More than matzah: Free your Passover creativity

Deconstructed Lime and Cashew Cream Tart

By Margi Lenga Kahn, Special to the Jewish Light

Growing up, I remember my anticipation as Passover neared. There was an air of excitement in our house as we carried boxes of everyday dishes to the basement and brought up the boxes of dishes we designated for Passover. My sister and I would help unpack those boxes. I can remember our excitement as we unwrapped our favorite drinking cups or dessert spoons.  

I have my mother’s beautiful Passover soup tureen, the one from which she served her delicious chicken soup with “noodles” made from tender strips of egg omelets. On the night before the first Seder, the intoxicating aromas of my mother’s soup simmering on the stove and her brisket roasting in the oven were a lovely prelude to this holiday celebrating our freedom.

After only a few days into the Passover holiday, however, the excitement had worn off. There was no longer the thrill associated with a menu limited to heavy matzah kugels, boring potatoes, the same ole brisket and, of course, cakes and cookies made from matzo meal. By Day 4, I began thinking of Passover, foodwise, as a restrictive holiday, one marked by sacrifice at the dinner table. 

It took many years before I realized that the food we eat on Passover has more to do with tradition and less to do with the liturgical requirements. The laws of Passover require us to abstain from eating foods made from ordinary wheat and other glutinous grains such as rye, oats, barley and spelt (chometz). We must also avoid eating foods made from Passover wheat that are mixed with liquid and not baked within 18 minutes, by which time it becomes naturally leavened and thus deemed chometz. Indeed, to be absolutely true to the laws of Passover, we should not even be eating matzah balls, or at least those that cook in a pot of water.

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While it is a mitzvah to eat matzah three times during each Seder, there are no laws that define the food that must be served during Passover. If members of your family routinely complain about gefilte fish, don’t serve it. There are plenty of other tasty fish options, including many that can be served as a main course. I am all for honoring and continuing our family traditions, but there is nothing wrong with creating new traditions that reflect contemporary culinary trends and tastes. 

Unlike our ancestors in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, we are blessed with access at this time of year to an exciting array of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the culinary possibilities they offer. Options include a variety of salads or side dishes made from fresh or caramelized fruits and vegetables, and enticing potato and squash purees. These can all be served with sauces, pestos and vinaigrettes created from various fresh herbs, citrus juices and dried spices. Many of these same sauces or toppings will transform just about any traditional chicken, beef or fish entrée. 

Simply adding one new dish to your culinary Passover repertoire might just be the highlight of your family’s holiday meals. Tap into your imagination. Think how excited your family or guests would be to sit down to a Passover dinner that featured pizza. Yes, Kosher-for-Passover pizza. And not made from matzo. I have included that recipe below. Or how about a dairy-free Seder dessert that is healthy, elegant and delicious? I have included that recipe as well. 

Have a delicious Passover!

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of five. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected].