Matzo Baklava

Matzo BaklavaThis dessert just gets better with time. I would always plan on serving it the next day, or even the day after that, as the longer it sits, the longer the matzo has a chance to soak up the sweet lemony syrup. This recipe will make 9 to 16 squares (depends how small you slice it).

Ingredients:

6 sheets matzo

For syrup:
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey

For assembly:
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup shelled raw unsalted natural pistachios, chopped
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted margarine or butter, melted

Directions:

Briefly pass each sheet of matzo under cold running water until wet on all sides. Layer sheets between damp paper towels and let stand until somewhat pliable but not soggy or falling apart, about 2 hours. While matzo is softening, make syrup.

In small saucepan over moderately high heat, stir together the water and sugar. Bring to boil, then lower heat to moderate and cook, uncovered, until syrupy and thick, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and honey and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool, then chill until ready to use.

To Assemble the Dessert:

Preheat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, stir together walnuts, pistachios, brown sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom. Separate out ⅙ of nut mixture and reserve for topping cooked baklava.

Transfer 1 sheet of the prepared matzo to the counter. Press a rolling pin once over the sheet from one end to other to flatten. Rotate 90 degrees and repeat. Using a pastry brush, grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square pan with the melted butter/margarine. Lay one sheet of flattened matzo on the bottom of the pan, and then spread with more melted butter/margarine. Sprinkle the matzo with ⅕ of unreserved nut mixture. Roll out second sheet of matzo and transfer to pan. Brush with margarine and sprinkle with nut mixture. Repeat with remaining matzo sheets and remaining nut mixture, ending with matzo sheet brushed with margarine on top.

Bake until golden, about 25 minutes. Keeping the baklava in the pan, place the pan on a cooling rack so that it can cool all around, and immediately pour the chilled syrup over. It may seem like a lot of syrup, but the matzo will absorb it all. Sprinkle with reserved nut mixture. Let cool, then cover and let stand at least 8 hours and up to 3 days. (Do not chill.) Cut into small squares or diamonds and serve.

Got a Question? We have 4! (3 Days to Go…)

Four QuestionsThose of you that have attended a Passover Seder before will surely recall a guest standing up and singing (or what passes for singing in some families) the “Mah Nishta’nah” or known in English as “The Four Questions“. Literally translated “Mah Nishta’nah” means “What has changed” or “What is different“, and it is the opening line of four questions that are asked by the youngest (who is able to speak) attendee at the Seder. This tradition gets played out differently household to household, with sometimes the youngest member of each family unit attending asks (great if you have a lot of guests) or sometimes the “youngest” can be your 36 year old cousin in from Baltimore. It doesn’t matter if it is sung or spoken, or even what language the questions are asked in (we’ve had English, Hebrew, Spanish, French and Yiddish all at one sitting!) What does matter is that they are asked, and that they are answered.

So why are the four questions there anyway? Well of course, for every question there are a dozen answers, and in this case, we have four, so you do the math! But here are some highlights for you (yes, before you ask, of course I got them from Chabad.org!)

Why are the questions part of the Seder? A quick answer is to involve the children, make them curious, so they are part of the ceremony. But why have this part of the Passover Seder? Why not make children part of the ceremony of another holiday? What is special about Passover? Well, many things are special about Passover, but most of all, it celebrates our freedom from slavery. As a slave, you are not allowed to question anything. You have no opinion and no freewill. Especially a child slave, who would be even lower than an adult, lacking the maturity needed to articulate their own thoughts and beliefs. But here, on Passover, we are now free, the Jewish people, even the children were given the possibility to ask, to question. By asking, by learning, you grown beyond your current state and reach a higher level. The Jewish people, once freed, were able to do that, and asking the four questions symbolizes that quest.

I hope this answers some of your questions, but remember the essence here is to ask, to seek to learn. That is why, even if you’re having a Seder alone, you still ask the questions. On the bright side, if you’re alone, you’re also the one with all the answers!

* photo credit to Keren Keet. You can see more of her work at www.kerenkeet.co.uk.

Garlic Lemon Chili Chicken

garlic lemon chili chickenA little savoury garlic, a little tart lemon, and a kick of chili heat! This chicken dish will hit all the flavour notes at your dinner table! This dish will serve 5 to 7 guests.

