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Jewish Journal

Position yourself for Passover’s traditions

by Judy Zeidler

March 29, 2012 | 3:01 pm

Grandma Gene’s Gefilte Fish. Photo courtesy of Judy Zeidler

Grandma Gene’s Gefilte Fish. Photo courtesy of Judy Zeidler

After many years of reciting the Passover story around our dining room table, we made a major change. My family decided to re-create the seders held long ago. According to the haggadah, when people live in freedom, they can eat in a reclining or relaxed manner.

We asked our guests to bring pillows or cushions to lean against as we celebrated Passover with a seder on our living room floor, which began with the symbolic foods of the holiday displayed on the seder plate.

During the first part of the evening, we eat the required foods of Passover that families have eaten for generations. Charoset is one of the few dishes that may require a recipe. A mixture of fruits, wine, nuts and spices, it represents the mortar our ancestors made while laboring as slaves in Egypt. It is prepared differently in Jewish communities all over the world depending on the ingredients available. We prepare several kinds for our seder, and one that we serve is made from a Yemenite recipe, a combination of dates, dried figs, sesame seeds, ginger, wine and a little matzah meal. Included is fresh grated horseradish, a bitter herb that is eaten with charoset and matzah.

A roasted egg, which many families dip in coarse salt, is usually served, but our family’s custom is to prepare a cold, salted, chopped egg soup instead. We eat spring onions or parsley that are dipped in saltwater, as well as boiled small new potatoes that symbolize the coming of spring. Also on the seder plate is the roasted lamb shank, representing the Pascal lamb, but vegetarians may substitute a roasted beet. 

Reclining on cushions and pillows while reading from the haggadah was a wonderful experience, but serving food on the living room floor – especially matzah ball soup – would be difficult. After we finished recounting the Jewish people’s liberation from Egypt, we would move to the dining room table for a traditional Passover dinner.

We begin seder dinner with homemade gefilte fish, followed by chicken soup with matzah balls. The soup is prepared with whole chickens that are tied and put in the pot with a variety of vegetables. When the soup is done, the chickens are taken out and roasted in a tomato sauce to be served for the seder dinner. When cold, it can be made into a delicious chicken salad eaten for lunch or dinner during the remaining days of Passover.

The main course is served buffet style; everyone helps themselves to platters of roasted lamb shanks, sliced turkey with vegetable stuffing and candied sweet potatoes.

After dinner, Passover desserts include sponge cakes, cookies and chocolate-covered fruit. For a special treat this year, I am adding a Chocolate Marble Cake With Chocolate Glaze. The rich flavors of cocoa, strong coffee and chocolate make this cake extra-special. Grape Truffles are an easy addition — seedless grapes dipped in chocolate and then coated with cocoa powder are a surprise when they burst with flavor in your mouth.

Wine is an important part of the seder, and sweet concord grape wine has always been synonymous with Passover. But today, dry Passover wines are gaining in popularity, and the availability and varietals are remarkable. They are available from California, New York, France, Italy, Chile and Israel. At our seder, we provide both sweet and dry wine — as well as grape juice — to satisfy everyone’s taste. 

In recent years, our seders have moved back to the dining room. But as friends and family gather around our table for Passover, they recall with fondness how we reclined on the floor to read the haggadah. I’ve considered moving the seder back to the living room, but on one condition: We keep dinner in the dining room.


YEMENITE CHAROSET

1 cup pitted, chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped dried figs
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch coriander
1 small red chili pepper, seeded and minced, or pinch of cayenne 
2 tablespoons matzah meal
1/3 cup sweet Passover wine
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
 
Blend the dates, figs, ginger, coriander, chili pepper, matzah meal and wine in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the knife blade. Mix in sesame seeds and transfer to a glass bowl. Roll into 1-inch balls or serve in a bowl.

Dessert variation: Dip charoset balls into melted chocolate and place on wax paper-lined baking sheet.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups or 12 balls.


GRANDMA GENE’S GEFILTE FISH

Buy whole whitefish. Have it boned, and wrap the bones, heads and skin separately for the Fish Broth. If you’re lucky, you might find roe inside the fish, which you can poach with the fish balls.

Fish Broth (recipe follows)
3 1/2 pounds filleted whitefish
2 yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 small carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 small celery stalks, sliced
2 eggs
1/4 to 1/3 cup matzah meal
1/4 to 1/3 cup cold water
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Lettuce leaves, sliced cucumber, sliced beets and horseradish sauce

Prepare the Fish Broth and keep warm.

Grind the whitefish with the onions, carrots and celery in a food grinder. Put through the grinder again. Place the ground mixture in a large mixing bowl and blend with the eggs and matzah meal. Transfer the mixture to a large wooden chopping bowl and, using a hand chopper, chop the fish mixture, adding the water gradually with 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt and 1 teaspoon pepper as you chop. (Mixture should be soft and light to the touch.) Wet your hands with additional cold water and shape the fish mixture into oval balls. Bring the Fish Broth to a boil over high heat, and place the fish balls in the broth. Cover, reduce the heat to medium high, and cook for 1 hour, or until fish is tender; do not overcook. Cool, transfer to a shallow glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap and foil, and refrigerate.

To serve, arrange a lettuce leaf on each plate; top with fish and garnish with sliced cucumber and beets. Serve with horseradish sauce. 

Makes 24 small fish balls.


FISH BROTH

1 1/2 yellow onions, coarsely diced (reserve peels)
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sliced celery tops
1 1/2 pounds fish bones, heads and skin from filleted white fish (wrap in cheese cloth)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cups cold water

Place the onions, onion peels, carrot, celery tops, wrapped fish bones, heads and skin, and salt and pepper in a large pot. Add water to cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1 hour, adding water if needed. When the broth is very flavorful, strain out the fish bones and vegetables and discard. Keep the broth warm.

Makes about 4 cups.

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