I’m not really an entirely reliable source for all things Passover, being Catholic and all. But I love traditions. Likely because my family never had much use for them growing up, as far as I can remember, and seems to have lost all respect for them now that we are all growed up.
But I can find a reason to start a tradition without so much as a holiday to hang it on. Like the Ceremony of Garlic Planting in October or Great St. Patrick’s Day Pea Ritual, or, lest I leave out a nearly weekly tradition I have, The Festival of Sunday Morning Pancakes. And yes, I have some holiday traditions, such as my on again – off again Christmas tradition of watching the 8-hour Jesus of Nazarath Mini Series over the coarse of the day, interspersed with making a day-long Roman Feast of Fancy Christmas Foods.
And it seems I have a budding tradition of celebrating all the requisite Jewish Holidays with my friend JST, her family and a few rotating friends.
In years past, I brought the wine. Mostly because I had a large wine dungeon in my basement that I filled with wines that could be classified as either fantastically exciting or hackneyed and predictable, depending on which crowd of my friends were nearby. But I drank, gave away or made vinegar out of most of the wine a few years ago when I realized “Wine Collector” was actually not something I aspired to be.
So, now I bring food to JST’s. And this year I am bring the Seder Plate. Only, I am not one to just wanna toss a hard-boiled egg on a plate and call it a day. I tend to want to flash some jazz hands and mount a production. And lo, I came up with my own personal Variations on a Seder Plate Theme.
The Karpas are supposed to signify the coming spring. Basically, most people dip parsley in vinegar (or vinegar, depending on which tradition you follow) and eat that. Hum. Not precisely what I imagine happening to the parsley I struggled to grow in my windowsill this early spring.
So I found a recipe for a gin-based drink with balsamic and parsley garnish. The gin they used is Leopold American Small-Batch Gin, which has a hint of floral that supposedly pairs well with the parsley. But rather than clobber the thing with balsamic, I opted to riff on that floral aroma, pairing it with homemade honey vinegar I made with local honey last fall.
Note: this killed the vinegar honey, which was a sad moment I commemorated by having a drink of Maple-Rye Hooch before putting up more honey and water to cure. One should always have honey around for these situations, as well as some sort of seasonally appropriate and easy to grab hooch.
JST said the charoset is one of her favorite seder things, but I have to admit it took me a while to “get it.” According to Wikipedia, it is — a sweet, dark-colored, chunky paste made of fruits and nuts meant to recall the mortar with which the Isrealites bonded bricks when they were enslaved in Egypt.
Traditionally, it is supposed to have forty ingredients, representing the forty dessert years, not forty ingredients specifically put together to taste delicious. Although it is apples, figs, pomegranates, grapes and all manner of other things are used often together, it also seemed a bit culinarily random to me.
In sum, the task of charoset is to make something decent out of a random hodge-podge of raw ingredients that is supposed to remind people of mortar. I’ll admit I felt a little challenged by this.
Thankfully, JST is a bit fast and loose with the rule of Jewish law so I opted for the cooked version I found a recipe from Epicurious of Black Mission Fig and Ruby Port. I subbed in Six Grapes Port. This is obviously just Jewish Chutney, and chutney is something I can get behind. I’ll assume the fact that I have cooked this mortar should be helpful in reminding all at the table of the guilt they should be feeling for playing fast and loose with the rules.
Which I intend to be a helpful addition for the celebratants.
A joint of lamb representing the lamb offering. Easy Peasy. Not just because it can be tossed in a slow cooker with some leavings from the vegetable crisper, but also because it is delicious, lamb ragout does the trick, served up on a fried polenta cake.
Before you go all ballistic on me, cornmeal is ok for some Jews and not others. I decided JST & Co were just gonna have to be the kind for which cornmeal is fine, mostly because I am never one to buy a certain ingredient, say matzoh meal, to sub in for something else, say wheat flour, it is supposed to kinda be but really isn’t even close.*
Totally in my wheelhouse, this dish is, by most accounts, a hard-boiled egg. But those accounts apparently don’t reference Wikipedia, where it is clearly noted that the egg is actually supposed to be roasted — not boiled. Sacre bleu! Or, I guess, Mishugana!
But, dear reader, you can, in fact, roast eggs instead of boil them to, basically the same effect. Just roast them on a rack set on a jelly roll pan at 325F for about half hour. Shock them in ice water and try to peel them without being reduced to tears.**
For my eggs, I am mixing up the deviled part with lots of horseradish. Points if you grow it yourself because it is more delicious, feels more holy and keeps in the fridge, in vinegar, from one fall until the next. So you never have to go buy any of the prepared stuff, which is never as sharp and purely pungent anyway. And, you can use the vinegar over and over again, though I will admit to bringing it to a fast boil in-between batches.
Happy Passover to all.
Post-Scripts, In Order:
*Other examples of stupid sub in’s of which I absolutely do not approve: Margarine, I Can’t Believe (insert any of their products here), Fat-Free (insert baked good here), Skim Milk, Half ‘n’ Half, Sugar Cereal That Turns Your Milk Colors, Turkey Bacon, Veggie Burgers, Tempeh or any Other Substance That is Supposed to Trick you into Thinking you are Eating Meat, in fact I will throw in Portabella Mushrooms Cleverly Presented as Meat, Light Beer, Lighter Than the Other Guy Beer, So Light You Think it is Water But it Costs More Beer, Most Vitamins, Lipator for Gen Pop, Water Fortified with Anything you Should get in a Balanced Diet Anyway, and Crisco. That’s just off the top of my head.
For the record, I do embrace decaf coffee, served with milk, for the benefit of those around me and wine coolers, when made at home, can be a revelation.
**Actually, as a side note, Joe Yonan‘s Miraculous and Surely Pulitzer Prize-Winning Book, Serve Yourself, has a brilliant Hard-Boiled Egg recipe that blasts the shells off even the freshest of eggs (I actually tried it with eggs that were so fresh, they were still warm from the hen, just to test him). It worked beautifully. I am not posting the method here or telling anyone how to do it — even Grant! — go buy the book and support this kind of cookbook author!