One might think it strange that I wait all-year round for a holiday in which most delicious foods are forbidden,
the religious “ceremony” part can run anywhere from 1-4 hours (during which you get very hungry), and you wind up eating tons of not-very-delicious, messy-to-eat-at-the-office matzah (even though in my experience, non-Jews love this stuff). But in my house, Passover is the King of all holidays, and one of the best days of the year.
While we pretty much have the other Jewish holidays down to a science in terms of cooking (I mean, Yom Kippur is pretty easy since you’re fasting), every year the food we will cook and serve to our 30 guests is a month-long debate, culminating in a 4-day cooking marathon right before the Big Night. Does this sound a little stressful? You bet. But cooking with my family for holidays-learning to make the traditional foods my parents have made and perfected year after year-is an experience that I know will always resonate very strongly with me.
When deciding what ingredient would best jive with the very ingredient-challenged Passover week, coconut stood out to me immediately. It’s no secret that Passover-friendly desserts are typically cardboard-like at worst, and “good, but not something you’d eat on any other week of the year if you didn’t have to” at best. Except, of course, for the ol’ standby: coconut macaroons. Never in my life have I had a bad macaroon. I even love the oily store-bought Manischewitz ones. And while I’ve learned to make my mom’s matzah balls and brisket, I still hadn’t learned to make the macaroons my dad makes every year for Passover.
Coconuts, while having a distinctly nutty flavor, are actually considered a special type of fruit called a drupe, a fruit with outer flesh surrounding a hard pit. In the fifteenth century, Portuguese and Spanish sailors saw what they thought looked like a monkey’s face in coconuts, with the indentations towards the base (oh, sailor humor), and began calling the fruit “coco” or monkey. Apparently the name stuck pretty well. While native to Malaysia, Polynesia, and Southeastern Asia, because of their buoyancy, coconuts have floated across many oceans, which is how they spread to the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands, Hawaii and Florida. And then to Seder tables everywhere, just in time for dessert!
This recipe comes straight from the Gourmet Cookbook, where the macaroons are more secularly named “snowballs.” A staple at every Seder, these macaroons are surprisingly very, very easy to make, and pretty hard to mess up. If you’re having a lot of trouble rolling the batter into balls, add more water until the mixture is moist enough.
Servings: Makes about 2 1/2 dozen
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup finely grated unsweetened coconut
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 large egg whites
2 tsp water
1 3 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate bar, chopped into 1/4 in. pieces
1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Pulse coconuts, sugar and salt together in a food processor until coconut is finely chopped.
3. Add egg whites and water and pulse until the mixture is moist and holds together when you squeeze a handful of it. Set aside a bowl of water-you'll need wet hands, and you'll need to rinse your hands between rolling balls.
4. Roll a tablespoon-sized ball of batter together in your hands. Make a small indentation in the middle and insert a piece of chocolate, then close it back and reform into a smooth ball.
5. Bake on a lined baking sheet until bottoms are golden, about 13 to 17 minutes.