Now where did we leave off again? Oh damn, are we still on the 4 questions? This is turning out to be a long Seder! Better get on my horse and keep this thing moving….
Yesterday I said that the youngest child is kept engaged by being required to recite the four questions but we only really went over the first. The second question is:
Shebb’khol hallelot anu okh’lin sh’ar y’rakot, vehallayla hazze maror.
Why is it that on all other nights we eat all vegetables, but on this night we eat bitter herbs?
Answer: We eat Maror (a bitter herb) to remind us of the bitterness of slavery.
On Tuesday we talked about the first vegetable consumed of the evening—the Karpas. While it is traditionally something bitter, like parsley, it is not actually the bitter herb to which this refers. Confused yet? Remember the symbolism for the Karpas was the dipping in salt water for remembrance of tears. The second vegetable on the Seder plate is almost always Horseradish which as anyone who has handled raw horseradish knows, is particularly strong and pungent. This is referred to as the Maror or bitter herb. The inspiration for this particular ritual comes from the following lines in Exodus:
“And they embittered their lives with hard labor” – Exodus 1:14
“…and with bitter herbs they shall eat it” – Exodus 12:8
I know. Who lets a book tell them to eat raw Horseradish just to prove a point? I never said this thing as supposed to make sense…. And yes raw horseradish rather than prepared from a jar. Vinegar is used to help soften and mute the astringency of the root. This doesn’t stop me from using vinegar in my recipe below though. Hey I only said I had to be inspired by the Seder plate for these recipes!
But Olivia why do you Jews have all these funny rules about eating? Like the Kosher stuff? What’s up with that? And what is that “Pareve” or “Parve” thing you mentioned the other day?
Oy vey. I always dread explaining the Kosher thing, especially since I clearly don’t keep Kosher most of the year. I make an effort during the high holy days as part of the experience of celebrating the holiday, but otherwise I let the Kosher thing go. I mean there are two schools of thought in my experience about the Kashrut (Kosher law): It’s commanded by G-d (Adonai) for some omniscient and unchallengeable reason OR they originated out of health and food safety concerns. Well I don’t really ascribe to belief in a higher power and modern day science has more or less solved any food safety concerns. For example we know now how to avoid Trichnella, the parasite present in poorly prepared pork. But here’s the rough and dirty of Kosher laws that will help you if you do happen to have actively practicing Jewish friends:
- Pork and Shellfish are off the table. Always. Pork is considered “unclean” and shellfish were “bottom feeders” and therefore forbidden. Pork also had the nasty habit of carrying the aforementioned parasite and shellfish even today when prepared incorrectly can carry a slew of nasty bacteria. Cholera is a horrifying way to die. Additionally rodents, insects, reptiles and amphibians are all forbidden. So just don’t go to Asia.
- Kosher Meat: this isn’t food that’s just blessed by a rabbi. It actually has to be slaughtered in a certain way and no blood is to be left on the meat. The slaughtering process that is considered Kosher is designed to help remove all the blood and also to kill the animal in the most quick and humane way possible.
- Fat that surrounds organs is forbidden. The kind of fat that lines your liver is different than other kinds of fatty tissue. Usually not an issue as most Americans don’t eat organ meat anyway. (I do though. It’s delicious)
- No Meat with Dairy. This is the big one that can throw people for a loop because it means your Kosher keeping friend can’t have a Cheeseburger. Ever. The ruling for this comes from a line about not boiling a Kid in its Mother’s milk and I have to admit, when you put it that way, it does seem kind of sadistic doesn’t it? Anyway what this means is that no meat (Fish and Eggs don’t count though) can be consumed with Dairy or within a set number of hours of eating diary and vice versa. Butter is considered dairy so that gets pretty restrictive. Foods that contain neither meat nor dairy are called “Pareve” or “Parve” and these foods are useful because you can eat them with any meal. Thus whenever I have a recipe that fulfills these rules I like to point it out. It helps making meal planning a little easier since as you can imagine, a big banquet dinner gets quite difficult when you have to choose between using meat or dairy that night.
This also means Jewish Lasagna is always vegetarian and therefore very, very boring. (Not true! I proved that with vegan lasagna. But I concede nothing replaces mozzarella and a good bolognese.)
There are a bunch of other rules and details I could provide but this is enough for now I think. Onto the recipe! Tonight I made a Potato Kugel. Oh boy more words we don’t know Olivia. Okay so a kugel (coo-gull) is essentially a casserole made with noodles or potato. Since noodles are obviously out during our matzo-only holiday, a potato kugel it is! This is a staple of Jewish cuisine and there’s almost always a kugel present for any big to-do. There’s also more often than not a BIG ego contest about who has the best Kugel. Fueds have formed at many a Synagogue and between mother/daughter in-laws for decades. Thankfully I have no one to compete with at the moment—Mom never really made kugel—so I can puff my chest out without fear and say mine is best at home.
9 times out of 10 Kugel is made as a sweet dish but this time around I wanted something savory to feature the Maror. Horseradish goes so nicely with potato doesn’t it? It’s got a lot of that traditional baked potato flavor without the bacon or the dairy since I use chicken fat. This recipe can be altered quite easily to be rendered completely Parve by removing the chicken skins and using olive oil. Or you could then serve it with some sour cream. Mmmmmmm talk about potato heaven. Flexibility makes it a great addition to your Jewish cookbook. Look I talked about Flexibility and didn’t even mention yoga. Gotta be a record!
Maror Horseradish Potato Kugel
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