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This week people from a variety of religious traditions will sit down to meals inspired by faith at festive family gatherings. Jews convene for the Passover seder Monday evening while Western and Orthodox Christians share Easter meals the following Sunday. Kojo explores which foods and preparations are dictated by religious beliefs and which are the results of cultural and family traditions.
- George Pagonis Chef de cuisine, Kapnos
- Joan Nathan Cookbook author, Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France
- Cathal Armstrong Owner and Chef, Restaurant Eve (Alexandria, VA); Author, "My Irish Table: Recipes From the Homeland and Restaurant Eve" Founder, Chefs as Parents
A recipe from George Pagonis, Chef de cuisine at Kapnos in Washington, DC
This recipe for Melitzano salata, a very popular eggplant spread, is one of the items available on the Kapnos Easter takeout menu.
Roast Leg Of Pork With Cracklings
A recipe from Cathal Armstrong, Chef at Restaurant Eve
From Jewish Cooking in America by Joan Nathan
This is an updated version of the chremslach passed down in Nathan’s own family (she’s never had a Seder without it). A heavier version stuffed with cranberries appeared in many early American Jewish cookbooks as Kentucky grimslech.
Yield: about 2 dozen
3 matzahs, soaked and squeezed very dry
2 tablespoons currants
2 tablespoons chopped almonds
2 tablespoons chopped dried apricots
3 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup matzah meal
1/3 cup sugar
Grated rind of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Kosher-for-Passover vegetable oil for frying
Mix together the matzahs, currants, almonds, apricots, egg yolks, matzah meal, sugar, lemon rind, and lemon juice.
Beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold into the matzah mixture, adding matzah meal to make the mixture hold together.
Using an electric skillet or deep fryer, heat about 2 inches of oil to 375 degrees. Drop the mixture by tablespoons and brown a few minutes on each side until they are crisp. Cook only about three at a time. Drain well on paper. Serve at room temperature or crisped up in the oven. The fritters are especially delicious with stewed prunes with orange juice as an accompaniment, if desired.
Note: You can make these in the morning, drain on paper, leave out all day, and crisp in the oven just before serving.
Asparagus with Jaffa Orange and Ginger Vinaigrette
From The Foods of Israel Today by Joan Nathan
This Israel-inspired recipe is good for a Passover Seder, or for any springtime meal.
2 pounds fresh asparagus
4 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Black and white sesame seeds for garnish
1 orange, sliced, for garnish
Break off the bottom ends of the asparagus with your hands. Cook the spears in boiling salted water until tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove with tongs and quickly transfer to a large bowl of ice water so the asparagus will retain its brilliant green color. Drain on paper towels and refrigerate, wrapped in a towel, up to 4 hours before serving.
Put the orange and lemon juices, the garlic, ginger, and salt and pepper in a small mixing bowl. Whisk in the oil.
Arrange the asparagus on a plate and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Garnish with the sesame seeds and orange slices.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world, it's Food Wednesday. For people of faith around the world, this is a solemn week. Jews remember their days as slaves in Egypt while Christians commemorate the sacrifices and resurrection of Christ. It's also a week when food plays a major role in these religious observances. One common theme is abstinence, forgoing bread during Passover, meat and dairy during Holy Week or giving up your favorite food for Lent.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnother is the inclusion of specific foods that symbolize elements of faith from bitter herbs to hot cross buns. Many of these foods date back to biblical times, but most have been seasoned over the centuries by cultural twists and by family traditions. Joining me today to talk about food and faith in the festive family meals we eat on Passover and Easter is Cathal Armstrong, he is owner and chef of Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va. And author of the book, "My Irish Table: Recipes From the Homeland and Restaurant Eve." Cathal, good to see you again.
MR. CATHAL ARMSTRONGGood afternoon, how are you?
NNAMDII'm doing well. Also in studio with us is George Pagonis, he is Chef de cuisine and partner at Kapnos restaurant in D.C. George Pagonis, good to see you, thank you for joining us.
MR. GEORGE PAGONISThank you. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd my friend, Joan Nathan, she is a Cookbook author and food writer. Her most recent book is "Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Friend -- My Search for Jewish Cooking in France." Joan, good to see you.
MS. JOAN NATHANIt's always wonderful to see you.
NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation, 800-433-8850. What does your family serve on Passover, what's always on the table at your house on Easter Sunday, 800-433-8850? You can send email to email@example.com, shoot us a tweet @kojoshow or go to our website kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. Joan, there are several foods that play a role in many different religions this week. Let's start with the most basic, the egg. Why is there a roasted egg on the satyr plate for Passover?
NATHANWell, the egg is a symbol of rebirth and also the temple sacrifice in mourning. An egg plays a part in all Jewish festivals but especially in the spring when there are more eggs. And that -- that's why there are so many at Easter, as well. And, I think that all these symbolic foods stem from the ancient spring festivals, especially in the Middle East where all of a sudden, there were eggs, there were lamb, there were bitter herbs or greens growing and it sort of rebirth in the spring. Then -- first Judaism came, then Christianity and then Islam. And they all play with these foods. So one is built upon the other, which I think is absolutely fascinating.
