When Life Gives You Matzoh


Hillá Meller

Passover food laws are not easy to observe. No breads, no flours, virtually no grains or grain-derivatives, no legumes (for Ashkenazis, or Jews of Eastern European descent), no corn. Most alcohol is off-limits. And the Biblical amount of matzoh consumed can cause a veritable plague of constipation.

But hey, at least people lose weight, right? No complex carbohydrates; plenty of fruit and vegetables; quality sources of protein. Every year, the Passover-observant find solace in the ostensible health benefits of an otherwise grumble-worthy week of food.

And every year, they're mistaken (and, oddly, surprised). Increasingly, the Passover menu is simply less Passover-ish, thanks in part to kitchen creativity, corporate interests, and even modern science. In short, even Passover is no match for culinary ingenuity.

Take, for example, the no-flour proscription, a hulking obstacle for any self-respecting kitchen. Passover cooks long ago discovered that a mix of potato starch and matzoh meal—simply ground-up matzoh—can substitute for flour. The mixture is admittedly volatile, and the ideal ratio varies from dish to dish, but generations of experimentation have yielded hundreds of recipes. So, for breakfast, how about Passover waffles, or even pancakes? You can buy kosher for Passover breakfast cereal, no mean feat considering it can't contain corn, processed wheat, or any grain. Yet, somehow, Crispy-O's Real Cocoa Flavored Kosher for Passover Cereal exists, with only these ingredients. (Not for the faint of heart, though—it tastes like a chocolate cereal made from potato starch, which it is.)

With this makeshift flour, you can even make pasta. There are egg noodles, sure, but there's also pasta primavera. And cooks have figured out which pastas lend themselves well to Passover cooking. Potato gnocchi, for instance, is great—as little flour as possible is used, so a substitution of potato starch/matzoh meal is hardly noticeable. There is even scacchi, an old Jewish-Italian pasta-less lasagna that uses matzoh instead of noodles.

It's the same for desserts. Ground nuts can also substitute for flour, along with matzoh cake meal (which is matzoh meal even more finely ground). My sister can make biscotti that inspire instant Passover guilt. (The last time she baked them, though, she mistakenly coated the top with salt instead of sugar. They were still eaten.) And Passover cakes can be works of art. One popular kosher site puts it like this:

Passover cakes are somewhat challenging to make because they are made without flour. Their fragile structure is based on whipping the egg whites until they triple in volume to become a fluffy meringue. Then the delicate white clouds are gently folded into the egg yolks that have been beaten with sugar until they're a pale golden yellow. My mother would carefully fold in the potato starch/cake meal mixture.

Food companies are helping out, too. In Israel, a major company called Osem has miraculously created kosher for Passover self-rising flour from potato starch, matzoh meal, and artificial leavening ingredients. From here, anything's possible. Hillá Meller, an amateur chef based in Washington, D.C., was able to bake a marble cake (pictured above) of which the look, texture, and taste give not a hint of Passover. Even Pillsbury gets in the Passover game—in Israel, the company markets a Passover pancake mix.

Presented by

Menachem Kaiser is a Fulbright Fellow in Lithuania.

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