How to Maneuver Passover Food, According to Andrew Zimmern
Eating kosher for Passover, according to Andrew Zimmern, “makes being Jewish a tad difficult.” In addition to avoiding standard non-kosher foods (such as fish without fins and scales, meat and cheese together, pork, etc.), Jewish people are also supposed to avoid certain grains, such as wheat, barley, rye, and oats. Thus, food is a major part of this holy week and knowing how to plan a wonderful Passover menu can be quite the task.
But not for Zimmern. Ahead of Passover 2017, The Daily Meal emailed with the well-traveled chef about his tips for cooking for Passover. And surprisingly, Zimmern is a fan of keeping his Passover meals traditional… for good reason.
The Daily Meal: What do you find to be the biggest challenge about cooking dinner during Passover?
Andrew Zimmern: Everyone’s a critic! Trying to serve classic holiday dishes opens you up to relational critiques to everyone’s aunt’s favorite chicken soup or chopped liver! We all have attachments to the holiday comfort food of our childhood, and that means that my meal competes with people’s recollections and feelings about their favorite holiday meals and menus.
Can you explain the different ways of being kosher for Passover?
I don’t believe in avoiding rice, corn, millet, and legumes during Passover. Leaven-able (or grains that can rise) grains like wheat, barley, rye and oats are chametz. They puff up and rise, are literally “full of themselves,” something to be avoided during the holiday. They are the embodiment of pride. Removing chametz on Passover from our homes and lives is thought of in the Reform and Conservative movement as a literal struggle between who we truly are and who we might be when we are devoid of self-importance. So chametz is a no-no, but we eat it the rest of the year. It makes being Jewish a tad difficult. After all, it’s just food!
For Jews of Eastern European descent, the tradition on Passover has also been avoid kitniyot — legumes, beans, peas, rice, millet, corn, and seeds, etc. Denying ourselves kitniyot is not part of Jewish traditions of Spanish and Arab descent the way it is for the Ashkenazim. Is one better than the other? Is one’s Passover tradition more “correct”? Many rabbinical groups have recently decided that prohibiting the eating of rice, beans, and kitniyot is contradictory to Talmudic scholarship. Limiting foods like these diminishes the joy of the holiday; it focuses on the insignificant (kitniyot) and causes Judaic divisionism. The desire to preserve an old custom can be very strong, and I support anyone’s right to do so, but I believe, like many Reform and Conservative Jewish leaders, that making things easier adds joy and pleasure to the Passover holiday. To think that the holiday represents a burden is absurdist and one-sided. Remember, matzo is not just the “bread of affliction,” but the symbol of freedom too. I skip leavened products, and eat all the kitniyot I want.
What are you favorite creative uses of matzo?
Matzo brei, matzo chilaquiles, matzo toffee, matzo enchiladas, and more!
What dishes are Passover staples in your household?
I’m a classicist: chopped liver, gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, brisket, roasted chicken and pan gravy, poached plums and nectarines in red wine, almond cake (no flour), macaroons, and so on…
What dishes would you recommend for desserts? Because of the restrictions on flour and dairy, I imagine this course is difficult.
It’s easy!! Flourless cakes of all types are easy, puddings, curds, poached fruit, so many choices!
What are your best Passover cooking tips and tricks for all the home cooks out there?
Outsource as much as you are comfortable with, even beverages and ice. The less on your list the better. Don’t take on an eight-item menu yourself if you’ve never done it before. Count your burners and oven space before deciding on menu. Don’t rely on re-heating food unless it makes sense — chicken soup, sure; poached fish, not so much.
Do you have any final words of wisdom on cooking for and during this holiday?
The meal is about the tradition and the story, and remembering why we are Jews. It’s about sharing the table in a loving way with family and friends. Focus on the positive and don’t get hung up on the “don’ts.” That sucks the joy from life.