What’s the difference between a board of matzo and the box it comes in? Nothing.
-Old Jewish Proverb
In this year of our people, 5780, COVID-19 concerns are dominating Passover preparation in Jewish households across the world. We are all dealing with this new reality and the changes it will bring to the holiday. Many have stocked away all the food they plan to eat for the coming weeks or months and will not go into a grocery store before their seder. Some are reliant on delivery services who, in all likelihood, will report back that they could not find gefilte fish or tzimmes because they have no idea what the hell those things are. Our tables will be smaller, our seders shorter, and those of us over 30 (or 40, or 60!) may have to ask ma nishtanah for the first time in many years.
Ten days out from the seder, my planning actually looks surprisingly normal relative to any other year. I will clean the house meticulously, wiping and disinfecting every shelf, surface, and piece of furniture that humans have touched to rid them of chametz and lingering germs. I will be off of work for the days leading up to the seder in order to cook, and since I am no longer working as of this morning, I have all the time in the world. I would have agonized over trying to make a two week shopping list and buying groceries to last the whole holiday; this year I have already done it once and I know what I do and do not need (still haven’t touched the dried beans). And while I often find it hard to use up the last pound of flour in the pantry, Lauren has been baking a new loaf of bread every other day since we began our quarantine and we actually had to buy more to keep up the habit.
The one thing I have yet to plan for is the matzo. I secretly hope that, if I wait long enough, stores will sell out and I can avoid the dry mouth and constipation this year. Most years, I buy just enough matzo to fulfill the mitzvah “in the first month, on the fourteenth day in the evening, you shall eat matzah” (Exodus 12:18). After the seders, I avoid the stuff as if it were the eleventh plague. I understand that for many people, matzo IS Passover. For those who hold that “seven days you shall eat matzo” or just really enjoy chocolate toffee matzo and matzo brei, I hope to open you up to a whole new world of K for P possibilities. Another note is that I have always eaten kitniyot: corn, rice, legumes, and peas, and the Conservative movement ruled them permissible 4 years ago. I will include options that both include and exclude them.
These are a few of my favorite things (to eat on Passover):
- Brisket. Brisket made for Passover should be rich and plentiful. The last three years we have hosted two seders for about a dozen people, and I have made 15-18 pounds of brisket plus accompanying root vegetables. This, plus an additional side of salmon, will last both nights plus a few more days for lunch. Add a roasted green vegetable and there is a full meal without ever having to touch a board of matzo. Repeat this with any other protein, meat or vegetarian, and save the gravy for a second braise.
- Salmon. For those who do not eat red meat, I will also make a salmon for the seder. Season it however you want, cover it in honey mustard, grate orange and cumin and make a rub (it’s a surprisingly good flavor combo), and pop it into a 250 degree oven for at least an hour. It will stay incredibly moist and flakey and reheat well for days. Serve the same as above, add a potato dish and this is a full and healthy meal.
- Stir fry. I make stir fry all year. It can be simple or very involved. If you eat rice, it can be served with rice. If not, quinoa is fair game. Just don’t use cauliflower rice; nobody likes cauliflower rice.
- Eggs. There is a reason small children like scrambled eggs with salt and pepper cooked in butter; they are delicious. Eggs are simple and versatile. Take this time to step up your omelette game with seder leftovers, add hard boiled eggs to a salad, fry and serve over hash browns diner-style, or poach in tomatoes and onions for a delicious shakshuka.
- Quinoa. For those who avoid rice as well as bread during Passover, quinoa is an excellent substitute. It is a source of complete protein and absorbs the flavor of broths and sauces just like rice would.
I could go on and on about the wonderful meals I plan to make with all this newfound time on my hands, but the gist is that everyone should try to see a Passover without matzo and a federally mandated quarantine the same way: as an opportunity to try something new that feels a little out of place. At first it may seem like something is missing. After a few meals, you may wonder why you focused so much on the bread of affliction.