Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Passover Seder

I was invited to a Passover seder at a friend's house in Brooklyn on Monday night. Passover is the Jewish holiday and festival that commemorates the hardships and emancipation of the Israelites, who fled Egypt and slavery. God inflicted the 10 plagues on Egypt, and only after the Pharoah's first born son was slaughtered did he finally agree to release them from the chains of servitude. It was at the Red Sea that Moses, with his staff and the help of God, parted the waters so that the Israelites could flee the impending Egyptian Army at their heels.

The tradition is both a narrative of a people's strength at times of adversary, as well as a tale of compassion and humility.

The seder platter consists of Matzoh's, Z'roah (lamb shank), Roasted Egg, Maror (horseradish), Haroseth, Karpas (parsley) and Salt Water. No wheat can be used or eaten during the holiday because when the Israelites fled, they did so in such a haste that they did not have enough time to allow their dough to rise, and so they took the dough and cooked in on rocks under the sun, producing a cracker like food called Matzoh. The lambshank (Chicken Marbella was made as Lamb is an expensive cut of meat) represents the deliverance of the Israelities from slavery, and was selected because it was a symbol of idolatry for the Egyptians which was forbidden by God. The roasted egg is a hard boiled egg whose shell has been blackened, representing life and rebirth. Parsley is dipped in salt water to commemorate the bitter tears that were shed both during the times of hardship as well as when the Egyptian army drowned in the Red Sea, while Matzo is eaten with horseradish to remind us of the hardships that Jews faced while under slavery and during the Shoa. Haroseth is a mixture of crushed nuts, apples, cinnamon and honey or wine. It symbolizes the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves to construct the Pharoah's buildings.

Susie's Hearts of Palm Dip (left) and Haroseth (right).

1 can hearts of palm
1 clove of garlic
olive oil

In a food processor, blitz the hearts of palm and garlic clove. Slowly trickle in the olive oil in a steady stream until you have a light and fluffy dip. Season to taste and eat with crackers, Matzoh or bread. It is addictive and delicious, kind of like crack...

And as my contribution, I baked a flourless Chocolate Fudge cake. It consists of two distinct layers and textures, a cakey bottom layer and a luxurious fudgy top layer, making it far more complex that your typical fudge cake. Eat it with creme fraiche or greek yoghurt beaten with honey and confectionary sugar to cut the richness of the chocolate, or vanilla ice cream to heighten your palette.

Chocolate Fudge Cake (Adapted from the Ottolenghi cookbook)

240g unsalted butter
265g dark chocolate (52% cut into small pieces)
95g dark chocolate (70% cut into small pieces)
290g light muscovado sugar
4 tbsp water
5 large free-range eggs, separated
a pinch of salt
cocoa powder for dusting

Preheat oven to 170C/350F. Grease a 20cm springform cake tin and line with parchment paper.

Place the butter and chocolate in a large heat proof bowl. Put the brown sugar and water in a pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once it is bubbling pour the syrup into the bowl and stir to melt the chocolate. Stir in the yolks one at a time and leave to cool.

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt to a firm, but not too dry meringue. Gently fold the whites into the chocolate mixture, then pour 2/3 of the batter into the cake tin, level with a palette knife and bake for 40 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out almost clean. Remove from oven and let it cool.

Flatten the top (it's okay if the cracks) and pour the rest of the batter on top and level again. Return to the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes. The cake should still have moist crumbs when checked with a skewer. Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin. Dust with cocoa powder and serve. The cake will keep covered at room temperature for 4 days.

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