As soon as the first plum trees explode into delicate pink bloom and crocus and daffodils break the grey of winter with early purple and gold, my thoughts go to Pesach and the rituals that signify our yearly reprieve from winter and our celebration of freedom and springtime.
Many scholars believe primal celebrations that influenced early traditions of the seder began much earlier than the Exodus with spring rituals of farmers and sheperds in pre-Israelite Canaan. Later, during first Temple times, thousands of Jews — some scholars say as many as 3 million people from all over Israel — brought their first spring lambs to Jerusalem to sacrifice at the Temple and to feast for seven days in celebrating the Pesach.
Sometime during the celebration, farmers who had harvested the earliest spring barley and wheat brought an omer, a particular sized sheaf of grain, to wave in front of the Temple and give the priests their first new offerings of grain after the winter rations. The omer-waving also began the 49 days of counting the omer, now both meaning the successive harvests of sheaves spring grain and the number of days between the Pesach in Egypt and the giving of the Torah at Sinai.
We know and love that Pesach is a holiday of spring. Yet our traditional foods, especially in Ashkenazic households, usually celebrate the season beginning and ending with the karpas, the green vegetable, and te egg on the seder plate. Don’t get me wrong, Passover would not be Passover without chicken soup and matzoh balls, and gefilte fish made with Northwest salmon and cod can not only be comforting and traditional, but actually delicate and delicious!
But our other seder dinner dishes, besides a centerpiece of roasted lamb, fowl or fish, which specifically commemorates the Pesach in Jerusalem, tend to be heavy and more evocative of finishing up the last winter stores than celebrating the onset of spring: Potato and matzoh kugel, salads of apples and nuts, brisket with dried fruits and root vegetables. The decadent, creative and ambrosial desserts of Passover should not be touched, but let’s think about looking into a few other dishes that commemorate our bursting into spring for the seder meal and the long matzoh week that follows.
Here’s a salad of snow peas or snap peas (be sure to use fresh — dried legumes are not kosher for Passover!), radishes, new potatoes and spring onions with a sorrel dressing that can brighten the seder table and refresh you palate. Sorrel is a spring leafy green herb with a very tart flavor, perfect for a light substitute for vinegar in this dressing.
Snap Pea and Sorrel Salad
1 lb. sugar snap or snow peas
2 to 3 bunches radishes
1 bunch green onions
1-1/2 lbs. new red or white potatoes
1 oz. sorrel leaves (find with fresh herbs in the produce section)
1 small garlic clove, chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. fennel seed, ground or crushed in a mortar and pestle
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
2 Tbs. water
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Have boiling water, a colander placed in the sink and a bowl of ice water ready. Pinch the stems off the peas and leave whole. Place them in a medium bowl and pour boiling water over them to just immerse them. Leave for 30 seconds (no more!) then drain the peas into the colander. Immediately put into the ice water and set aside.
Clean and cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until tender when pierced through with a fork, about 12 minutes. Drain and let cool, then cut into 3/4-inch pieces.
Stem and clean the radishes and cut in half, lengthwise. Slice into thin half moons and put into a large bowl. Slice each green onion in half, chop into thin diagonal slices and add to the radishes. Drain the peas (cut in half lengthwise if you like), dry on a clean towel and add to the vegetables in the bowl. Add the cooled and cut potatoes and add to the bowl. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. of kosher salt, toss and set aside in the fridge, covered.
To make the dressing, cut the stems out of the sorrel and chop into large pieces. Place in the jar of a blender with the garlic, 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, the ground fennel, the white pepper and 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Blend on medium then on high till the mixture is puréed and smooth. Add the remaining olive oil and blend on medium for 30 seconds, then on high till all the olive oil is incorporated.
An hour before serving (just before the seder starts), pour the dressing onto the vegetables and toss well to coat all the pieces. Toss well again before serving on a pretty platter.
Serves 6 to 8
I adore matzoh meal pancakes for breakfast. Here I’ve re-created them as savory crepes that can be served for dinner wrapped around asparagus and/or marinated seared chicken strips, or as a side dish as is, just folded in half. Use almond or coconut milk to make them parve. Easy and very yummy!
Easy Savory Matzoh Meal Crepes
1 cup matzoh meal
6 eggs, separated
1-1/2 cups milk, or almond or coconut milk (You may need to request special kosher-for-Passover products from your local retailer)
1/2 cup water, plus extra to thin the batter
1 tsp. kosher salt or more to taste
1 tsp. sugar
2 Tbs. olive or canola oil
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
3 green onions, chopped
OR 1 medium leek, white part and some green, washed well and sliced into thin rounds
Canola oil or other lightly flavored oil to cook the crepes
Mix together the matzoh meal, salt and sugar and set aside. Beat the egg yolks and beat in the milk or almond/coconut milk and 1/2 cup water till smooth. Slowly mix in the matzoh meal mixture, being careful lumps don’t form in the batter. Stir in the olive or canola oil. Beat the egg whites in a clean bowl with a whisk or electric mixer just till firm peaks form. Fold 1/3 of the whites into the batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining whites.
Cover the bowl and let rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour. If the batter has thickened, add from 2 Tbs. to 1/4 cup water to thin it to the thickness of thin sour cream — it should pour freely from a spoon. Add the grated carrots and green onions or leeks to the batter; stir and fold in to incorporate well.
To make the pancakes, heat 1 tsp. of cooking oil in a 6” flat non-stick skillet over medium heat until almost smoking. Using a paper towel folded in quarters, wipe any pooled oil off of the pan’s surface till just a sheen of oil remains.
Using a 1/4-cup measure, pour 1/4 cup of batter into the pan and tilt the pan around in a circle until the batter covers the entire surface of the pan. (Don’t worry if your first pancake is small, the tilting gets easy as you do more pancakes!) If you need more batter, use a 1/3-cup measure, Cook on one side until the bottom of the pancake is golden and the top side is dry to the touch. Turn over and cook the other side for 30 seconds.
Turn out of the pan onto a dry dinner plate. As you make more pancakes, turn each one out on top of the last one; they won’t stick and you can peel them off when you want to use them. They freeze well — just wrap the stack of pancakes in plastic wrap and freeze flat.
To serve, brush each pancake with a touch of oil, roll around the warm filling(s) and heat at 350º in a lightly oiled ovenproof pan. Or to serve plain, just oil each pancake lightly, fold in quarters, heat in the oven as above and serve.
Makes 10 to 12 6” crepes