Monday, March 29, 2010

The Chocolate Lady's 2010 Vegetarian Peysekh Survival Guide

The Chocolate Lady's 2010 Vegetarian Peysekh Survival Guide

Last year, a neighbor was telling me about the seder meal he was planning to cook for his sons, and he mentioned brisket. I was flooded with aching nostalgia, even though I have never had brisket and am not even entirely sure what it is. Somehow the sensations and yearnings were nevertheless utterly real and immediate. Then the next night I was at a seder, and I realized, well, of course, this is exactly what we do on Passover. We “remember” an event we never experienced, but our memories, rehearsed every year, are honed to an exquisitely fine edge.

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. Have a look at soup and cookies from last year, the abbreviated guides from 2008 and 2007 and the comprehensive 2006 edition


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. This year I am again expanding a special section of vegan, nightshade-free peysekh choices.


Coconut has become more important to my peysekh cooking (and all my other cooking) every year. What a miraculous comestible a coconut is! Many folks with allergies to most other nuts can safely eat coconut (but always check to make sure who can eat what safely). Up until last year I had been purchasing shredded coconut in those little six ounce packages, but I promised that this year I would smash open and grate my own coconut. As Tu B’shvat approached, I realized that I had better start practicing, just so that I would not end up banging coconuts against my skull on erev peysekh. Fortunately, the extraordinary Indira provides reassuringly clear and thorough instructions for coconut shkhite and milk extraction.

I was grateful this year for Jihva for coconut , a round-up of luxurious Indian coconut recipes, many of which are suitable for peysekh. This Coconut milk Stew with Potatoes looks like just the very thing.


I use Schmerling’s bittersweet chocolate (also called Maestrani chocolate) for Peysekh. Last year I also picked up some of their new 72% chocolate. The 72% chocolate is very nich for eating out of hand, but I recommend the regular bittersweet for recipes such as chocolate mousse and chocolate coconut cake.


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 Artichokes

Marlene Dietrich was a great believer in the tonic properties of artichokes. I love artichokes. Artichokes are 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.


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.\

Plantain chips

Last 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.


Balkan eggs

Hot peppery eggs with cold garlicky yogurt.

Eggs Panagyurishte Style

2 eggs

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: Sunrise Pine Press, 1998.

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

The Unplugged Kitchen by Viana La Place

I am afraid I am going to have to insist that you buy this book. When I first read it, I was so impressed that I went around for weeks accosting perfect strangers on the street to tell them they needed The Unplugged Kitchen. I was nearly arrested on two occasions. This should begin to give you some idea of what a valuable outlet blogging has been for me.

La Place’s recipes are exquisite and many are particularly suited to Peysekh, even though it is not specifically a Peysekh cookbook. TUK is devoted to recipes that can be made by hand, which I also find especially helpful during Peysekh, when I am working with a much more limited batterie de cuisine. Try the layered saffron potatoes on page 222 (oh, this is so good), the artichokes and potatoes on pages 199 and 201 and the wonderful Persian herb pie on page 83. The celery stew with almonds is also lovely and it is a good austere dish to make when you are recovering from lots of festive food. This year I might try the romaine soup, without the bread of course, the beet and lemon broth, and maybe the beet and pepper salad.

While I am on the subject, I also recommend all of La Place’s books. Verdura is sensuous and thrilling, and Cucina Fresca, written with Evan Kleinman, is a collection of dishes that can be prepared in advance and served at room temperature, which is very helpful for shabes and sikes.

Bitter Almonds by Maria Grammatico and Mary Taylor Simeti

You wouldn’t guess that a book about growing up in a convent would turn out to be such an important Passover resource, but many of the pastries herein are based on almond dough and ideal for peysekh. A few years ago I made the dolcetti al liquore, spirit-soaked grapes in marzipan tartlets dipped in dark chocolate. Bitter Almonds also has a few recipes that use citron (esrik) preserves, for which a recipe is also provided, making it handy for sikes as well.

And of course, you will be wanting to make a tsimes.


In the mousse recipe, you add water to melting chocolate. How do you prevent the chocolate from seizing up?

While it is true that if you add a tiny drop of water to melting chocolate, it will seize up and become entirely useless, it is in fact the case that if you add a larger amount of water to melting chocolate everything melts together just beautifully, so the substance that is disastrous in small quantities is no problem if you just pour it in. This must be a metaphor for something in Jewish history. Any ideas?

I see you mention parsnip and parsley root. Are they not the same thing?

A parsnip, PASTINACA sativa (Yiddish pasternak, פּאַסטערנאַק), resembles its relative the carrot, but has pale yellow flesh and a stronger, sweet flavor. Parsnips remain famously unbuttered by faire words. A parsley root, PETROSELINUM radicosum (Yiddish petrishkeפּעטרישקע ), is whiter and has a more herbaceous mineral flavor.

You don’t really carry all your peysekh shopping back from Brooklyn on your bicycle, do you?

Indeed I do.

What, in the long skirt and everything?

And everything, yes.

What does that sign on the Williamsburg Bridge mean?

For most of this winter and early spring, a sign on the Williamsburg Bridge advised cyclists to stay “visable.” I can only assume that this means one now needs a passport with a valid visa to get into Brooklyn. Fortunately for the city’s peysekh shoppers, the sign was removed shortly after Purim.

Why no peeking at the matzo balls?

They will deflate if disturbed.

