A Passover classic with a whole-wheat twist

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"Why is this night different from all other nights?" is a famous line in the Haggadah, the Passover seder prayer book. The rabbinical response is that the seder commemorates the liberation of the ancient Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.

What's unique about Passover is the food. The basic guideline of what to eat or not eat during the holiday derives from a simple principle spelled out in the Torah, which prohibits eating leavened bread during the holiday, to recall the flat bread the Hebrews ate during their flight from Egypt.

Despite restrictions, Jewish cooks have developed an incredible variety of Passover foods. They don't taste exactly like those made during most of the year, but that is part of the reason they are appreciated.

Here are some recipes to try:

SPRINGTIME CHICKEN SOUP WITH ASPARAGUS AND WHOLE-WHEAT MATZO BALLS

1 1/2 pounds skinless chicken breast pieces, with bones

1 1/2 pounds skinless chicken thigh or drumstick pieces

1 large onion, whole or sliced

1 bay leaf

3 tablespoons chopped parsley, stems reserved for soup

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4 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried

About 2 quarts water

4 medium carrots, peeled and cut in 2-inch lengths (total 3/4 pound)

Whole-wheat matzo balls (see recipe below)

1 pound medium-width asparagus, peeled, cut in 1 1/2-inch pieces

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Thoroughly trim any fat from chicken. Put chicken breast and thigh

pieces in a large saucepan. Add onion, bay leaf, parsley stems and thyme sprigs (but not dried thyme) and cover ingredients generously with water. Bring to a boil. Skim foam. Cover and cook over low heat for 1 hour.

2. Add carrots and dried thyme to soup, cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Skim fat completely from soup.

(This is easier to do when soup is cold.)

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3. Remove chicken meat from bones; reserve for other meals or cut in strips and return to soup.

4. Separately heat matzo balls. Reheat soup, add asparagus and cook over medium-low heat for 7 minutes or until just tender. Add parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve 2 matzo balls in each bowl. Makes 4 or 5 servings.

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WHOLE-WHEAT MATZO BALLS

Carrot and parsley give these matzo balls a lively springtime look.

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1 whole-wheat matzo

2 large eggs

1/4 cup matzo meal, more if needed

1/4 teaspoon salt

Pinch of pepper

1/2 cup finely grated carrot (optional)

1 tablespoon minced parsley (optional)

1 to 2 tablespoons chicken broth or water

About 2 quarts salted water (for simmering)

1. Break matzo in a few pieces into a bowl. Cover with water and soak until soft. Drain well and squeeze dry.

2. In a small bowl, lightly beat eggs. Add soaked matzo, matzo meal, salt and pepper, and stir with a fork until smooth. Stir in carrot and parsley. Stir in chicken broth, adding enough so mixture is just firm enough to hold together in rough-shaped balls. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to make matzo balls easier to shape.

3. Bring salted water to a bare simmer. With wet hands, take about 2 teaspoons of matzo-ball mixture and roll it into a ball between your palms.

Mixture will be soft; if it is too soft to handle, stir in more matzo meal by spoonfuls until you can shape it. Gently drop matzo ball into simmering water.

Continue making balls, wetting hands before shaping each one.

4. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. When serving, remove them with a slotted spoon, add them to soup bowls and ladle hot soup over them.

Makes 18 to 20 small matzo balls, about 4 or 5 servings.

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FARFEL KUGEL WITH LEEKS, MUSHROOMS, CARROTS

Bake this kugel as a casserole as in the recipe below, or inside

1 large or 2 small chickens as a stuffing.

1 large or 2 medium leeks, white and light green parts

1 1/2 cups hot chicken or vegetable broth

5 cups matzo farfel

4 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced

1 teaspoon paprika, plus a pinch for sprinkling

2 large carrots, coarsely grated

Pinch of hot paprika or cayenne pepper

2 large eggs, beaten

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Split leeks twice lengthwise and dip them repeatedly in a large bowl of water to rinse. Cut leeks in thin slices.

2. Pour broth over farfel in a large bowl. Let stand to soften while sauteing leeks.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet. Add leeks, salt and pepper, and saute over medium heat, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until tender.

4. Remove from skillet. Add 1 tablespoon oil to skillet, heat briefly, then add mushrooms and paprika. Saute over medium heat for 3 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat and stir in carrots.

5. Add vegetable mixture to bowl of farfel and let cool. Taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in eggs.

6. Lightly oil a 2-quart casserole. Spoon stuffing into casserole.

7. Sprinkle with remaining oil, then with a pinch of paprika. Bake for 45 minutes or until firm. Serve hot or warm. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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