SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK
Resting in peace in the marble orchard: Somebody’s been laid to rest in the cemetery…called by the Moravians “God’s Acre,” whose choirs of tombstones they scrub to a brilliant white shine on Easter Saturday.
LAMB, SPRING SIDES, AND MATZO BALL SOUP COVER ALL THE BASES
Catholic and Protestant Easter may have just passed, but we’re still engaged in the Passover festival, and Orthodox Easter bursts forth this coming Sunday, April 12. So, midway through the holy days, I say it’s time to rustle up a little Pascal (Paschal) Lamb.
One of the holiest holidays in Judaism, the Passover festival celebrates the Jews’ escape from Egypt. Freed by Pharaoh but pursued by his troops, the Israelites’ flight from Egypt was so quick that there was no time to prepare bread leavened with yeast. Each year before Passover commences, observant Jews still remove all leavened grain products from their houses and stock up on matzo, which are unleavened crackers baked for precisely 18 minutes.
Passover falls each year between the 15th and 22nd day of the month of Nissan in the Jewish calendar. The calendar is based on lunar cycles.
Known as the day of preparation, the 14th day of Nissan was — and still is — the official date for slaughtering sacrificial lambs. The “paschal lamb” commemorates how God spared the Jews who marked their doors with lambs’ blood, identifying them as faithful when the 10th plague predicted by Moses swept the land and killed all Egyptian firstborn sons.
Most Christian scholars have concurred that the Last Supper of Jesus and his twelve disciples took place the night before the day of preparation for Passover, and that the crucifixion of Jesus occurred on the 14th of Nissan in the Jewish calendar. The Blood of the Lamb symbolism has been fixed in the Christian iconography since the beginning of the religion.
That is why lamb, the symbol of sacrifice in both the Hebrew and Christian cultures, is the official traditional dish of the Holy Week season. Jews still observe the eight days of Passover (Pesach) with dishes that usually include lamb on the first night. Even we pork-eating Christians usually savor lamb chops, a leg of lamb or rack of lamb during the Easter season.
Catholic and Protestant Christians observe Easter on the first Sunday following the “Pascal Full Moon,” the first full moon of spring after the spring equinox. This was determined in a decree by the early Christian Church at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, and expanded in the Gregorian calendar introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory.
Eastern Orthodox Christians, on the other hand, base their Easter holidays on the solar Julian calendar adopted in 45 BC by Julius Caesar. The Orthodox tradition prohibits Easter from occurring before or at the same time as Passover.
Increasingly, American Christians are joining with Jews in celebration of the Passover Seder. In fact, Oxford’s Jewish community has been holding a Community Passover Seder for several years. The 2015 Community Seder is on Friday, April 10, at St. Andrews Methodist Church. For more information about this year’s seder or other Oxford-area Jewish community activities, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on the Christian relationship to Passover, check out these Old and New Testament Bible references: Numbers 28:16-25; Matthew 27:62-64; Mark 15:42-43; Luke 23:52-54; and John 19:14, 31 and 42.
Mazel Tov and Hallelujah y’all.
SMOKED RACK OF LAMB
“Frenched” racks of lamb (the ribs cleaned down to the lamb chop meat) may be purchased on request from the local meat markets, and are readily available at Costco and Sam’s Club.
Whole cultured buttermilk (about 1-1/2 cups)
1 T kosher salt
2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
4-6 cloves of garlic (depending on size of clove)
3 T fresh, chopped thyme leaves
2 T fresh, chopped rosemary leaves
Juice and zest of 1-1/2 fresh lemons
8 T high quality extra virgin olive oil
Whisk up a marinade containing the spices, chopped herbs, lemon juice and zest and olive oil. Set aside.
To prep the racks, start by carefully removing the thin membrane that hugs the bones and tissue on the flat side. I found that a small curved knife worked well to enable me to lift the membrane away from the bone and tissue.
I took a hint from my favorite smoked-meat guru, Meathead Goldwin, and soaked both sides of the racks in whole cultured buttermilk for about 30 minutes. Feel free to let them soak for an hour. What a difference it made in flavor (less gamey)!
