I went to my first Passover Seder last week. I’m not sure how it is that I’ve never been to one before given how many of my friends and family are of the Jewish faith. I suppose it’s because I tend to shy away from religious celebrations of any kind with as much polite respect as possible. It’s just that I find religion to be extremely personal.
However, I’ve been thinking lately that maybe too much distance from something can bring you to the brink of closed-mindedness. Or maybe loosening some of my boundaries when it comes to religion is part of the whole process of confronting one’s own mortality. Who the hell knows? I heard there would be food. Maybe that was it.
As a newbie, I enjoyed the accessible, non-traditional format that our neighbors L and W embraced. Before eating, for example, everyone broke into groups of three or four and pantomimed the story of Passover in memorable fashion utilizing stuffed animals for props and the like. While a few of the songs were in Hebrew, most were humorous English interpretations, like the Exodus Rap: Well my name is Moses, you can call me Mo…. Suddenly, I realized what all of my years of after-school Catholic tutelage had been lacking: Rap. Oh, and food.
Dinner began with hard-boiled eggs, a symbol of spring, fertility, and the giving of life, which were dipped in salt water to represent the tears of the enslaved Jews. Parsley also received a dip in the salty brine to signify rebirth and renewal. Charoset, a tasty concoction of apples, nuts, and wine, represented the mortar that the Jewish slaves used to build the pyramids of Ancient Egypt. Sweet charoset combined with horseradish, the bitter flavor of which is analogous to slavery itself, was meant to remind one that there is sweetness in even the most bitter of times. Matzo, the unleavened bread that the Jews carried with them on their impromptu exodus out of Egypt, symbolized oppression and the importance of freedom. Did I get any of this wrong?
I was impressed with how important and symbolic the food was. We also had matzo-ball soup, chicken, vegetables, and extra helpings of charoset. I don’t know the story behind the four glasses of wine, but I know I like it. For dessert, there was chocolate- and toffee-covered matzo, which should be eaten year-round I declare. Our neighbor S also brought these amazingly rich chocolate-coconut macaroons. The recipe came from Clear Flour bakery in Brookline and they are the perfect treat for either Passover or Easter. You could even flatten the mounds into little nests and, once baked, set Cadbury mini-eggs or malted milk robin’s eggs in there. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing. They’re also gluten-free. Something for everyone.
Chocolate Coconut Macaroons
Don’t scrimp on the chocolate here. Skip Hershey’s and Nestle and go for Callebaut, Valrhona, even Ghirardelli. And, for the love of god, never use anything wrapped in Easter foil and marked as “chocolate” for baking. That stuff’s disgusting.
9¼ oz. semisweet chocolate, cut into ½-inch pieces
4½ oz. unsweetened chocolate, cut into ½-inch pieces
5 egg whites (save the yolks for pasta dough!!)
8 oz. granulated sugar (about 1 heaping cup)
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
14 oz. sweetened shredded coconut
These cookies are meant to be frozen before baking to maintain a super-creamy center, so don’t preheat your oven just yet.*
Bring an inch of water in a medium saucepan to a boil then turn down the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. In a large metal bowl, combine the two types of chocolate. Set the bowl on top of the pan of water (the bowl shouldn’t touch the water—the steam provides the heat). Stir the chocolate until it is melted and remove from heat. If you have a double-boiler, use that instead.
In a large clean bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until foamy. Slowly add the sugar and keep beating until the mixture has the consistency of melted marshmallows. With a rubber spatula, fold in the vanilla, coconut, and melted chocolate until well blended.
Line 3-4 cookie sheets with parchment paper and scoop out batter into small mounds about 2 inches wide and an inch or two apart. Once they’re frozen, you can either store the macaroons in plastic containers to get your pans back into circulation, or bake them right on the pans. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the frozen macaroons 16-20 minutes or until the outsides have developed a delicate crust and the tops are set. Slide the parchment paper (with the macaroons still on it) off the cookie sheets and onto a wire rack to cool. Makes 25.
*If you don’t have time for freezing the batter, you must have macaroons now, then preheat your oven to 425°F and bake on parchment-lined pans about 10 minutes until tops are set but centers are still soft. Let cool on pans several minutes more. The centers won’t be as creamy, but they’ll still be pretty damned good.