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The Unnatural Cook

a chronicle of weekly meal plans from someone who can't just throw a meal together

Tag Archives: Passover

For many years now I have missed one of the highlights of Passover Weekend: Uncle Saul’s Matzoh Brei.

We are an equal opportunity family when it comes to religion, myself being Jewish and my husband not, so we often find ourselves rushing the day after the seder to celebrate Easter with friends at the Jersey Shore. But this year, with Passover in Vermont, Easter was off the table. That meant that after years of bemoaning my fate, I was present for Uncle Saul’s Matzoh Brei. The maztoh brei of my own youth was a mushy, wet affair that spread around the plate in an unappetizing sprawl. It was a sad replacement for french toast, not a delicacy in its own right.

Uncle Saul’s Maztoh Brei is something else entirely. Firm and buttery, chewy and salty and sweet and completely and utterly addictive. It also comes with a bonus: The Flip. The Flip is when Uncle Saul gathers all the assembled relatives into the kitchen to flip the brei like an Italian chef might flip a pizza, throwing it into the air and catching it in the pan. Before the flip is performed it is named, like a dive with points for degree of difficulty. Scoring is harsh: points are taken off for any crumb left on floor; Uncle Saul is one of 5 brothers and brothers show no mercy. But let it be known: four maztoh breis were made this weekend and all four ended up back in the pan. I suppose like the four questions, the answer was never really in doubt.


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Saturday dinner was another family favorite of the Kaplans (and now mine) Chicken Marbella.

Chicken Marbella is a Silver Palate Recipe, those ladies who, in the eighties, made sun dried tomatoes and tarragon part of every day cooking. I never bought into the tarragon, but I was a sun dried tomato fiend and that particular ingredient has always marked, for me, a change in the American palate. The eighties were the decade when the tomato became the pomodoro and “macaroni” which my mother purchased from the fine people at Mueller’s, turned into “pasta” that retained its Italian name: penne or fusilli or, when we became more daring, orecchiette or orzo. “Gourmet food” became the signifier for “good food.” Regular home chefs started getting fancy; in our house, we breaded our chicken with a pecan crust and served it with mustard cream sauce.

Chicken Marbella is Roasted Chicken with green olives & prunes. Deb served it with quinoa (Kosher for Passover, who knew? It’s a grass not a grain!) and a salad of mixed greens, beets and avocado. I must invite myself more frequently to Vermont.

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Because I am a selfish woman, it was not enough that I should be cooked for on Passover, I also had a secret hope that over the weekend, I would also be served Deb’s famous Mediterranean Roast Chicken & Vegetable Salad. I was not disappointed. This is a huge crowd pleaser for a huge crowd. It can be made in advance and keeps well for snacking, noshing and sending home with greedy guests who keep asking for more.

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Why is this night different than all other nights? Because I forgot to photograph the meal! It had nothing to do with the food itself (which was extraordinary) and everything to do with the four ritual cups of wine and my general enjoyment of celebrating Passover in a barn in Vermont with a spectacular clan of folks.

Passover is the beautiful tradition, thousands of years old, of passing Jewish history and religion down to the next generation. It is a celebration of family and of food and of storytelling. I have always tended toward the food myself, anxiously awaiting the arrival of page 61 in the Haggadah where it states “dinner is served.” But this year I got so caught up in the seder itself, I neglected my Unnatural Cook duties and have not one picture of the meal: Maztoh Ball Soup, Smoked Salmon w/beet & mache salad, Roasted Lamb, Potatoes with Olives & Fennel, Roasted Asparagus. My deepest apologies to the Kaplan chefs who fed us all so divinely!

During the seder the youngest child is required to recite the four questions which ask, why is this night different than all other nights? The answers, (because on this night we eat only matzoh, eat bitter herbs, dip our vegetables in salt water and recline at the table) are typically obscure, relating to the finer points of the rituals observed at Passover, and have always been slightly unsatisfactory to me. This night is different from all other nights because we take it up on ourselves to hold a service in our own homes which reminds us of the blessing of our own freedom and the hope that all people, everywhere might enjoy that same blessing some day.

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