More Matzo? Say It’s Not So!

Why is this night different from all other nights?
On this night, we must ask ourselves why on Earth we bought so much darned matzo meal.

Don’t tell me I’m alone here. Year after year, as Passover draws nearer, I have an inexplicable fear of running out of matzo meal. Surely, THAT will be the one thing that the stores run out of right in the moment of need. Not toilet paper, not water, but matzo meal. It’s even more incomprehensible because I don’t even like the stuff. Truth be told, I hate matzo! Made into balls or drowned in toffee is the only way I’ll accept it. Otherwise… What the heck do you do with all this dry, flavorless sawdust?

You turn it into a fruit crumble topping, that’s what! Thanks to the magic of nature’s candy, there’s plenty of rich, sweet flavor in the filling to make up for any of matzo’s shortcomings. Bolstered by the warmth of ground cinnamon and dark brown sugar, it turns into a crisp, downright buttery struesel to cap off the tender berry jumble. Served warm with perhaps a scoop of ice cream melting luxuriously into all the crevasses, or a soft dollop of whipped coconut cream melding into each layer, there are few desserts more comforting.

You’d never even know that this formula included the plague of my pantry, that ever-present matzo meal, perpetually purchased in bulk for no good reason. At least, now it has a good purpose, even beyond the Passover Seder. For both its crowd-pleasing taste and effortless assembly, this dessert is a definite keeper.

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Gefilte? Go Fish!

“Passover is right around the corner, so I was thinking about making a vegan gefilte fish this year.

Silence. The line went dead. After a few beats, I wondered if the call had dropped altogether, until my mom hesitantly, quietly responded, “…Why?”

My mother herself is a fair weather gefilte fish supporter, serving it dutifully every time tradition mandates. I get the impression that it’s more about ritual, symbolism, and classic Jewish guilt than genuine enjoyment, but for all that, her tolerance for the processed white fish dumpling is far greater than most. Even she couldn’t fathom why I’d want to revisit the reviled appetizer, and at such great effort.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. Maybe it’s the challenge of creating something that is otherwise unattainable, of trying something new and novel, or my general propensity towards all things bizarre.

Let’s be honest, gefilte fish is an outlandish dish. They’re like poached pescaterian meatballs, spiked with the sharp bite of horseradish and bitter herbs. You can generally find them packed in shelf-stable glass bottles, which seem to live indefinitely in the back of your bubbe‘s pantry, like a long-forgotten science experiment gone awry. To make matters worse, because cooking is verboten on the Sabbath for strictly kosher households, it’s typically served cold.

Starting from scratch with plants, we can resuscitate this Franken-fish with just a bit of patience and perseverance. Potato and cauliflower provide the substance and texture with a fairly neutral taste, bolstered by caper brine for a subtly oceanic, saline essence. Olive brine or simply very salty water could do in a pinch, but something about the faintly lemony, pleasingly metallic taste of capers really suits the original inspiration.

There are plenty of similar interpretations on the internet, but what sets my fish-free gefilte apart is the genuine coating in aspic, reminiscent of the gelatinous goop that comes within the jar. Slicked with the sheen of agar, this extra layer locks in moisture, freshness, and an added veneer of savory flavor.

No one would be fooled by my finless imposters, even amidst the cacophony of colors on the average Seder plate; these gefilte are far and away the superior option. Banish those fetid, mummified monstrosities in the closet, and try something better than merely edible this year.

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Purple Prose

Setting the table for Passover with the good China, the candle sticks from generations past, the weathered old Haggadot that still bear politically incorrect gender pronouns, the trappings of the holiday are almost as ancient as the occasion itself. The millennia-old story of attaining freedom in the face of impossible odds resonates in a renewed tenor, filtered through more contemporary events. It begs the question, why not update the script for a modern audience?

Honoring tradition while revitalizing the predictable Passover Seder with a colorful new twist, I’m throwing a splash of purple onto the table with an unconventional first course. Deviating from the original offerings of lamb shanks and eggs on the Seder plate to begin with, as roasted beets and avocados are perfectly acceptable alternative symbols, it’s not a far stretch to consider more diversity on the menu itself, too.

I wouldn’t dare suggest replacing the irreproachable matzo ball soup. Perish the thought! Rather, I think there’s room at the table for another dumpling darling. “Kneidlach” is generally accepted as merely another word for the unleavened flatbread staple, yet it carries none of the weighty connotations. These doppelgangers might be made of potatoes or even almonds, and most scandalously, there might not be any matzo in the mix at all. Such is the case with my purple potato dumplings, making them suitable for gluten-free diners as well.

