The egg is such an integral part of Pesach cookery that the process of preparing Pesach can be measured by the number of eggs used. A huge number are whisked to lighten kugels, kneidlach, chremslach, soufflés, cakes and biscuits. And the symbolism that is woven around the Pesach egg is fascinating and complicated.
We are told as children that the egg is a sign of life’s continuity — given to a family when a child is born and eaten as part of the mourner’s meal. Many communities regard the egg as an emblem of fertility — young couples are urged to eat double yolked eggs to increase their fecundity, while some Russian Jews place a raw egg before a bride in the hope that she may bear her children as effortlessly as a hen lays its egg.
But there are deeper reasons for the egg’s symbolic importance dating back to pre-Judaic times; the most interesting of those is the phoenix — it was reduced to ashes from which the egg of the new bird emerged. Jewish mystical texts talk of a fabulous bird — the ziz saddai, whose wings are so large it eclipses the sun, which will come with the Messiah and form part of the magnificent feast in the next world.
We are taught that the roasted egg represents the Temple offerings and its burning reflects our loss at the Temple’s destruction. Although it is never eaten during the Seder, some believe that prosperity will follow the person who secures the egg after the ceremony.
Finally, some believe that the un-hatched egg represents an incomplete religious state. Similarly, the Israelites released from Egypt had their freedom but were not spiritually complete until they received the Torah at Mount Sinai. These ideas colour the beauty of the service, giving insight into the importance of the mystical egg. In the mean time, we begin the meal eating our hard-boiled eggs in salt-water.
Nutritionally, the egg has been maligned for its high dietary cholesterol. But now it is understood that dietary cholesterol has little effect on blood cholesterol. Other lifestyle factors have a deeper effect on blood lipid levels and eggs should not be omitted from a healthy diet. One large egg contains six grams of protein, only 1.5g of saturated fat but 2g of healthy monounsaturated fat. And a huge bonus is the choline content which helps brain and memory functions as well as vitamins including B6 and B12, iron and zinc.
Never underestimate the value of the egg at Pesach. Dip matzah in an egg/milk mixture and bake in a non-stick pan or fry until golden. Serve with sugar, cinnamon and apple sauce, or savoury with grilled mushrooms and tomatoes. Or liven up hardboiled eggs by grating them and adding chopped anchovies, capers and chopped watercress, to spread on matzot.
You can also soak matzot in an egg/ milk mixture and use as layers for a Pesach lasagne. Beat eggs with a little water, salt and pepper and a tablespoon of matzah meal and fry as thin omelette layers. Then slice, adding to soup for a protein-rich lockshen. For a tempting vegetarian meal, puree any mixture of vegetables — carrots and fried onions, for example. Fold in a packet of ground almonds and a few tablespoons of matzo meal and bake in a medium hot oven for an hour.
And then there is my husband’s favourite: matzot soaked in hot water for minutes; water squeezed out, then mixed with beaten egg and fried for a tasty breakfast matzoh brei.
The perfect plava
● 8 eggs separated into yolks and whites
● 350g (12 oz) icing sugar
● Juice and rind of 1 lemon plus rind of 1 orange
● 1 teasp vanilla essence
● Grated rind of 1 lemon and orange
● 2 teasp potato flour
● 175g (6oz) cake meal
● Heat oven to 170˚C, 325˚F, gas mark 3 and line a 7.5cm, x 30cm x 33cm deep, rectangular roasting tin
● Separate the yolks and whites into clean large bowls.
● Twice sieve cake meal and potato flour.
● Whisk the sugar with the yolks, adding the grated rinds and vanilla essence when foamy and light yellow.
● Wash beaters well. Whisk whites with very clean beaters and rest of sieved sugar until it is a firm meringue.
● Fold potato flour/cake-meal into yolks/sugar mixture.
● Then fold the meringue gently into the mixture with a metal spoon to save as much air as possible.
● Pour into tin or tins and bake for 1 hour approximately.
● For a variation, substitute 2oz cake flour for ground almonds, a teaspoon of cinnamon sieved with the cake flour and 1 tablespoon of oil to the egg yolk mixture.