Passover has always been one of my favorite holidays. For those of you who don’t know, Passover is the celebration of the Jewish people’s exodus from slavery in Egypt. To commemorate this occassion, we have a “Seder,” or service, in our home, where we read the story of Passover, and then celebrate afterwards with a feast. Every year, I look forward to Matzah ball soup, “Charoset,” or cinnamon apples mixed with nuts, and other Passover food staples.
The only catch? On Passover, we’re not allowed to eat bread. This has to do with the part of the Passover story where the Jews wander the desert, and are unable to make leavened bread. By not eating bread for seven days, we pay tribute to what our ancestors had to suffer during their exodus.
For a couple days, the “no-leavened bread” rule feels like a fun challenge; I pretend that I’m on some kind of gluten-free kick, and start perusing flourless recipes online.
But after about Day Three, I start going through carb-withdrawl. I think part of this has to do with the integral role bread plays in my diet. My most distinct childhood food memories involve flour and sugar. One Passover when I was about eight, I started crying because I couldn’t make it 48 hours without bread. This ended with my mother making me a large, skillet-sized M&M pancake, doused in Maple Syrup.
However, my year in France changed my perspective on the holiday. Before, I had always had a choice about observing Passover. It was easy to come home for a Seder, buy a box of Matzah (i.e. un-leavened bread), and eat bread-less leftovers. In France, I would have had to take a one-hour train ride into Paris to buy a box of Matzah. And even then, I would have had to make this trip one or two weeks ahead of time, as the small Jewish quarter in Paris (Le Marais) closes for the holiday.
This year, I decided to give Passover my best effort. This meant no secret trips to the pantry to eat bowls of Rice-Krispies (“that’s not technically leavened bread…right?”) and not “accidentally” forgetting that tortillas are against the rules. I am committed to finding creative ways to embrace the holiday, in all its bread-less glory.
Yesterday, I made Matzah Granola. Giving up cereal is probably one of the hardest parts of Passover for me, but I remembered my best friend talking about her mother’s amazing Matzah cereal, made with cinnamon, honey, nuts, and Matzah farfel (broken up pieces of Matzah). I googled a recipe, and found one on Martha Stewart’s website. Apparently, the recipe comes from one of Martha Stewart’s employee’s mothers, and I will always trust a Jewish mother for a good Passover recipe.
I adapted this recipe to fit my tastes (walnuts instead of pecans, vegetable oil instead of margarine), and uncharacteristically, I left out the 1/2 cup of Brown Sugar. I thought the cereal would be healthier without the sugar, and sweet enough with the honey and cinnamon.
The granola is, in a word, delicious. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a quick and easy Passover breakfast. The raisins are plump and juicy, the almonds give the cereal a nice, toasted flavor, and the salt contrasts nicely with the honey and cinnamon. I put in a little more salt than the recipe called for (because I substituted oil for margarine), and you can use less to your taste.
For dinner, I made a classic Passover recipe: Matzah Lasagna. I have a childhood memory of making this at a family friend’s house. I remember layering the sauce and cheese with pieces of Matzah, and being pleasantly surprised by the baked Matzah’s noodle-like consistency.
This year, I sprinkled fresh spinach leaves on top of the cheese/sauce layers, and ad-libbed my own recipe from two I found online. Really, you don’t even need an exact recipe for this lasagna…You just break up Matzah, pour sauce and cheese over it, and continue layering until you get to the top of the casserole dish.
It’s quick, easy, and for a “faux” food, it tastes as good as the real thing. I love the fluffy Ricotta mixed with Mozzarella, the rich tomato sauce and the sprinkling of Parmesan on top.
I’d be lying if I said I still don’t miss bread. But in the spirit of the holiday, I’m willing to give the “no-leavened bread” rule my best shot…And so far, it has been easier than I thought it would be.
Matzah Granola (adapted from Martha Stewart/ Erica King)
- Baking No-Stick Spray
- 3 cups crumbled whole wheat matzo or matzo farfel
- 1 1/2 cups sliced almonds
- 1 1/2 cups walnuts
- 1/2 (and another 1/4) vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with baking spray; set aside.
- In a large bowl, mix together matzo, almonds, and walnuts.
- Add vegetable oil, honey, cinnamon, raisins, and salt to the large bowl with the matzo, almonds, and walnuts. Toss well to coat.
- Spread mixture on rimmed baking sheet and transfer to oven. Bake, stirring frequently, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
- Stir cooled granola on baking sheet and transfer to an airtight container, breaking up larger pieces. Cover container, and shake to combine. Granola may be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 to 2 weeks.
Matzah Lasagna (adapted from here and here)
- Matzah Boards (about 1/2 a box)
- 1 lb ricotta cheese
- 30-34 oz. tomato sauce (about 1 jar and a 1/2)
- 1 1/4 cups grated mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- Spinach leaves (rinsed and dried)
1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until thoroughly blended. Set aside.
3. Spread about 1/2 a cup (or more…you can eyeball it) of tomato sauce on the bottom of a large casserole dish.
4. Cover the sauce with pieces of Matzah, so the sauce is completely covered.
5. Cover the Matzah with another 1/2 cup of sauce (you can eyeball this…just put enough sauce so the Matzah is covered), and then place about a quarter of the cheese mixture on top of the sauce (again, use your best discretion…the cheese doesn’t have to cover all of the sauce, because it will melt and spread in the oven).
6. Sprinkle spinach on top of the cheese.
7. Place more Matzah on top of the cheese, spinach and sauce layer. Repeat layering process until the casserole dish is full. Finish by placing more sauce on top layer, and sprinkling with Parmesan cheese.
8. Cover with silver foil, and bake at 350 degrees F for 35-45 minutes, or until heated through.
9. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.