Sunday, April 17, 2011

A WHAT Passover feast?

In checking my all-but-obsolete Yahoo! email, I saw an article on the front page that caught my eye.  It's entitled "A Family-Friendly Passover Feast."  It's a basic article that provides folks with a menu and recipes for Pesach, prefacing the info with some spiel about how it's challenging to provide a delicious and kosher meal that's kid-friendly.

The caterer who provided recipes is Jewish, but even so, the article irks me.  First of all, while I'm familiar with the pickiness of kids, and know that such pickiness doesn't mysteriously disappear at the seder, Pesach food has never really occurred to me as NOT kid-friendly.  As a kid, my siblings and I were always giving the opportunity to pass on foods we didn't like (and as picky adults, we sometimes still do), but we weren't allowed to dictate the menu.  Don't want gefilte fish?  Don't eat it, but we're still serving it.

Secondly, I resent the insistence that it's difficult to create a delicious meal with the Pesach kashrut.  One of the reasons it seems difficult is because of the complexity of so much modern food.  When I shop for Pesach, I prefer to go to Whole Foods or (more likely) Trader Joe's, since the lack of preservatives and additives makes it so much easier to shop.  If I head to Stop & Shop or Shaws, foods that could be kosher often have additives that negate that possibility (e.g. corn syrup, soy).

General Pesach rules say no leavened bread.  This includes a lot more than just bread.  It means no crackers, cookies, pasta, cereal, etc.  But as an Ashkenazi Jew, I'm supposed to follow even more rules, which are really strange and don't make much sense.  Under these rules, rice and rice products, corn and corn products, peanuts, and soy are also forbidden.  I know, that's weird and arguably unnecessary.  Watch me agree and follow the rules anyway.

So that's where things get tricky.  You buy salad dressing, and realize that for some reason there's soy in it.  Annoying.  But you can EASILY make delicious meals even with the rules.  Cook some delicious potatoes for your starch (if all the matzah isn't enough), make lots of veggies, make a meat dish.  I've been to an all vegetarian Pesach seder, and it was delicious.

And every year at my grandmother's seder, we have egg salad, gefilte fish, matzah ball soup, and then the main course, which is usually veggies, salad, potato kugel, and either chicken or deliiiicious brisket.  Dessert is obscenely easy: flourless cake, meringues, macaroons, and those awesome fruit slices.  My grandmother has to hide those carefully to make sure they're not gone before dessert.

My point is that for so many Jewish folks, cooking for the seder isn't a challenge.  Kids will eat the food, and everyone will enjoy it.  It's really not as big a deal as the Yahoo! article would imply.

Finally, the inclusion of veal on the menu is a bit stupid.  Veal is, in the strictest sense, kosher, but many Jews will not eat it because cruelty towards animals is unacceptable in Judaism.  That's following the rules without actually thinking about the rules, and thinking about the rules is what Jews do.  It's why we've got the Torah, and then a zillion more volumes of text TALKING about the Torah and what the Torah must mean.  Ugh.

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