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A Microwaveable Passover, 5778 (2018) edition

Spinach matzah balls in the microwave

No matter how many times I vow I’m not going to work too hard this year, I always end up cleaning the fridge some time in the small hours the night before Passover, swearing creatively to get all the vegetable bins and shelving back in the way they came out. Between packing out the unkasherable dishes and appliances like the toaster oven, shopping for the week, and kashering the silverware, dishes and pots for Passover, it always ends up about 5 to 6 or so in the evening before I can actually cook.

Passover started Friday night, and it was just us at home this time around for the first seder. So I didn’t have to make a huge menu, which was good. Because I did have to kasher the kitchen–starting after a 3-hour stint at the DMV (my third this month) to help my kid finally get her learner’s permit. Type I diabetes throws a monkey wrench into the proceedings and requires extra time, paperwork, and hocking to make sure one office actually sends the other office the fax within your lifetime…so it was a bit on the late side that I actually got to start, and by the time sunset rolled around, I was kind of wiped and ready to skip it. Not a great frame of mind for experimenting in the kitchen, certainly not that night. Although the fridge IS still astonishingly clean and sparkly.

We don’t always get fully past the rush to the enjoyment of the seder, especially those of us who are doing the cooking. But the first bite of parsley dipped in saltwater always signals the start of the holiday for me, and the first bite of matzah tastes like freedom. (The thirty-fifth bite or so, perhaps not so much…)

By now I’ve played around enough to have quite a number of simple Passover-worthy dishes that can be microwaved, some of them start to finish. That can be handy when you’re either short on cooking time after getting home from work on Friday or just short on patience and yet you still want to do a simple–but still nice–small seder. It might even provide a save at least for the side dishes if you’re doing a bigger one.

Some things you can’t help cooking on the stove–hard-boiled eggs for the seder plate and for the table of hungry guests.  And some things like charoset take some hand work to chop if you don’t have a food processor around.

However.

Even if you’re serving something long-cooked like chicken or brisket as a main dish, a couple of easy microwaveable vegetable dishes, appetizers and desserts–even soup–might benefit from not having to compete for stovetop and oven space, particularly if a heat wave is headed your way. And microwaving reaps big benefits for reheating or supplementing leftovers quickly during the next several days if you keep kosher for Passover, or even if you don’t.

Vegetabalia

Fresh vegetables really matter for Passover. Salad, yes. It’s spring, after all (even though my mother said they were expecting another snowfall this week in Boston). And also cooked greens. I’m a big believer in microwaving them lightly and last-minute wherever possible, so that they’re just-cooked, fresh-tasting and still green when you serve them–at least, if they’re supposed to be green.

microwaved asparagus with a poached egg

Lightly-microwaved asparagus stays green even the next day. It’s good either cold or reheated with light vinaigrette and a poached egg (regular or microwaved) and some basil or other spring herbs.

Asparagus is traditional, and as long as you don’t abuse it the way my mother [probably] still does, by boiling the regulation seven minutes, shocking in ice water, and then letting it sit around in the cold water for ages until the stalks start shredding into floaty olive-green kelp-like bits, because she’s too busy with the soup, and dinner’s not for another whole hour…..skip all that and microwave the stalks instead for 2-3 minutes and you can be a winner.

Snaplock containers that are about the same size as the amount of vegetable you’re microwaving make it easy to prep ahead and store raw trimmed, washed asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts or other greens in the fridge, ready to nuke and go. When you’re ready for them, just add a drizzle of water, maybe a quarter-inch, to the container, put the lid back on, shake once or twice over the sink (in case of drips), and microwave them 2-3 minutes for a pound–you can let them sit a minute or so afterward and they’ll continue to steam. If you’re doing 2 pounds in one container, double the time, but stop and stir gently halfway through so the less-cooked ones on the bottom get moved to the top, and keep an eye on it the last minute or so–that is, stop the microwave again and check with a fork for doneness–so you don’t overcook.

