Yesterday marked the first day of Passover, one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays. Why was it my first, you ask? Well, being raised Irish-Catholic, this religious observance was not one I was familiar with until I came to Boston. Once here, I met many friends who were raised Jewish, learning a lot about their heritage, and my favorite part about heritage, their food traditions! Passover celebrates how God helped the children of Israel escape slavery in Egypt. When they escaped, they left in such a hurry they didn’t have time to wait for their bread to rise. To commemorate their escape, during the duration of Passover (8 days total), no leavened bread is eaten. Instead, matzo, a flat and unleavened bread, is substituted for all leavened bread. To kick off the Passover holiday, it is traditional for families to gather and have a special dinner called Seder. Here the family reads the story of how the Jews escaped from Egypt from a book called the Haggadah.
The culture around food is what got me involved in nutrition in the first place, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to get invited to such a special holiday meal. Every grocery store in the area of Brookline, MA (a predominately Jewish community) was stacked with matzo, so I was so excited to actually get a taste of it in a traditional setting. I was also intrigued with the cooking that goes into Passover – no yeast or flour is allowed, so everything traditionally using either is replaced with a matzo base – cookies, cakes, breads, soups – all made using matzo. And so I thought, what a fun cooking experiment for this foodie! I thought about all of my recipes, and how I could alter them to incorporate matzo and make an acceptable dish for Passover. I finally decided on apple pie.
Now I make a mean apple pie usually, but working with matzo was an experience, let me tell ya. The only substitution required was swapping the matzo for the flour (mostly for the crust) but here’s the thing I didn’t account for: matzo is super crumbly! So when I rolled out the crust, it definitely did not want to be casually picked up and plopped down into a pie dish. Oh no. It wanted to fall apart all over the counter. Fortunately, after demolishing the bottom crust (I ended up smooshing crust chunks into the pie pan), I came up with a creative way to transfer a full top crust onto the pie: rolling it onto wax paper, and then flipping it ON to the pie! Genius right?! Well I was certainly proud of my innovation. And it sure looked pretty, but the real test was how it would taste.
Well, it ended up tasting so good that I didn’t even have a chance to snap a picture of it! The pie was cut, passed out, and the whole thing gone in a matter of minutes! Some people said the crust was slightly reminiscent of an ice cream cake-cone, but I’ll let you all decide for yourselves – here is the recipe!
Passover Seder Apple Pie
Double Pie Crust Ingredients:
2 ¼ cups matzo cake meal
2/3 cup shortening (or substitute Kosher margarine if preferred)
¾ tsp salt
10-15 tablespoons of water
Pie Filling Ingredients:
6 cups of sliced thinly, baking apples (I used Gala and left the peels on for extra fiber)
1 tbsp lemon juice (optional)
¾ cups sugar
2 tablespoons of matzo cake meal
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- In a food processors, blend together shortening, matzo cake meal, salt, cover and blend until mixture resembles cornmeal. With processor running, begin adding water until you reach 10-15 tablespoons of water. Remove dough and form into a ball. Divide dough half.
- Place a sheet of wax paper on table, sprinkle with matzo cake meal, and roll one half of dough into a flat circle. Lift wax paper, and flip dough into pie dish. Flatten into pie dish.
- In a large bowl, slice apples up and sprinkle with lemon juice (if desired).
- In a separate small bowl, mix together sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and 2 tbsp of matzo cake meal.
- Mix sugar mixture in with apples, and transfer mixture, once thoroughly coated, into pie dish.
- Take other half of dough and repeat rolling process on wax paper (see above).
- Flip dough circle on top of apple mixture. Crimp edges of crust together (see right), and cut a few small slits in the top crust to allow for steam circulation.
- If desired, brush top of crust with milk and sprinkle with sugar, for a nice shiny look.
- Cover edges of pie with foil to reduce risk of burning edges. Bake pie for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 20 minutes, or until filling is bubbly.
- Remove from oven, let cool, and enjoy!
Traditional Seder Plate
In addition to my apple pie, our fantastic dinner consisted of matzo ball soup, brisket, simmus (which is sweet potato, prunes, and squash), kugel, and a fun assortment of matzo-based cookies and treats. So many delicious new foods, my taste buds were exploding (as was my belt – yowza)! I was also exposed to the traditional Seder Plate at dinner, which consisted of six traditional Seder items:
- Maror: Bitter herbs, horseradish in our case, representing the harshness of slavery in Egypt.
- Charoset: A sweet, brown mixture representing the mortar used by Jewish slaves to build storehouses in Egypt. Ours was made of apples, cinnamon, chopped nuts, and red wine.
- Karpas: A vegetable dipped in salt water (we used cucumber), representing tears and the pain felt by the Jewish slaves in Egypt.
- Z’roa: A roasted lamb shankbone, symbolizing the lamb offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and eaten as a part of the meal on Seder night, as well as the tenth plague in Egypt where all firstborns where killed.
- Beitzah: A hard-boiled egg, symbolic of an ancient fertility symbol as well as representative of the mourning for the loss of the two temples destroyed by the Romans.
After dinner, I made the decision that I’m going to try and keep with Passover tradition for the full 8 days, going without leavened bread, for a fun food experiment. I know it’s not the strictest form of following Passover (many people avoid fermented beverages and other foods as well), but I thought it would be kind of fun to incorporate this little bit of tradition into my life for a few days. It will be like a trial of Atkins but with meaning! Do you guys have any good Passover-friendly dishes to keep me going?? I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!
Do you have any fun food traditions that you and your loved ones keep?
*Note: Many Jewish families may observe Passover traditions differently.