How is it already PASSOVER?
For those who do not already know, Passover is a major Jewish holiday celebrating the exodus from Egypt. The first two nights of Passover feature special dinners called Seders, which include the telling of the story of the Passover, and certain specific foods. There are also a number of rules about the food you can eat-~-most notably, you cannot eat anything including flour except for matzot, the flat cracker-like bread associated with the holiday.
All of that is to say that I have a big(-ish) dinner to prepare Saturday, and this is what is on the menu:
Matzo ball soup
Maya’s Sweet and Sour Holiday Brisket from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
So, shall we?
In my family, the first course of Passover dinner is always half a grapefruit. Anyone who has ever sat through a Seder knows that this is SEVERELY disappointing because Seder takes forever (since you have to retell the story of the Exodus and go through all these rituals, etc.) and by the time you’re finally done with the pageantry you are starving and the last thing you want is for my mom to hand you half a grapefruit.
The SECOND course of Passover dinner is always matzo ball soup, which if you have ever had it you know is like love and sunshine in a bowl. I cheat and use boxed matzo ball mix (always Manishewitz, never Streits), but I do make my own broth. I started doing it this way to make vegetarian-friendly matzo ball soup, so here it goes:
VEGETARIAN MATZO BALL SOUP (Serves 8-10)
8 cups vegetable broth
2 T garlic and herb seasoning blend*
3/4 tsp black pepper
2 carrots, sliced into rounds or half moons
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 packet of matzo ball mix
1 T vegetable oil
*I use the Simply Balanced organic garlic and herb seasoning blend, which I got from Target. If you can’t find this, look for any seasoning blend at the store which includes garlic, mustard, and lemon peel. If you can’t find THAT, use a combination of minced garlic, lemon pepper, minced onion, and a little oregano.
Combine the eggs, oil, and matzo ball mix until it forms a lumpy mess. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Bring the vegetable broth to a boil. Stir in your seasoning, adjusting to taste.
Shape the matzo ball mixture into matzo balls, approximately 1 inch in diameter
Drop the matzo balls into the boiling broth. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer until thoroughly cooked, about 20 minutes.
Ok, awesome, you’ve made it through soup, and now we’re on to the main event! This year I’ll be serving potato pancakes (which are being prepared by a friend of mine), brisket, and “grilled” asparagus.
To make the asparagus, either heat a grill OR use a cast iron grill pan (which is what I will be using because I do not have a grill). Drizzle the asparagus with olive oil and sprinkle with garlic salt and black pepper. Cook the asparagus until it is bright green and tender, about 3-4 minutes on each side.
Maya’s Sweet and Sour Brisket from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Serves 10-12)
This recipe is out of Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, but it’s not her only brisket recipe. A few years ago, she also posted this Passover brisket recipe, which also looks fantastic and can ALSO be made in a slow cooker (using the slow cooker was my goal in choosing a brisket recipe). Chew Out Loud’s tender braised beef brisket also looks promising, if you are shopping around for recipes, but I’ll be sticking with the Smitten Kitchen Sweet and Sour Brisket this year, so here it is:
• 4-to-5-pound (1¾ to 2¼ kg) piece beef brisket
• 1½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for initial seasoning of meat
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 1 cup (235ml) beef stock
• 3 tablespoons (50 grams) tomato paste
• 1/4 cup (50 grams) brown sugar, light or dark
• 4 teaspoons paprika
• 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
• 1/8 teaspoon red chili flakes
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 2 tablespoons (15 grams) onion powder
1. Season the meat generously on both sides with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
2. Whisk all of the remaining ingredients together in a medium bowl.
3. If cooking in the oven: preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place the meat in a baking dish or Dutch oven, and pour the sauce over it. Cover tightly with foil or a tight-fitting lid. Bake for 3 hours, or until it is soft enough to pull apart with a fork.
If cooking in a slow cooker: place the meat in the slow cooker, cover with sauce, and cook on low for 10 hours.
4. When the brisket is cooked but still hot, use a spoon to scrape off any large fat deposits around the edges of the meat.
5. To serve: carefully remove the meat from its sauce, and place on a large cutting board. Cut the brisket into 1/4- to 1/2- inch slices and carefully place the sliced meat back into the sauce. Spoon the sauce over the meat. Replace lid and reheat in the oven until bubbling at the edge; serve immediately.
Potato Pancakes (yields quite a lot of potato pancakes)
I may not be making potato pancakes this year, but that doesn’t mean I won’t share a recipe for them! Keep in mind that potato pancakes, when prepared for Passover, need to use matzo meal or potato starch to thicken them, instead of flour. I like to use Joy of Kosher’s recipe, here:
4 medium Idaho potatoes
6 tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil, such as Colavita
3 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoon matzoh meal
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper
Applesauce or sour cream(optional)
Peel the potatoes. Chop them in quarters so that they will fit through a food processor feed tube. Process the potatoes using the blade that will cut them into shoestring-like strips. Transfer potatoes to a large bowl.
Add the matzo meal, eggs, salt, and pepper and mix thoroughly.
Heat a large skillet with some olive oil. Drop 6 to 8 spoonfuls of mixture into hot oil. Using the back of a spoon, pat down each latke to flatten it. Put as many as you can in the skillet without crowding. (Putting too many latkes in the pan together will make them soggy.)
Fry for 3-4 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Transfer latkes to a plate covered in paper towel (to absorb the oil). Continue with this process until all of the potato mixture has been used up.
If you don’t want to go the potato pancake route, potato kugel is another great way to put a potato Passover dish on the table. You can check out Smitten Kitchen’s potato kugel recipe here.
This is not my first Seder, so in the spirit of sharing and making your life easier if you are planning a Seder (or any other festive meal for a bunch of people):
If you don’t want to deal with making a brisket, chicken is a great solution. I usually roast chicken breasts with olive oil, lemon pepper, sliced lemons, and thyme for 25-35 minutes (until they are cooked through but not dried out), and serve that as my Passover main dish. You can also use drumsticks if you prefer dark meat.
If you are looking for good vegetarian Passover mains, grilled (or pan-seared) portobella steaks with chimmichurri sauce could be a good option, as could Smitten Kitchen’s wild mushroom pâté, or this roasted delicata squash and quinoa salad.
I’ll add photos on Sunday, after it has all been cooked, but I’m posting in advance in case any of you are running around trying to decide what to serve for the holidays this weekend!