May 24, 2019

Passover Blintzes With Leonard Cohen

It’s a busy time in the Jewish world. Israelis had perhaps the most controversial and significant elections in their history, launched lunar lander Beresheet into space carrying, among other things, a Torah and memoirs of a Holocaust survivor, only to have it crash land into the moon, during the run-up to Passover, the most time-intensive holiday in our calendar to prepare for. 

Endless spring cleaning, consuming chametz and preparations to host a seder might make people feel as if they are participating in the Exodus before the dinner has commenced. Then, there is daily life that people need to contend with: work, kids, homework, research, cooking, eating, carpooling — the tachlis (the reality or the bottom line). 

This week, after many weeks absent from my kitchen in Uganda, I went to see an exhibition on Canadian singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen at the Jewish Museum in New York City. I realized how little time I’d spent listening to music since I’d left my kitchen in Uganda and how much I’d been missing it. 

After a few hours spent glued to images of Cohen performing throughout a career that spanned 50 years until his death in 2016, in a space that enveloped me in lyrics and prose and poetry, I was almost shivering in recognition of our basic human need for purpose and passion. Here, in this space, it was easy to understand and digest one of the most important Jewish themes of Passover: Dayenu. 

Dayenu – if it wasn’t enough that we were freed from slavery, we were given the Torah. And if that wasn’t enough, we were given Shabbat. And as if that wasn’t enough, we have music, we have food, we have the ability to love, and if that wasn’t enough, we have music, we have poetry, we have a soundtrack of our lives. Although Cohen was the master of longing and his lyrics, like a prayer, channeled mysterious darkness that lured us in, perhaps it’s that secret mood that links music and ritual and keeps them forever intertwined. Whether it’s the ritual of washing the floor and cleaning the cupboards or the ritual of preparing the Passover seder plate and the specific foods we cook year after year within our family culture. As if it wasn’t enough that we were able to survive the harrowing trials put to our people, and still thousands of years later are thriving. 

And as if that wasn’t enough — that we are living in a time where our homeland, rockets aimed toward us, Iron Dome at the ready in defense, elections and a leader’s trial on the horizon — as if that wasn’t enough — I still stood in my kitchen, rapt in awe as Israel’s spacecraft crashed onto the lunar surface, and sang “Hatikvah” prouder than ever.

And as if that wasn’t enough, that day that I was able to stand with a museum full of Cohen fans and through the capability of technology, hum along with his songs and feel the vibration of the bass reverberate through my body from the bench I was seated on — that was the same day that I heard this announcement from Israeli company SpaceIL, which launched Beresheet into space: “Good evening, people of Israel. I have a message for you. After all the massive support that I got from the entire world for this project, I decided to lead a new project: Beresheet 2. The mission we started, I hope we can complete. This is my goal. As for my message for all the youngsters: If it doesn’t work at first, stand up and complete it. And this is what I’m doing, and what I wanted to tell you this evening. Thank you.”

What follows is my blintzes recipe for Passover, made with potato starch, which  in my opinion, are even better than ones made with wheat flour. And although it’s not rocket science, it will still make you feel proud to serve them with fresh blackberries and raspberry coulis and a splurge of sour cream. I prepared them while I listened to Cohen sing “Dance Me to the End of Love” on a continuous loop. And if that wasn’t enough, the blintzes that encase the delightfully fluffy lemon-scented filling can be rolled up and cut into a noodle shape to use in chicken soup in lieu of matzo balls during Passover. Dayenu.

PASSOVER CHEESE BLINTZES

For the batter:
1/2 cup potato starch
1 cup water, room temperature
4 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter or coconut oil or vegetable oil for cooking crepes

For the filling:

1/4 pound farmer’s cheese
1/4 pound full-fat cottage cheese (or ricotta)
2 tablespoons cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
Rind of half a lemon, finely grated
Raspberry jam boiled with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of water for serving (optional)
A handful of fresh berries (raspberries, blueberries or blackberries), for serving
1 tablespoon powdered sugar, for garnish
1/2 cup sour cream, for serving (optional)

Put potato starch in a measuring cup and add room temperature water. Stir well.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs and then add salt and stir together with potato starch mixture and mix thoroughly until smooth batter forms. Pour into a small pitcher. 

Lightly grease or spray an 8-inch nonstick pan or griddle. Over medium heat, pour a little less than 1/2 cup batter into pan and then tilt and swirl pan so batter covers the entire bottom of the pan. Pour excess batter back into the pitcher.

Cook for about 45 seconds, or until the edges of the crepes start to curl and the center looks dry. Loosen edges with a spatula and flip blintz onto a plate, grease pan again, stir batter (it separates while sitting) and repeat the process with remaining batter.

Combine filling ingredients and mix until smooth. To assemble, spoon 2 heaping tablespoons of filling onto the lower third of the blintz. Fold the bottom edge over the filling and then fold the two sides of the blintz into the center. Roll the blintz away from you and put on a plate. 

When ready to serve, melt a tablespoon of butter or oil in a pan. Cook the blintzes over medium heat, flipping when each side becomes golden brown. Serve with raspberry sauce, berries and sour cream. Garnish with powdered sugar.

Makes 12 blintzes.

For Passover noodles:

Prepare batter with the recipe above and cook as blintzes. Take each blintz and roll into a tight cylinder. With a sharp knife or scissors, cut cylinder to the desired width of noodles (about 1/8 to 1/4 inch wide.) Store noodles in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to serve in hot soup. Noodles should not be boiled but can be stirred into the soup a few minutes before serving.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.