Passover is the Jewish holiday most centered around food.
Family and friends get together around the dinner table to tell the story of their ancestors’ escape from slavery in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. A number of foods with symbolic meanings are always present at the meals, including parsley dipped in saltwater to represent the tears shed, bitter herbs (usually horseradish) to represent the bitterness of the years of slavery and matzo as a reminder of the bread that did not have time to rise before the Jews fled for Israel.
After a long ceremony, partly involving these and other foods, dinner is served. And it is always a feast, not the least because everyone is hungry after sitting around so long before the dinner begins.
It is what is expected. It is what is comfortable.
But there is no reason you can’t change things around a little. You could even start a new tradition.
On Passover, only one rule must be followed: In memory of the ancestors whose bread was baked before rising, no flour that could rise if mixed with water may be served. In practical terms, that means no wheat products or anything made with barley, oats, rye or spelt. Some Orthodox Jews also forgo beans, peas, rice and other foods that could be used to make bread.
So, while keeping this one rule in mind, you can break the chains of the culinary past and make the trek to the promised land of new culinary delights.
I turned to Joan Nathan, who is one of the country’s foremost authorities on Jewish cooking. In her “Jewish Holiday Cookbook,” I found a recipe for Greek Leek Patties, which are sort of like potato pancakes with leeks in them. And potatoes mixed with leeks is one of those perfect food combinations, like chocolate and bananas.
I cooked the patties the way Nathan recommends, but too many of them fell apart in the pan. So I added just enough matzo meal to hold together the mashed potatoes mixed with leeks, eggs and cheese. With the patties actually holding together, I fried them and they were amazing. They are also a dish that is worth serving any time of the year.
Greek leek patties
2large boiling potatoes (not russets), peeled
3large eggs, beaten
3tablespoons matzo meal
1/2cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
Wash the leeks carefully, slicing them vertically to remove all of the grit. Dice the white base and the palest green part of the leaves. Parboil in salted water for 5 minutes. Drain.
Boil the potatoes until they are soft. Drain and cool. Using a potato masher or food processor, mash the potatoes. Add the leeks, blending them in well. Add the eggs, matzo meal, cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Form this mixture into 12 patties.
Pour oil 1/2-inch deep in a heavy frying pan. When the oil reaches 375 degrees, drop the patties into the oil, 2 or 3 per batch. Fry until golden brown on each side. Drain on paper towels.
Makes 12 servings.
Per serving: 119 calories; 4g fat; 2g saturated fat; 51mg cholesterol; 5g protein; 16g carbohydrate; 2g sugar; 2g fiber; 87mg sodium; 71mg calcium.
— Daniel Neman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch