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Secret food for Passover
(post, Ronnie Fein)
Wasn’t it just [/mix/dinnerguest/passoverplans "Passover 2008"]?
It seems as if I just finished last year’s can of matzo meal and just put the silverware away. Yet here I am again, thinking about cooking and getting ready for our family Seder on the first night of Passover, when the sun sets on April 8.
There’s always so much to do; regular spring cleaning is nothing like the pre-Passover ritual. We discard everything that has chometz — foods forbidden during the holiday, like pasta, bread, and frozen pizza. And then there are all the other chores: sponging the cabinets, getting out the Passover plates and utensils, shopping for an enormous meal, preparing that meal, setting up the extra tables, making sure the tablecloth and napkins have been laundered. And so on.
Every year I try to do as much ahead of time as possible. On the other hand, when the holiday creeps up on you like this, there’s not that much “ahead” time. But last Sunday I did have time to make, and freeze, the chremslach.
You may not ever have heard of chremslach. It’s not one of those Jewish foods that have become mainstream, like bagels and rugelach. It’s not even like matzo balls or gefilte fish, which many people, Jewish or not, have heard of or maybe even tasted.
Chremslach, which are matzo fritters, are still sort of a secret — a sweet, delicious culinary secret yet to be discovered by the world outside the Jewish community.
Fortunately, chremslach are easy to make. Some people cook them large, flat, and pancake-style to serve for breakfast or lunch during the Passover holiday, when we don’t eat regular pancakes or anything else that contains regular flour. But I make them small and serve them as a side dish at our Seder, which is why I can freeze them ahead.
I made a double batch last Sunday, which yielded 40 fritters. But then my husband came into the kitchen and ate two out of hand, so I was left with 38. I thought that would still be enough for my crowd this year: 14 adults, 7 kids. But then my sister-in-law stopped by, having just finished making hers. She'd made a triple recipe, and she's having only 8 adults and 2 teenagers for her Seder.
[%image fritters float=right width=400 caption="Passover fritters."]So yesterday I whipped up another batch. I now have 57 frozen fritters. Sounds like a new Heinz product.
There are all sorts of ways to serve chremslach once you thaw them. Some people incorporate chopped dried fruit and/or nuts into the batter and serve the fritters plain, reheated in a hot oven. Or you can eat them like any other pancake — with syrup, jam, or sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. You can add cheese to the mixture and serve them at a dairy meal. And if you serve chremslach for dessert, there are more elegant accompaniments: zabaglione (spiked with sweet Passover wine) or stewed fruit compote.
Our family tradition is blessedly easy. My mother, and my grandmother before her (and my grandmother’s sisters and all their descendants), simply reheated the chremslach in honey. Lots of honey. As the honey warms, it thins out and creeps into every tiny crevice of those fritters. The chremslach swell with sweet syrup.
There isn’t a more fabulous side dish for roast turkey anywhere. It's good with brisket, too. And roast chicken. And lamb. You get the point.
My kids used to hate chremslach. They said it was way too sweet (can you imagine a child saying such a thing?). That’s why I only made a double batch, forgetting that as they matured, they realized how irresistible the fritters are and always eat at least two at the Seder.
Our family recipe includes walnuts, which give a delicious bitter contrast to the sweetness and a good crunchy textural element, too. One of my daughters is allergic to walnuts, though, so I serve chremslach either plain or with cashews, broken-up almonds, or pine nuts.
Sometimes I add raisins, but more often, to achieve that tart counterpart to the sweetness, I mix in dried cranberries. My grandmother never knew about dried cranberries, but I guess this is how new recipes develop. And I guess because I am a food writer by trade, I'm always looking for new ways to cook almost everything.
So here’s the family recipe, walnuts and all. And also one for what I call pizzarelle (which is what Italian Jews call chremslach), which are better for dessert, though if you eliminate the zabaglione, they would be perfect as a side dish with meat or poultry.