Did you know that not every community uses a Seder plate?
The Libyans instead place large portions of each symbolic food
into a large basket-like tray with handles called a Sabadj.
Did you know that in Ethiopia it is the custom every Passover
to break all the old ceramic dishes from the previous year and
replace them with brand new ones for the upcoming Seder?
These dishes (including bowls, cups, and even pots) are then
used for the rest of the year until the next Passover begins.
Out with the old and in with the new!
After my last post (January 6, 2014) I decided that my first draft of Minestra Dayenu had in fact not been enough, and that I needed to attempt it one more time. After finding only a few very vague descriptions in books and getting a little bit more information from individuals through text and email, I decided to tackle Minestra Dayenu once again. This time around I tried to keep closer to the true basic descriptions that I had read by leaving out the chicken dumplings. The result was a nice creamy soup that reminded me of a Greek Avgolemono, but without the lemon juice. The trick (I found) was in doing two things: tempering my egg yolks in some warm water before adding it to the hot broth, and adding my matzah strips to cook in the broth only one minute before serving. These two crucial steps helped me to prevent the eggs from cooking into a stringy mass (like egg drop soup) and to soften the matzah just enough so that they didn’t disintegrate. The result was a creamy, simple, and comforting soup that can be served either as a starter for the Passover meal, during the week of the holiday for lunch, or even as a final dish on the last night of Passover to use up extra matzah pieces. Either way, it’s a treat!
Minestra Dayenu (Chicken and Egg Soup with Cinnamon and Matzah Noodles)
(Yield: Serves 8 / Makes about 16 cups)
Preparation Time: 30 Minutes
15 cups plain chicken broth
Fine sea salt
(amount will vary according to how salty broth is)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
8 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 cup warm water
4 square matzah (regular, not egg, not thin),
broken into strips about 6 inches long and 1 inch wide
Extra ground cinnamon
1. Pour broth into a large soup pot and bring to a boil, uncovered, over high heat.
2. Lower to a medium heat and add the salt (as needed), cinnamon, and nutmeg. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Turn off heat but leave on top of burner.
3. Combine the egg yolks with ¼ cup warm (not cold) water in a small bowl. Very slowly pour the egg mixture into the broth while whisking quickly at the same time to prevent the eggs from turning stringy like egg drop soup (mixture should look fine as if you had added flour).
4. (Note: If you are not serving immediately then wait to do this step until just before otherwise matzah will become too mushy when ready to eat.) Bring soup to a second boil over high heat. Reduce to a medium heat and add the matzah strips. Mix once and slow boil just until the strips become soft like pasta (less than 1 minute). Remove from heat and serve immediately in separate bowls sprinkled with a little bit of ground cinnamon.
This past November I bought a roundtrip ticket to Roosevelt Island to meet with Jale, a true Sefardi from Istanbul, and her daughter Olya. I had already interviewed Jale over the phone that past spring, and on this day we were planning to make a few of her special Passover dishes: Enginara (lemony steamed whole artichokes), and Almodrote (shredded zucchini pie with sheep’s milk cheese and creamy yogurt). I hadn’t been to Roosevelt Island since I was a kid in the 1970s, and I was excited about taking a mini trip away from the city. Boarding the tram felt exotic, and I half expected to be asked for my Manhattan passport. As we flew over the East River and approached land, I imagined that I was on a plane crossing the Black Sea, getting ready to debark on an island near Istanbul.
As soon as I arrived, Jale’s daughter Olya welcomed me in and took my coat. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted already shredded zucchini draining in a strainer over a plate, and I smelled something baking in the oven. “Uh oh,” I thought, “I hope that she hasn’t started cooking without me!” (This is a common anxiety I often have when going to someone’s home to learn a recipe.) When Jale came up the stairs and greeted me, she assured me that she had only started some of the simpler things to save time, and there was still plenty of work to be done. “Please sit down for a cup of Turkish coffee and a boureka,” she beckoned. Feeling a bit worn from my travels (after all, I had taken a bus, subway, and tram to get there), I accepted Jale’s hospitality and sat down at the table. The boureka was flakey and buttery, and the coffee was strong, which is just what was needed to prepare for the big cooking day ahead.
The first dish that we prepared was the steamed whole artichokes with lemon. I must admit that when Jale first suggested that we make this dish together, I didn’t think that it would be something complex enough to learn, but I was very wrong. Without her demonstrating, I never would have understood the proper way to pick a good artichoke (for size and color), how to clean the outside stem, how to cut the top and pluck the leaves, how to scoop out the center to get to the cherished heart, and most of all, how to prevent the outsides from oxidizing and turning black before cooking. We finally got them into a saucepan to steam with freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt, and a bit of sugar to round out the flavor. The results of this “simple” dish were heavenly. The tart flavor of the sauce made by the combination of fresh lemon juice, salt, oil, and a sprinkle of sugar made my Sephardic palate dance with glee. “I’ve traveled to Sefarad,“ I thought.
