Passover inspires students to explore creative cuisine options

Passover finally ended Sunday night, but it will take a few more days for the excitement of being able to eat normal foods again to settle in at last. Passover is a polarizing holiday. It divides us into camps: those who love the holiday and those who just hate it, those who cook elaborately and those who scavenge from the dining halls, those who like their Matzo Brei salty and those who like it sweet. There really is no middle ground. Passover food is equally divided between the great and the horrible: flourless chocolate cake being at the top of the scale, while pre-made vegetable (which vegetable? It’s better not to ask) soufflé is decidedly lower. There are seders during the first two nights of Passover, where the food is so good that you forget you must go without things like bread, cereal, grains, pasta, flour, all baked goods, corn, corn syrup, soy, tofu, beans, chickpeas, peanuts and worst of all, peanut butter, for eight days.

Traditional seder food really is that good. There’s pot roast: slices of beef in a stew of onions, carrots and potatoes that caramelizes in the oven for a few days until meltingly tender. Matzo ball soup is clear chicken broth, where grayish (hopefully fluffy) dumplings of matzo meal and eggs roll around evading your spoon. Another gray food that shows up on the seder table is Gefilte fish, which is essentially ground carp or whitefish formed into little patties commonly eaten with horseradish. Needless to say, it’s not a child’s favorite. But in general, from the roast chicken to the macaroons, seders are a very good thing for all involved.

In the following days of the holiday, the novelty wears off and I begin to crave carbs like an Atkin’s dieter. Breakfast is perhaps the easiest meal of the day, where I can construct big gooey omelets, or spread matzo liberally with cream cheese and jelly. The star of Passover breakfast, however, is Matzo Brei. Matzo is soaked in water, covered in an egg batter and sizzled over the stove with lots of butter. You can have your Matzo Brei sweet like French Toast, with maple syrup and jam, or salty like scrambled eggs. I like mine sweet, with slices of apple and cinnamon.

Lunch is more difficult, since I can only suffer through so many Paresky salads in a row. At the JRC, the midday meal is almost invariably matzo pizza. This popular entrée comprises matzo, spread over with tomato sauce and sprinkled with cheese. The ambitious cookers put their pizzas in the oven to prevent the matzo from getting soggy, while the less picky zap theirs in the microwave. You can also put tuna fish on matzo, or cream cheese and lox. There are numerous options for eating the matzo, but after the fifth time the matzo cracks in the wrong place, caving in and spilling its contents on my lap, my nostalgia for the wonders of sliced bread grows exponentially. Even graham crackers make their way into my dreams, along with Whitman’s corn bread and basically every single dessert the dining halls offer.

Sure, there are Passover desserts. In fact, there is a huge variety of chalky cookies and dense cakes, made with either matzo meal or potato flour. Usually these packaged goodies come in shockingly bright colors, as if somehow that would make up for their crumbly blandness. Once, my aunt brought over a cake that was an exciting green color. “Perhaps it’s lime?” we comforted ourselves at the time. A few minutes later, my sister realized that the vibrant green was actually the color of a thriving mold permeating the entire cake. The sad part of that story is that we didn’t immediately realize the mold growth – our standards were really that low.
Passover candies come in all sorts of creative shapes that still provide only a meager degree of satisfaction. Macaroons are usually a safe bet, as well as those sugared jelly fruit slices. There are also marshmallows covered with toasted coconuts, which I usually like to think of as the Jewish equivalent of Peeps.

As for me, my favorite Passover food is Matzola. A specialty of the JRC, it is granola made out of matzo and toasted almonds. Late at night, I, and many other students, make Matzola pilgrimages to the J, taking back bags of our crunchy sweet manna to mix into yogurt, drop into milk or just to munch for a casual snack. Once this trying holiday is over, I won’t be mourning matzo pizza or Gefilte fish – but Matzola will always have a special place in my heart.