Thursday, April 2, 2009

Dining Like a King

There have been any number of comments on the blogs and in conversations elsewhere about how Pesach is a killer holiday because there is nothing to eat. There have been many complaints about the spices we can't use, and the vegetables we can't use and the grains we can't use and everything under the sun that we can't use. Pesach food tastes terrible and is bad for you and there is no variety. Kugels are yucky! The kids hate Pesach food, my husband hates Pesach food, I hate Pesach food is commonly heard. Sorry, but what planet are these complainers living on?

Let me use a moshul here to make my point. Those of you who know the Avenue J area in Brooklyn also know that it is jampacked with eateries of every description, fast and otherwise. There are a zillion fruit and veggie markets and groceries. There are lots of coffee houses. Turn on to Coney Island Avenue and the bounty continues. No way are you going to go hungry in this area. A few years back one of the eateries on Avenue J closed down for about a week for renovations. You had to see the tumult among the students in my college. Faces were downcast and people walked around complaining that the place was closed. All everybody wanted was what that place served. Why? Because they couldn't have it. Suddenly everyone was feeling deprived. Now it's not that this was the most popular place in Brooklyn, nor was the food the best ever seen either. But it was there whenever you felt in the mood to go there, and then suddenly it was not.

Our attitudes about Pesach are a lot like the students' attitudes about that eatery: we want what we can't have. Suddenly those items are endowed with all kinds of wonderful characteristics that place them above anything else that there is to be had. For heavens sake, lighten up! You can't have cumin for a week? There's no corn, no rice? And this is a tragedy just how? A tragedy is c"v someone falling ill. A tragedy is someone c"v losing a job. It's not a tragedy if you lose mustard seed and celery seed.

If you want variety on Pesach there are a zillion things to eat and a zillion ways to prepare those things. If you're stuck in a rut, that's what cookbooks are for. And if you are reading this then you have access to a computer and hundreds, if not thousands, of recipes are available for just a little clicking. Some of those recipes are going to require a little patchking around to make--what, you thought you'd have to expend no effort? Want additional inspiration? The menus for some of the restaurants which have hashgochah for Pesach are posted online. Le Marais has on its menu "Poached white asparagus, tomatoes,
almonds, arugula vinaigrette." Sounds intriguing.

My family loves the meals on Pesach. Some of the things I prepare I only make for Pesach or for yom tovim and they look forward to seeing them on the table. The problem in our house is not that there isn't enough to eat but that it's hard to limit how much I'm making.

And just a final word about those kugels: if the kugel you are eating/making tastes yucky then the problem is not in its being a kugel--this is a cook/recipe problem. I've got dozens of different kugel recipes and when made right they are ta'am gan eden. But if you truly don't like kugel no matter how it is made, then what is the problem? As far as I know Hilchos Pesach does not specify that we have to eat kugel.

Go ahead, sling those arrows--I can take it, but if the food on Pesach is boring don't blame the food--look at the cook.


G6 said...

Well said (if not just a tad bit harshly ;) ).
I think the problem is with people trying to make the food fit the restrictions instead of finding the foods that are permissible and preparing them well.
Doctoring recipes seldom yields pleasant results.

Rae said...

Somebody sounds just a bit cranky--perhaps lack of sleep? But I do tend to agree that there is a lot of great food that can be cooked for Pesach if you look at what you can use instead of what you can't use and take it from there.

mother in israel said...

I don't cook fancy food, and no one complains over here. Fresh herbs and meat that is not overcooked, witha variety of vegetables and salads are the key. Kugels are fattening and too much work--I make one once or twice. Of course, we have a lot less yom tov to worry about. :)
I don't believe that all the recipes in the world make any difference. Pesach food is Pesach food. It has its own special flavor. Yes, it gets tiresome after a while but it eventually ends.

Anonymous said...

I think Pesach food is the best of the entire year. So does the rest of my family. There are 2 tricks, one, don't try to replicate the exact same foods you make during the rest of the year with chametz ingredients, and two, make liberal use of the things you do have available in interesting ways.

