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Three approaches to cooking for Passover

How to use matzo — and recipes that naturally meet the Passover dietary restrictions — to make easy meals for the holiday.
(Illustration by Kay Scanlon / Los Angeles Times; Getty)

I have three basic approaches to cooking for Passover, and all of them abide by the holiday’s dietary laws: No wheat, oats, barley, spelt or rye, and no fermented foods. (Some people also don’t eat legumes, rice or corn, but I’m not one of them.)

One: Cook the way I normally do, but swap out the flour, pasta, bread crumbs and the like for matzo meal and other pesadic (kosher for Passover) products.

Two: Celebrate the “holiday of matzo” concept and cook with it outright, flaunting it whole and in large pieces.

Three: Use recipes that don’t require forbidden ingredients. I tend to do a little of each, depending on the circumstance.

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I lean toward the first approach for everyday dining: when I just want a bite or need to throw together lunch or a weeknight dinner. (I try to have enough leftovers from the Seder meal to feed myself at lunch for the week, but they sometimes don’t last that long.) A standout in this category is the “Passover roll” — a game changer when I discovered it many years ago.

Totally kosher for Passover, these “rolls” are just cream puff pastry (pâte à choux) made with matzo cake meal — a more finely ground matzo meal — rather than flour. I like to make a batch at the beginning of the holiday (this year, it’s March 27-April 4) to have on hand for quick sandwiches. They are a particularly good stand-in for bagels, slathered with cream cheese and piled with lox, tomatoes, red onions and capers. Cookbook author Faye Levy incorporates cheese into the dough to make gougères and then fills them with savory mixtures of vegetables and herbs. She also uses them for desserts like coffee cream puffs and profiteroles.

The second approach (the “holiday of matzo” concept), using full sheets of matzo straight from the box, has become my default. The holiday is a celebration of matzo — why contort it to look, taste and feel like something else? I make no-bake cakes and savory casseroles with layers of whole matzos and, of course, I make lots of matzo brei. I like to give the matzo crackers a long soak before frying them up to a soft crunchiness with a creamy chew.

The third approach has long been my go-to for Passover desserts. Flourless chocolate cake is simple and divine, and now that the gluten-free trend has taken hold, it is easier than ever to find Passover-appropriate dessert recipes. One of my particular favorites is the sour cherry-almond cookies from Bartavelle Coffee & Wine Bar in Berkeley.

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However I choose to approach cooking for the holiday, I love how it forces me to seek creative solutions to some of the dilemmas its dietary restrictions can present.

Get the recipes:

Passover Gougères With Leeks and Mushrooms

Time 1 hour 50 minutes
Yields Makes about 2 dozen puffs

Sour Cherry-Almond Cookies

Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Yields Makes about 2½ dozen cookies

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