About a week ago, my friend Lisa invited me to a 2nd night Passover Seder. I immediately got a little nervous because I wanted to go, but I tend to shy away from anything too religious. I had no idea what to expect, but, two things made me feel like it was going to be fine— it was a potluck, and everyone was asked to bring a bottle of wine. Seriously, two of my favourite things.
I knew I didn’t have any cookbooks that covered Jewish celebrations or traditional foods, so this time I turned to the internet for a little guidance on what kinds of things would be appropriate to bring. I suspected this wouldn’t be the most Orthodox Seder, but I also didn’t want to offend anyone. I finally settled on a simple side dish of roasted root vegetables with balsamic vinegar. I’ll give you that “recipe” (if you want to call it that; it was so easy!) in just a few, but first, I think it’s important to share what made this night really special and meaningful to me— the fact that the observance is so tied to food.
Each food item on the Seder plate symbolizes a part of the Exodus story. Yes, even the wine—four cups of it in a traditional Seder observance. As we all took turns reading from a children’s book that walked us through the story of the Hebrews escape from Egypt, we partook of one of those symbolic foods, and I just got the strongest reminder of how closely a culture is tied to its food. These weren’t just random items on a plate, but each of them had a place in the story, and a meaning far beyond pure nourishment.
The food that stood out to me most was the Charoset, which symbolizes the mortar used by the Israelites to make the bricks for Egyptian structures while they were slaves. The Charoset we had was made primarily from apples, with cinnamon and grape juice. I asked our hosts how the ingredients in the Charoset came to be— why those ingredients? They told me that each country, and even each cook has his/her own take on what goes into their Charoset. That made sense to me, because the story is very clear about the fact that this group of people had to use what was available to celebrate the first Passover, so in one country it might be dates, figs, or apricots, while in another it’s apples, walnuts and cinnamon.
I borrowed a Passover cookbook from Lisa and I’m going to take a stab at making a couple different versions of Charoset later this week. Of course, I’ll share the results with all of you.
On a side note, just a quick word about Gefilte fish. Yes, I tried it. No, it wasn’t bad at all. I believe tonight it was laughingly referred to as “Jewish spam.” It’s not something I can imagine ever craving, but it certainly wasn’t anything close to the “awful” I’ve always heard it called.
As for the roasted veggies…
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
Cut 2 fairly large parsnips, 3 medium sized golden beets, and about six rainbow carrots into medium sized chunks. You can actually use whatever root veggies you want for this dish, just try to get all the chunks about the same size so everything cooks in the same amount of time.
Arrange all your chunks of veggies on a sheet pan, drizzle fairly generously with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Toss it all together so each piece is coated, arrange into a single layer on the pan, and then pop it into the oven for about 20 minutes. When I pulled mine out of the oven, the knife would easily pierce the parsnips and went through the beets and carrots with just a teensy bit of resistance. Transfer all the veggies to whatever you’re going to serve them in, drizzle with about a tablespoon of decent quality balsamic vinegar, give it all another little toss, and serve. This can be served hot, right out of the oven, or at room temp. As an added bonus, all those roasting veggies made my apartment smell wonderful!