It’s coming, the week of no bread or pasta! I am talking about Pesach, otherwise known as Passover. Pesach is a Jewish festival that celebrates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. This year it falls on the 3rd April and is observed for seven days in Israel and eight days in the Diaspora. Over this period, Jews follow certain rituals to celebrate the freedom that their ancestors gained. The main feature of Pesach is the Seder, a ritual meal held on the first and second nights. It involves a fifteen-step feast filled with family traditions. The main parts of the Seder are:
- Eating Matzah, which is a flat bread similar to a large cracker
- Eating bitter herbs, to commemorate the bitter slavery endured by the Israelites.
- Drinking four cups of wine or grape juice, a drink to celebrate the newfound freedom.
- The recitation of the Haggadah, a liturgy that describes in detail the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The Haggadah is the fulfilment of the biblical obligation to recount to children the story of the Exodus on the night of Passover
Food is very important in the Jewish culture and is used to communicate important traditions.
The two major Jewish groups, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, share food rituals but also have their own unique traditions. Those from an Ashkenazi background have ancestry from Central and Eastern Europe, while Sephardi originally hail from Spain, Portugal and the surrounding areas. Both prohibit eating Chametz during Pesach, these include: wheat, oats, rye, barley and spelt. These ‘leavening’ foods aren’t allowed because as the Jews were leaving Egypt, they didn’t have enough time let their bread to rise, therefore they had to eat unleavened flat bread known as matzah. A main difference between the two groups is that Ashkenazis avoid Kitniyot whilst Sephardis eat them at will. Kitniyot are a group of grain like foods that are banned due to the high risk of cross contamination with Chametz, these include: rice, corn, millet, dried beans and lentils, peas, green beans, soy beans, peanuts, sesame seeds, poppy seeds and mustard.
Sounds quiet restricting, right? It might be for some people who depend on starchy carbohydrates, however the week is a time to eat some of the most delicious traditional meals that you can only experience once a year. Over Pesach you can still eat matzah, vegetables (excluding those listed under Kitniyot), any fruit, kosher meats and fish, nuts, dairy products (when not mixed with additives like corn syrup), herbs and spices, any packaged items with a Kosher for Passover hecsher stamp and my favourite, quinoa. My favourite meal over Pesach is Geshmeerte Matzah, an easy recipe that has been passed down from my grandmother and it can be eaten any time of the day. It’s creamy dish with a crisp base that adds a nice contrast in texture.
- 5 pieces square matzah
- 500g cream cheese
- 60g sugar
- 1 egg, whisked
- 1 tsp salt
- Cinnamon and sugar mix*
- Preheat the oven to 180C
- With a long knife, quarter the matzah into squares and set aside
- Cream the cheese with an electric hand mixer until soft
- Gradually add the sugar, egg and salt, and whisk to combine
- To avoid the matzah from catching in the oven, splash very little water on the matzah, concentrated on the edges. Shake off excess water
- With a small offset spatula, dollop around a tablespoon of the cream cheese on to the centre of each matzah square. Smear the mixture outwards
- Place on a wire rack, 2cm apart, and sprinkle cinnamon and sugar mix on top
- Pop into the oven for 15 minutes or until the edges start to brown and the top caramelises
- *Cinnamon and sugar is an excellent topping to have, its just equal parts cinnamon and sugar and mixed together
- 2 pieces square matzah
- 120g dark chocolate, chopped roughly
- 70g walnuts, chopped roughly
- Organise matzah on baking paper lined tray.
- Melt chocolate in a double boiler. Let it cool for 3 minutes.
- Pour chocolate over matzah and spread with spatula
- Sprinkle walnuts on top and let the chocolate set at room temperature for 20 minutes. Then place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour
- Once set, break up matzah into shards
Images by Shana Watson