Monday night, April 14th, was the first night of Passover, the eight-day festival celebrated by Jews around the world to commemorate the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. The start of the holiday always corresponds to the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan.
Let’s go back 3,300 years. The Israelites are enslaved enduring back-breaking labor and abuse at the hands of the Egyptians. As told in Exodus in the Bible, the Pharaoh refuses the demands of Moses, the Israelite leader acting upon God’s command, to free the Israelites. As retribution, God sends ten plagues to strike down the Egyptians. The tenth plague was the most horrific: the slaughter of the first born in each household. But the Israelites were spared because they followed God’s instructions to smear sacrificed lamb’s blood on their doorposts. The word Passover or Pesach in Hebrew refers to the way in which God “passed over” the homes of the Israelites on that night.
While First Seder, the central meal that marks the beginning of Passover, is technically to be held on Monday, Seders are conducted throughout the week by those who are not able, for various reasons, to hold their Seder on the first night of Passover. So there is still plenty of time to enjoy the delicious and meaningful flavors of the holiday. Passover is a special time because it brings together many cultures around the world, all honoring and celebrating in their own unique ways the central human right to freedom. The recipe we have for you today hails from Kyrgyzstan and combines the Eastern and Central European traditional soup called borscht with Jewish matzah. Before we get to that, let’s take a moment to explore the origins of these two distinctive dishes.
The exact origin of borscht is unclear, but it emerged as a staple for the same reason that many foods came to be important in ancient civilizations around the world: it was cheap and easy to make. Originally, borscht was made from beets that were abundant in the Ukraine where the soup is said to have its roots. It is interesting to note that some say borscht was made in ancient Rome where beets were a dietary staple, but there is no direct evidence to prove this theory. Over the years, borscht took different forms as cooks added whatever other vegetables were available. Today there are different varieties of borscht such as orange borscht, which is tomato-based, and green borscht, which uses a spinach or sorrel base.
Matzah has a long history reaching back to the original flight of the Israelites from Egypt. When they were expelled from Egypt after the ravages of the tenth plague, the Israelites did not have time to prepare bread to take on the journey into the desert. Instead, the Israelites carried with them unleavened bread made from a mixture of flour and water. This original matzah recipe has remained unchanged for thousands of years. Jews honor their ancestors and this historic period by eating only matzah during Passover. While many Jews follow the strict rabbinic laws that say matzah must be hand-made, hand-kneaded and plain with no additional flavorings, there are other options for those who prefer a slightly different taste. Nowadays, one can buy onion matzah, everything matzah and even gluten-free matzah.
Today’s recipe, Green Borscht With Matzah, is courtesy of Valeria Khaimov-Levitsky from Kyrgyzstan. She learned the recipe from her late mother-in-law Batsheva KhaimovIt and says that Passover to her is all about passing down family traditions.
So enjoy this recipe born from ancient origins. And with each spoonful, appreciate how deliciously it combines two foods representing centuries of sustenance and tradition.
Green Borscht With Matzah
- Chicken, 2 lbs.
- Vegetable oil
- 3 medium-size onions
- 4 large potatoes
- 3 eggs
- Sorrel, one bunch
- Green coriander (cilantro), one bunch chopped
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- Salt, to taste
- Matzah, 5 to 10 pieces
- Cut chicken into cubes and finely chop the onions. Add them into a pot with hot oil. Fry until slightly golden.
- While meat is frying, cut potatoes into cubes.
- Add eight and a half cups of water to the cooked chicken and onions, and bring to a boil. Boil for 30 minutes.
- Add potatoes to the pot and boil for another five minutes.
- Cut sorrel and add to the pot. Add salt to taste and boil until potatoes are done.
- Beat eggs.
- Add beaten eggs into the boiling soup while stirring thoroughly, then add coriander and turn off the heat.
- Serve with small pieces of broken matzah.
 Exodus 12, The Bible, New International Version