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Article updated: 3/20/2013 12:55 PM

Stir it up: Passover lamb symbolizes Jews' escape from slavery


Lamb has been eaten to celebrate spring since biblical times, and it is a traditional Easter dish. But what about lamb for Passover? Like most food questions concerning this culinarily complicated holiday, it's tricky.

Passover, according to the Old Testament, marks the time when God helped the Jews escape slavery by bringing 10 plagues upon the Egyptians, the last being the death of the Egyptians' firstborn. The Jews were told to mark their doorposts with lamb blood to signal Death to "pass over" their homes. It worked, and the Egyptian pharaoh freed the slaves.

The Jews left in such a hurry that they could not wait for their bread to rise and ate unleavened bread (matzo) with their roast lamb. Thus, Passover is celebrated by eating unleavened bread and abstaining from foods that could possibly be leavened, including a long list of grains, legumes, seeds, oils from seeds, food additives from grains or legumes, yeasts and more.

But what about lamb? Roast lamb was eaten at Passover until A.D. 70, when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. In memory of this, the eating of roasted lamb was prohibited. But many Jews find lamb acceptable as long as it is not roasted but cooked in a pan with liquid.

Sounds like braising! A lively book called "The New Jewish Table" (St. Martin's Press, 2013) by chef Todd Gray and his wife, Ellen Kassoff Gray, offers a tasty recipe for braised lamb. Todd was raised Episcopalian, Ellen was raised Jewish, and their marriage has resulted in a successful culinary melding.

As printed in the Grays' book, the recipe for lamb that follows includes flour and canola oil and thus is not a Passover recipe. However, I have made a few substitutions that solve the problem. Happy Passover!

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