Give Matzah a Hand

I still remember the first year we served shemurah matzah at our seder…. It was in the early 1960s and we were living on a ranch in Topanga Canyon. We received a letter from Chabad offering us a box of shemurah matzah for our seder, no charge, all we had to do was pick it up in Westwood. We had never heard of shemurah matzah, and thought that it was a wonderful idea. When we arrived to pick up the matzah, the Chabbad rabbi explained their meaning and that everyone at the seder should have the experience of seeing and tasting this matzah.

Shemurah matzah is matzah baked by hand from wheat that has been guarded from the time of harvest. This is to ensure that the flour does not come in contact with any moisture. The matzah is baked within 18 minutes. This is done to avoid any possibility of fermentation

Because we were having 25 people each night of Passover, we asked him for three boxes. He was so surprised, and said he thought is was wonderful that a young couple living on a ranch with five children were having that many guests for their seder. Every year since, we have included shemurah matzah for our seder. It is always interesting to hear our guests’ comments on which type of matzah they prefer. And it always brings on a discussion about the history and importance it plays during the Passover holiday.

After many years of getting our shemurah matzah from Chabad it has become available in kosher markets, as well as large supermarkets.

Celebrate Shavuot With Spring Harvest

When I was growing up, two types of food were usually associated with the holiday of Shavuot. There were the dairy dishes — blintzes, knishes, noodle kugels and, of course, cheesecake. Most of us remember them from our childhood, but they were always laden with cream, butter and cheese, and may not appeal to our diet today.

The second group reminds us of the harvest, and includes wheat, barley, lentils, spring vegetables, honey and the traditional first fruits of the season.

This year I have planned a menu for my family Shavuot dinner using many of the foods in the second category. The recipes are designed for six, but may be doubled, and can be prepared in advance.

I always include Harvest Wheat Rolls for the holiday. They carry out the harvest theme and are a perfect accompaniment for the Lentil Soup, that is accented with rich vegetable flavors and topped with olive oil. Don’t forget to serve a bowl of honey to spoon on the rolls.

Harvest Wheat Rolls

2 cups whole wheat flour

3 cups unbleached flour

1 package active dry yeast

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup warm water

1/4 cup olive oil or safflower oil

2 tablespoons honey

1 cup peeled, grated carrots

2 eggs

1/4 cup yellow corn meal

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Combine the flours. Place 2 cups of flour mixture, yeast and salt in bowl of an electric mixer. Heat water, oil and honey in a saucepan until very warm, 115 F to 120 F. Add water mixture to flour mixture, beating until well blended. Beat in one egg, carrots and 2 cups of flour mixture to make a soft dough. Turn dough onto floured board and knead for 5-10 minutes, adding remaining flour to make a smooth and elastic dough. Place dough in an oiled bowl and oil the top. Cover with towel and let rise in warm place until doubled in size, about 1.5 hours.

Line baking sheet with foil; brush with oil and sprinkle with corn meal. Break off small pieces of dough (about 30) forming each piece into a long rope, twist into a knot and place on prepared baking sheet. Cover with towel and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Beat remaining egg and brush the top of rolls. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake at 350 F for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Makes about 30 rolls.

Lentil Soup

1 1/2 cups lentils

2 bay leaves, crumbled

1/4 cup unsalted butter or nondairy margarine

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 onion, finely chopped

1 parsnip, peeled, finely chopped

4 carrots, peeled, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely sliced

1/2 cup minced parsley

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried

4 tomatoes, peeled, finely diced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon each, minced parsley, green onions and basil leaves

Olive Oil for garnish

Soak lentils in 4 cups water six hours or overnight. Drain lentils and place in large pot with 8 cups warm water and bay leaves. Bring to boil, then simmer 20-25 minutes or until tender.

Heat butter and olive oil in large saucepan. Add garlic, onion, parsnip, carrots, celery and parsley. Saute 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add rosemary and tomatoes. Simmer 10 minutes.

Drain lentils, returning liquid to large pot. Remove bay leaves. Add 2 cups drained lentils to garlic mixture and mix well.

Place remaining drained lentils in food processor or blender with 1/2 cup reserved liquid and puree. Add pureed lentils and lentils with garlic mixture to pot with reserved liquid. Mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Bring to boil and simmer until soup thickens, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Ladle into serving bowl. Sprinkle parsley, green onions and basil and drizzle with olive oil.

Makes 8-10 servings.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (William Morrow & Co, 1999) and “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook” (William Morrow & Co, 1999). Her Web site is

Holiday Halvah

Wheat Halvah

Among Persian Jews, halvah is the traditional Purim food. Here are two recipes, one using flour, one rice.

Fariba Sameyach, a preschool teacher at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, shared this recipe, along with a delicious sample of halvah, a sweet and perfumy Persian Purim delicacy.

As with all traditional recipes, it’s hard to nail down exact ingredients that are usually measured by taste and eye. Watching an experienced halvah-maker is also the best way to get the technique down, so that the flour is browned to just the right color and the batter is just the right consistency.

1 1/2 cups flour, 1/4 cup oil, 1 1/2 cups boiling water,

3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp ground saffron, 1/4 cup rose water

In a nonstick pot on medium heat, roast the flour until light brown. Stir constantly to avoid burning. Remove from heat and sift the flour in a separate bowl.

Pour the oil into the same pot, still on medium heat. Add the sifted, browned flour and keep stirring. Add the boiling water, sugar, cardamom and saffron, and keep stirring until the flour absorbs all the liquid. Add the rose water and keep stirring for another five minutes. While hot, spread the halvah on a flat dish. With the back of a spoon or your hands, flatten the halvah on your dish. When cool, cut into diamonds or squares. Nooshe Jan. — Julie Gruenbaum Fax

Rice Halvah

6 cups white rice, 6 cups water, 1 cup vegetable oil, 1/2 cup rose water, 2 tbs. crushed cardamom, 3 cups sugar, 2 tbs. ground saffron


1/2 cup fresh almonds, small amount of butter, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp. saffron

Soak the rice overnight in cold water until the grains soften.

In the morning, drain the water, then crush the rice into a fine paste. Stir-fry the rice in a pan without oil until the paste turns golden. Add the cup of oil, then fry the rice until it’s light brown.

Add six cups water, sugar, cardamom, rose water and saffron. Cook over a slow fire, stirring constantly, until the rice takes on a pasty consistency.

Pour the paste into a serving dish and leave at room temperature to cool. It will harden into a jello-like consistency.

Peel the almonds, slice them into strips and stir-fry with the butter, sugar and saffron. Use as garnish to decorate the halvah.