When I was younger, I wanted to be Jewish.
My friends all attended Hebrew school in the evenings or on the weekends. Every summer they all went away to co-ed summer camp run by the Jewish Community Center. (I was shipped off every summer to an all girls’ Christian camp.) My friends all attended JCC dances, and they all practiced and perfected their Hebrew for their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.
All of my crushes wore yarmulkes.
It all started in the second grade when I was pulled out of Catholic School. The school I had been attending, St. Peter’s, was close to my neighborhood and my mom would walk me there and drop me off on her way to work downtown. I spent those years wishing I was Catholic, instead of Presbyterian. Presbyterian seemed so dull to me – no wafers, no wine, so mysterious little closet into which you would disappear and spill all of your secrets. Eventually, however, the wish to be Catholic was borne out of a sheer survival instinct. Once a week after religion class we would all be marched into the church adjoining our school, where we would be filled with the fear of hell fire and brimstone for our damned souls if we did not take communion, confirmation and confession to redeem ourselves. Once communion began, those few of us who were unfortunate enough to have not been born Catholic would be plucked out of the pews and sent back to an empty classroom to sit with an aide because this part of church was for Catholics only. There we would idly sit, waiting for those gaining redemption (or, more accurately, at that age watching others taking part in said redemption but were by association being redeemed, as well) to return to sit amongst us who remained sinners. I began to imagine my sins emanating from me like a bright pulsating light as I sat amongst all of my more pure classmates. As I began to get more and more concerned about our souls, public school suddenly seemed like a much preferable option to my mother.
Rather than enrolling me in the neighborhood public school, my mom camped out for several nights to secure me a spot in a magnet program at Linden Elementary, all the way across town. Each day my little short bus pulled up to my door in my gentile neighborhood of Fineview on the north side of Pittsburgh to take me to school in Point Breeze, which, with neighboring Squirrel Hill, was comprised of a large Jewish population. Straight away I became fast friends with Lena (who has made appearances on the blog in the past, such as here, here, and here) and we began to share our holidays with one another – I would make her little Easter baskets with chocolate eggs and wrap up trinkets in Christmas paper, and she would bring me Slush Puppies for Hanukkah (not particularly Jewish, to my knowledge, but delicious and appreciated, nonetheless) and flourless treats for Passover. I think she may have actually brought me matza one year, which eased the sting of having to eat chocolate bunnies instead of Passover fare.
This year, when I saw that Lena’s visit would occur during Passover, I couldn’t resist planning a vegan Seder. With Lena as consultant, we planned a menu of matzo ball soup, seitan pot roast brisket, and a flourless chocolate hazelnut torte. Lena was enthusiastically and adventurously on board with this plan; others, however, were a bit more dubious … which only added fuel to the vegan fire.
The matzo ball soup was made using the recipe from Vegan With a Vengeance, which is incredible – light, fluffy, delicious balls of matzo floating in a rich sea of vegetable broth. For the seitan recipe that is used in the pot roast brisket, I adapted Vegan Yum Yum’s adaptations of the now famous on the web Seitan O’ Greatness. Finally, for the chocolate hazelnut torte, I adapted a Passover dessert recipe of Martha Stewart’s.
I must admit that it was with slight trepidation that I served the seitan brisket. I felt fairly confident that it would turn out fine, but it really was a shot in the dark. Happily, it turned out better than fine – it was delicious, as was the torte. The brisket was so good that we packed it up the next day and took it on a picnic lunch in the form of sandwiches when we went upcountry to Kula to play frisbee golf.
I apologize for posting this Passover menu well after the fact this year, but be sure to bookmark this post and return to it for next year! (I also apologize for the subpar indoor photos .. there was no way to wait until the light of day to capture the moment!)
Seitan Pot Roast Brisket
4 cups vital wheat gluten
2 1/2 tsp salt
5 tbs nutritional yeast
2 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
2 1/2 cup water
5 tbs olive oil
2 1/2 tsp mustard
2 1/2 tbs soy sauce
1 yellow onion, sliced
8-10 red potatoes, diced
3-4 carrots, diced
5-6 garlic cloves
2 cups faux beef bouillon (I used Vegetarian Better Than Bouillon No Beef Base)
1 tbsp Italian herb blen
1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Mix the dry ingredients together until well combined. Mix the wet ingredients together. Add wet to dry and knead the dough for a few minutes. Let it rest for 3-5 minutes.
2. Form the dough into a pot roast loaf shape. Wrap the loaf up tightly in aluminum foil. Bake for 60 minutes. Remove and let cool.
3. Turn oven temperature up to 420F. Lightly spray a roasting pan (or, in my case, a large glass casserole dish) with cooking oil. Place seitan brisket loaf into the center of the pan. With a sharp knife, slice several shallow (appx. 1/2-3/4” deep) lines across the loaf for a more “realistic” brisket appearance.
4. Arrange the potatoes, carrots, onion, and garlic cloves evenly around the seitan loaf (its ok if some crown on top of it.) Pour the no beef bouillon over all of it, and then sprinkle with the Italian herb blend.
5. Tightly cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake until the vegetables are tender, appx 30-40 minutes.
6. To serve: arrange a slice of brisket on a plate with some of the roasted vegetables, spoon some broth over, garnish with salt, pepper, and parsley. Enjoy!
Chocolate Hazelnut Torte
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Torte with Passover Fudge Glaze
1 1/3 cups whole hazelnuts
3/4 cup Earth Balance, melted
3/4 cup cocoa powder, plus more for pan
1/3 cup matzo cake meal
¾ cup vanilla soy yogurt
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
3 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp melted Earth Balance
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking pan with parchment, and spread hazelnuts on top. Bake until fragrant and toasted, about 10 minutes. Place nuts in a clean kitchen towel, and rub to remove loose skins. Place 1/3 cup nuts in bowl of food processor, and pulse until finely ground; reserve. Roughly chop remaining 1 cup nuts, and set aside.
2. Lightly oil a 9-inch round cake pan with margarine; dust with cocoa powder and sprinkle in the chopped hazelnuts.
3. Whisk together remaining 3/4 cup cocoa powder, ground hazelnuts, matzo meal, and salt; set aside.
4. Use a handheld mixer to beat the soy yogurt and sugars together until well blended. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients until well incorporated.
5. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, approx. 35-45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
6. Prepare glaze by whisking all ingredients together and pour over the cake. Cover with flaked coconut. Slice and serve.
The next day: picnic lunch