By Linda Morel
My grandchildren get excited by the Passover story.
There are good guys — our ancestors, the Hebrew slaves; and bad guys — the ancient Egyptians. There’s a cruel king called Pharaoh, who refuses to free the slaves. There’s our Moses, who says, “Let my people go.” Next, plagues are hurled down to punish Pharaoh for being obstinate.
Finally, there is salvation when Pharaoh relents and frees our ancestors. There is plenty of drama — and lessons to be learned.
This remarkable story fuels their imaginations. All goes well at seders until the brisket, tzimmes and matzah kugels come to the table.
Like typical American children, they live on macaroni and cheese, pasta, chicken fingers and French fries. They eat hamburgers, too, but only inside buns. Loaded with flour, none of these foods are appropriate for Passover.
As the main course is served, it crushes me to see disappointment on their faces. Worse yet, this is followed by a sudden dash to the kitchen to scrounge for foods they will eat: pecans, apples, raw carrots, even slices of cheese. None of these qualify as a main course.
While the delicacies for the adults were prepared in advance, the food children eat is slapdash. It doesn’t make them feel special.
Because I’ve been as frustrated as my grandchildren, I’ve created an alternate child-friendly menu calling for foods kids like to eat.
For fun, I serve a vegetarian charcuterie tray, loaded with child-pleasing fruits and veggies. Chicken fingers made with potato starch and oven fried potatoes are such big hits, that the adults eat them, too. At dessert, no one can resist matzah dipped in chocolate and tossed with colorful sprinkles.
Passover is as much for children as it is for adults. Where would seders be without children? Who would ask the Four Questions or find the afikomen? Call me a grandmother who spoils her grandchildren, but when dinner is served, it’s worth it to see smiles on their faces as they relish the foods I’ve made just for them.
Vegetarian Charcuterie Tray | Pareve
Strawberries, cut in half
Grapes, red or green
Cucumbers, cut in circles
Carrots, cut in circles
Apples, cut in slices
Bananas, cut in circles
Cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Walnuts or pecans, toasted at 350 degrees, and cooled
Start with an oblong tray or platter with these dimensions or close to them: 13 inches by 6 inches. Arrange the foods above, in lines parallel to the tray’s shorter side. For eye appeal, arrange foods in lines of opposing colors. For example, place a red food next to a green one.
Oven-Fried Potatoes | Pareve
Equipment: 10-inch-by-15-inch ovenproof pan, such
Olive oil for coating the pan, plus ½ cup
6 large russet potatoes
Kosher salt to taste
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Coat the bottom and sides of the pan with olive oil.
Peel the potatoes. Cut them into 1-inch chunks. Move them to the prepared pan. Drizzle ½ cup of olive oil over the potatoes. Gently toss to coat. Sprinkle on salt.
Move the baking pan to the oven. Turn the potatoes every few minutes. Bake for 70 minutes, or until the potatoes are brown and crisp. Serve immediately. The recipe can be made two days ahead, if refrigerated, brought to room temperature and reheated at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until sizzling.
Chicken Fingers | Meat
Yield about 16-20 chicken fingers, serves 4-6
Equipment: 3 frying pans make things go faster, if you have them
4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
3 cups potato starch
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1½ teaspoons garlic powder
3 large eggs
1 cup olive oil, or more if needed
Rinse the chicken under cold water. Dry it completely on paper towels. With a sharp knife, cut off and discard as much fat as you can. It’s impossible to remove all of the fat without cutting your fingers, so please don’t do that.
Cut the chicken thighs into strips about 1-inch wide. The strips won’t look identical. There may some short, stumpy pieces. Use them, too. Even frozen chicken fingers vary in size and shape.
Place two layers of paper towels onto two platters.
In a bowl, preferably with a flat bottom, place the potato starch, salt and garlic powder. Mix it together well with a fork.
Crack the eggs into another bowl. Whisk to blend.
One at a time, roll the pieces of chicken into the potato starch mixture to coat, then submerge them in the eggs, and roll them again in potato starch, until completely covered.
Place the chicken pieces on a dinner plate.
Pour enough olive oil into the first frying pan to cover the entire bottom, ⅛-inch deep. Heat on a medium flame.
Move the chicken fingers into the oil. Sizzle them in the oil until golden brown. Using tongs, turn over the chicken fingers and fry them. If the oil sputters and is too hot, turn down the flame. Add more oil, if needed. When the chicken is fluffy and crunchy, move it to the paper towel-lined platters. Repeat with remaining pieces of chicken. Serve immediately.
This recipe can be made 2 days in advance and refrigerated, or it can be frozen. When ready to serve, bring the chicken fingers to room temperature, and warm them in a preheated 350 degree oven until sizzling, about 10-15 minutes.
Chocolate Dipped Matzah | Dairy or Pareve
Yield: 24 pieces
1 pound semisweet chocolate, (two 8-ounce packages)
2 pieces of matzah
2 pieces of parchment paper
1 cup, or more, of multi-colored sprinkles
Note: Many brands of semisweet chocolate contain some dairy products. OH! NUTS (ohnuts.com) carries pareve kosher for Passover chocolate and sprinkles. Depending on which Passover chocolate you select, you may need to add a little sugar to it.
Fill the bottom pot of a double boiler with 2 inches of water. Fit the top pot in position and place the chocolate inside. Cover it with the lid. (Or you can use a heatproof bowl that fits over a pot. Use foil to cover the bowl.)
Bring the water to a fast simmer and melt the chocolate. Remove the top of the double boiler from the boiling water. Bring the chocolate to room temperature, while still covered.
Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Break each piece of matzah into four equal strips along the perforation lines. Break each strip into 3 rectangles. Move the rectangles to a rimmed baking pan. Place rectangles in a single layer without overlapping.
Bake for 5 minutes, or until the matzah is warm but not browning. Remove it from the oven and cool it to room temperature.
Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Give the melted chocolate a stir. Submerge the matzah rectangles in chocolate on both sides, letting the excess chocolate drip back into the pot. Place the rectangles on parchment paper. While the chocolate is still warm, decorate it with colorful sprinkles.
Refrigerate the sheets for 2 hours, or until the chocolate is firm. (If you have a screened porch and the temperature is 40 degrees or below, you can cool the rectangles outdoors.) Move the rectangles to a platter, cover them with plastic wrap and keep them refrigerated for a day or two, until ready to serve.