The Chocolate Lady’s 2006 Vegetarian Peysekh Survival Guide
When I was in sixth grade, I knew a girl who could raise one eyebrow at a time. When I asked her how she had achieved this enviable skill, she told me that one year she had spent all of Peysekh practicing in front of a mirror. Naturally, I was very impressed, not just with my classmate’s remarkable diligence in her eyebrow-training program, but with the insight she provided about the nature of this wonderful and maddening holiday. Peysekh is a time when we do things that we do not do, and would not do, at any other time of year. Peysekh is time out of time. The insides and outsides of our homes are different, and so are the insides and outsides of our bodies and minds. It is a time of great excitement, but also no small bemusement. It was for this reason that I made the first Peysekh survival guide in 1995. Some elements have dropped out (I decided I was just not in the mood for spice-crusted potatoes during Passover) and others, such as the asparagus peeler, have been in every issue.
The Chocolate Lady’s 2006 Vegetarian Peysekh Survival Guide
Version 9.0 c. Spring 2006
I feel a real shiver of delight at that moment when the house is (finally!) ready and I begin to unpack my Peysekh keylim. Overwhelmingly vivid sensations of the different colors, shapes, and weights of the equipment burst out of the box. The whole apartment changes as it fits itself around a different set of cooking utensils.
Peysekh stuff is a time machine. It outlives its contemporaries (equipment bought or acquired at the same time) since we use it only one week a year. It is a reminder of fashions and choices of the past.
Last year, one of the things that delighted me for the Passover holiday was the discovery of disposable bamboo plates. I do not keep an entire set of Passover dishware, and depend on disposable dishes during Peysekh. This frees up storage space and washing time, but it is less than optimal in that paper or plastic plates are lacking in gorgeousity, and are environmentally unsound. Last year, I ordered disposable bamboo plates. They are gorgeous, and if their website is to be believed, they biodegrade completely within a few days. You can get them at Greenfeet.
Stocking up: While it is true that I rely on eggs and milkhiks at Peysekh, I insist that it is possible to be a vegan at peysekh as well. I even insist that you can do it without potatoes. I am always seeking more vegan, nightshade-free peysekh choices.
I use Schmerling’s bittersweet chocolate (also called Maestrani chocolate) for Peysekh. This year I also picked up some of their new 72% chocolate
Essential for soups. Tonic in any quantity. And then there’s this:
If you were to stand on a hill during any Sunday afternoon in winter and listen carefully you would hear a low, rustling, crunching sound. It is the entire English nation, eating celery.
--Adrian Bailey, quoting his father in The Cooking of the British Isles
Marlene Dietrich was a great believer in the tonic properties of artichokes. I love artichokes, which arew appearing at this time of year and are suited to many Passover preparations, but most appealing to me is the way the ceremonial is recapitulated in the culinary with the toyvling of each leaf.
During peysekh you are using much less kitchen equipment that usual, and probably finding that you can do more than you thought, but one thing you do need is an asparagus peeler. This is a ‘V’ shaped peeler that cradles the spear to peel without snapping. Peel your asparagus. Life is good.
A few years ago I tried a Japanese food called Konnyaku ( Amorphophaiius Konjac, aka devil's tongue) I had some at a Gobo, a vegan restaurant near here: It is similar in flavor and texture to very firm silken tofu. I will certainly try it again. I was thinking it would be a good peysekhdik tofu-substitute if the process could be supervised.
This site combines a Shakespeare database with enthusiastic konnyaku advocacy. This is a very charming site about health benefits of konnyaku.
Available green, yellow-brown, or black, these banana-like fruitoid things actually turn out to be a pretty decent and very nourishing potato-substitute for those on a nightshade-free diet. Use the green ones to grate for latkes (or combine them with grated taro, see below) and bake or boil the riper yellow or black ones. The peels do not slip off as easily as banana peels, so be prepared to use a knife--or use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer layer.
This year I found this wonderful recipe for plantain chips on Indira’s breathtaking blog Mahanandi. Two details in particular captured my interest. The first is that you scrape off the outer peel, but leave the inner peel on to make the chips—sounds just right. The second is that in Kerala, plantain chips are fried in coconut oil. If there is anything more orchidaceous than plantain chips, it is plantain chips fried in coconut oil. I don’t know if anyone makes klp coconut oil, though.
Last year I made this very comforting plantain kigl. It was especially welcome accompanied by the papaya salad below.
Kugela de platanos
3 ripe, black plantains
oil or butter
3 broken, wet matzos
salt, pepper and sugar to taste
8 ounces farmer cheese (or cottage cheese with pineapple if you want it sweeter)
Preheat oven to 350.
Slice the plantain into ¼ inch slices, and fry the slices on both sides in oil or butter, to golden brown. Allow to cool slightly. Beat the eggs and add the cheese and broken matzos. Add the plantains and season to taste. Scrape the batter into a baking pan and bake for about 30 minutes or until done.