NNAMDIYou say, in your last cookbook, about the roasted eggs, you put the eggs in the sand.
NNAMDIAnd cover them and cook them overnight to roast them. Why sand?
NATHANWell, because the Jews that went to Morocco, was very hot there, and it was a way of cooking -- of cooking the eggs. But I do it in a 200 degree oven. This year, I used a different. I cook them in water with lots of onions. And then -- for about six hours -- and -- for the first half hour, they were in the shell, then they were peeled and they came out very brown. And then I put spinach in the last half hour...
NNAMDIServed them over spinach.
NATHANAnd it was an Italian-Jewish dish, so I had Moroccan, Italian. I'm sure there are similarities in all different cultures.
NNAMDIWell, onto Greek, George. The Greek Easter observance includes both eggs and dyed red on Holy Thursday and an egg tapping game, I love that, that's played after the Saturday night church service observing the resurrection of Christ. Could you explain both of those traditions for me, please.
PAGONISYes. The red egg, it symbolizes, like, the blood of Christ. So all of the eggs are died red. And then, usually at -- on Saturday night when it's the -- when Christ has risen, there's like a big feast at somebody's house and there's a lot of different types of cuisine -- dishes that are -- that are being made to celebrate the 40 days of lent being over.
PAGONISAnd then one of the traditions is to take the eggs and you hold it in the hand and you smash it on top of the other persons egg. And whoever's egg doesn't crack, you keep going down the line with the whole family. And then if you win, if you go all the way around with your egg not cracking, then you have like good luck for a year. That's like the tradition.
NNAMDISounds like a setup for rigged egg. My egg will never be the one.
PAGONISIt gets pretty intense. It gets pretty in competitive with the family.
NNAMDII thought as much. I thought it got pretty competitive.
NNAMDICathal, eggs symbolize new beginnings and springtime. Is that why we hide eggs on Easter and eat eggs made of chocolate?
ARMSTRONGYeah, the -- it's funny. The tradition came from pre-Christianity times and from the pagan Gods. And it was a celebration of fertility. And it's funny because Easter is named after Eostre, who is the Goddess of Spring. So, you know, it's a -- and for Christians especially, at the end of the Lent season, which kind of indicates the cold, darkness of the winter and then we have this spring awakening. We use the egg to symbolize that fertility and the wakening of spring.
NNAMDIWhat's your family or cultural twist on a traditional holiday food? Give us a call, 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Joan, let's talk about the lamb bone on the satyr plate in Jewish homes for Passover. What does that symbolize?
NATHANWell, it's -- again, this goes way, way back. And during the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, before they left, Pharaoh wanted to have the plagues -- the 10 plagues. And one of them was to kill the first born of the Jews. And the lamb -- they dobbed the lamb on the tent posts and that kept the -- kept them from taking the Jews away. So that they -- God would know that these tent posts, that’s where they lived in those days. That -- that this was a Jewish family. So it saved them. And this is -- on the one hand, it represents that. There's always a duality in Judaism. And the other, it represents the destruction of the temple. The sacrifice in the temple.
NNAMDIBut you say that there were lamb feasts even before there were Jews?
NATHANNo, no. Right, exactly. There were lamb feasts in Mesopotamia, way, way, way back. I saw some -- some tablets from 1750 B.C. with all kinds of lamb that were being roasted. But Josephus talks about 150,000 lambs being roasted in Jerusalem for the Passover, that you had to roast it and eat it before dawn, that’s what the -- and the original Passover, you really -- in the book of Exodus, says that you have to eat it -- lamb before dawn, you have to eat bitter herbs and you have to eat Matzo, that's it.
NNAMDIGeorge, in the Greek Orthodox tradition, you break the Holy week fest with a soup made from lamb innards, what's it like and how have you revised the recipe to make it more appealing?
PAGONISWell, in the Greek household, it's called Mageritsa. It's like a celebration of the whole lamb, so you have to use all of the innards and they usually make -- they usually take everything in the -- it's like a stew. And it has...
NNAMDIWhich, frankly, as a kid, George, didn't handle very well.
PAGONISNo. You were -- you -- I wouldn't say I was forced to eat it but after church, you know, they would cook it and the smell would go throughout the whole house and I was never -- I was never a big fan of Mageritsa. You know, when we were kids, they would make some other things for us to eat while the grownups would have the Mageritsa. But in Kapnos, I try to take the same idea of using all the innards of the animal and try to just play some more different style of dishes that are more appetizing, more amusing to eat other than just, you know, boiled lungs and intestines and things like that, that's what Magaritsa is.
NNAMDIYeah, but you've made it in such a way that it's my understanding that people, a lot of people who may not even be Greek really enjoy it now.
PAGONISYes. Like, for example, I take the hearts from the lamb, I make like a nice lamb tartar. I take sweet breads, then I try to, I braise them and then I stuff them in squash blossoms and I fry them in tempura batter. So I just try to take, like, different parts of the innards of the lamb, but not necessarily just, you know, make it in a stew.
NNAMDIHint, hint, sit at the chef's counter when you go...
NNAMDIThat's where you'll get it. And, of course, Joan wouldn't know that. George, the centerpiece of the Greek Easter Sunday meal is roast lamb. What's the traditional preparation and what's your own twist on that?
PAGONISWell, the traditional preparation for roasted leg of lamb, usually you bone out the whole lamb and then the Greeks marinate it with like dry oregano, garlic, some lemon zest, and a little bit of -- and olive oil. And then you slow roast it in your oven for a few hours until it's like nice and tender. At Kapnos though, we --I -- instead of using the leg of lamb, I like to use the shoulder, the lamb shoulder. We marinate it very similar though. But then we spit roast it because we have like these two giant spit roasters at our restaurant and we cook everything over hickory wood. And it takes about 10 hours but the meat just falls right off the bone.
NNAMDIGeorge Pagonis, he is chef de cuisine and partner at Kapnos restaurant in Washington, D.C. Joan Nathan is a cookbook author and food writer. And Cathal Armstrong is owner and chef of Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va. Together they join us on Food Wednesday to talk about food tradition at Passover and Easter. If you have any family food traditions that you'd like to share, give us a call 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIHow does what you eat or do not eat during Passover or Holy week reflect your beliefs 800-433-8850 or you can shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. Cathal, in a lot of places, ham is the centerpiece of the Easter meal. Where did that tradition come from and how is the ham prepared today?
ARMSTRONGWell, the ham originated as a tradition in America in the 1800s. Most of the -- well, it was adopted in the 1800s by the Americans as a tradition for Easter. And most of the meat was -- in those days would have been slaughtered in the fall. And so without refrigeration and sanitation practices, they cured the hams and then the hams were coincidentally ready to be eaten around springtime. So then it became adopted for that -- why that -- by the timing of it, that that became the Easter -- the Easter meal.
ARMSTRONGYou know, it's a big piece of meat which is ideal for feeding the big Christian families. You know, all the -- all those Christians like their kids. So a big leg of pork...
ARMSTRONG...goes a long way.
NNAMDIJoan, Jews eat bitter herbs, you mentioned that during the Passover satyr to represent what?
NATHANThe bitterness of slavery.
NNAMDIBut which bitter herb you choose depends on what part of the world you happen to be from. What are some of the different choices?
NATHANWell, if you're from, let's say Alsace-Lorraine or Southern Germany or Eastern Europe, there's not a lot of green growing in -- usually late March or early April. And so horseradish though sticks up from the ground and -- so you would use that. But if you've come from the Middle East or other Southern lands, you might use arugula, you might use romaine, bitter romaine. Some people even use celery. Some people use a potato as the bitterness. But, you know, it just depends on where you're from.
NATHANAnd the word, maror is -- means bitter herb in Hebrew. And Marora (sp?) means bitter herb in Arabic. And the bitterness of this, that we all love so much, was also what grew -- if you've ever been to Israel or any place in the Middle East, in the spring, is the only time that you see all this green growing. And they're mostly bitter greens.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this Food Wednesday conversation on Food and Faith, taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Why is food such a strong tie to our faith traditions? What do you think, 800-433-8850? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It's Food Wednesday. That's Joan Nathan's voice in the background. She's a cookbook author and food writer who joins us. Her most recent book is "Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France." She joins us in studio along with George Pagonis, chef de cuisine in Park North Kapnos restaurant in D.C. And Cathal Armstrong. He's owner and chef of Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va. and author of "My Irish Table: Recipes From the Homeland and Restaurant Eve."
NNAMDIIf you've got questions or comments, give us a call, 800-433-8850. What's always on the table at your house on Easter Sunday? What does your family serve on Passover? You can also send us email to email@example.com. Joan, matzah represents the bread the Jews took with them when they fled from Egypt and didn't have time to wait for it to rise. But not all matzah around the world is either crisp or square. So how is it made differently in different places?
NATHANWell, it originally was never square. That -- originally it was round. And it's sort of floppy if it's Yemenite or Ethiopian matzah. In Eastern Europe you would go to a bakery, there would be one specified bakery in each town. It might've been in a wealthy person's home or it might've been in town, a bakery that was in a synagogue that was reserved for Passover. And it's also in Italy and France. You can see them in old synagogues.
NATHANAnd you'd buy your matzah by the pound and it would be round matzah, or maybe it would've been the kilo, right? It wouldn't have been pounds. And you would buy it. And even if there was lots of, like, matzah meal breaking off from the matzah, you would save that and you would make your own matzah meal by taking -- it looked like a butter churn, a wooden thing, and pounding it.
NATHANAnd then of course Manischewitz came into being at the end of the 19th century and he invented a machine to make a square matzah. And actually the machine started by somebody in France but he really took it to a new level and was...
NATHAN...in Cincinnati. And so -- and then of course there was boxed matzah meal and everything happened from there on.
NNAMDIHow did matzah ball soup grow out of the practical desire to use up the matzah that got broken and how do its ingredients differ in different parts of the world?
