Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ah, Passover

And thus shall ye eat it: with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste--it is the LORD'S Passover. -Exodus 12:11

Passover, aka Pesach, aka Peisack, aka the Festival of Freedom, aka the Festival of Matzah, aka (according to some of my kids) the Festival of OMG Whatarewegoingtoeatthere’snothingtoeatinthishouseIhatePesach! is this week.

During the year, Judaism has, to put it mildly, a complex set of dietary laws. No meat and milk can be eaten together; certain meats and fish are verboten; no taste or smell allowed…. (just kidding – kosher food is very often more delicious than I can describe, just not in my house. That fact has nothing to do with the complex set of dietary laws. But I digress).

The Pesach laws are a tad more complex, because Jews, for the seven days of Pesach (eight outside the Land of Israel hahahahahahaha Old Country) are not allowed to eat anything ‘leavened’ or, in the vernacular, chametz. This is all very complicated so, suffice to say, we can’t eat anything made with any sort of flour, except matzah. (Flour, per se, is not chametz, but because it becomes chametz when wet, we don’t eat it, except, as I said, in Matzah.) Instead, we make flour out of crushed up matzah. Yummy.

Plus – and this is a whole other story – Ashkenazi Jews are not allowed to eat legumes (known as kitniyot) during the holiday. This includes, but is not limited to: corn, peas, beans, humous, sesame, mustard, or anything with nutrients or flavour.

We are also not allowed to eat anything from a packet or container that had been opened during the year, even if there is no chametz in it. Therefore, we are required to purchase, for the holiday, new packages of salt, coffee, tea, paprika, soup mix, mayonnaise, oil, ketchup, sugar, chocolate chips, etc. etc.

In addition, we can’t use utensils that might once have come in contact with chametz. Therefore, we clean out the house, making sure to get rid of the chametz, and switch our dishes to Pesach dishes. This includes everything: plates, cups, glasses, pots, pans, baking pans, salt and pepper shakers, sugar bowl, mixing bowls, food processor, mixer, juicer, spatulas, tongs, wooden spoons, whisk, meat grinder, grater, shears, can opener, cork screw (very important), measuring cups and spoons, salad spinner, colander (not really essential as you’re not eating pasta - aka chametz), pizza cutter (ditto – but hold on), ice cube trays, hotdog dicer, electric griddle, funnel, mandoline, (not the ukulele type thing), pastry bag, roasters, wok, poached egg holders, milk container, smoothy maker, coffee grinder, and cutting boards.

The only think you don’t need is a bread knife.

This all translates into what is known in my house as “why don’t we just buy a small island instead”, aka, “which kid are we going to sell this year to pay for all this.”

There is a great deal of cooking done for the holiday. Though, over the years, more and more pre-made kosher for Passover food is available in the supermarkets, it is about 2000 times more expensive than the same sort of food that is not kosher for Passover, and 5000 times more expensive than what I can make out of raw ingredients. Also, the pre-packaged cakes and cookies tend to taste of what they are made – dust.

And so I cook, and bake, and stew, and braise, and stir, and fry, and boil, broil, and roast. I chop, and dice, and slice, and whisk, and sift, and mix, and mince.

And still there doesn’t seem to be anything to eat.

There are a lot of people in my house. Some live here, some don’t. Some come to visit or play, some come for no reason. Some come just to eat. Whatever the reason, there is a great deal of consumption going on around me during the holiday.

Therefore, in an effort to cut back on expenses (and enable me to keep a kid or two – hey I gotta have somebody around to wash the floor), I have come up with some inexpensive Passover recipes and dishes.

While my friends and neighbors are dining on salmon and veal and brisket and broiled broccoli and asparagus tips with wine, I am feeding my family matzaroni and cheese. Another staple is matzagna. The kids like quiche m’ziyon (aka quiche mir tuchus, but only when we don’t have company). We’ve had matzarekas, tuna matzarole, and grilled cheese matzwhiches. I’ve not yet tried matpizza, but only because I don’t have a Pesach pizza cutter.

The high point of our whole week, however, is hotdog night.

I know, hotdogs are really really really bad for you. They are made out of feathers and toe nails. But my kids like hotdogs. And, well, they’re cheap. And low maintenance, i.e., it’s not hard to make hotdogs; no chopping, slicing, stirring, or braising involved. Just pop them in a pot of water, and voila, it’s done. You don’t even really need that hotdog dicer.

Many years ago, it was simply a way to make an easy supper amidst all the holiday chopping and dicing and roasting. I’d cut up a few potatoes, toss ‘em in oil, chuck ‘em in the oven, and make chips too. Some years, I’d go all out and also open a can of pickles. All very easy peasy.

One day, however, someone (and it might have been me) discovered fried hotdogs. Fried hotdogs, it turns out, are related to boiled hotdogs in the same manner as fresh figs are related to dried figs, i.e., not at all. Fried hotdogs, dripping with oil, hot and gooey, even MORE unhealthy than boiled ones, are simply delicious, toenails and feathers notwithstanding.

Over the years, hotdog night has become a gala event. I don’t know why. People phone me up and ask me when’s hotdog night, so they can plan their week. People come in from abroad for the event. Perhaps these people are sick of their quail eggs and veal liver with braised tomatoes. Perhaps it is the sight of adults sitting around eating fried hotdogs, dripping with oil, flowing with ketchup (mustard being kitniyot and therefore off limits – see above),  clamped – along with slices of tomatoes, some fried onions, a leaf of lettuce, and a couple of pickles – between two pieces of disintegrating matzah and awash in crumbs. It’s quite a scene – on the one hand totally gross, on the other, impossible to look away.

I still make chips in the oven.

Wishing all of Am Yisrael a happy holiday, filled, not just with crumbs, but also with joy and love and chocolate (chocolate matzawitches being awesome).

Chag Samaech!



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