Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Passover Prep

Passover is coming up Friday night. Passover is my favorite holiday! It starts with 2 nights of holiday meals where we recount the story of the Israelites' Exodus from Egypt (Slavery, Moses, 10 plagues, 10 commandment, etc.) and then eat a bunch. A special rule for Passover is that we don't eat leavened products for 8 days. This basically means bread, but is expanded to most things that get bigger when you cook them. There's actually a very complicated set of criteria but the gist is that it includes: wheat, rice, beans (including soy), corn, and any products derived from those things (like corn syrup, corn starch, rice flour, bread)... a lot of things. If you are a health food person, you already know that corn syrup and corn starch are in like 90% of the things we eat.  And it's not enough to go gluten free, because rice and beans are off-limits too.  Most things are either made from matzo meal, which is ground matzah which is made with special wheat flour that is supervised by a rabbi to ensure it doesn't leaven, or potato starch flour. Thank goodness potatoes are allowed! I don't mind the passover eating restrictions too much, but I do get pretty hungry without bread.
Raise your hand if this is how you learned about Passover! Source
Before the holiday, we are required to hide from sight all the "chametz" a hebrew word which basically means leavened products. You don't throw it out, you just have to put it away. People who are very religious will hide everything that is not stamped "Kosher For Passover." This is because even something that does not contain corn syrup may have been processed in a factory that does process corn syrup and they want to be sure their food is not contaminated. People who are extremely religious will not even buy packaged products for fear of contamination. My orthodox rabbi and his family eat everything scratch made from fruits, vegetables and homegrown herbs... no packaged things or bottled spices, except kosher salt. It's all super delicious too!
Box of delicious chametz. I'll miss those oats!
Corn syrup-y, soybeany, and otherwise forbidden!

I am not so religious, so I just box up everything that contains those not-allowed ingredients. For most of my life I didn't really check everything for corn syrup or soybean oil, but for the past couple years I have tried to be better about it... baby steps! What is awesome is that it forces me to go through the pantry and fridge (all the cold storage stuff I hide in one drawer of the fridge and one side of the freezer) and inspect all my stuff for forbidden ingredients. While I'm there I also check for mold, expiration dates, etc. and get rid of all the stuff that is old or well past it's prime. Then, post passover, I start with a clean and organized pantry and fridge!
Bare pantry. Soon to be stocked with matzah!
For passover we are also required to clean the house to get all the bread crumbs out... it is understood that you can never get every bread crumb out so you do your best and then have a ritual where you ceremonially rid yourself of any remaining bread for the next 8 days. Passover = God mandated Spring Cleaning :-)

This year I am hosting some friends (Jewish and non-Jewish) for the first night of Passover. I started last Friday, making and freezing some things, and will work my way through the menu over the course of the next week. I'm making Veggie Soup with matzo balls. Usually we do chicken soup, but the first night of Passover is also Good Friday this year, so a few of my guests will not be eating meat for Lent. I asked Dan if the rules were as strict as not eating chicken stock... he wasn't sure, so I decided better safe than sorry.  Also I'll be making my grandmother's brisket, and a salmon recipe for the Catholics. There will also be Quinoa, which seems like it would not be allowed but is secretly a seed not a grain so it passes the chametz test, Kugel, salad, and gefilte fish. For dessert, since most of the usual suspects (cookies, cake, pie) are out, I found 2 passover safe recipes: Lemon Curd and Pecan Bars.

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