Lift the racks from the buttermilk and pat off excess (do not rinse). Place in a pan and coat liberally on both sides with marinade. Allow to marinate while preparing the smoker grill.
Soak hickory or applewood chips in water. Make a regular-size fire (about half a small bag of charcoal). Allow flames to diminish. It takes about 30 minutes to bring the heat up to the ideal level (about 200-225˚F). Add soaked chips to the charcoal and cover and bring back to ideal temperature.
Place racks on the grill, meat side down. Cover and leave it alone for about 45 minutes. Carefully flip the racks, cover again, and continue cooking about 30-45 additional minutes. Remove from grill when meat temperature in the center of the chops is at least 130-135˚F. I allow mine to reach 140-145˚F because I prefer my lamb pink rather than medium rare.
Remove racks from heat and cover with foil. The lamb will continue cooking for a few minutes but needs to rest before serving to seal in the juices. Oh yum! Yields 8 servings (two lamb chops per person).
1 stick butter
1/2 white onion, chopped fine
Salt and pepper
6 c hot chicken broth
Melt butter in large saucepan or skillet. Add onion and sauté until transparent. Add dry rice and braise it, turning with wooden spoon until it begins to brown. Add broth and seasonings. Mix well. Pour into 6-qt casserole, lightly greased, and bake at 400ºF in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, mix well again, and return to oven for 20 additional minutes.
LEMON AND ALMOND SPRINKLED FRENCH GREEN BEANS
Juice and zest of a lemon
1 pkg Instant Ramen noodles, crumbled (discard seasoning packet)
1/4 c white sesame seeds
1/4 c sliced almonds
1/4 c (1/2 stick) salted butter
Melt butter in a skillet; stir in the sesame seeds, noodles, and almonds. Sauté, tossing and stirring, until sesame seeds and almonds are light brown. Remove skillet from burner; continue tossing to prevent scorching the seeds on the bottom. Set aside.
Zest a lemon and set aside. Steam the green beans just until they begin to turn color. Quickly remove from heat and plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and place in casserole dish. Squeeze lemon juice and toss. Add pepper and salt sparingly and toss again. Drizzle with zest and the noodle-almond-seed topping.
MATZO BALL SOUP
Matzo meal and matzo crackers are not available within 50 miles of Oxford. What a pity! They may be ordered online, or purchased in Memphis. Matzo will not keep indefinitely in the pantry, so tightly bag and freeze unused amounts for future use.
Some local traditionalists are horrified at the thought of adding caramelized onions and such spices as nutmeg, but I adhere to the wisdom of my Jewish great-grandmother from the Arkansas Delta. I omit the Fall-flavored nutmeg for Spring. A New York friend taught me to add a splash of club soda — it fluffs up the breading.
3-lb rotisserie chicken
3-6 cloves garlic, pressed
Sprig of thyme
2 T kosher salt
3 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 ribs of celery, cleaned
2-3 carrots, scraped, but whole
Fill a large stockpot with water. Add the cooked rotisserie chicken, skin and all. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 1-1/2 hours until chicken is falling apart. Strain the broth through a sieve. Pick out the chicken and save for other uses, discarding vegetables. Refrigerate broth until fat congeals on surface. Skim off fat, reserve for future use.
Refrigerate broth until ready to use.
2 T chicken fat (called schmaltz) or vegetable shortening
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 c onion, chopped fine
1-2 tsp chopped fresh parsley
1 c matzo meal
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 to 1/2 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg, OPTIONAL
Soak the two matzos in cold water. Squeeze dry and crumble into small pieces. Heat fat in a skillet and add onion. Sauté the onion until golden.
Add soaked matzos and stir until the matzo soaks up the liquid. Turn out into large bowl and cool. Using a large spoon, mix in seasoning, beaten eggs, and enough matzo meal to make a stiff dough. Use your hands! Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
When ready to use, add a splash of club soda and work in with additional matzo meal, if needed, to make a soft, loose dough. Shape into 20-24 balls. Bring chicken broth or water to a boil and drop the balls into the liquid. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes. It takes this long for the balls to fluff properly and to cook all the way through.
If cooking in water, have hot chicken broth ready and ladle the matzo balls into individual servings of the broth.
Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.