Press-Republican

March 29, 2013

Noshing in the matzah zone

By ROBIN CAUDELL
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Today marks the fourth day of Passover, the middle period of the eight-day festival commemorating Israeli emancipation from slavery in ancient Egypt.

“The first night and second night, we have big dinners,” said Rabbi Kari Tuling of Temple Beth Israel in Plattsburgh.

“Chicken is pretty common,” Tuling said. “The congregation dinner was fairly traditional — matzah ball soup, gefilte fish, chicken with vegetables and potatoes and a flourless cake for dessert.”

During Passover, matzah, unleavened bread, replaces chametz, or leavened bread. Products made from wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt are forbidden. So that means a fast from cakes, pancakes, crackers, noodles, cookies, bread, pasta and most alcoholic drinks.

“Matzah is flat bread that looks very much like a cracker,” Tuling said. “It’s one that doesn’t go stale. It’s always the same dry, crumbly thing. According to the story in Exodus, the Israelites didn’t have enough time to bake bread as they were leaving Egypt. Hence, that’s why the unleavened bread. The Exodus story said (you) will not have any leavened bread in your house. You’re not supposed to have any leavened products. It shouldn’t be found in your settlement. Consequently, you’re not supposed to own it.”

During Passover, traditional Jews purge their kitchens of chametz, which extends to vinegar products.

Matzah is not the most nutritious foodstuff, and neither does it contain much fiber.

“But you can go to town,” Tuling said. “There are all kinds of stuff for Passover — cookies, cakes, pickles and gefilte fish. It’s a fish cake, really. It’s chopped fish with egg and matzah. It’s between a meatball and a cake. It’s uniquely Jewish. It’s tasty. I love them.”

Matzah flour can be rolled into balls, usually using chicken fat. Chopped onions can be added to the mixture.

“You need a binding agent like an egg or some kind of oil or fat. I use olive oil,” Tuling said.

Butter is a no-no.

“It’s against the laws of Kashrut, that’s the laws of kosher. A lot of people don’t pay attention to the Kashrut, but this time of year, they will. It’s a very common phenomenon,” she said.

Breakfast foods can be a challenge during Passover. Usually, it’s matzah with a layer of cream cheese and salmon. But spreads include peanut butter, cheeses and cold cuts.

“You can crumble it up, soak it in milk, and mix with eggs and make scrambled eggs — matzah brie. There’s a lot of different ways to make it. You can put dill or salmon in it,” Tuling said.

A Yizkor memorial service is held at the end of Passover.

“It’s a remembering of who has died in years past. We do that service twice a year. Six months from now, we do it as part of the High Holy Days, during Yom Kippur,” she said.

Post-Passover, it’s very common for Jews to eat bread-intensive foods such as pizza.

“They like to have falafel with pita to break Passover,” Tuling said. “I’m gluten-free, so I don’t do either. It’s Passover year-round. It seems like a good portion of Judaism is about food. We really pay attention to that.”

Email Robin Caudell:rcaudell@pressrepublican.com