NATHANWell, not every Jew has matzah balls, first of all. This is something that started in (word?) in Southern Germany because people ate knodel, which were dumplings for soups. And then Jews varied it because at Passover -- because everybody liked their knodel using matzah meal, the leftover matzah to go into these soups. Jews from Tunisia, North Africa have no dumplings. They use broken up pieces of matzah in a wonderful vegetable soup.
NATHANAll over the world there really are different ways of having the matzah balls. But what's so interesting is that it was always called knadelk or knadel. And then when Manischewitz came into being, they had this little cookbook of ways you could use their matzah meal and their matzahs . And they called them Alsatian-- what -- feather balls, that's what they were called. And then of course eventually -- I don't know if it was (word?) or what it was, but they became matzah balls.
NNAMDIAlsatian feather balls?
NATHANRight. That's what they were called.
NNAMDIGeorge, special bread is part of the Greek Easter tradition too. How do you make a braided Tsoureki?
PAGONISThe Tsoureki is very similar to the hollow bread. And then we -- but I'm not really sure exactly the spice in the Tsoureki. It's called makhlepi.
NATHANWhite are cherry pits.
NATHANThe inside of the cherry.
PAGONISExactly. And then that is kind of made into like a really rich dough very similar to Brioche. And then there's like a braiding thing that they do similar to the hollow bread. And then a lot of Greeks, sometimes they bake the eggs into them. Those Greek Easter eggs are baked directly into the Tsoureki bread. And Tsoureki's like a big traditional bread that's offered at Easter that we will be offering at Kapnos. And we will offer Tsoureki to go. So, like, if you want to -- and we're also offering Easter to go.
PAGONISA lot of people haven't -- with their apartments and everything like that having a hard time preparing all these meals, we are preparing Easter on our website at KapnosDC and then you can get lamb shoulder, you can get our spreads. Tsourekis, one of those Greek cookies, things like that.
NNAMDICan I also pretend I made it myself?
NNAMDIThat's the whole point.
NNAMDIOur guests have shared some recipes and photos that are posted on our website. We hope you'll send us your favorite holiday recipes too. That's to kojoshow.org. You can go to that website to see our recipe gallery. If you'd like to join the conversation now, give us a call at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let's go now to Teddy in Sterling, Va. Teddy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TEDDYHi, Kojo. How you doing?
NNAMDII'm doing well.
TEDDYGood. I also have some great traditions I heard George talking about. We do the egg cracking every year, which is a lot of fun and of course very competitive.
TEDDYAnd the Easter bread, when I eat it, I've always called it kaluda.
PAGONISKaluda, oh. Oh yeah, we've always known it as Tsoureki. I'm not sure. Maybe that's, like, a different part of Greece or something.
TEDDYThat could be. Yeah, we have it ordered from a town up in -- near Pittsburgh called (word?) where my papa actually grew up.
NNAMDIOh good. Is your egg cracking competition a big one?
TEDDYYes. Yes, we have the whole family involved in that. And you -- the way we've -- we've evolved our rules over the years so you have to always go point to point and bottom to bottom on the egg.
NNAMDIAh, point to point, bottom to bottom on the egg. No rigging of the rules, huh?
TEDDYExactly. Yeah, they're strict.
PAGONISSo can you answer me a question? What part of Greece is your family from?
TEDDYMy Yia Yia was from Kalamata in the mainland on the Peloponnese and my papa was from Chios.
PAGONISOh yeah, the island. Yeah, we're from Sparti. Everyone knows it as Sparta. That's where my parents were both born and raised. So maybe it's just like some kind of a tradition that's done down around that area.
NNAMDITeddy, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIYou too can call us, 800-433-8850. What's your family or cultural twist on a traditional holiday food? Cathal, you grew up eating hot cross buns on Easter, like I did but you know what they symbolize and I don't. What do they symbolize and where do you find them today?
ARMSTRONGWell, the hot cross bun, again it was a pagan tradition they found in a southern village in Italy that was embedded in lava in pre-Christian times. They found buns with a cross on it before -- even before Christ. And what that symbolized was the four phases of the moon. And it's interesting. There's an ancient burial chamber in Ireland called Newgrange. And inside the burial chamber, which is about 4000BC, the burial chamber itself is in the shape of a cross.
ARMSTRONGSo that cross symbol is found all throughout history and was adopted again by Christians because of course the shape of the cross itself on the hot cross buns. We see in Irish cooking the brown bread and the soda bread are caught with a symbol of the cross inside. But that was clearly a Christian symbol. And the purpose of it was to ward off evil spirits. So the hot cross bun became adopted by Easter because of the shape of the cross on it. But originally it was, again, a pagan symbol.
NNAMDII apologize for my absolute lack of curiosity about this when I was a kid. I just liked hot cross buns. It never occurred to me to ask...
ARMSTRONGOne a penny, two a penny.
NNAMDIExactly. Used to sing that too. Let's talk about Easter candy. Cathal, describe for us the chocolate eggs filled with candy you got as a child on Easter and what it represents.
