I am Jewish and my upbringing was very much influenced by Judaism and all its traditions. I believe the best part about being Jewish is the delicious food but the worst part is being a hairy girl! My favorite Jewish holiday has always been Passover because it entails lots of eating, really fascinating food symbolism, and singing. “Passover” means the order and it is a celebration of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. We use a Haggadah, which means “telling”, to retell the story of Passover. Check out this HILARIOUS rendition of the passover story.
Since moving to South Africa, I have not observed the Jewish holidays. I think this is partly because I am unfamiliar with the Jewish community but also because I am searching for religious meaning in my life. Ty and I were just accepted to the Birthright program, which is an awesome opportunity to travel to Israel with an organized group of young Jews to learn about our heritage, the history of Israel, and reconnect with Judaism.
This year, Ty’s parents came to visit, so it was the perfect opportunity for us to host our very first seder together. It was really special to share something so much a part of my Jewish-American upbringing with my South African family. All throughout our seder, memories came flooding in from all the previous years of passover seders – the huge Racow seders in Woodbridge, Grandma Jean’s mystery matzoballs, classic brisket, and enthusiasm, and me bashfully singing the four questions.
My four favorite Jewish foods are served on Passover: charoset, matzoball soup, noodle kugel, and matzo-brei. This year, I was in charge of the Passover kitchen, which was a huge undertaking without my mom’s experience. Luckily, Ty’s awesome mom, Beth, helped me cook and prepare for the seder. Unfortunately, I was so consumed by the cooking and preparing, that I did not take any mouth-watering, close-up foody photography, but believe me when I say it was all so so delicious!!!
My mom always made homemade chicken soup and then my sister and I made the matzoballs. She would cook the soup and strain it in the morning before synagogue and I would burn my fingers and mouth while stealing stringy, delicious pieces of steaming hot soup chicken from the strainer. When we got home, my sister and I would fight over who had to make the matzoballs, which usually ended up being me because I was the youngest.
I was a bit nervous to make my own matzoball soup, for fear of sinking matzoballs, but luckily Smitten Kitchen came to my rescue as usual with an insanely tasty matzoball soup recipe. When it came time to make the matzoballs, I passed the honor on to Ty, as his rite of passage, and they floated. Success!
Matzoball Soup (serves 4 + leftovers)
For the chicken soup
- Have a roast chicken for dinner the night before (I highly recommend my Chicken a la Queen recipe), then use the chicken carcass with pieces of meat still on it for the soup
- 3-4 celery sticks cut into big chunks
- 3-4 carrots cut into big bunks
- 2 onions peeled and quartered
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbl whole black peppercorns
- 1 tbl coarse kosher salt
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 3-4 liters water
For the matzoballs
- 1 cup matzo meal
- 4 eggs beaten
- 4 tbl oil
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 4 tbl chicken broth
- Add all the soup ingredients to a very large pot
- bring to a boil and simmer all morning before synagogue (for about 3-5 hours)
- As the broth boils off, add some more water to top it up every so often
- My mom used to strain the soup and leave only the broth, but since I’ve grown up I have realized that the soup veggies and chicken are the best part! So, instead of straining the broth, which not only gets rid of the lovely veggies but is also a big scary mission, carefully ladle out all the chicken bones and leave the rest in!
- Have your favorite person mix all the matzoball ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate for about 30 minutes
- Then have your least favorite person use their hands to roll the mix into small ping-pong sized balls
- Bring salted water to a bowl, reduce the heat to a simmer, and carefully drop the matzoballs in to the water to cook for about 20 minutes (Within minutes of dropping them into the water, the matzoballs should (hopefully) begin popping up and floating on the surface and puffing up as they cook)
- Carefully remove the matzoballs from the water, place them in the chicken soup, and let them cook for another 10-20 minutes
- Serve the matzoball soup with the chunky veggies, two matzoballs to start with (so as not to lose your appetite for the main course), and freshly ground coarse salt and pepper
The best part of the seder plate is the charoset, which symbolizes the mud that the Israelites used to make bricks when they were enslaved by the Egyptians. I had also never made charoset and found a great and super easy recipe on Epicurious.com.
Charoset (serves 4 + snacks)
- 2 peeled, cored, and shredded red apples
- 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
- 1/4 cup sweet red wine
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tbl brown sugar
Directions: Mix all the ingredients together and spoon heaping portions of charoset on matzo
Although I grew up eating Grandma Jean’s famous brisket on Passover, this year I decided to make a beef roast, so adapted a great pot roast recipe from the Pioneer Woman.
Beef Roast (serves 4 + leftovers)
- beef roast
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 cups beef stock
- handful fresh rosemary
- handful fresh thyme
- coarse salt and pepper
- 4 potatoes cubed
- half a small butternut peeled and cubed
- 2 onion coarsely chopped
- 4 peeled and chopped carrots
- 2 tbl garlic diced
- maizena (corn starch)
- Preheat the oven to 200C
- Lightly oil the beef and rub lots of salt, pepper, and garlic all over it
- In a deep dish pan add the beef and create a bed of veggies, starch, and herbs
- Pour the stock and wine into the pan
- Cook the roast in the oven for about 1.5 hours and baste periodically
- When the roast is slightly pink inside, remove it from the oven
- Remove everything from the pan and pour the gravy into a small pot
- Create a maizena paste using about 2 tbl maizena and a tiny amount of water
- Bring the gravy to a boil, reduce the heat, add the maizena paste and stir until thickened. If the gravy has not thickened to your liking, add a bit more maizena and let thicken more until you are satisifed.
- Serve the beef with veggies covered in delicious gravy
My dad used to make sweet and oh-so-amazing matzo-brei as a special Passover breakfast. He taught me how to make it and I assure you that the tradition will carry on. Then, in college, a friend taught me how to make savory matzo-brei. So now I like to make both!
Matzo-brei (serves 2)
- 4 pieces of matzo
- 6 eggs
- 1/2 onion chopped
- 1 tsp garlic
- salt & pepper
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tbl sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- maple syrup or golden syrup if you live in South Africa and cannot find maple syrup
- Run the sheets of matzo under warm water until they soften
- In a bowl, break the soft matzo into small pieces
- In a pan, saute the onions and garlic with a bit of oil
- In another bowl, mix together half the soggy matzo, 3 beaten eggs, paprika, salt, and pepper
- In the original bowl, mix together the rest of the matzo with 3 beaten eggs, sugar, and cinnamon
- Leave the mixture to marinade for about 5 minutes
- In the same pan that you sauteed the onions and garlic, add the savory mixture and fry up for about 10 minutes
- In another pan, add the sweet mixture and also fry up for about 10 minutes
- Serve the sweet matzo-brei with syrup generously drizzled all over it