Ingredients:

4-5 lbs. chicken pieces, bone in, skin on
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large fresh lemons (zest and juice)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tablespoon chili powder (mild)
2 teaspoons red chili pepper flakes (or less to taste)
Salt and pepper

Directions:

Place chicken pieces in a single layer on the bottom of a roasting pan or dish. Sprinkle pieces generously with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, zest the two lemons. Cut them in half and juice them into the bowl. Add olive oil, garlic, chili powder and chili pepper flakes. Whisk together all ingredients till well combined. Brush the chicken pieces generously with the marinade till evenly coated. Pour remaining marinade over the top of the pieces. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours (no longer, or the acid in the lemon juice will break down the chicken meat).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the plastic wrap and cover the roasting pan or dish tightly with foil. Cut a few slits in the foil around the edges to vent. Place chicken in the oven and cook for about 1 hour, until the juices run clear and internal temperature reaches 170 degrees. Remove the foil and raise the oven temperature to 425 degrees. Cook the chicken for about 10 more minutes until it is nicely browned and the skin is crisp.

4 Cups of Wine and 4 Days to Go…

4 cups of wineSo is it a coincidence that we drink 4 cups of wine at the Passover Seder, and we have 4 days to go until the holiday begins?! No, it’s not (I thought, 4 days… what else is 4 to do with Passover, ah hah! a link!). So while there is no mystical reason behind today’s syncing of numbers, there are reasons behind the 4 cups of wine.

Firstly, wine is considered a kingly beverage, and it is an appropriate drink for the holiday in which we celebrate our freedom from slavery and Egypt. As for the number four? There are several different explanations that the Scholars have passed down to us (again, thank you Chabad.org!)

  • When promising to deliver the Jews from Egyptian slavery, G‑d used four terms to describe the redemption (Exodus 6:6-8): a) “I shall take you out…” b) “I shall rescue you…” c) “I shall redeem you…” d) “I shall bring you…”
  • We were liberated from Pharaoh’s four evil decrees: a) Slavery b) The ordered murder of all male progeny by the Hebrew midwives c) The drowning of all Hebrew boys in the Nile by Egyptians d) The decree ordering the Israelites to collect their own straw for use in their brick production.
  • The four cups symbolize our freedom from our four exiles: The Egyptian, Babylonian, and Greek exiles, and our current exile which we hope to be rid of very soon with the coming of Moshiach.
  • The words “cup of wine” are mentioned four times in Pharaoh’s butler‘s dream (Genesis 40:11-13). According to the Midrash, these cups of wine alluded to the Israelites’ liberation.

Yes, for those of you who are counting, that was 4 reasons for the 4 cups. What can I say, I’m on a roll!

* photo credit to Steve Greenberg. You can check out his website at www.greenberg-art.com.

Sweet-and-Sour Celery

Sweet and Sour CeleryThis is a nice, easy side dish that gives a little sweet and a little sour to balance out the flavours. This recipe will serve 8 people.

Ingredients:

¾ cup water
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons mild honey
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
4 lbs celery, cut into 2-inch pieces, reserving about 1 cup inner celery leaves* (2 to 3 bunches, any dark green outer ribs peeled)
¼ cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley*

* Click here to learn how to properly clean these ingredients.

Directions:

Cut a round of parchment paper to fit just inside a wide heavy 6-to 8-quarts pot, then set round aside. Simmer water, lemon juice, oil, honey, salt, and pepper in pot, stirring, until honey has dissolved. Stir in celery (but not leaves) and cover with parchment round. Simmer until tender and liquid is reduced to about ¼ cup, 35 to 40 minutes. Meanwhile, coarsely chop reserved leaves. Serve celery sprinkled with celery leaves and parsley.

The Plagues – Creative Punishment (8 Days to Go!)

PlaguesSo most people out there, Jewish or not, secular or observant, are pretty familiar with the ten plagues of Egypt. If you’ve ever seen Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” (who can resist Charlton Heston playing Moses?!) or even the more recent (and unfortunately bad) “The Reaping” starring Hilary Swank, then you know all about the rivers turning red with blood, and locusts consuming whole fields of corn.

Okay, we can admit, none of the plagues are good. Some seem worse than others, and scientists have over the years given different explanations on how these plagues could have occurred naturally and may in fact have created a cause and effect pattern, leading from one to the next.

Okay, those are the scientists… Let’s talk about the scholars though! First off, why 10? Why these 10? For those of you who read my blog often enough, you’ll start to see that I’m a big fan of Chabad.org. They of course had the answer… and spelled it out so well that I’ve included it below:

The number [10] is indeed significant. On one occasion, Moses approached Pharaoh and said: “So said the L‑rd G‑d of Israel, “Send out My people, and let them sacrifice to Me in the desert.” (Exodus 5:1) Pharaoh responded: “Who is the L‑rd, that I should heed His voice to let Israel out? I do not know the L‑rd, neither will I let Israel out.” (Exodus 5:2)

But in fact, Pharaoh was very familiar with the concept of G‑d. The Egyptians worshipped deities of all sorts, and Pharaoh even considered himself a god. But he did not believe in an omniscient, all-powerful G‑d who created absolutely everything out of nothingness. We know that G‑d created the world with His speech; to be precise, with ten utterances [to learn more about this, click here]. But Pharaoh denied these ten divine utterances.