ARMSTRONGYeah, like -- I look at my kids and when they go on their little Easter egg hunt every year and I go, this Easter egg thing is terrible. The Easter eggs that we get in Ireland is this big chocolate candy in the shape of an egg. And so the smaller ones are going to be about the size of your hand and then they go up to, you know, something as big as your head. And every candy company has their version of it. And inside you find small candies. So like Snickers would have little tiny Snickers inside the chocolate egg. And then you get up to these fancy ones.
ARMSTRONGThere was one called black magic, which everybody wanted. And, you know, then when we went back to school the whole discussion was about how many Easter eggs you got on Easter Sunday. And, you know, you make yourself sick in the morning eating chocolate.
NNAMDIYou got one the size of your head?
ARMSTRONGOh yeah, fantastic.
NNAMDIOh. Onto the telephones again. Here now is Amed in Washington, D.C. Amed, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AMEDHi there. Yeah, I wanted to make a comment about the eggs. There's a tradition in Afghanistan, too, that they dye eggs red. And it happens right around New Year's celebration and the Eids celebration. If you go to any area that there's a picnic, people bring baskets full of eggs died in a red color. And we call it egg fighting. So it's basically the same concept and you see whose egg is...
NNAMDITapping and cracking egg fighting, egg duals?
AMEDWe call it egg fighting, yeah, and it's such a good tradition and it's great. And I do really enjoy your show.
NNAMDIOh thank you very much for your call. There are a lot of people who want to get in on this egg conversation. And I'd like to go now to...
PAGONISYeah, we're only a few days away from ours.
NNAMDI...Steve had to go but Steve wanted to say that eggs are part of the Italian tradition also. But, as I said, Steve had to go. Let's go to Jane in Annapolis, Md. and see what Jane has to say. Jane, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JANEHi, Kojo. I wanted to just mention Russian Orthodox, that really enjoy pasta and kulich at Easter time. The kulich is Easter bread and they're shaped sort of like silos. And they have white icing sort of dripping over the top and down the side. And it's served with pasta but it is sort of a -- I mean, I would just liken it to I think a cheesecake almost. It's creamy and it's made with farmer's cheese and lots of lemon and vanilla. And it's really just so delicious.
NNAMDIWell, Jane, check this out. We got an email from Migali in Burke, Va. who said, "When my parents were growing up in Haiti, a popular Easter dish was (word?) , a Russian salad made of peas, beets, potatoes and mayonnaise. Are you familiar with that one, Jane?
JANEIt's on every Russian table at Easter time. It's amazing. And the beets make it just this lovely pale pink color. It's gorgeous.
NNAMDIYou have really underscored the point that Migali wanted to make because Migali goes on to say that "Joan Nathan's book does a great job of showing how holiday foods reflect contact between cultures and history. Could the guest please comment on how today's Easter food show intercultural exchange?" Joan, since you were quoted, you may want to start.
NATHANWell, I think that what happens today, which is so interesting, is that we have these traditional foods but because we live in a global world where we're learning through the internet, through recipes, all kinds of other recipes, for me Passover Seder and I'm sure Easter has on the one hand traditional recipes that are really important to maintain your family. In other words, tradition and -- tradition is just so important because that's what creates memories.
NATHANOn the other hand you can -- as I did this year with my eggs that I was telling you about before -- start -- we always start our meal with lots of eggs. So I learned about this wonderful Italian tradition and now it's going to be part of our tradition. So the cultural -- you know, the transfer -- we just transfer -- we make foods that are American or French or whatever we come in contact with that year.
NNAMDIAnd they embellish, I guess, our religious traditions. Same thing Cathal?
ARMSTRONGYeah, I mean, I think the big thing nowadays -- the big thing that I'm learning just from this discussion is that -- is how really the traditions are all about spring. And, you know, we're seeing the spring lamb, the spring pork and the egg is a symbol of fertility. But they're very much symbols of spring and springtime, you know. So I think anyone that wants to start their own traditions, you want to look towards everything that is spring.
ARMSTRONGI mean, I can definitely see everybody should be eating asparagus this Sunday. We're a little bit behind schedule actually. We got the first crop this morning at the restaurant. So, you know, that's -- the peas and the salade russe are another clear symbol of what spring's all about.
PAGONISYes, I agree. Like, in -- it's just -- in -- me growing up as a kid, I would always go to school and everything like that and then I would say, I have to go to church tonight. And I know my friends would say, well how come you're going tonight? It's like, oh it's Good Friday. They're like, no, that was three weeks ago. I'm like, no, I'm Greek Orthodox. This is our Good Friday.
PAGONISSo it's like one of those things growing up as a kid realizing that the Orthodox Easter and the Roman Catholic Easter were very different. And then having your friends and everything like that and going over to friends' houses for Easter and then coming over to mine and seeing the differences between the two cultures.
NATHANAnd that's really one of the beauties of America I think, because we are such -- there are so many different backgrounds. And at school you meet friends from different backgrounds. And you can go to their kitchens and, I mean, I'd love to go to your mother's kitchen, you know, to try all these different foods. Because all we know growing up is what we have.
