored, and grated or finely chopped
- Dash of cinnamon, if desired
- Butter or vegetable oil for frying
- Combine the matzah meal, salt, and sugar.
- Beat the egg yolks lightly, add the water or orange juice, and combine with the matzah meal mixture. Fold in the grated or chopped apple.
- Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into the matzah meal batter.
- Heat a film of butter or oil (or a combination, as adding a small amount of oil to the butter can prevent the butter from burning) in a large, heavy skillet. Add the batter in tablespoonfuls. Fry for 3 or 4 minutes, turn the pancakes, and fry for another 2 or 3 minutes. The pancakes should be golden on both sides. Don’t crowd the pan - a 10-inch skillet will hold 6 or 7 pancakes comfortably. Adjust the heat so neither the pancakes nor the fat burns, and add more butter or oil as necessary. Drain for a moment on paper towels, and serve immediately with jam, honey, maple syrup, or sour cream.
Aunt Dorothy’s Dried Fruit Compote
This compote provides a colorful, flavorful accompaniment to
poultry and brisket or serves as a light, refreshing addition to
dessert. My Great Aunt Dorothy makes this for the Seder every year
and brings along extra jars to share with family. Fruit compote also
makes a wonderful breakfast with a dollop of yogurt.
This recipe appears in
by Susan Friedland.
Refrigerated, it will keep for over a month.
- 4 pounds mixed dried fruit (prunes, apricots, apples, pears, cherries, and figs)
- 1 1/2 cups orange juice (fresh squeezed, if possible)
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- One 5-inch cinnamon stick
- Peel of 1 lemon, removed in 1 or more large pieces
- To remove the sulfites used as a preservative in packaged fruit, pour boiling water over the fruit and let stand for at least 1 hour. Drain thoroughly.
- Put the fruit in a saucepan with all the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer gently for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the fruit is tender.
- Let the fruit cool in the saucepan. Taste to determine if more sugar, lemon, or orange juice is needed. Store the fruit in any syrup that remains (the fruit will absorb most of the liquid) covered in the refrigerator. Remove the cinnamon stick.
Twelve-Egg Passover Sponge Cake
This beautiful cake is terrific served with sliced strawberries and whipped cream.
- 12 large eggs, separated
- 2 cups sugar
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- Grated rind of one lemon
- 2 tablespoons potato starch
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Blend egg yolks, sugar, orange juice, and lemon rind.
- Add cake meal and potato starch.
- Beat egg whites until stiff and fluffy, fold gently into the batter.
- Grease a very large spring form pan and line with baking parchment.
- Turn batter into pan and bake for 1 hour. The cake is done when the edges are crisp and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry. Turn out on a rack to cool, then remove paper.
Our Family’s Favorite Homemade Chocolate Chunk Macaroons
Chocolate chunks are available in the baking section of most supermarkets, but of course, chocolate chips or cut-up semisweet or bittersweet chocolate bars can be used as well. I make three batches at once - one with the chocolate chunks and both of the variations below. These always get oohs and aahs. You will never want to go back to store-bought macaroons!
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 1/2 cups unsweetened shred coconut
- 2 large egg whites
- 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chunks (about 4 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine sugar, coconut, egg whites, chocolate chunks, vanilla, and salt. Use your hands to mix well, completely combining ingredients. Dampen your hands with cold water.
- Form about a tablespoon of the mixture into a loose haystack shape, pressing down with your fingers, and place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining mixture, placing macaroons about an inch apart. Bake until golden brown at the tops, about 15-20 minutes.
- Remove baking sheet from oven. Macaroons can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days; leave in a warm place for 1 hour before serving to allow chocolate to soften.
Variations: For plain macaroons, leave out the chocolate chips or chunks. For chocolate macaroons add 1/4 cup cocoa and 1 extra egg white.
Previously on the Kosher Table
Did you enjoy this article?
- share it with your friends
so they do not miss out on this article,
(free), so you do not miss out on the next issue,
(not quite free but greatly appreciated) to enable us to continue
providing this free service.