Once the vegetables are just fork-tender and still green, drain them carefully and either serve right away or take the lid off and lay it back on loosely with an  air gap–you can probably get away with letting it sit this way for 10 minutes or so without it cooling too much, and the veg will stay green. But obviously, it’s best to serve it fairly quickly.

Vegetables you plan to roast or pan-brown can get a very quick head start in the microwave before tossing quickly with olive oil, garlic and rosemary in a frying pan or, if you’ve already got it going anyway, the oven. The precooking definitely cuts down the browning time. Brussels sprouts, fresh fennel, new potatoes, carrots, and red squashes are easy to microwave with just a bit of water in the bottom of a covered container to help steam them quickly.

Not-Chicken Soups

Microwaveable not-chicken soups, good for a vegetarian, vegan, or fish dinner,  can be made ahead in a couple of minutes (well, 5 to 15, including prep time) and reheated. They’re also good to have on hand if you’re doing a big meat dinner with the standard chicken soup in a stock pot but you also have a few vegetarian guests.

vegetables for microwaveable not-chicken soup

Basic not-chicken soup (about 2 1/2 quarts or 8-10 servings)

  • 3-4 full-sized carrots
  • medium or large onion
  • 4 long stalks of celery
  • drizzle/spoonful of olive oil
  • fat clove of garlic, minced, mashed or grated
  • handful of fresh dill or 1-2 T dry
  • 12-20 black peppercorns
  • lemon juice and salt to taste at the table

Fill up a 2.5 quart microwaveable bowl or container nearly to the top with chopped (bite-size pieces) vegetables. Stir in a spoonful of olive oil, and microwave-wilt the veg for 5 minutes on HIGH with the lid on. Add a fat minced or grated clove of garlic, a handful of dill and a few black peppercorns, plus water to cover and reheat another 5-6 minutes or until steaming hot, then let it sit with the lid on. Your soup will be pretty flavorful after letting it steep half an hour, if possibly a bit sweet (just one of those leftover mongo onions from last week’s “gifting” weighed a full pound on average). A squeeze of lemon and a dash of salt–not Campbell’s or Lipton’s level salting, salt-shaker-at-the-diner’s-discretion salting–and a grinding of pepper will work it out.

Pan-browned not-chicken soup

The pan-browned minimal carrot-onion soup is a little more hands-on, but very convincing and full-bodied. The basic setup is the same as for plain, but after wilting, pan brown the veg in a nonstick frying pan until you see actual browning, about 10 minutes. Add a grated or minced fat clove of garlic, a sprig of thyme, and a splash of white wine, and cook it down to dry. Put the veg back in the microwave container, swirl a bit of water around the empty pan to pick up the browning (i.e., deglaze), add it to the veg, fill the container up to the top with water, and microwave 5-6 minutes to heat, then let it steep.

My current version (since I was gifted with celery as well last week) includes a couple of chopped stalks of celery with again, a very large onion. I also added in a bit of dill plus–chop ’em if you’ve got ’em–one or two finely-diced shiitake mushrooms, fresh or dried and soaked in half a cup of hot water,  for added not-chicken potency.

diced shiitake mushrooms

A squeeze of lemon and a dash of salt and fresh ground pepper at the table makes it even better than actual chicken soup. And you never have to skim any scum.

If you want to surprise people, go with bok choy broth but skip the soy sauce (contains wheat) and add extra shiitakes and fresh brown mushrooms, plus scallions, garlic and ginger. Use apple cider vinegar. We think sesame oil is fine for Passover but a lot of people don’t; it’s okay even without it.

Whatever soup you offer, keep the vegetables in. I never really understand the appeal of throwing out good veg just to have a 1950s-style “clear consommé”.

Microwave matzah balls?!