Delicious well beyond the scope of Passover festivities, their heftier chew is more reminiscent of gnocchi than fluffy matzo balls, which means they’re prime candidates for side dish servings as well. Boil as directed and then saute briefly in a bit of vegan butter and onions for a real savory treat. The hint of herbaceous fresh dill is like a kiss of spring sunshine, paired with the very subtle sweetness of the purple potatoes. You could also use regular orange-flesh sweet potatoes in a pinch, to create a more golden glow.

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Matzo, Matzo Man

Sundown on Monday, April 14 marks the beginning of Passover, a week devoted to celebrating spring, remembering the past, and eating cardboard instead of delicious grains, whole or otherwise processed. Needless to say, it’s that last part that really gets to me, as matzo has never been my favorite food in the world. Perhaps they would come in handy as mulch or filler for the litter box, but unadorned sheets of the unleavened bread hold little if any culinary value in my eyes. Thankfully, immense improvements in flavor can be made with just a little bit of work, and I’ve had the opportunity to photograph and give Nava Atlas’s truly tasty suggestions a test drive well in advance of the holiday. Proving the power of a well-written recipe, there are now matzo-based dishes that I can claim to genuinely enjoy!

A show-stopper for any Passover meal, this Spinach, Leek, and Potato Matzo Gratin is an impressive but surprisingly simple dish to pull together. It sounds like a humble side dish but eats like a hearty lasagna, which makes it an incredibly versatile addition to any festive menu.

Matzo toffee is a classic treat that always shows up on our seder table, but for an even quicker fix, Nava’s Chocolate Matzo Brittle takes all the boiling sugar and candy making out of the equation. Straight-up chocolate-covered matzo with any sweet toppings your heart desires, it’s perfect for keeping cravings at bay. Sliced almonds with espresso salt are a top pick around here, but it’s hard to go wrong no matter what goodies you choose.

And let’s not forget the indispensable classic, the Jewish staple known around the world: Matzo Ball Soup. This recipe is the only vegan rendition I have yet to encounter that not only yields consistently cohesive, plump dumplings, but also tastes just as good as my memories suggest. It’s the kind of dish that could make me willingly break out the matzo any time of year, which should really say it all.

Don’t Pass Over Quinoa

The beauty (and exquisite torture) of many Jewish holidays like Passover is that they’re not just one-day affairs, but week-long “celebrations.” When those particular events carry dietary restrictions as well, it can add up to an extra load of work simply planning out a standard set of meals, beyond the mandated festive meal with family.

Serving dish provided by Steelite

While this offering of quinoa, a pseudo-grain that just barely escapes the label of kitniyot, may come a bit late for your seder, it will be a delicious respite from dry boards of matzo in the days to come. Gently caramelized and naturally sweet onions carry this dish of hearty cooked quinoa, roasted gold beets, and nutty toasted pistachios.

Redolent of cumin and bright, fresh herbs, the flavors could be suitable for either a formal dinner or a spur of the moment picnic, easily enjoyed both hot and cold. Tender beets yield to a satisfying crunch of nuts, creating a textural harmony throughout. I used an attractive blend of white, black, and red quinoa from Trader Joe’s for added eye-appeal, but of course, any one color would taste just as good.

Yield: Makes About 3 Main Dish Servings; 6 Side Dish Servings

Pistachio-Quinoa Pilaf

Pistachio-Quinoa Pilaf

Gently caramelized and naturally sweet onions carry this dish of hearty cooked quinoa, roasted gold beets, and nutty toasted pistachios. Redolent of cumin and bright, fresh herbs, the flavors could be suitable for either a formal dinner or a spur of the moment picnic, easily enjoyed both hot and cold. Tender beets yield to a satisfying crunch of nuts, creating a textural harmony throughout.

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 35 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Medium Gold Beets (About 2 Cups Diced)
  • 1 Cup Uncooked Quinoa
  • 2 Cups Water
  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
  • 1 Medium Yellow Onion (About 1 1/4 Cups Chopped)
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • Pinch Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/4 Cup Packed Fresh Parsley, Chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon Packed Fresh Mint, Finely Minced
  • 1/2 Cup Shelled and Toasted Pistachios

