Wednesday, April 5, 2006





It's Passover, Lighten Up



Joan Nathan


When Emily Moore, a Seattle-based chef and instructor, was invited to

consult on recipes for Streit's Matzo, she assumed that the baked goods

would have their traditional heft, because no leavening can be used

during Passover.


Not so, said Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik, a member of a prominent rabbinic

dynasty, who oversees the company's ritual observances.  Let the

cookies and cakes rise, he told her.  Let there be baking soda and

baking powder.


"He acted like I was crazy," Ms. Moore said.


The biblical prohibition against leavened bread at Passover -- which

begins on Wednesday night -- has kept observant Jews from using any

leavening at all.  Cakes and cookies of matzo meal (ground matzo),

matzo cake meal (which is more finely ground) and nuts can be tasty,

but dense.


So it will surprise many Jews -- it certainly surprised me -- that

among the profusion of products that most Orthodox certification

agencies have approved for Passover are not just baking soda, but also

baking powder.


Some rabbis are lifting other dietary prohibitions that they say were

based on misunderstandings or overly cautious interpretations of

biblical sanctions, and because they want to simplify the observance.


"The holiday has become overly complicated, and people are turning away

from the rigorous practice of it," said Rabbi Jeffrey A. Wohlberg, the

senior rabbi at conservative Adas Israel Congregation in Washington.


Last year, Rabbi Wohlberg said it was permissible for his congregants

to eat legumes, called kitniyot in Hebrew.  They are usually beyond the

pale at Passover for the most rigorous observers, but are increasingly

accepted by many Conservative and Orthodox rabbis, particularly in



"I have also talked to a lot of young mothers over the years whose

children, for example, are lactose intolerant and want to use soy

milk," Rabbi Wohlberg said.  "But soy is a bean and hasn't been



The restrictions have their roots in the Book of Exodus, which tells

of how the Israelites fled Egypt in such haste that they could not let

their bread rise and become "chometz" in Hebrew.  Only unleavened

bread, matzo, is eaten during the eight days of Passover, in memory of

the Israelites' hardships and in celebration of their escape from



"No leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory" during

Passover, it was written.  But, as Ms. Moore said, "There is a lot of

misunderstanding about what leavening means for Passover."


Jews avoid flour or grains, for fear that they might become leavened

even without the addition of yeast.  (Matzo meal, since it's already

been baked, is less likely to rise and become leavened.)


Matzo, a simple mixture of flour and water, must be made in less than

18 minutes to avoid the possibility that the dough could ferment and

then rise before being baked.  "The Talmud says that it should take no

longer to make matzo than the time to walk a Roman mile, which later

generations understood to be 18 minutes," said Dr. David Kraemer,

professor of Talmud and rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary.


At Passover, some ultra-Orthodox Jews will not eat matzo that has

become wet, including matzo balls.  Instead of matzo meal, or the fine

matzo cake meal, they use potato starch in cakes and other dishes.


But rabbis in even some of the most Orthodox associations say chometz

does not refer to all leavening.


"There is nothing wrong about a raised product at Passover per se,"

said Rabbi Moshe Elefant, executive rabbinic coordinator and chief

operating officer of the Orthodox Union's kosher division, the oldest

and most widely accepted certifier of kosher foods.


Lise Stern, author of "How to Keep Kosher" (Morrow, 2004), said:

"Chometz, which means sharp or sour, denotes bread that has a sourness

to it caused by fermentation, occurring when liquid is added to any of

the five grains mentioned in the Torah.  This refers to yeast, not

baking powder or baking soda."


Rabbi Soloveichik said: "They're just minerals.  What do we care about



While kosher for Passover baking soda and baking powder can be hard to

find in supermarkets, they have been available in Orthodox

neighborhoods for years.  Erba Food Products, of Brooklyn, made kosher

for Passover baking powder in the late 1960's.


Ms. Moore, who creates kosher recipes for the Elliott Bay Baking

Company in Seattle, adjusted recipes for matzo meal, which is heavier

than flour, to make vanilla sesame, lemon ginger and double chocolate

mocha cookies with baking soda or baking powder (made with potato

starch, not corn starch, which is made from a grain that is avoided).


The ban on legumes is connected to the ban on leavening.  Jews in

medieval Europe began to keep beans and lentils, as well as grains,

from the Passover table because until modern times they were often

ground into flour.  The use of rice and corn were later restricted,

too, by some Jews.  But Sephardic Jews of the Middle East continued

to eat them at Passover.


Over the past few years legumes have become accepted for Passover by

the Israeli Army and the Masorti movement (as Conservative Judaism is

known in Israel) partly because of increased intermarriage between

Sephardic Jews and Ashkenazi Jews, as those of European descent are



A delicious Moroccan Passover dish of shad and fava beans takes

advantage of the freer interpretation of the Passover pantry and the

bounty of spring.


