Passover, a holiday about new starts and freedom, coincides appropriately with spring. A serious time but a joyous one, too, the celebration is as much about food and family as it is about history and remembrance. More than any other Jewish holiday, Passover is a "table holiday."
Passover commemorates the Jewish people who, led by Moses, fled bondage in Egypt and subsequently wandered in the desert seeking entry into the Promised Land. The celebration lasts eight days and starts with two symbolic seder meals served on the first and second nights. During these, the host narrates the Passover story, and the meal unfolds in an order traditional to the holiday. Specific foods–including bitter herbs that represent the bitterness of slavery, and a roasted egg that represents mourning at the Second Temple and the circle of life–symbolize aspects of the plight of the Israelites.
Leavened baked goods of any kind–cakes, cookies, as well as any items made with regular flour–are not permitted during this time. And there are other limitations on ingredients, too, that can stymie even the most capable cook. Because of these restrictions, Passover meals tend to focus on chicken, turkey, or beef brisket, and friendly squabbles about hard and soft matzo balls. But savory sides and small desserts can round out the menu and more fully evoke the holiday.
This recipe collection offers both sweets and savories that appeal to everyone at any time–dishes you would choose to prepare regardless–with the added benefit that they work for a Passover menu. They cover a spectrum of light and colorful spring flavors, and they use familiar pantry ingredients that are kosher for Passover. These dishes are simple to prepare–no high-rising sponge cake or complicated tortes among them. They'll complete a classic Passover meal in fine form.
As an added bonus, all are easy to make ahead and refrigerate or freeze. Use disposable foil bakeware for cooking and storage. Transfer the food to Passover serving platters to serve. And celebrate.
Food symbols reflect the Passover story and observance. Although customs vary among different cultures, there are some basics.
The Passover story mentions matzo, the symbolic cracker, described at the seder table as the "bread of affliction." As the story goes, when Moses led the Jews from Egypt to the promised land, they left so quickly their bread had no time to rise. Matzo is a thin, brittle, unleavened bread that replaces other breads during the holidays, and matzo crackers are ground into meal to replace wheat flour in holiday cooking and baking.
Beyond leavened baked goods, other ingredients not permitted include fermented items, particularly those mixing flour, water, and yeast; the ban also includes other leavening, such as baking soda and baking powder. Eggs and whipped egg whites are acceptable and the primary leavenings at Passover–hence the popularity of sponge cakes.
In addition to flour, other grains (and their byproducts) and seeds are avoided. For example, mustard is off-limits because it is made from a seed. Because grains such as corn are not permitted, potato starch is substituted for cornstarch.
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