Many people are disappointed by papayas. Their flowery scent and deep orange-pink color seem to promise mango-like tropical lushness and sweetness, but in fact, papayas are low in sugar and acid and not really fruity at all. Their flavor is more peppery and vegetal. Work with papaya as a salad vegetable.
Avocados (so that there is about an equal volume of avocados and papaya)
A few very thin shavings of sweet onion, or regular onion (optional)
Cut the papaya and avocado into slices or chunks. Add the onion if you are using it and toss the vegetables together. Drizzle with olive oil and add a few drops of vinegar and juice from the lime and salt to taste. Serve as is or on a bed of watercress.
Scrub Idaho or Russet potatoes vigorously. Do not prick or slash the skin. Do not wrap the potatoes in anything. Place them in a hot oven for about an hour. That's all.
Taro, Yuca, Yautia, and Cassava (Manioc)
These useful and very healthy tubers and corms are good for chips, French fries, and pancakes (I apologize here for my potato-centric view of the universe). Terra original exotic vegetable chips, containing taro, yucca, batata and parsnip chips are kosher for Passover and nightshade free.
I made Yautias a few years ago and they are very nice and chesnutty. If they are not piping hot, though, they do get a bit sticky.
Tapioca is the natural root starch from manioc or cassava. Until very recently, I had never tasted tapioca, and knew of it only as a punch line, but I bet it would be a great boon to Peysekh cooking if I could figure out what to do with it.
Jerusalem Artichokes (sunchokes)
These knobby crunchy tubers are at the height of their season right around now. They do not taste like potatoes, but they do stand in nicely in soups and gratins.
Also in season. Steam and pass the vinaigrette
All hail Kale
Locinato kale (tuscan kale, dinosaur kale, cavolo nero)
This is kale that looks as if it was drawn by Dr Seuss. Remove the stems and steam in the water that clings to the leaves. Cut up the kale when it is cool enough to handle. Then heat some oil in a wide pan and sauté some garlic and diced celery. Add the kale and cook for a few minutes more. Drizzle some balsamic vinegar into the pan while it is still hot.
I made this for the first time last year. It is very satisfying.
1 cup raw nuts (your choice: Walnuts are good)
Heat oven to 350. Slightly moisten the matzos on each side with cold water. Be careful. Don’t get them wet enough to make matzo braa, just enough so that the oil will adhere to the surfaces. Break up the matzo and toss with nuts, oil, salt and spices. Spread the matzo chips on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, mix, another 20 minutes, mix again, and a final 20 minutes. They may seem a bit soft when you take them out of the oven, but they will crisp up as they cool.
Eggs Panagyurishte Style (Hot peppery eggs with cold garlicky yogurt)
2 teaspoons oil
1 cup yogurt
2 to 3 garlic cloves
½ teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
Fry eggs in oil sunny side up. Drain on paper towel and transfer to a plate filled with yogurt. Add paprika to the remaining hot oil, quickly stir, and then dribble a little over the eggs for color. Serves 1
The garlic can either be crushed into the yogurt or served on the side. This dish can also be made with poached eggs.
From Bulgarian Rhapsody by Linda Joyce Forristal, Bladensburg MD:
This recipe is not a staple of the peysekh repertoire, but I associate both tea and eggs with the season, and it is great fun.
Simmer eggs for seven minutes. Gently tap the eggs all over so that the shells are lightly cracked all over. Cook the eggs for another several minutes in strong, salted tea. Leave the eggs to cool in the water with the tea leaves. When you peel the eggs, they will have a lovely marble pattern on their whites.
Dr. Lucia Ruedenberg Wright told me that she recalled making a version of colored eggs in her family by laying delicately shaped leaves such as herbs on the eggshells and then wrapping the eggs in onion skins, tying them with twine and boiling. When you remove the skins, the silhouettes of the leaves remain.
I have seen a few versions of this recipe floating around. I think one might not be able to attain the placid state of mind needed to prepare this recipe during Peysekh, but if you can, it would be very impressive. You slice paper-thin shaving of potato, and sandwich whole leaves of herbs between two slices and then fry the little potato-herb sandwiches so that the leaf is visible through the chips. As I said, this sounds pretty cool, but I have not tried it at home.
Matzo Balls and soup
Last year I made entirely whole wheat matzo balls for the first time. I really tried to keep track of quantities, but, well, you know. I used ten eggs, a cup of water (no seltzer in house) ¼ cup butter, and about 2/3 of a pound of whole wheat matzomeal. You need to let whole wheat matzo ball cook longer—about one hour does it.
One of the most urgent goals for vegetarians at Peysekh is the search for a matzo-ballogenic medium. This recipe is a work-in-progress meant more as a bit of inspiration than prescription.