The Passover table has changed in many ways.  More than 21,000 kosher

for Passover items are available in the United States, with 500 new

ones this year, said Menachem Lubinsky, president of Lubicom, a

marketing firm specializing in kosher food.


With such items as Passover pasta (made from potato starch), quinoa

salads, tricolored matzo balls, and ingredients like grape seed oil,

kosher organic chickens and matzo breadsticks, a lot of the suffering

is being taken out of Passover.


In the weeks before Passover, many homes are rigorously cleaned, and

every bit of chometz or leavening removed.  Some people avoid cooking

in their newly cleaned homes by going to a resort that is kosher for

Passover, a practice that in the past few years has been boosting

business in the Caribbean and around the country during a traditionally

slow period.


At the Hyatt Dorado Beach Resort and Country Club in Puerto Rico, Robin

Mortkowitz, a therapist in Fairlawn, N.J., who became Orthodox when she

married, was swept away by new foods like sushi made from quinoa, the

sesame-seed-sized kernel cultivated in the Andes that many certifying

agencies have ruled is not a forbidden grain.


"With people becoming more sophisticated, we have to step up the food

program," said Sol Kirschenbaum, an owner of Levana restaurant in New

York, which arranged the food at the Hyatt.  "It's wild mushrooms and

grilled rack of lamb, but I still need to have chicken soup and gefilte

fish for the 60- to 90-year-olds."


Kosher companies are also sprucing up their food.  Susie Fishbein,

author of the popular "Kosher by Design" series of cookbooks, said she

is creating recipes for the Manischewitz Web site and food boxes, like

tricolored matzo balls with green spinach, yellow turmeric and red

tomato paste, using olive oil instead of schmaltz.


"Companies like Manischewitz can't survive on kosher gefilte fish

anymore," Ms. Fishbein said.  "A whole new generation of cooks is

looking for fresh ideas."


But some still find beauty in tradition.  When the cookbook author

Tamasin Day-Lewis made a flourless almond cake with a fresh orange and

mandarin syrup for a party recently, some of her guests who were Jewish

said, "This is perfect for Passover."







   Adapted from Emily Moore

   Time: 30 minutes plus 1 hour for dough to rest


     3/4 cup plus

       3 Tablespoons  chocolate chips

     1/4 cup          brewed coffee

     1/2 cup          unsalted butter or margarine

     3/4 cup          white sugar

     3/4 cup          brown sugar

       2 large        eggs

       1 teaspoon     vanilla extract

       1 cup          matzo cake meal

     1/8 teaspoon     salt

     1/2 teaspoon     kosher for Passover baking powder

     1/2 teaspoon     cinnamon

       3 Tablespoons  finely ground dark coffee beans,

                        preferably espresso.


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment



2. Melt 1/2 cup of chocolate chips with coffee in a double boiler, or

in metal bowl in pot of hot water, stirring until smooth.  Set aside

to cool slightly.


3. Cream together butter or margarine and sugars, beating until light.

Mix in eggs, one at a time, then add vanilla.  Fold in chocolate



4. Mix matzo cake meal, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and 2 Tablespoons

of ground coffee beans in bowl and stir into batter with 1/4 cup of

chips.  Let sit for an hour, covered.


5. Drop cookie dough by tablespoons onto cookie sheets, about 2 inches

apart.  Press remaining chips on top of cookie dough and sprinkle on

ground coffee.


6. Bake for 15 minutes.


Yield: About 3 dozen cookies.






   Adapted from Emily Moore

   Time: 30 minutes plus 1 hour for dough to rest


      4 Tablespoons  toasted sesame seeds, ground

    1/2 cup          unsalted butter or margarine

      1 cup          sugar

    1/3 cup          kosher for Passover confectioners' sugar

      2 large        eggs

      1 Tablespoon   vanilla extract

    1/3 cup plus

      2 Tablespoons  toasted sesame seeds

                     grated zest of 2 small oranges to

                       make 3 Tablespoons zest

      1 teaspoon     ground anise seed

    3/4 teaspoon     kosher for Passover baking soda

    1/8 teaspoon     salt

      1 cup          matzo cake meal

      2 Tablespoons  potato starch.


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment



2. Cream together ground sesame seeds, butter or margarine, sugar and

confectioners' sugar until very light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs, one at

a time, then add vanilla, 1/3 cup toasted sesame seeds, 2 Tablespoons

orange zest and 1/2 teaspoon ground anise seed.


3. In separate bowl, mix baking soda, salt, matzo cake meal and potato

starch and stir into sesame batter.  Let sit for an hour, covered.