PAGONISMy wife Michelle had a -- her best friend was Greek when she was growing up. And she ate so much lamb that she just won't touch it anymore. Yeah, and then my friends would come over and they'd ask what these smells are. I'm like, oh my mom's making, you know, stuffed dolmades, stuffed grape leaves. They're like, what's that, you know? And it's just all these different types of cuisine.
PAGONISAnd I have my grandmother in from Greece coming in and doesn't really speak the language, wears all black, you know. And then, like, I have my American friends, they don't really know what's going on. So I feel like that's what, like you were saying before, great about America is, like, all the cultures kind of see in respect each other's culture.
NNAMDIWell, who says he knows what's going on in terms of Greek terminologies, Hagos in Tacoma Park, Md. Let's hear what Hagos has to say. Hagos, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HAGOSGood afternoon. Happy Holidays everybody.
NNAMDIGood afternoon. Happy Holidays to you.
HAGOSThank you. I have just a few corrections. The gentleman who say the cross, it was not called the cross until the fifth century by the Catholic by taking off the head of the ankh. Then what is called now cross is ankh...
HAGOS...ankh, everlasting life. And it signifies man and woman. Unfortunately the Catholics cut the head, the female part in the fifth century. The other correction is Easter is not Christian. It is (unintelligible) Ethiopian. And another correction is the so-called exodus. There was never exodus. They were expelled. And this goes on. And please get...
NNAMDII knew that at some point we would get into conflicting interpretations of religious history, but I'm not going there today, Hagos. Thank you very much for your call. We want to try to stick to the discussion of food, not historical interpretations of religious history. But thank you very much for your call. You too can call us, 800-433-8850. Here is Zach in Washington, D.C. Zach, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ZACHHi, Kojo. Thanks for having me. I'm glad I talked about intercultural matters because my question's about interfaith. I come from an interfaith family. I identify as reformed Jewish, but my dad is Jewish and my mother's Presbyterian. And I would celebrate Passover Seders on the Jewish side of my family. The next day head over and do Easter dinner with the Presbyterians in my family. So we'd have brisket and matzah ball soup one day. And then the next day we'd have ham. Ham's obviously not kosher but it is traditional food and never particularly bothered me.
ZACHBut I'm wondering what the guests think about trying to make Passover Seders and Easter dinners interfaith to allow everybody to be a part of celebration? And I'll take my question off the air.
NATHANWell, I think it depends. I mean, you would -- certainly if you were going to do it interfaith, depending on the religiosity or the -- what -- if the -- how observant Jews are, you're not going to have ham. But I think lots of -- I see nothing wrong with going to both of your cultural services, especially because you learn about the two halves of yourself.
NATHANI know lots of interfaith young people now, especially those who are writing cookbooks. And I know one woman who's Turkish and her father is Muslim and her mother was -- is Jewish. And she goes to both traditions. And I think that really gives you a certain strength too rather than pushing them all together.
NNAMDIIndeed we got an email from Richard who says, "I come from a family with both Jewish and Christian members. We always shared a Passover dinner. All the matzos were carefully saved for fried matzos on Easter morning breakfast.
NNAMDIOur fried matzahs were simply broken up matzos in lots of beaten eggs and fried. The result taste a bit like French toast. We seriously disagreed over whether they're better with maple syrup or Tabasco."
NATHANExactly. It's called matzo brei. Absolutely. I made it this morning.
NNAMDITalk about going in different directions. And this email we got from Larry, "I am southern and grew up on a large farm. Every Easter we had roast duck, leg of lamb and oranges stuffed with pureed sweet potatoes and baked.
NATHANOh, that sounds -- can I come to his...
NNAMDIThat sounds quite familiar, but it does sound delicious. We're going to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. If you'd like to call, the number's 800-433-8850. What is your family or cultural twist on a traditional holiday food, 800-433-8850? Or you can send email to email@example.com. Send us a Tweet @kojoshow. You can go to our website to see some of the recipes that our guests have shared. We've posted them on our website. You can also send us your favorite holiday recipes too to kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's Food Wednesday. We're talking about food traditions in general and Passover and Easter traditions in particular with Cathal Armstrong, owner and chef of Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va. Joan Nathan is a cookbook author and food writer and George Pagonis is chef de cuisine and partner at Kapnos Restaurant here in Washington. We're taking your calls, 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NNAMDIJoan, we got an email from Sophia who says, "Can you address this year's shortage of gefilte fish? And can you explain what it really is?"
NATHANWell, I think the real problem is it's cold in the Midwest. And the ice...
NNAMDIIt's cold here too.
NATHAN...and the ice hasn't...
NATHAN...melted. So you can't get the fish easily, which has been -- was a problem actually in the 18th, 19th century in Eastern Europe. Because gefilte fish is made from white fish pike and carp that are all freshwater fish. So if you can't get fish then what are you going to do? And it's -- you're supposed to eat fish to start the meal for Passover, for holidays because the Talmud says so.