You can, actually, but not the conventional way, at least not in water to cover, mimicking the usual stovetop boiling. I tried it one afternoon last week just to see, using the classic back-of-box recipe just to be sure (I try these things so you don’t have to…). I decided to preheat the water so the dough wouldn’t fall apart, much as I would for fresh pasta. As I was spooning in the last of the dough, the first matzah balls were starting to float–it looked like it might actually work.

The matzah ball mix

 

The batch looked promising right before I put them in the microwave…

But the results were not convincing. It could be they failed to absorb the water or expand properly because I only had one egg in the house, and the standard recipe calls for 4 eggs per cup of matzah meal, but either way, they weren’t good.

…On the other hand, I discovered that spinach matzah balls work really decently, as long as you microwave them dry on an open plate first to seal them and cook them through, then heat in the broth.

spinach matzah balls on a microwaveable plate, ready to cook

Spinach matzah balls ready to cook (a smaller test batch)

The spinach matzah ball mix started out for spinach latkes, but I decided at the last minute to see what would happen if I microwaved it on an open plate instead, treating it the way I precook felafel mix before pan-browning.

They weren’t bad! They weren’t spherical, but they weren’t tough in the center or gluey on the outside (two faults of my “conventional boiling” microwave try). The next day, after refrigerating them, I put a couple of them in a soup bowl, ladled on a serving of my practice batch of not-chicken soup, nuked it 2 minutes to heat through and…they were pretty good, actually.

Microwaved spinach matzah balls (left) with a bowl of soup ready to reheat.

This week I tried them again and discovered that one of the reasons they worked out was because I’d let them sit covered a while in the hot soup after nuking. They do need about 10-15 minutes, more if you can spare the time, to absorb the hot soup and start expanding, because even though the egg and spinach contribute some moisture, the matzah meal is still a bit dry after the first cooking step.

Microwave Spinach Matzah Balls (makes about 18 1″ matzah balls)

I like mine with more spinach, less matzah and eggs (or at least egg yolks). You could use a more conventional or refined recipe and blend the ingredients in a food processor first.  I don’t add any oil or broth to these and I keep the salt to a pinch.

  • 1/2 lb. frozen loose-leaf spinach
  • 1 1/2-2 sheets matzah (regular or whole wheat), crushed, or 2 oz/60 g. regular matzah meal (not cake meal)
  • 1 egg or 2 egg whites
  • pinch of salt
  • small-medium clove of garlic, minced, mashed or grated
  • tiny pinch or grating of nutmeg
  • squeeze of lemon juice, optional

Cook the spinach in the microwave 2 minutes. Don’t squeeze it out. Crumble in the matzah and stir it–it will absorb the moisture from the spinach. Mix in the egg or egg whites and flavorings as well as you can. The mixture should be slightly wet. NOTE: this is important, especially for microwaving–the matzah ball mixture should NOT be stiff and near-solid, but rather like thick still-stirrable oatmeal, even for ordinary not-spinach matzah balls.

With a spoon or fork,  dollop 1-inch mounds of the mixture onto a Corelle or other microwaveable dinner plate with spaces between. Microwave on HIGH about 2-4 minutes, stopping at 30-second intervals after the first 2 to see if the matzah balls are cooked through decently yet. They should be just solid and no longer wet on the surface, and they should hold their shape when you pry them off the plate with a spoon or butter knife.  They can be cooled and stored in the fridge at this point for later cooking in the soup.

When you want to cook them in soup, for individual servings, put 3-4 matzah balls in a soup bowl, cover with not-chicken soup, and heat 2-3 minutes on HIGH. Cover the bowl with a saucer or other lid and let sit 10-15 minutes for the matzah balls to absorb hot soup and expand slightly. For the whole batch–add the matzah balls to a large snaplock container, cover with soup (make sure there’s a bit of room  so the matzah balls can expand), heat to near-boiling with the lid on, about 4-5 minutes, and let sit 20ish minutes to absorb.

~~~

Have a good and healthy Pesach!

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