With the current emphasis on diversity, Passover has raised some questions, foodwise – especially this year, when the eight-day holiday begins at sundown on Good Friday, April 19. The Last Supper, presided over by Jesus, an observant Jew, is thought to have been a Seder, the Passover meal filled with food symbolizing events leading up to the Exodus from Egypt, circa 1500 B.C.
Primary among them is matzo – a 7-by-7 inch cracker made from water and flour, nothing else. At least nothing else, until Manischewitz and other kosher food sources added salt, eggs, spices and flavorings. The latest: “everything” matzo, similar in taste to an everything bagel. Other options: whole wheat, organic, egg, onion, Mediterranean, chocolate-covered, gluten-free.
Nothing could be further from the unleavened bread that had been set out to rise when, led by Moses, the Israelites fled Egypt. According to tradition, moving the dough prevented the leavening process, leaving the bread flat. Thus, matzo became the primary Passover symbol.
But even deflated bread resembles matzo not at all. Albeit an acquired taste, matzo, called “the bread of affliction,” spread with soft butter has an unforgettable taste and texture.
Some Jewish cooks prefer to keep matzo a symbol rather than an ingredient. But as the week wears on, those with a little wiggle room – and hungry children missing sandwiches – might try:
Matzo-rella lasagna: Matzos fit perfectly into an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan. Layer matzos (egg matzos work best), spinach leaves (remove stems) and cheese slices with tomato or a bold pasta sauce, beginning with sauce and ending with cheese. Be generous with the sauce. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes. If lasagna seems dry, pour on a little tomato or V-8 juice while baking. Let rest 5 minutes. Cut into squares.
Matzomelet for two: Wrap one plain or flavored matzo in a clean kitchen towel and pound with a mallet or can into tiny pieces. Transfer to a bowl; mix in 4 eggs, salt and a splash of milk. Chop two green onions, some colorful bell peppers. Sauté veggies briefly in butter until soft but not brown, add to egg mix. Melt more butter in an 8-inch skillet. Pour in egg mixture, partially cover and cook on low heat until just set. Sprinkle with grated cheese (Swiss or pepper jack nice), turn off heat, cover until cheese melts. Slide onto warm plates.
Spreading the news: Such an historic cracker demands special spreads: A thick layer of hummus topped by a thin layer of salsa. Veggie cream cheese: chop celery, carrot, green onion, parsley, green pepper fine in processor. Mash into cream cheese blocks. Peanut or almond butter and red pepper jelly. Tuna-egg pate: Chop inner celery leaves, parsley, a slice of sweet onion, spoonful of canned pimentos in processor. Add three hard-boiled eggs and a well-drained can of sold white tuna. Process to a paste. Add two tablespoons mayonnaise and pulse to mix. Season with salt and pepper. For Middle Eastern authenticity, spread matzo with plain goat cheese, then a layer of fig preserves.
Matzo pizza: Almost as ancient as Moses – top matzo with chunky pasta sauce and whatever toppings are on hand. Bake at 350 degrees till very hot. Add shredded cheese, allow to melt.
Chicken-on-a-shingle: Boil boneless, skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs until very tender. Cool, remove visible fat, shred meat with hands. Moisten with any flavor barbecue sauce, spread in pan, bake in hot oven until bubbly and starting to brown. Break matzo into quarters, pile on shredded chicken.
Since Passover celebrates freedom from slavery, it can rightly be observed by anyone, especially those who recognize other Old Testament events/stories like the Ten Commandments, David and Goliath, the Psalms. Christian denominations sometimes host model Seders – not the full meal, but the edible symbols of bitter herbs, salt water (tears), matzo, haroseth (a condiment resembling the mortar slaves used to construct Egyptian monuments), an animal shank bone representing the yoke of slavery. Also an egg, the universal symbol of renewal.
Therefore, you don’t have to be Jewish to buy a box of matzo, top with something creative, tell the story and celebrate freedom – and spring.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.