And so, the ten plagues corresponded with the various elements that G‑d created in the world, each one demonstrating that a seemingly stable and independent aspect of creation—something which could easily be attributed to “nature”—was entirely in G‑d’s hands. Thus, the plagues proved that G‑d truly is the omniscient, all-powerful Creator.

1. Blood
The first plague, which eliminated drinkable water, established that G‑d rules over the water.
2. Frogs
During the plague of frogs, the creatures even got into the stone ovens, which proved that G‑d rules over all physical man-made creations.
3. Lice
With the third plague, lice, which was accomplished by striking the dirt, it became known that G‑d rules over all the dust of the land.
4. Wild Animals
The fourth plague, where the wild animals destroyed anything in their way, demonstrated that G‑d rules over all of the animals of the land.
5. Pestilence
Through spreading disease amongst the animals, it became known that G‑d controls all of the air we breathe.
6. Boils
The boils all over the Egyptian bodies established that G‑d can cause any living person or animal to suffer or to be healed.
7. Hail
The plague of hail, which rained in the form of fire in ice, declared that G‑d controls the element of fire.
8. Locust
When locusts consumed all the crops, it became clear that G‑d rules over the earth’s vegetation.
9. Darkness
By dropping thick darkness over the Egyptians for several days, G‑d demonstrated that only He can change that which is found in the sky.
10. Death of the Firstborn
Through the death of only the Egyptian firstborn, it became known that G‑d rules over the angels and the spiritual worlds.

Well, I think it’s fair to say that there really was ‘rhyme and reason’ behind the plagues and the purpose of them. Hopefully, we can learn from their mistakes, and move forward, to a time where this will remain only a history lesson and never become current events.

Fish Soup

Fish SoupThis is a nice alternative to chicken soup, and combines the fish course and soup course into one! All the flavour, half the work! This recipe will serve about 12 people.

Ingredients:

⅓ cup olive oil
2 medium onions, quartered
2 large leeks, white part and most of the green part, sliced*
4 stalks celery
1 bulb fennel, quartered (save the fronds for garnish)*
6 cloves garlic
1 large bunch parsley*
2 red peppers, seeded and cut in chunks
Head and tail of a large salmon, tile fish, or any other big fish, quartered, loosely but securely wrapped in cheesecloth
2 (540ml) cans crushed tomatoes
8 cups water
2 large potatoes, cut in small cubes
1 cup dry white wine
½ teaspoon cayenne, or a little more to taste
Good pinch ground cloves
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon paprika
2 good pinches saffron
8 cups fish, cubed, about 1” size (salmon, tile or snapper)

* Click here to learn how to properly clean these vegetables and herbs.

Directions:

In a food processor, coarsely grind the onions, leeks, celery, fennel, garlic, parsley and peppers. You can do this in batches if you have a smaller processor or you find the vegetables are becoming over processed.

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil, and then add the vegetable mixture. Sauté the mixture until the onions and leeks become translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes. Mix often so that nothing sticks and burns.

Next, add the head and tail of the fish (in the cloth), along with the tomatoes, water, potatoes, wine, cloves, bay leaves and paprika. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and let cook for 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecloth with the fish parts in it, and then add the chopped up fish meat and saffron to the pot. Allow the soup to cook another few minutes until the chopped fish has cooked through. Adjust salt and pepper to taste, and then serve hot, garnished with a few fronds from the fennel.

Bedikat Chametz – The Search for Chametz (9 Days to Go!)

Burnt ToastThe holiday of Passover was made for people with OCD. Think about it; the massive cleaning, the counting of cups and plagues… Even the strict time lines involved in the baking of Matzo (the Matzo only has 18 minutes from the time the water and flour first mix until it is removed from the oven, or it is considered Chametz, or leavened, and not allowed for use on Passover). So imagine, after you’ve done all that cleaning and preparing, you now have to go around your house, the very night before the holiday begins, and purposely put out crumbs of bread!