NATHANSo evidently certain Jews made a deal with God and they said, if we take -- we can't get the fish because, you know, they didn't have flown-in fish, right, in those days. You got what was nearby. So they take meat and they put a little bit of sugar in it, a little bit of salt and pepper and they'd even make it into a round ball or an oblong and they called it falsa (sp?) fish and they'd cook it in onions and carrots and they'd serve it with horseradish.
NATHANAnd that's -- the called is false fish, fake fish and that's what they eat instead when they're supposed to have fish. So that's what it's all about, but I didn't -- it was in New York. I did not find it. I went to Charles at the Giant in Westbard and I got wonderful white fish.
NNAMDIOnto Will in Chesapeake Beach, Md. Will, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WILLHi, Kojo. I just wanted to share that as a Greek descent my family's from the Island of Corfu and I used to watch my grandfather at Easter dinner eat the brains of the lamb, eat the eyes of the lamb and then eat the testicles.
NNAMDIWaste not, want not.
WILLI was told by my grandmother that he ate the eyes to get the vision, the brains to get the knowledge and we know why he ate the other part.
NNAMDICare to comment, George?
PAGONISYou know, 100 percent, that would happen in our family household as well. You utilize the whole entire animal and then usually like they -- like there's kind of like a big discussion on who's going to eat what part of the animal. But yes, we shared the same tradition.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Will. A lot of people today describe themselves as not being religiously observant, yet they seem to practice their faith through their food, especially at this time of year. How do the holiday meals at Passover and Easter keep people connected to their faith traditions, Cathal?
ARMSTRONGWell, I mean, I think, you know, every year the Catholics go to mass on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. And it used to be that the priest would yell at everybody from the pulpit and remind them that they were supposed to go to mass every Sunday. That's kind of changed a little bit. I think we've relaxes through the need to fill the churches. And I think it's more welcoming and more embracing nowadays than it used to be when we were kids.
ARMSTRONGBut we still very much identify with our parents and our upbringing and our traditions of when we were kids at this time of year and still celebrate the fact that, you know, lamb is the traditional Passover meal or the Easter meal. And the nostalgic part of it is still going to be there, whether you choose to be religious or not religious. I think that we still want to connect to our youth and our childhood.
NNAMDISame question to you, Joan.
NATHANWell, I think also to connect to each other. I think that we spend so much time with our computers and on email and sort of alone and working. And it's one time, at least the Passover Seder, which is the only time that you have a whole meal that Seder means order. And it has to be at your home. And so you have people around you that are either family or friends or adopted family and friends or new family and friends.
NATHANBut you really need that connectedness. And I think we need it more than anybody, that we can take an evening out of time. I know this year I -- at our Passover Seder I told everyone, no cell phones. I don't want to even look at a cell phone. And, you know, we had 31 people. And by the -- and we all, you know, have all these traditional foods but that's not the really important thing. I really think it's sharing, learning...
NNAMDIThe sense of community.
NATHANBut it's also -- depending on whatever we've been through in the year, whatever politics we've been to or emotional things, you can share that at the Seder. And I would think at any meal at a holiday when you're together as a family.
PAGONISYes. I agree with that. I feel like as we get older, especially like when you're a child and now that you're more of an adult and we have our own careers and, you know, I'm running a restaurant and I'm -- I have my brother who's a general manager and I have my sister who has her own job. We don't have a lot of family time anymore. And it takes -- you know, everybody is busy.
PAGONISAnd I feel like the great thing about -- you know, most holidays, especially Easter, is that we do try to find that time to come together and share those nights of going to church on Friday night or Saturday night. And then having the big Easter Sunday dinner. And, you know, you bring all family from all different parts of the country all come together for it. And that's the part that I like.
NATHANAnd it's not just eating at the -- I don't know if it's the same for both of you -- it's not just eating the meal. It's preparing the meal and all the stories, the family stories that come out. And, you know, whenever I make gefilte fish my mother-in-law used to make with me, she's long gone. And she would put those little carrots in the eyes of the one fish head. She's put all the different gefilte fish around this fish head. And then she'd sigh and she -- and I knew why she was sighing. Because she remembered that her mother did that. And her mother was killed in one of the camps.
NATHANSo this is something that -- and so of course I make her gefilte fish every year. But that's -- these are the things that bind families. And I always feel is if your kids come in for holiday and then they go out, they're stronger. I mean, they're delighted to get out but they're stronger because they know what their roots are.
NNAMDIAllison in Rockville, Md. Allison, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALLISONOh hi. I just wondered if anybody ever pointed out the similarity between the Haft Sin Nowruz spring plate and the Seder plate. There's more objects on the Seder plate probably to differentiate it from the Nowruz plate from which it probably derived.
