Passover Dishes & What They Symbolise
Matzo is an unleavened flatbread that is part of Jewish cuisine.
Passover 2022 starts on the evening of Friday 15 April, coinciding this year with Easter weekend. The Seder meal, a ritualised festive dinner, is held on the first night, or the second night for those living outside of Israel. Passover or Pesech in Hebrew is the story of Exodus, the end of the Jews' captivity in Egypt, and is one of the most important in the Jewish calendar.
Here are some foods traditionally associated with Passover, many of which are widely available in numerous countries and well worth discovering.
An unleavened bread that usually looks like a large, square cracker. Matzo symbolises the bread that did not have time to rise when the Jews fled Egypt. During Passover foods may not be prepared with any flour, grains, grain products or leavening agents. Most Ashkenazi (East European) Jews don't eat corn, beans or lentils either.
Nowadays matzo are available all year round. However observant Jews will only consume foods specially sanctified by the Chief Rabbi for Passover. This means Jews like my paternal grandparents eat only larder foods specially made for Passover and, after a thorough clean-out of anything containing flour, have a special set of crockery, pans and cutlery.
The Seder plate
This is a plate on which the ceremonial foods of the Seder meal are placed and eaten at symbolic junctures throughout the service. Each of the five or six foods has a special meaning, commemorating a different part of the Passover journey and Jewish history.
During the meal, the Haggadah, or story of the Exodus is read out, usually by everyone at the table. Sometimes those participating in the Seder have different versions of the Hagaddah and bicker over the order of each ritual in true family fashion.
Seder plate foods & symbolism
- Haroset – a delicious mix of slow cooked fruit and nuts (I like a mix of apple, walnuts, raisins or sour cherries mixed with orange juice, honey and a little kosher wine). It symbolises the mortar used by the Jews as they built the pyramids for the Egyptians as slaves.
- Zeroa – a lamb shank which represents the animal sacrifice made at the temple before the Exodus. Sometimes the wing, leg or neck of a chicken is used instead. The zeroa is not actually eaten during the Seder meal.
- Beitzah – a hard-boiled egg that is then scorched. It represents sacrifice.
- Hazeret – bitter herbs. Fresh horseradish and lettuce are often used. These are supposed to recall the bitterness of slavery. Sometimes both are served separately on the plate.
- Karpas – a vegetable, but parsley, called karpas in Hebrew, is often chosen. It is dipped into salt water to symobolise the tears of the Israelite slaves.
Other Passover Dishes
Chicken broth with kneidlach matzo balls
No Jewish feast is complete without chicken soup, known as 'Jewish penicillin' for its restorative properties. The soup is served with kneidlach, which my Hungarian great grandmother expertly made. Kneidlach are a special dumpling made with chicken, matzo, almonds and herbs. Broad beans (double de-podded to show their vibrant green) are often served to represent spring and hope.
Roast chicken or lamb with spinach stuffing
Roast meat served with a stuffing made with rice for those who are comfortable eating it or from matzo meal plus fresh herbs, mushrooms and citrus zest.
Vegetarian passover main dish
Pastel pies made with matzo meal pastry used as a sandwich with a spinach, feta and dill filling or a matzo meal and potato flour strudel pastry with roast vegetables.
Parve almond cake (flour-free)
Flour-free cakes are now widely eaten year round. For Passover, I like to carry on my mother’s tradition of making a somewhat flat (don’t expect a big rise) almond cake resplendent with ground almonds and served with stewed apricots.
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