Friday begins Passover, a Jewish holiday that commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt.
I grew up in a half Jewish household, on my dad’s side. What this pretty much means is that we didn’t really celebrate any of the religious aspects of holidays, but we sure embraced much of the food. When Passover rolled around, there were certain items we’d have on hand, as well as dishes that my dad liked to prepare.
For starters, we ALWAYS had Matzo on hand. My family loved Matzo so much, that my parents would even stock up on it when it went on sale after Passover. I don’t even know if I’d be exaggerating to say that we’d still be eating Matzo all the way through Hanukkah.
Another favorite Passover item that could be found in our pantry, (and in the pantry of my Catholic grandmother and great Aunt who were probably getting in touch with their formerly Jewish “Cohen” roots) was macaroons. Man, did I love eating those Manischewitz macaroons. The ones with the tiny chocolate chips were my favorite.
I also loved chugging on Kedem Grape Juice. The flavor is so much richer and sweeter than any other grape juice I’ve ever had. It is way too intense for me now to have any more than a sip, but as a kid, I couldn’t get enough of that stuff.
When I was in my 20s, I finally experienced my first (abbreviated) seder. Having only minimal knowledge of what the celebration of Passover was all about (in that I knew the story, but didn’t know what a seder entailed), I was surprised by how important a role food played in the celebration. The seder includes a Seder Plate containing six symbolic foods that each hold special significance to the retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
While we never went through the ritual of a seder growing up, I did enjoy a few key Passover dishes that dad cooked up.
With all the matzo hanging around the house, there also came lots of Matzo Brei, which is basically an omelet or scramble made with matzo that has been soaked in water until soft. He also made Matzo Ball Soup, which I’ve since veganized on multiple occasions and remains one of my favorite dishes.
Lastly, I could never resist the sweet smells of raisins and cinnamon that waft out of the oven whenever dad would have a kugel baking. Kugel is a pudding or casserole, traditionally made with egg and noodles. However, on Passover, the noodles are replaced by matzo or another starch.
When my client asked me to make a Passover dinner for his family, I knew that I needed to include a kugel. Scouring the internet for ideas on how to make a vegan, Passover friendly Kugel, I came across a recipe on About.com for a vegan sweet potato kugel that sounded just perfect. I adapted it ever so slightly, and reduced the quantity of ingredients to make enough to feed a family of four, instead of a small army. Using my food processor to grate the potato and apple made this recipe super quick and easy to make.
Sweet Potato Kugel
1 large sweet potato, peeled and grated (3 cups)
1 sweet apple, peeled and grated (I used a gala)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup matzo meal
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (reserve some for the top)
1/2 cup water
Mix all the ingredients together. Press into a baking dish and bake at 375ºF until crisp on top, about 45 minutes. During the last 10 minutes of baking, sprinkle the top with the reserved walnuts. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes to settle and cut into pieces more easily.