Even if you had supplied our needs in the desert for forty years, but did not send us manna from heaven, dayenu, it would have been enough.”
The rousing seder song “Dayenu” is about gratitude, but this ninth stanza might remind us that sometimes the Israelites, like us, were anything but appreciative. “Nothing but this manna to look at,” they kvetched, recalling with longing the slave food they ate: “The fish that we used to eat in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.”
Throughout the Diaspora, Jews have created rituals to concretize the story of the Exodus: Iranian and Afghani Jews seem to bring home the themes of oppression, freedom, and redemption of this excerpt by beating each other with leeks on their backs and shoulders every time they sing the refrain “dayenu” beginning with that ninth verse. A symbol of the taskmasters’ whips and a potent reminder to appreciate our freedom, this fun custom, now adopted by many Ashkenazi families, too, is a highlight for adults and children alike. If leeks are too costly to provide one for each seder participant, use scallions instead.
Plentiful in the spring, fresh leeks also figure in many seder recipes. Here a hillock of them melt slowly with the braising veal to form a rich gravy. Since veal shoulder is so lean, there is no need to skim the fat: just puree the pan sauce and you’re good to go.
Prepare the flavor paste: process four of the garlic cloves, the parsley,
Remove the meat from the refrigerator, bring it to room temperature, and pat it dry.
Wash and thinly slice enough white and pale green parts of the leeks to make
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
In a heavy flameproof lidded casserole (oval enameled cast iron is ideal) just large enough to hold the meat, heat
Wipe out the pan, add the remaining
Prepare the leek sauce: since the veal is quite lean, there is really no need to defat the gravy. Working in batches, if necessary, puree the braising mixture, including the leeks and garlic cloves, in a blender or food processor. If desired, return the pureed sauce to the pan to rewarm and reduce it slightly over high heat, uncovered. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper. I like to add a drop or two of fresh lemon juice to the finished meat and sauce—more lemony than most diners, perhaps—so I serve the veal with lemon quarters.
Cut the veal into thin slices and arrange on a serving platter. Spoon some of the warm gravy all over the meat and pass the rest in a separate sauce boat.
© 2008 Jayne Cohen. All rights reserved.