The Passover meal is one of both symbolism and ritual. The Passover Plate contains foods that symbolize the Israelites' exodus from Egypt. Each of the four cups of wine consumed during the meal represents a time God promised to deliver the Israelites into freedom. The unleavened matzoh (sometimes spelled matzah) signifies the unleavened bread the Israelites were commanded to eat along with the paschal lamb on the first Passover. In keeping with tradition, the first taste of matzoh for the season takes place at the Seder. According to Judaism 101, the matzoh commemorates that the Jews were in a hurry to leave Egypt and did not have time to wait for their bread to rise.
Traditionally, Passover meals consisted of gefilte fish, chicken soup with matzoh balls, roast chicken, and potato kugel, according to Linda Amster, editor of “The New York Times Passover Cookbook.”
Modern-day Seder dinners are more eclectic with turkey, chicken (and stuffing made from matzoh), brisket, sweet potato casserole, and other vegetables served for a first course.
Amster writes that the only foods that are hametz – universally forbidden by biblical law at Passover – are fermented or leavened wheat, rye, oats, spelt and barley and their related products. However, other foods may or may not be excluded by the various Jewish communities.
And then there are the desserts. Simple desserts like chocolate-covered matzoh, macaroons, fruit, and nuts are popular, as are more elaborate Passover brownies and Passover cakes made with matzoh meal or potato starch instead of wheat.
“There are many more good desserts these days then when I was a kid!” commented Marilyn Rabinowitz, a college professor and active member of Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth in Highland Park.
It’s not too late to bake for this year’s Passover, which begins this evening at sunset. Here’s a cake recipe from Amster's book. She notes that the famous New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne pronounced this cake “exceptional.” And it is!
Cynthia Zeger’s Chocolate Cake (pareve)
Oil or pareve unsalted margarine for greasing pan
10 eggs, separated and at room temperature or slightly warmer
1 cup less 2 tablespoons sugar
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted slowly over a double boiler and cooled
2 cups finely chopped (not ground) walnuts
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 10-inch spring form pan.
2. In a bowl, beat the egg yokes and sugar until very thick and lemon colored. Stir in the chocolate. Fold in the nuts.
3. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into the chocolate nut mixture. Turn into the pan and bake 1 hour, or until the center springs back when lightly touched with the fingertips. Cool cake in the pan.
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