Why is this night different from all the other nights?
For starters, on all other nights we eat a nice bowl of matzo ball soup, and on this night we’re lucky if we can find any chicken to make soup. Or eggs. Or matzo meal.
On all other nights we eat all vegetables, and on this night we’re lucky if we find any fresh ones in the supermarket. Not to mention fresh horseradish root to make our own chrein.
And most of all, on all other nights we complain about having to cook for the extended family, and travel in the worst traffic in Israel to have the seder at our in-laws, and read from the Haggadah for hours before we get to eat anything. And on this night we just wish we could sit with everyone again, and drink, laugh, sing and eat with the people we love.
Let’s tackle our problems one by one.
Between eggs in salted water, matzo balls, egg lokshen (noodles), bubelach (Passover egg pancake) and chopped liver, Passover may seem impossible to celebrate without a few large egg trays per family. But when most supermarkets are limiting customers to just one tray, and the only widely available kind are pastel-colored Easter chocolate eggs, a bit of creativity is needed.
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- The Surprising Ancient Origins of Passover
- What Goes on a Seder Plate?
When it comes to matzo balls, there are three routes to go: the vegan, the survival mode and the traditional Persian one. There are plenty of vegan matzo ball recipes online, using anything from potato starch to quinoa to aquafava (the liquid found in cans of cooked chickpeas). I find that the best option is to use vegan powdered egg (or regular powdered egg, a staple you can find in emergency food supply kits – hence survival mode matzo balls) in lieu of eggs (recipe below). You can buy powdered egg substitute in health food stores and powdered egg at outdoor gear stores and online.
Or you could try making gundi, Persian matzo ball look-alike soup dumplings that are made with chickpea flour and ground chicken. They are delicious year-round, and for kitniyot (legume) eaters, on Passover too.
This brings us to the topic of eating legumes during Passover. Since the Middle Ages, Ashkenazi Jews have been forbidden from eating kitniyot (including beans, peas, rice and corn). The rule was initially set in order to help avoid any non-kosher mixups, since legumes were ground in the same mills used for wheat flour.
In 2015, the Jewish Conservative Rabbinical Assembly declared that after 800 years, legumes are now kosher for Passover again. But even before that, in times of stress, like during the siege on Jerusalem during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, Ashkenazi rabbis allowed eating kitniyot during the holiday, since food was scarce. This could be the year to add kitniyot to your Passover diet.
Times like these require a sense of culinary invention and improvisation. I abandoned the idea of roasting a leg of lamb after looking at the fridge in my local butcher shop. Instead, I’m suggesting a dish of meatballs in lemon-oregano sauce with spring veggies (recipe below). Not only because of its fresh and wonderful flavors, but also because it is so easily adaptable. Can’t find ground beef? Use ground lamb, or chicken or turkey instead. Fried cubes of firm tofu will work as well. Can’t find fennel bulbs? Use artichokes. Can’t find fresh artichokes? Use canned or frozen artichoke bottoms instead (not artichoke hearts. That’s crossing the line).
Since you’re probably cooking for a small group, there’s no need for much more than this dish, which includes both a protein and veggies in one big pot. And while you Zoom with your far-away family for the seder and realize how much you miss them all, raise a fifth glass for going from quarantine to freedom speedily in our day, and celebrating next year with the in-laws.
Egg replacement matzo ball soup
(Vegan and non-vegan options)
Yes, the name of the recipe may be a turnoff, but these are wonderful and easy vegan alternatives for the favorite Ashkenazi staple.
Since there are different brands of egg alternative powders out there, including vegan and non-vegan ones, look at the packaging to find the exact ratio of powder to water. I used a ratio of 1:2 to replaced 3 eggs in the recipe.
Yields about 20 small 1 inch matzo balls
3 tablespoons powdered egg alternative (such as Bob’s Red Mill’s Gluten Free Egg Replacer. See note above)
6 tablespoons water
¼ cup vegetable oil (I prefer corn oil)
¼ cup sparkling or still water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup matzo meal
8 cups vegetable broth, chicken broth or water for cooking
Soup for serving
1. In a medium mixing bowl, mix powdered egg and 6 tablespoons water. Let stand for a minute to thicken. Add oil, sparkling water, salt and pepper and mix. Sprinkle matzo meal all over and mix again. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. In the meantime, bring salted broth or water to a boil in a 4-quart stock pot.
3. Use your hands or an ice cream scoop to make matzo balls about inch in diameter and gently drop them into boiling water. Bring water back to boil, then reduce heat to a very low simmer, cover the pot and cook for 30 minutes until matzo balls are tender.