I see that your matzo ball recipe calls for the matzo balls to be cooked for an hour, but almost every other recipe I’ve seen calls for a mere thirty minutes. Some even say you can put the raw batter right in the soup! And what’s with the no peeking anyway? I just gotta peek.

OK, that’s not exactly a question, but I understand your point. For me, results are really best after a full hour. I use Streit’s Matzo meal, which is coarser than the others, which might explain the longer cooking time, but that does not explain why the recipe right there on the Streit’s box says to cook the matzo balls for thirty minutes. I make the matzo balls a bit eggier than most recipes, and they might be a bit less stable than your starchier versions, but I feel this is the only way to go ballwise. I cannot credit the sources that suggest adding raw batter to soup. That is just plain wrong.

Hey, wait a minute! Now I want that spice-crusted potato recipe!

The recipe is in An Invitation to Indian Cooking. It contains mustard seeds, which some consider to be kitnioth.

If you don’t poke the potatoes, won’t they explode in the oven?

Almost never. Until a few years ago, I would have said never, but then one year I had my first potato explosion. The oven, for some reason I no longer recall, was set at the highest temperature. It was not a terrible explosion at all, just a *thok* and one small hole in one potato. If the oven is set somewhere around 400 F, I think you need not fear.

Were you really arrested for overzealous cookbook advocacy?

No. I just put that bit in to add corroborative detail to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.

How can I prevent my matzo balls from falling apart?

Let the batter rest overnight in the refrigerator to give it a good chance to absorb the egg. Lower the matzo balls into gently simmering, but not rapidly boiling water.

Thanks for the guide, but what about all the other weeks of the year?

It is in response to this question that I began writing In Mol Araan this year. Thanks so much for asking! Look In Mol Araan and watch your soup-angst evaporate!

Do I really have to de-stringify my celery?

No, but it’s nice.

Do I really have to peel my asparagus?


On your marching orders I bought an asparagus peeler. How do I use it?

Place the peeler in your dominant hand so that the longer, pointier leg is toward your thumb and the shorter, curvier leg is toward your fingers. Hold the asparagus spear in your other hand

What can I do with my microwave?

If you take your microwave down to the basement of your building, your super will get rid of it for you.

What about that new peysekhdik pancake mix?

Read the ingredient list. Make potato (or plantain) pancakes.

Blah, blah, blah

"The Chocolate Lady’s Vegetarian Peysekh Survival Guide" is protected by
copyright, and is provided at no cost, for your personal use only. You may share it with folks if you like, but only in its entirety including this notice. Any other form of republication, unless with prior written permission of the author, is strictly prohibited. Copyright (c) 2010 by The Chocolate Lady.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Something Out of Nothing IV: Bottom of the Bag Brown Bread

Every year at about this time I will make up a batch of something to empty out whatever peysekh-hostile flours are still infesting in the pantry, and every year this turns out to be more wonderful than even I would have guessed. Have a look at Bottom of the Bag Pancakes, Bottom of the Bag Muffins and Bottom of the Bag Cookies from previous years, and Lindy’s Something out of Nothing roundup.

Somehow this year has just flown through my fingers and I find myself with lots more flour than usual at a much later date, so a big bread seemed to be just the thing.

Bottom of the Bag Brown Bread

1 pound (3 1/3 cups) all-purpose flour (yes, I reall had exactly one pound left!)

12 ounces (2 1/2 cups) chapatti flour

10 ounces (1 cup) semolina

10 ounces (2 ½ cups) whole wheat pastry flour

½ ounce (2 tablespoons) rolled oats (why did I have this? I have no idea)

¼ cup peanut oil

6 ounces ( ¾ cup or 1 ½ sticks) butter, melted

¼ cup coconut oil

2 ½ tablespoons dry yeast

3 tablespoons salt

¼ cup agave

1 cup yogurt

2 1/3 cups cooked rye berries (1 cup rye berries cooked in liberally salted water for about an hour)

one egg for eggwash (optional)

sesame, poppy, caraway and/or coarse salt (optional)

Combine the flours and oats in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the melted butter and oils and mix to combine. Dissolve the yeast in a cup and a half of warm water. Add salt, agave, and yogurt, and mix into the flours to form a soft sticky dough. Knead for about ten minutes by hand or in a mixer, and then knead in the rye berries by hand.

Leave the dough to rise covered in a lightly oiled bowl for about an hour. Punch down and allow to rise a second time:

(wow this thing rose like the dough that ate Cincinnati)! Wish I had taken a before picture for y’all).

Heat the oven to 375. Punch the dough down again and divide into five or six loaves. Place the loaves on parchment-lined baking sheets and proof for about twenty minutes.

If desired, beat an egg with a teaspoon of water to make an eggwash and brush the surfaces of the loaves. For extra shine, allow the wash to dry and brush on a second coat. Sprinkle with seeds and coarse salt if you wish. Bake for forty minutes, rotating the pans top to bottom and front to back after thirty. The finished loaves should be a gorgeous golden brown and provide that satisfying hollow thump when you tap them on the bottom (my favorite moment in bread baking).

Since this bread is milkhik, I should have made it into some special shape to warn folks of the dairy products lurking within. Maybe little skulls with crossbones, something like that.

There is so much butter in here that it is fine as is, or װי עס שטײט און גײט vi es shteyt un geyt (as it stands and walks), but if you want to slather on yet more butter I have no argument with you whatsoever.

Tremble before me leavened grain; I am the fearsome khumets-bane!


Peysekh Countdown

Cool heads, swift hands. We can do it.