By Gayle Levine Schindler
Someone said that, today – in this country – all Jews are Jews by choice. You can choose to keep some version of kosher for Passover. Or not. You can choose to host or attend a seder. Or not. But if you choose to do those things, then, please, approach them with joy and gratitude that recognizes the truth that you have the freedom to make those choices.
Unless you practice Reform Judaism, are Israeli, or are in Israel, you are eating your first hametz this evening, Thursday, April 13. Tomorrow you will put your Passover things away and prepare for Shabbat with challah. So why am I still writing about Pesach? Because while it’s still fresh in my mind, I want to share what my family ate during Pesach.
I had to scramble a bit this year. My husband and I traveled to Europe in March and I came home with Covid. Although I felt better after three days, I was still testing positive after a week and had to maintain my quarantine for a full ten days. Luckily, I had planned my menu and full shopping list before I left for vacation, so once I was free to leave the house, all I had to do was implement the plan. And yes, I cut a few corners because I just didn’t have time to do everything. And that’s okay.
I hosted twelve people for seder on the first night. After shopping, cleaning, shlepping, and cooking for five days and staying up well past midnight chatting with my guests, the next day was truly a day of rest for me.
We don’t do a second seder. Reason One: The second seder was added outside of Israel two thousand years ago in an abundance of caution related to confusion and communication about the exact sighting of the new moon in Israel. To make sure they were conducting the seder on the right night, diaspora Jews did it twice. Fair enough. Modern science and instantaneous worldwide communication today ensure that we all know what day it is. I am not a fan of continuing to do things that are no longer necessary. Whether it’s related to Jewish tradition or workplace procedures, if the answer to a question about why we do something a certain way is, “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it,” in my opinion it’s time to rethink the issue. Reason Two: When we lived in New Jersey, we celebrated each seder with completely different people – hosting the first night and being hosted the second. Here it would be me hosting both seders for the same folks, so I don’t see any reason or value in the repetition.
However, we did have a long discussion about our seder. We talked about what worked and what didn’t. In the course of our discussion, we did retell the Exodus story and talked about how and why the Haggadah is structured the way it is. We reminisced about seders past and how our seders have changed as our children got older. And we talked about how our guests contribute to and affect the nature of our seder. So, while we didn’t hold a formal second seder, we covered all the main topics.
Getting back to the food. So, the first day of Pesach, we stayed in our jammies all day and ate mostly matzo. We ate matzo with charoset. We ate matzo with horseradish. We ate matzo with charoset and horseradish. We ate it with butter and with cream cheese. Later, in the evening we ate meatballs and weenies, left over from the seder night.
For Shabbat dinner on Friday, we ate a layered dish with soup chicken and matzo and a rich gravy made from my chicken soup. For sides, I sliced and fried some matzo balls and added a much-needed fresh green salad. I also fried up a lot of onions to use later.
Saturday was another day of mostly noshing out of the fridge. My seder menu included six different charosets – we celebrated Jews from all over the world – so we snacked on those. Because I did not have time to make mayonnaise before the holiday, I used some of the fried onions, with their oil, to make egg salad out of extra hard-boiled eggs too.
Sunday morning, my husband fried up the requisite Matzo Brie, using some fabulous duck eggs I was lucky to get from my sister’s plumber. Some of us enjoyed it with sweet preserves or charoset, but my son, who laments that we can’t find kosher for Passover hot sauce, ate his with horseradish. Even four days after grinding, it’s still powerfully hot and he loved it.
That afternoon, I finally whipped up a batch of mayo, again using a duck egg. I still had some shredded soup chicken, so I added chopped celery, apple, walnuts, and a generous dollop of the fresh mayo to create chicken salad for Monday lunch.
For dinner, we enjoyed Chicken Schnitzel and roasted potato wedges, again accompanied by a much-needed green salad and roasted asparagus.
My family loves brisket as much as any, but I don’t make it for the seder anymore. I’ve mentioned before that we snack so much during our seder, that everyone is full by the time we get to Shulchan Orech, so we skip a heavy main course. Monday was brisket day. I use a recipe from Joan Nathan’s book, The Jewish Holiday Kitchen. The brisket is shredded, like southern barbeque, and served with a warm matzo “salad” and spicy tomato sauce. My son, who can eat the same food morning, noon, and night for days, took home most of the leftovers to get him through the rest of the holiday.
Tuesday, I used the rest of the pre-fried onions and hard-boiled eggs to make chopped liver for dinner, when we also finished the chicken soup and gefilte fish.
For us, Wednesday was the last day of Pesach. For lunch, we finished up some of the leftovers. We went out for pasta that evening. Today, I’ll put away the rest of my Pesach things, write and file my notes, and tomorrow I’ll start looking forward to the coming holidays – Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom HaAtzmaut, Lag B’Omer, and Shavuot. Now where’s that cheesecake recipe?
Soup Chicken Bake with Soup Gravy
The flanken from my chicken soup is always reserved for my husband, who loves it with horseradish and a pickle. But there’s always plenty of chicken left too.
It’s easier to pull the meat from the bones when it’s warm, so I do it when I strain the soup. When I get to using the chicken, all I have to do is shred it. This year I had enough to make this dish and some chicken salad too.
For the Dish
About 4 C shredded chicken
8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 small onion, chopped
Carrots from the soup, chopped
About 2 TBSP oil
½ C chicken soup
Salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika
4 boards of matzo, soaked for a minute or two
For the Gravy
2 TBSP potato starch
2 TSBP oil
1 C chicken soup
¼ C white wine
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large skillet, fry the mushrooms and onion in oil until onions are translucent.
3. Add chicken, seasoning, and soup. Toss together until well combined; add carrots and toss gently.
4. Soak the matzo for a minute of two. Working quickly, so the matzo doesn’t disintegrate, layer matzo and chicken mixture. Begin with matzo on the bottom and use about ¼ of the chicken for each layer, ending with matzo on top.
5. Brush the top with a little bit of oil so it gets crunchy. Bake in 350 degree oven for about ½ hour.
6. Meanwhile, make gravy. Use a whisk to thoroughly combine potato starch and oil.
7. Place in small saucepan, over medium heat. Slowly add the soup and wine, whisking continuously.
8. Continue heating and whisking until mixture comes together. Season with salt and pepper.
9. Serve hot, over chicken bake.