4. Transfer matzo balls into a container to use later or into your preferred hot soup and serve.
Persian chickpea and chicken dumplings (gundi)
These Persian Jewish favorite matzo ball-like soup dumplings play the main role in this dish, and it’s fine to cook them in a store-bought chicken broth (although a simple homemade broth will definitely taste better). It’s customary to serve the dumplings with some of the soup over rice. If you’re a kitniyot eater, this dish is a great option for Passover.
Persian dried limes are available in Middle Eastern and Persian markets. You can substitute with lemon or lime juice.
Chickpea flour is available in Middle Eastern and Indian markets, as well as many health food stores.
For the soup:
6 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon turmeric
2-3 Persian dried limes
1 small can cooked chickpeas, drained and washed
For the gundi:
5 oz. chickpea flour
12 oz. ground chicken breast
2 yellow onions, grated
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon table salt
1. Put all the soup ingredients in a large pot over medium-high heat and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook until you get the gundi ready.
2. Mix all the gundi ingredients using your hands. Fill a small bowl with water, and put it next to the chicken soup pot. Increase the heat to medium-high. Wet your hands and form 1” to 1.5” balls of the mixture and drop them gently into the soup. Bring the soup back to boil, reduce the heat, cover the pot and cook for 45 minutes.
3. Serve 2-3 gundi and a little bit of soup over rice.
Meatballs with spring vegetables in oregano-lemon sauce
This dish celebrates spring abundance in all its beauty and flavor. Feel free to include any spring vegetable, including baby zucchini, artichoke, fennel and asparagus. If you’re going by the Sephardi law and include kitniyot in your Passover menu, you can also add fresh fava beans, which are in season now, green peas, spring peas and more.
The only rule to remember is to add tender vegetables like asparagus and zucchini as well as fresh legumes toward the end of the cooking time, so you don’t overcook them.
For the meatballs:
½ cup matzo meal, plus more for coating
½ cup water
1 lb. ground beef
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 small yellow onion, grated
2 minced garlic cloves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
For the vegetables and sauce:
Juice of ½ lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
3-4 artichokes or baby artichokes
2 fennel bulbs
1-2 celery root or parsnip
3 sliced garlic cloves
¾ cup olive oil
1 cup lemon juice
1½ cups water
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
5-6 sprigs fresh oregano
1 lb. green and/or white asparagus
1 lb. fresh peeled fava beans or green pea
1. To make the meatballs, put matzo meal and water in a medium bowl and mix. Add the rest of the meatball ingredients and mix briefly (mixing too much will make the meatballs harder, that’s true for any recipe). Cover the bowl and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.
2. In the meantime, prepare the veggies. Prepare a large bowl with 3 cups water and juice of ½ lemon. To clean the artichokes, first remove outer leaves from the bottom. Use a serrated knife to cut off the leaves, leaving about 1 inch from the bottom. Dip artichoke in lemon water to prevent it from browning. Use a small knife to trim more leaves on the outside until you reveal the artichoke bottom. Now use a spoon to remove the chokes. Peel the stem to reveal the tender white part, cut artichoke in half lengthwise and keep in lemon water until ready to cook. Repeat with the rest of the artichokes. If you’re using baby artichokes, use a serrated knife to cut off the thorny leaves at the top, cut in half, remove the choke and you’re done.
3. Trim fennel stalks, then cut the bulb in half, and each half into 3 or 4 sections. Peel celery root and cut into 1-inch thick sticks. Set aside. Slice garlic cloves.
4. Sprinkle matzo meal on a rimmed baking sheet. Take meatball mixture out of the fridge, form 2-inch meatballs and arrange on the baking sheet. Use your hand to lightly press down meatballs and sprinkle more matzo meal on them.
5. Put ¼ cup oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat and fry meatballs (you may need to do it in two batches) until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a tray lined with a double layer of paper towels.
6. Put ½ cup olive oil in a wide pan or pot over medium-high heat. Add sliced garlic cloves and sauté for a few seconds. Add artichoke, fennel and celery root, mix and sauté for 6-7 minutes. Add lemon juice, water, salt pepper and oregano and bring to boil. Push veggies aside and arrange meatballs at the bottom of the pan. Baste meatballs, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low simmer, cover pan and cook for 30 minutes, basting after 15 minutes.
7. While meatballs are cooking, cut asparagus into 1-inch sections. Peel fava beans, if using. Add asparagus and beans after meatballs have been cooking for 30 minutes, baste, cover pan and cook for another 15 minutes. Sprinkle with more fresh oregano leaves and serve.