Okay, this is where my OCD’ers have minor heart attacks. Why? How? Huh? Okay, deep breaths people. Here is why we do it (thanks to Chabad.org for the following explanation. You can learn more by clicking here)

The dispersal of pieces of chametz around the home prior to the bedikat chametz (ceremonial search for chametz on the evening before Passover) is not obligatory — the obligation is to search, not necessarily to find — but has become accepted Jewish custom. Based on kabbalistic reasoning, it is customary to place ten pieces of bread around the home before the search. On the eve of Passover, when the entire home has been spotlessly cleaned, it is highly doubtful that any chametz would be found in the home. These pieces which will now be “found,” will give us “chametz fuel” for the traditional chametz burning ceremony on the following morning. Otherwise, it is conceivably possible for the entire chametz burning tradition to be forgotten.

I hope this helps explain a little bit about why we do it, and why, in Jewish neighbourhoods on the morning of the eve of Passover you can smell burnt toast for miles!

Moroccan Fish

Moroccan FishThis is another alternative to regular gefilte fish, and will work well for people that don’t keep gebrokts (those that don’t mix matzo with liquids), as there is no matzo meal used in this recipe. If you’re not crazy about cilantro (like me) you can use parsley instead and you can cut down on the amount of chili peppers as well if you’re not into the heat. This recipe will serve 8.

Ingredients:

8 boneless fish fillets (best if you use a firm, dense fish like halibut or snapper)
2 bunches fresh cilantro/parsley, cut into large pieces*
2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into long thin strips
10 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
4-6 large dried red chili peppers (or less depending on preference)
½ teaspoon turmeric
3 cups water
⅔ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 heaping tablespoons paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

* Click here to check how to clean cilantro and parsley.

Directions:

For this recipe, you will need a sauté pan, it’s like a wide, deep skillet with higher sides. Before you start cooking, reserve a few pieces of the cilantro/parsley for garnish. Place cilantro/parsley, bell pepper slices, garlic and chili peppers in the bottom of the pan to create a “bed” for the fish. Place fish fillets on top of the other ingredients. Season fillets generously with salt and pepper, then sprinkle turmeric evenly across fillets. Add the water to the pan. Cover pan, turn flame on high, and bring to a boil. As soon as the water boils, reduce heat to medium and uncover the pan. Mixture should be simmering lightly at this point. Allow mixture to simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes, basting fillets periodically, until the water reduces by half and turns yellow.

In a small bowl, mix together olive oil and paprika with a fork. Pour red oil mixture over the fish fillets, coating them evenly. Let the fish simmer uncovered for 20 minutes more, basting frequently. Fish is done when liquid is reduced to about a quarter of what it was originally, and the fish has turned a rich red colour.

Serve the warm fish and bell peppers, drizzled with some of the sauce and garnish with the remaining fresh cilantro/parsley leaves.

10 Days to Go… Who Knows 10?

Matzah Record PlayerSo part of the fun of the Passover Seder is not just the food, or the telling over of the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the reading of the Haggadah, but rather it’s the “after party” so to speak. What? Never been to an after-Seder after party? Let me tell you, it’s where all the cool kids hang out! So what exactly is this party I’m talking about? It all the songs at the end of the Haggadah, which the recital of which, especially after four glasses of wine, can turn into quite the raucous affair.

There are lots of different tunes and melodies that people like to use for the Hallel or Songs of Praise portion, but for me, one of my all-time favourites is the “kid” song of “Echad – Mi Yodeya” or “Who Knows One?”

In “Who Knows One?” the song takes you through a count up and down with repeated verses, each verse getting longer as you include the previous one in the new addition. It starts with “Who knows one? I know one! One is Hashem (G-d) in the Heavens and the Earth!” It continues with the following numbered list:

1 is Hashem – in the Heavens and the Earth
2 are the Tablets that Moshe (Moses) brought (i.e.: the Ten Commandments)
3 are the (Fore) Fathers (i.e.: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob)
4 are the Mothers (i.e.: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah)
5 are the books of the Torah
6 are the books of the Mishnah (i.e.: the oral Torah)
7 are the days of the week
8 are the days of Bris Millah (i.e.: days until circumcision)
9 are the months before birth
10 are the Commandments
11 are the stars in Joseph’s dream (click here to learn more about this)
12 are the Tribes of Israel
13 are the Attributes of G-d (click here to learn more about this)

So… since we keep adding a verse with each new number, plus we repeat all the previous numbers after adding a new number…well, by the time you get to number 13, you have quite the mouthful! And did I mention that it’s very late at night by this point and you’ve had four glasses of wine? Like I said, it’s quite the party! What are your favourite Passover songs? Let me know!

* photo credit to Matzo Mania on Shtetl on the Shortwave.