4. In separate bowl mix remaining sesame seeds, orange zest and ground



5. Drop dough by heaping teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets and sprinkle

with sesame-orange zest-anise mixture.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until

golden brown.


Yield: about 3 dozen cookies.






   Adapted from Tamasin Day-Lewis

   Time: 1 hour


For cake:

                     Butter or margarine to grease pan

      1 Tablespoon   matzo cake meal

      8 large        eggs, separated

      1 cup          sugar

                     Grated zest of 2 oranges

      2 teaspoons    cinnamon

      8 ounces       blanched almonds


For the syrup:

 3 to 4              oranges

     12              mandarin oranges

    3/4 cup          sugar


For the cream topping:

      1 cup          whipping cream or

                       kosher for Passover nondairy whipped topping

      1              vanilla pod, seeds scraped out with teaspoon

      1 heaping

        Tablespoon   sugar

  1 1/2 Tablespoons  orange liqueur.


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 10-inch springform pan and

sprinkle with matzo cake meal.


2. In medium bowl, mix egg yolks, sugar, grated orange zest and

cinnamon, and beat well.


3. Place half the almonds in food processor and pulverize.  Add

remaining almonds and pulse until coarsely chopped.  Stir into egg

yolk mixture.


4. In another bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Fold into

batter and pour into pan.


5. Bake for about 40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean when

inserted in center.


6. Meanwhile, squeeze oranges and mandarins for about 3 cups juice and

pour into small saucepan with 3/4 cup sugar.  Bring to boil and stir

to dissolve sugar.  Simmer gently until liquid has reduced by half and

is a sticky syrup. Keep warm enough not to set.


7. When cake is tepid, remove to large plate with lip and make holes

with toothpick or skewer all over it, right through to bottom.  Pour

syrup onto cake so it absorbs it all.  There will be a sticky pink

moat around it; let it sit for a few hours, occasionally spooning more

syrup over surface.


8. Pour cream or nondairy topping into bowl with vanilla seeds and

sugar and whisk until sloppily firm. Pour in orange liqueur, and whisk

until soft. Serve alongside cake.


Yield: 8 to 10 servings.






   Adapted from Nicole Amsellem

   Time: About 1 hour


    1/3 cup plus

      2 Tablespoons  extra virgin olive oil

 4 to 6 cloves       garlic, sliced

      3              red peppers, cut in 1-by-2-inch slices

      1 bunch        fresh cilantro, finely chopped

      2 pounds       fresh fava beans in shells

      1 teaspoon     salt or to taste

  1 1/2 teaspoons    sweet paprika

                     Black pepper to taste

    1/2 teaspoon     cayenne pepper (optional)

      2 pounds       boneless shad filets, with roe if you like

                       (or salmon or rockfish).


1. Heat 1/3 cup of oil in wide pan with cover.  Add garlic and red

peppers.  Sauté slowly for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add 2

cups water and bring to boil.  Reduce to medium-low heat, add half the

cilantro, and continue cooking, covered, for about 30 minutes, adding

a little more water if necessary.


2. While peppers are cooking, remove fava beans from pods.  Bring 6

cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a pot.  Cook fava

beans for about 4 minutes or until beans are al dente.  Drain, plunge

beans in iced water and slip skins off beans.


3. Add fava beans to peppers with 1 teaspoon paprika, remaining salt,

black pepper and cayenne pepper, if using, along with shad and roe. 

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of olive oil, remaining 1/2 teaspoon paprika

and all but 2 tablespoons of remaining cilantro on top of fish. 

Simmer, covered, until shad is cooked through, about 7 to 10 minutes,

adding more water if necessary.  Remove fish, vegetables and sauce to

a serving plate, and sprinkle remaining cilantro on top.


Yield: 4 to 6 servings.




Copyright 2006  The New York Times Company


Wednesday, April 12, 2006




Follow the Meaning of the Law



To the Editor:


I was disappointed by the article touting the many ways Jews can

lighten the dietary restrictions of Passover ("It's Passover, Lighten

Up," April 5).  As a Reform Jew I have come to understand that the

most important thing in Judaism is to understand the meaning of the

law, and not the letter of the law.


Do I find it necessary to throw out all my chometz (a wasteful

gesture) before Passover?  No.  But I do think it's reasonable, in

commemoration of the flight from Egypt, to abstain from all leavened

products.  To avoid leavened products, and even legumes, is to relive

this moment in Jewish history in some way.


It seems to me that kosher-for-Passover baking soda just makes our

lives even easier at a time when we abstain in order to remember how

lucky we are.


Jessamyn Blau









Copyright 2006  The New York Times Company