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and wrap your beets in aluminum foil so that they’re completely covered. Place them in the oven, and allow them to bake, much like you would for a baked potato, for 60 – 75 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. When the beets are done, they should yield easily to a knife, if not be quite fork-tender. Let rest until cool enough to handle, and then peel and dice. Measure out 2 cups of diced beets, and set aside.
  2. While the beets are roasting, you can save some time and get started on the quinoa. Bring the water to a boil in a medium sized saucepan, and then add in the dry quinoa. After the water returns to a boil, cover,
    reduce the heat to medium-low, and let simmer for about 15 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed. Leave the quinoa covered and let rest for at least 15 additional minutes, so that it can steam a bit and fully hydrate. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl and toss lightly with the chopped beets.
  3. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat, and add in the chopped onion. When it begins to sizzle lively, turn down the heat to medium-low or low, depending on how hot your stove runs. You want to cook the onions very gently so that they don’t brown around the edges and char, but slowly soften and caramelize. This process can take 30 – 40 minutes, so be patient, and continue to stir periodically. Add in the salt after the first 10 minutes, and be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan thoroughly to prevent pieces from sticking and burning. The onions should take on an amber brown color and a become highly aromatic. Incorporate the balsamic vinegar and add the onions into quinoa mixture, along with the remaining tablespoon of oil.
  4. Finally, sprinkle in all of the spices, chopped herbs, and pistachios right before serving. Stir well to distribute evenly. Serve either warm, or refrigerated in an air-tight container for up to 5 days, and serve chilled.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 183Total Fat: 9gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 197mgCarbohydrates: 22gFiber: 3gSugar: 3gProtein: 5g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimates.

Busted by the Passover Police

Not a thing gets past you guys, my dear, astute readers. Rest assured, I wasn’t trying to pull a fast one on anyone, but somehow it managed to slip past my grasp that limoncello is made with vodka, and yes, vodka is in fact made with grain, rendering it chametz for Passover. Doh! Though this oversight can happily be corrected by simply substituting lemon juice for the alcohol, nothing could correct the composition of my finished cheesecake bites. A new dessert was needed for the approaching seder, and soon. So I took to the kitchen and made a lavish semi-freddo, a beautiful thing with ribbons of chocolate and emerald green pistachios… Using cornstarch (corn is considered kitniyot.) Strike two.

Despite the fact that I was bat miztvahed eons ago, I sure do suck at being Jewish.

Not one to give up, though, it was back to the drawing board. Frantically scrambling to mix and match the odd ingredients on hand into something both delicious and kosher, it seemed there was no good resolution in sight… Until I fell upon the leftovers from an experimental whipped creme. Made merely from nuts, this was just the ticket.

Folded in with ample amounts of melted bittersweet chocolate and fresh strawberry puree, this fluffy filling was right at home on top of a thin layer of fresh, sliced strawberries, all in an almond meal and cocoa crust. Nothing wheat-y, grain-y, or otherwise offensive here! Fingers crossed, I think that this one will finally appease the Passover police.

Happy Pesach!

Edited, because I woudn’t want to anger the hungry hordes…. I wasn’t planning on posting the recipe, since it was so last-minute and I’m not prepared to sign off on that whipped topping experiment, but I realized that by substituting a store-bought version, it should work out just as well. So, consider this an extra-special little Passover gift!

Strawberry-Chocolate Mousse Pie

Cocoa Crust:

1 1/2 Cups Almond Meal
1/4 Cup Natural Cocoa Powder
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar

Strawberry and Chocolate Mousse Filling:

1 Cup Fresh Strawberry Puree*
1/4 Cup Light Agave Nectar
Pinch Salt
12 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1 10-Ounce Carton Whippable Vegan Cream
1/2 – 1 Cup Sliced Fresh Strawberries

*To make strawberry puree, just take about 1/2 pound of fresh or frozen and thawed strawberries, and blend them into smithereens in your food processor or blender. Strain, if desired (I was in a rush and didn’t; I don’t think the finished pie suffered because of it.)

For the crust, preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and lightly oil a 9-inch round pie pan. Mix together all of the crust ingredients in a large bowl, and transfer the well-blended mixture to you prepared pan. Use your fingers and the palms of your hands to smoothly press it into the bottom and up the sides, making sure there are no bare patches. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the top edges are slightly deeper brown. Set aside and let cool.

Meanwhile, you can start to get the filling together. In a large, microwave safe dish, combine the strawberry puree, agave, salt, and chopped chocolate. Microwave for 1 – 2 minutes, stirring thoroughly at 30 second intervals, until completely melted and smooth. Set aside for the time being to let cool.

Dump the whippable “cream” into the bowl of your stand mixer, and whip on high speed for 3 – 4 minutes, until its about tripled in volume, light and fluffy. Take a dollop out and stir it into the chocolate mixture, just to lighten it up a bit. Now, move half of the remaining whipped “cream” and place it in the bowl of chocolate mix. Use a wide spatula to gently fold it in, being careful not to knock out the air bubbles. Add in the remainder of the whipped “cream,” and fold once more.

Evenly cover the bottom of the baked crust with sliced strawberries, and then spoon the finished chocolate mousse on top. Decorate the edges with additional sliced strawberries, if desired.

Serves 8 – 12

Printable Recipe