Why on this night do we dip twice, and on other nights, we dip only once?” asks the youngest child as part of the Four Questions at the seder, seeking an explanation of the mysteries encoded in the ritual Passover meal.
And the head of the family answers that on this night we dip bitter herbs into haroset to remind us of the mortar the Jews used to build Pharaoh’s cities and the bitterness they suffered. We dip vegetables in salt water or vinegar to commemorate both the joy of spring and the tears of the Jewish slaves.
But when did we dip once? In ancient times, when the diet of the Jews comprised mainly bread—and heavy bread at that, often made from barley or other coarse grains—they dipped the bread in vinegar, onions, or bitter herbs (the maror of the seder plate) to make the leaden starch more palatable and more digestible.
Arugula was then collected wild by the poor. Purslane—a lemony-flavored, small-leafed green currently gracing mesclun salads—and cress were gathered and later cultivated by Jewish farmers. Jews dipped rough bread into the sharp greens or combined them into a sandwich. (In some Haggadahs, Ashkenazi Jews, unfamiliar with this erstwhile Mediterranean custom of dunking, have changed the question to “… and on other nights, we dip not at all?”)
“Lo, this is the bread of affliction,” the Haggadah refers to the matzoh. And after a few days of the coarse, unleavened bread in every guise imaginable, we too, like the ancients, need spring’s sharp greens coursing through systems now sluggish and logy.
In this adaptation of a popular Milanese dish, we reenact the dipping one more time: the crisp, matzoh meal-coated chicken is dipped into a salad of tart greens, tomato, and onion.
Prepare the cutlets: in a large bowl, blend together the garlic, lemon juice,
Beat the eggs well in a wide, shallow bowl or pie pan. Stir together the matzoh meal and lemon zest and spread on a large sheet of wax paper or a plate. Taking one cutlet at a time, dip it into the beaten egg, coating well on both sides. Let the excess egg drip back into the bowl. Dredge the cutlets on both sides in the matzoh meal mixture. To prevent loose crumbs from falling off and burning in the hot oil, pat the cutlets firmly on each side so the matzoh meal adheres, then place them on a rack and let stand for about 15 minutes to set the coating.
Transfer the cutlets as they are done to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to absorb excess oil, keeping them warm, if necessary, in a 200°F oven, until the rest are done.
Prepare the salad: in a bowl, combine the tomato, onions, olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the greens and toss well.
Serve the cutlets topped with the salad, accompanied by the lemon wedges.
© 2008 Jayne Cohen. All rights reserved.