One of the things that my family likes best is matzah brei, you wouldn't believe it, but it's considered a wonderful "mychel" in our house. My wife and kids have already started talking about it with their mouths watering, and my wife informed me that she wants me to make it everyday (except shabbat, of course). Here's how I make it -

Break a few eggs into a pyrex measuring cup. Add heavy cream. Add salt. Mix well, very well. Break matzah into small pieces (maybe 1/2 inch or so on a side) and put them into the egg mixture. Stir the whole thing around with a fork. Add olive oil and butter, about half of each, into a non-stick pan, and heat at medium. Sprinkle (or grind) some black pepper into the mixture. Stir the mixture some more, you want the matzah to really soak up the egg mixture. Tilt the hot pan in all directions to be sure that the olive oil/butter is spread all around, and even a little up the sides of the pan. Pour the entire matzah/egg mixture into the pan. Sometimes I add the ground black pepper at this point instead. Let it cook for a minute or two to "set", then stir with a plastic or wooden spoon a little while breaking the hardening mixture into pieces. Turn the little pieces over and over as they cook. DON'T OVERCOOK IT, if you like your eggs fully cooked and not at all runny, then it's okay to cook it until some of the pieces are starting to brown, but take it off the heat at that point. Serve. But be ready to prepare another batch right away because it will disappear rapidly :-)

You could use milk instead of cream, but it won't be quite as good. But please, please, please, use whole milk rather than the reduced fat versions (or God forbid skim milk) for this particular dish.

My kids also love matzah with butter, with cream cheese, with butter and honey, with sliced cheese, with chocolate spread, etc. And not just on Pesach, but for a few months after Pesach as well.

Mark [whose wife and kids ate matzah brei in the sukkah this year. More than once, and more than twice!]

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention in my previous post that I once made the matzah brei sweet, like french toast (same ingredients and process, except replace the salt and pepper with sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon), and it didn't get eaten up (well, not as fast as the usual kind). I haven't made the sweet one again since. Maybe I'll try again this year. I can't wait until it's Pesach!


הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

...I still can't tell if you're a Touro proffesor or a Brooklyn Colege proffesor (I'm in Touro, so I would consider the former a little funny)! : ).

nmf #7 said...

Well, some people insist on making the recipes that have been used for generations- despite the fact that they tasted horrible then.
But most of my Pesach food is delicious! I actually love Pesach food- much more vegetables and fresh items are used!

Simi said...

I know my reason for hating cooking on Pesach. I'm more exhausted going into Pesach then with any other Yom Tov. The shopping and preparing the house is way harder. And then there's the kitchen. Nothing is where it's supposed to be so it takes more time to find what I'm looking for. I only empty a few cabinets to use on Pesach and there's no room for all the items I use in cooking a whole year. Instead of a real heavy mixer I have a hand mixer. I don't have a food processor for Pesach so I'm stuck grating and chopping everything by hand. Our microwave can't be kashered so I've got one stove to work with. I don't have space in the apartment to store too much for Pesach. I don't experiment on Pesach because of no time, no space and no strength left. I'd love to have more exciting food for Pesach--let someone invite me over for a meal!

miriamp said...

That's why I don't buy into the fake food game. No fake bread no fake bagels, no fake donuts... just real food that wasn't intended to be chametz in the first place!

Jack Steiner said...

I like the food we eat during Pesach.

Anonymous said...

It's not that Pesach foods aren't tasty, it's that our diet is so different than the rest of the year that it's hard to adapt quickly. During the year my family constantly eats pasta, homemade pizza and bread, cereals such as Cheerios and Rice Krispies, and Pesach is just *very* different.

Scraps said...

Personally, my family doesn't try to make chametzdik recipes kosher l'Pesach. However, most of the food my mother serves for yom tov meals on Pesach is food she could have served any other Shabbos or yom tov throughout the year. For that matter, she tries to make mostly "normal" food during chol hamoed Pesach, too. We eat just fine. :)

Eva said...

You've been posting an awful lot this week for its being this close to Pesach. Not complaining, just saying. So are you avoiding Pesach preparation? Or are you that far ahead that you can afford the time to sit and post?

Knitter of shiny things said...

Growing up, I used to hate passover food. My family did not keep kosher during the rest of the year, but we did keep passover. We didn't have any passover cooking implements, so our food was either stuff from the kosher caterer (which did have good latkes) or matzah with cream cheese or butter or jam.

Then I got to college. Passover freshman year I stayed with the family of one of my friends who lived in the area. And the food was amazing. Of course, the rest of passover was spent on campus where the dining hall food was decent but had little variety. Only the meat kitchen was open, so no matzah and cream cheese.

One of my housemates has a wheat gluten allergy, so her diet is pretty much the same for passover as it is during the year except for kitniyot. But she's a really good cook. Sometimes she will make glutenous recipes into gluten-free ones and sometimes she will make things that are inherently gluten-free. I do agree that in general it's better to just eat things that would never have chametz in them to begin with. There are still endless possibilities.