Enginara (Steamed Whole Artichoke Hearts with Lotsa Lemon)
(Yield: Serves 6 to 8)
For Cleaning Artichokes:
12 medium whole artichokes
(if possible, try not to get them too big)
5 large or 6 small lemons
Large basin, pot, or bowl filled with cold water
For Cooking Artichokes:
1/4 cup pure olive oil (not virgin or extra virgin)
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
(from above lemons)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Couple teaspoons sugar (to taste)
2 to 3 cups cold water
Clean the Artichokes:
1. Cut the lemons in half and squeeze out enough juice to equal 1 cup. Set juice aside and throw the lemon rind shells into a very large bowl or pot filled with cold water. (If you have a lemon half leftover give a few quick squeezes of lemon juice into the water as well.)
2. Being careful not to break off the stem, remove and discard all the darkest, thickest leaves from the artichoke by first snapping them back then ripping them off at the bend. (Stop when you get to the softer leaves that are lighter green in color.)
3. Take a sharp knife and about 1 1/2 to 2 inches up from the base of the artichoke, cut straight across the top so that it resembles a flower with a flat top.
4. Using a teaspoon, scoop out the choke or entire center of the artichoke in order to clean out all of the thin hairs and pointy white leaves (the “flower” should now be like an empty cup inside, with the heart at the bottom).
5. Using a small sharp knife or peeler, clean off the very outermost layer of the stem all around making sure not to make the stem so thin that it bends or breaks off.
6. Take a lemon half from the bowl of water and rub the inside of the shell all over the artichoke to lighten or brighten it. Drop the artichoke in the lemony bath while continuing to work on the remaining artichokes in this same manner.
Cook the Artichokes:
7. Bring oil, lemon juice, salt, and sugar to a boil over high heat in a saucepan large enough to fit all
12 artichokes snugly side by side.
8. Place each artichoke stem-side up into the liquid, then fill with enough cold (about 2to 3 cups) of water to reach halfway up the artichoke base (you should not go as high up as the beginning of the stem). Bring to a second boil over high heat, reduce to medium heat, cover, and cook until arthichokes become very tender and sauce has cooked down to about half, about 30 minutes. Remove cover and cook an additional 15 minutes to cook off more of the excess liquid.
9. Taste sauce and adjust the balance with salt and/or sugar, if necessary. Remove from heat and serve hot, warm, or cold.
When I first read about this traditional Italian Passover soup it was really the name that captured my attention. (What a great name!) It conveyed that it was both a filling Italian soup, as well as one sufficient for Passover. So as usual, I began looking into the meaning of the words themselves. Minestra (a general term for hearty vegetable soups cooked with dried pasta) is rooted in the Italian/Latin word minestrare, meaning “to administer,” or “to serve.” It was originally a one-pot dish (most likely first prepared by the poor) that cooked leftover vegetables, potatoes, beans, and pasta or rice in a broth and was served at the table as the main or only course for the meal (the popular minestrone known in the USA is a type of minestra). The word dayenu in Hebrew literally means, “enough for us,” a phrase we are all familiar with either chanting or singing at the end of our Seder meal as a way of showing our endless gratitude to God for having saved us from eternal slavery (“If he had brought us out of Egypt, and had not carried out judgements against them — Dayenu, that would have been enough… If he had fed us the manna and had not given us Shabbat — Dayenu, that would have been enough.”)
In Claudia Roden’s, “The Book of Jewish Food,” (Knopf, 2007) Ms. Roden describes her recipe as having been personally mailed to her from a woman in Turin, Italy. In doing a search online I came across a few others that mentioned this specific soup as well. It seems that this particular minestra captures the spirit of the traditional Roman or Italian soup in that it utilizes a broth (chicken) as the base to cook down leftover pieces of matzah to create a thick pasta-like soup. The addition of cinnamon as well as beaten egg yolks reflects the Sephardic/Eastern touch, however, and turns it into a perfect Passover-friendly dish. While preparing this soup I quickly texted an Italian friend of mine in New York to ask her the following: “Is Minestra Dayenu something that you and your family prepared for Passover in Italy, and if so, is it simply chicken broth, egg yolks, cinnamon, and matzah pieces?” She instantly replied, “Yes, we did do this but you cannot make it using the Israeli or American style matzah because they are too thin and completely fall apart — it’s like using lentils instead of rice to make risotto! Every Passover my mother sends me the French kind to use because they hold together more like pasta. You have to use the French kind or it’s not worth it.”
In the end I prepared my own version of Minestra Dayenu utilizing defrosted homemade turkey broth (yes, from the holiday that keeps giving!). Once the broth had started to boil, I added salt, black pepper, and just enough ground cinnamon to taste it. I threw in a few broken up squares of good ‘Ol American-Israeli matzah (will have to wait until my next trip to France for the better kind) and let the soup slow boil for 15 minutes. Then I beat up a few egg yolks and quickly mixed them (for all you New York City Jews out there, yes, it looked like Chinese egg drop soup, but not as thick, and reminded me of the Bukharian egg soup recipe that I had learned this past October). And there it was, simple, and filling all at the same time. That should have been enough.