NATHANAbsolutely. Absolutely. Not just -- you know, there's so much that was derived from India, from Buddhism, from Iran. Nowruz is the spring festival, the Iranian spring festival. And not only the Seder plate, but there's something called Maimuna in the Moroccan Jewish tradition where at the last day of Passover, you go out and you do a picnic. But you have grass growing on the plate. You have money put in yogurt. All -- the exact same things that you find on the Nowruz. And I realize that there's a connection -- you know, we're all connected.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Javon in Maryland -- thank you very much for your call, Allison -- "Just two cents from the Serbian Orthodox Easter tradition. Yes, it is spit roasted lamb, but if they don't have a young lamb, they'll do a roasted pig with horseradish and all the trimmings, making a delicious paprikash first with all the innards of pig in a succulent brown sauce with onions, garlic, Hungarian paprika and some new forest mushrooms.
NNAMDIOn Good Friday villagers in Serbia and other orthodox areas of the former Yugoslavia eat a rather bland but healthy cooked white bean dish flavored only with some Hungarian paprika and salt and pepper. No oil is allowed or any other fattening or taste-enhancing flavors. If one has access to fish, that is also steamed or baked and served on Good Friday and Saturday." Thank you for sharing that tradition with us, Javon.
PAGONISThat's similar actually to the Greek Orthodox on Friday. We usually do steamed rice. You're not allowed to have any oil, dairy. We usually don't have fish or meat or anything. So that's like the hardest day to get through.
NNAMDIBoth pass -- go ahead, Cathal.
ARMSTRONGAnd there were symbols of Jesus and his sacrifice. And it was the same thing in the Christian religions where they ate fish on Fridays and particularly at Lent you were expected to each fish on Wednesdays and Fridays. And, you know, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent was a very important, very solemn day. And they symbolized abstaining from meat because of the sacrifice that the sacrificial lamb made.
NNAMDIThat was the question I was getting to next because both Passover and Easter involve depriving ourselves of certain foods. Jews don't eat leavened bread during Passover. Orthodox Christians don't eat meat and dairy during Holy Week before Easter. Others give up a food of their choice during Lent. Why do we forego certain foods as a demonstration of faith?
NATHANYou're all looking to me. Well, it's -- in Judaism it's different because we're not doing it before the feast. We're doing it during the feast, the feasting time. And it's -- the reason that we do it of course is in the Bible it says that you should rid your house of all leaven for a week, for eight days. And therefore that means that you cannot eat leaven. And so the whole cuisine is made out of it. But I don't think of ourselves as being deprived so much.
NATHANI mean, like my kids always look forward to Passover. By the third day they think they're deprived. They've had that matzahbrie with the eggs. They've had it. They want it. But I think that it makes you realize, just as in Lent, that you -- there's something that's a little bit different about you. And that it's not always easy to be this way. And I think that's important to continue these customs and to endure them.
PAGONISAnd at Easter with us it's -- I believe that Christ also made, like, the ultimate sacrifice. And then -- so for you for the 40 days of Lent, you know, you have to also make a sacrifice as well. Like you have to -- you have these restrictions. And one of them is not eating meat for 40 days. And then when it comes time to Holy Week, I just feel like it's like a big -- it's very important that if you are religious that you try to follow these because of the tradition. And...
NNAMDIIt's just one of the things that people do to connect themselves to their religious tradition.
PAGONISYes, yes. That it's a tradition.
ARMSTRONGOf course Jesus went into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights to pray and -- before his adult mission began. And he was tempted by Satan. And Lent represents those 40 days and 40 nights, you know, when he sacrificed and tried to be better people. My son, every year, tells me that he's going to give up being mean to his sister, but he usually fails.
NNAMDII used to have a friend who quit smoking for 40 days every year during Lent and then would resume again right after Lent. And I would be like, if you can quit for 40 days, you can quit.
PAGONISYeah, just stop.
NNAMDII'm not so sure.
NATHANBut also I think when Jews give up bread for eight days it's also making you realize maybe what slavery was like, but also that we have freedom. And that's -- I think that that's what all of us...
NNAMDIJoy in Rockville, Md. Joy, we only have about a minute left but go ahead, please.
JOYI have an emergency. I don't have any matzah meal, but I have cake meal and I want to make kanadela.
NATHANSo take some matzah. Do you have any matzah?
JOYYeah, lots of matzah.
NATHANOkay. So take matzah and put it -- whirl it in your Cuisinart.
JOYNo, I don't want to do that. I'll just pray...
NATHANJust -- and then just soak...
NATHANRight, and use it and it'll be just fine.
NATHANAnd that's the way they used to do it.
JOYYeah, I heard you say that and I wanted to verify it.
NNAMDIThat works for you, Joy?
JOYI don't know. I'm going to try it.
NNAMDIHopefully it works for you. Good luck with that. I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Joan Nathan is a cookbook author and food writer. Her most recent book is "Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France." Joan, good to see you.
NATHANIt's always good to see you.
NNAMDIGeorge Pagonis is chef de cuisine and partner at Kapnos Restaurant here in Washington. George, thank you for joining us.
PAGONISThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Cathal Armstrong is owner and chef of Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va. and author of "My Irish Table: Recipes From the Homeland and Restaurant Eve." Cathal, always a pleasure.
ARMSTRONGThank you, sir.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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