My Matzo Ball Soup
In a large soup pot, make stock by cooking carrots, potatoes, celery, celeriac, onions, garlic, parsnip and parsley root in boiling salted water for 30 minutes. Strain and set aside.
Cover the bottom of a large pot with extra virgin olive oil. Add lots of thinly sliced onions and cook over low heat until they begin to turn soft and translucent. Add a couple of slivered carrots and celery and cook for a few minutes more. Add thinly sliced garlic and thinly sliced yellow peppers. I peel the peppers but you are allowed to skip this step. (I realize I am not being very helpful with the quantities here. I make a BIG pot of soup with about six medium onions, two carrots, four celeries, a whole head of garlic and six to eight peppers). Cook until the vegetables are relaxed and golden and fill the pot with the hot broth. Cook for a while and de-scum the surface. While the soup cooks, chop and add one bundle each parsley and dill. Season with salt, pepper, paprika and dried green herbs to taste. Before serving float a few “eyes” of olive oil on the surface. This soup is a very happy home for matzo balls.
Make lots of matzo balls. More than you think you will possibly need. You do not even need soup to enjoy matzo balls. Lora Brody suggests eating them cold with butter. I like them grilled. You may also cut them into cubes and use as a peysekhdik tofu-substitute.
Whole Wheat Matzo Balls
Break ten eggs into a bowl. Season lavishly with salt, pepper, cayenne and paprika. Add seltzer (about 1 cup) and ¼ cup olive oil or melted butter. Yes, butter! These will be best matzo balls you ever tasted. Beat the egg mixture and while beating gradually sprinkle in enough Streits whole wheat matzo meal to make a loose, muddy mixture. Just about two thirds of a pound. Refrigerate the mixture overnight.
Bring a large pot of wildly salted water to a boil, and reduce to a gentle simmer. Roll matzo-batter into balls the size of walnuts. Lower them gently into into the water and cook, covered, with n o p e e k i n g, for 40 minutes.
The Lady’s Chocolate Mousse
With the exception of years when I was utterly disabled, I have made this mousse for every seder since high school. It made its TCLVPSG debut in 2003.
6 bars (21 ounces) Maestrani Noblesse chocolate, broken up
12 eggs, separated
6 ounces hot water
3 ounces Montaigne cognac or very strong black tea
4 tablespoons sugar
Melt the chocolate over simmering water. Stir in the hot water. Beat the yolks with three tablespoons of the sugar and cognac over simmering water until quite hot and foamy. Next, stir the yolks into the chocolate. Dissolve the remaining tablespoon of sugar in the whites over simmering water stirring rapidly and beat the whites to snow. Stir one quarter of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten, and then gently fold in the remaining whites. Pour the mixture into a serving bowl or individual serving cups or glasses. Chill until set.
Makes about 15 servings
The Lady’s Chocolate Coconut Cake
Preheat oven to 325
7 ounces (2 bars) Maestrani noblesse bittersweet chocolate, broken up
6 or 7 ounces unsweetened shredded coconut (since the packages are most often 6 ounces, let it be 6 ounces. I know I should be shredding my own coconut. Maybe next year)
7 ounces sugar
7 egg whites
Grind the chocolate, coconut and sugar in a grinder or food processor. Place the mixture in a large bowl. In another bowl, beat the whites to snow. Fold the whites into the chocolate coconut mix. Pour into a 9 or 10 inch baking pan and bake until firm, about 45 minutes.
This is a wonderful cake. I decided to change the quantities this year to make measuring the chocolate easier. I am a little embarrassed to reveal how easy it is.
8 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
One scant cup Montaigne cognac, cream sherry, or very strong black tea
(for traditional Zabaione, use
Place all ingredients in a steel bowl and beat over simmering water until doubled in volume and very foamy.
Khreyn infused vodka
Scrub and peel a four-inch piece of fresh horseradish root. Pour two liters of kosher for Passover vodka into a glass bowl or ice bucket. Add the horseradish and allow to sit at room temperature for about twenty-four hours. Pour the vodka back into the bottles and chill. Oh baby.
And of course, you will be wanting to make a tsimes.
The Book of Jewish food by Claudia Roden
Last year I made a wonderful orange cake recipe from this book. It falls into a particular subgenre of recipes for which I have a special affection. These are the recipes that employ techniques so utterly different from those with which I am familiar, that I am sure they must be the result of typographical errors. In this particular recipe, you take two oranges, and you put them on a pot of boiling water, and you boil them for over an hour and a half. You don’t peel them or cut them or anything. Just throw two big old whole oranges in the boiling water. Damned if it doesn’t work! Then, when the oranges are quite soft, remove the seeds, mash or purée them, and mix them with ground almonds beaten eggs and sugar, and bake in a moderate oven. This is very easy and makes a lovely cake. See Roden’s book for this recipe and several other wonderful peysekh cakes