But something was missing, and I found myself wanting to add a bit more substance to make it a complete meal. Inspired by another Italian Passover soup recipe called, Minestra di Riso, I ended up making small one-inch meatballs with ground chicken (okay, turkey, but it should be chicken), eggs, matzah cake flour, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and parsley and cooking them into the soup for 25 minutes. These chicken dumplings looked nice in the soup and reminded me of tiny matzah balls. If you decide to prepare this dish as a main course, then perhaps adding the meatballs would be more satisfying. But I should mention that the more traditional Minestra Dayenu soup does not have these chicken dumplings, and that as a starter to the greater Passover dinner it would be more than enough without them. Dayenu.
For those of you out there who are familiar with this particular Passover soup,
can you tell me how you prepare it?
Is the egg that is mixed in like egg drop soup, or much smoother?
How strong is the cinnamon flavor?
Do you add chicken dumplings?
The last time that Thanksgiving and Chanukah collided it was about 125 years ago, and next week Jews from all over the United States will have a chance to celebrate what has been officially coined “ThanksgivUkkah.“ My friends Lori and Joshua Plaut have written extensively on their blog, “A Kosher Christmas” about this phenomenon, and have even become experts on the topic. Perhaps you are all thinking: “Chanukah on Thanksgiving? I’ve heard of Chanukah being early, but this is ridiculous!” This got me to thinking. What if in another century or more Passover somehow “passed over” Thanksgiving AND Chanukah? How would we cope with this holy trinity, and more importantly, what would we serve? Well I have found the perfect recipe that embodies a little bit from each holiday:
A sweet & spicy sweet potato latke with cumin, curry, and cayenne, that is served with cranberry sauce and/or apple butter! Yes! Here is how it works for all you skeptics out there:
• Fried pancake (oil and therefore fried foods, symbolic of Chanukah)
• Sweet potatoes (traditional food for Thanksgiving)
• Cranberry sauce or relish (traditional food for Thanksgiving, while sweet-and-sour flavor also
represents bitterness of slavery with sweetness of freedom in Passover)
• Apple sauce or apple butter (resembles sweetness/mortar of Charoset for Passover)
• Cayenne, curry, and cumin (the spiciness or bitterness of slavery in Passover)
SWEET POTATO CUMIN-CURRY-CAYENNE LATKES WITH CRANBERRY RELISH
(Yield: Serves 8 to 10 / Makes About 3 ½ Dozen Three-inch Latkes)
1½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated
½ cup all-purpose flour or matzah cake flour
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
Dash cayenne pepper
2½ teaspoons curry powder
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup water
½ to ¾ cup canola, coconut, or grape seed oil (for frying)
Cranberry sauce or relish
Apple sauce or apple butter
Greek yogurt, Middle Eastern labne, or all-American sour cream (optional)
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour (or matzah cake flour), sugar, baking powder, cayenne pepper, curry powder, cumin, salt and black pepper.
2. Add three eggs and water to the dry ingredients to make a stiff batter. Add the potatoes and mix
(the batter should be moist but not runny; if too stiff, add a little more water and an extra egg.)
3. Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet for about 1 to 2 minutes. Drop 1 tablespoon of the batter into the hot skillet (if the mixture does not sizzle immediately then allow the oil to get a little hotter before adding more). Continue in this manner so that you are frying 4 to 6 latkes at a time (depending upon the size of your skillet). Continue to cook over medium-high heat for several minutes until all of the latkes are a dark brown on each side. Place fried latke onto a plate covered with a paper towel to absorb excess oil.
4. Serve hot sprinkled with a dash of cinnamon and your choice(s) of topping on the side.
Lately I’ve been interviewing individuals from the Levantine countries of Syria and Lebanon. An interesting custom that has been described to me (with slight variations) is the one where a young, single woman of marrying age would pick up the Seder tray at the very start of the Seder and leave with it to another room. During her absence those sitting at the table would sing a song or two, then call her back in when finished. Upon returning to the room with the tray, the young woman might be asked, “What is it that you have there?” (Indicating the tray), or she herself may ask them, “What is going on here?” (Indicating that they have gathered around the table and that something is about to happen.) Immediately after this brief inquiry, the leader would then begin with the first lines from the Haggadah, and with that the Seder (and Passover holiday) has officially begun. I find this custom interesting on many levels. For one it shows the importance of marriage in the community, and how it then takes the opportunity during the Seder to indicate “who is next in line.” It also elevates the act of carrying and presenting the Seder tray/plate to one of honor. Secondly, it highlights the importance of hospitality in the Middle Eastern culture, especially with regards to a woman serving a guest in her home. And thirdly, it connects the Seder, which symbolizes freedom (and therefore, the future of the Jewish people), renewal (spring season, cycle of life, fertility), with the woman’s future to getting married, raising a family, and therefore, continuing the lifeline of the Jewish community as a whole. When I first learned about this ritual my first reaction (as an American, Westerner, and New Yorker) was one of discomfort. I wondered how these young women felt to have the spotlight put on them, which basically said, “Hey, you’re single — it’s time to find a husband!” But when I asked many of these women individually how they had felt it about it, many of them instead said that they were happy to do it, and that when it was their turn, they in fact felt proud.