The eight-day festival of Passover begins on April 14 with the first Seder taking place at sundown.
It is an eight-day holiday of freedom that rejoices in the liberation of the Jews from bondage in Egypt. The first part of the meal is symbolic and includes the reading of the Haggadah.
The story of Exodus marks the end of 210 years of slavery in Egypt of the Hebrew people and their journey through the wilderness. Liberation came upon them so quickly that the dough they used to bake their daily bread did not have enough time to rise. This is commemorated throughout the holiday by eating only matzo or unleavened bread.
Menus are planned weeks ahead of time and special “Kosher for Passover” foods are stocked. The second part of the meal usually includes traditional family recipes, often combined with a few new dishes.
“I remember getting all dressed up in my plastic high heels to go to Passover dinner,” said Sue Ellen Clarfeld, owner of Truffies in Palm Beach. “Holidays were instruments of tradition with the added fun factor. My grandmother’s made fresh gefilte fish, which had a matzo ball texture to it.”
“Initially it tasted odd but then there was this thing called horseradish. Parents just said it was hot and they did not explain it has side effects. There was a great need for a glass of water, which never came quick enough. The side effects did not always stop you as it was a game sometimes.”
The Symbol of Fish
In Jewish lore, fish is the symbol of fertility and most families include a fish course as part of the meal. Gefilte fish is the most well-known among Eastern European Jews. It was made from freshwater fish such as carp, pike, perch, starlet and trout. Most commercial Gefilte fish, found in jars and cans, is made from a combination of freshwater fish.
Gefilte means “stuffed” in Yiddish. The original recipes came out of Middle-European cuisine. The flesh and bones were carefully removed from fish, leaving the head, skin and tail in one piece. Bones were removed from the meat and it was chopped, combined with other ingredients into forcemeat and carefully stuffed back into the skin. The whole fish was gently poached. The finished fish was presented on a platter, sliced into pieces and served with freshly made horseradish.
In the Ashkenazi kitchen, Jews of Polish origin usually like to add a bit of sugar to the forcemeat and garnish the finished fish with slivered almonds. Jews from Lithuania and the Ukraine like their gefilte peppery. They omit the sugar and almonds.
Sephardi communities throughout the world have many Passover fish dishes, including spicy fish fritters, fish balls in a tomato sauce and little pies, often perfumed with cumin. Libyan Jews are known for hrimeah, a dish made with fresh tuna in a peppery-hot, garlicky sauce with olive oil, lemon juice, ground cumin and caraway.
Even if you plan to use gefilte fish from a jar or can, you can pour off the jelly or liquid, and put it in a saucepan. Add some freshly slice carrots, onions and bring it to a gentle boil. Place the liquid back in the jar of fish and chill.
Serve with horseradish, either white or red. The red color comes from an addition of grated beets.
If you want to make it yourself, you will find pieces of fresh horseradish root at local supermarkets and greengrocers throughout our area.
* An 8- or 10-inch peeled piece of horseradish root
* 2 tablespoons cold water
* Half a medium-beet, grated, (optional)
* 1 tablespoon white vinegar
* Pinch of kosher salt
Peel the root and cut it into chunks. Put it in a food processor and add the water. Process until finely ground. (A word of warning, horseradish has a very powerful smell and strong taste. Work in a well-ventilated room). Add the beet, strain out some of the water and add the vinegar. Pulse again to combine ingredients and place in a jar. It will keep for about three weeks. Adjust for salt.
Makes about a cup of horseradish
If you are using fresh fillets, remember they contain a lot of water. If you use a food processor, be gentle. Pulse just until the fish is slightly pureed.
Baked Gefilte Fish Loaf
* Quarter cup extra-virgin olive oil
* 2 large onions, chopped
* 4 large eggs
* 4 teaspoons salt
* 1 and half teaspoons white pepper
* 3 tablespoons sugar
* Half cup matzo meal
* One-third cup ice water
* 3 and a half pounds whitefish and pike, (mostly whitefish), ground
* 2 large carrots, peeled and grated
* Half cup snipped dill
* 2 tablespoons white horseradish
* Quarter cup toasted slivered almonds
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a large loaf pan and line it with parchment paper long enough to fold back over and cover the pan.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté the onions, set aside. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, salt, pepper, sugar, matzo meal and water. Add the fish, carrots, dill and horseradish and mix well.
Fill the prepared pan with the fish mixture and cover with the end of the parchment paper. Place on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes.
Remove from the oven, set aside to cool, unwrap, slice and serve at room temperature. Garnish with toasted almonds.
Makes 12 servings
Moroccan Gefilte Fish
For this savory version, use the Baked Gefilte Fish Loaf above and omit the sugar and almonds.
* 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
* 2 garlic cloves, slivered
* 2 medium red bell peppers, sliced
* 4 cups tomato sauce
* 1 tablespoon salt
* 1 and half teaspoons pepper
* 1 and half teaspoons paprika
* 1 and a half teaspoons hot paprika
* 8 half-inch slices of the gefilte fish loaf
* Quarter-cup chopped cilantro
* Quarter-cup chopped flat leafed parsley
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté the garlic for about two minutes. Add the bell peppers and sauté for another 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, salt, pepper, paprika and hot paprika. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat immediately. Simmer uncovered, over low heat for 30 minutes.
Place the fish slices in the sauce and cook for an additional 15 minutes over medium heat, basting frequently. Remove from the pan and sprinkle with the cilantro and parsley. Serve warm.
Makes 8 servings.
Leonie Grupel is a private chef who specializes in traditional and international kosher cuisine. Her recipes for a Passover Seder gefilte fish course have a refreshing modern twist.
Smoked Whitefish Gefilte Fish with Lemon Horseradish Sauce
For the fish:
* Kosher salt
* Quarter-cup matzo meal
* Two-thirds cup scrapped and thinly sliced carrots
* 2 tablespoons mild olive oil
* 1 cup chopped onion
* Freshly ground black pepper
* 1 cup trimmed and chopped scallions, white and green parts
* 4 large eggs
* 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
* 1 and half pounds mild, white-fleshed fish fillets (sole or flounder), skin and bones removed and cut into one-inch pieces
* 2 cups smoked whitefish fillets, from a two to two and a half pound fish
* 1 large cabbage, separated into leaves and rinsed
For the Lemon Horseradish Sauce:
* 2 garlic cloves
* Quarter-cup plus two tablespoons prepared white horseradish
* 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
* 1 and half cups mayonnaise
* Soft endive or radicchio leaves for lining the plates
Bring one cup lightly salted water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the carrots and simmer until very tender, about 8 minutes. Drain reserving half cup cooking water in a small bowl. Stir the matzo meal into the reserved cooking water, let stand for 10 minutes to soften and absorb the liquid. Put the carrots in a food processor.
Warm the oil in a heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, salt, pepper and sauté until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the scallions and stir one minute. Transfer the onion mixture to the food processor. Add the matzo meal mixture and puree until smooth.
In an electric mixer, beat 3 of the eggs and lemon juice in a large bowl until foamy and slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Stir in the mixture from the food processor.
Put the fish fillets, smoked fish, salt and pepper in the food processor. Pulse the mixture until finely chopped. Add the remaining egg and pulse to a coarse paste. Transfer mixture to the bowl and combine thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least 2 hours.
Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Wet your hands with cold water, form the mixture into ovals, using about a quarter-cup for each. Place on the baking sheet. Cover with waxed paper and chill while preparing the cabbage.
In a large, wide pot with a tight fitting lid, place a rack that stands about 2-inches high. Fill the pot with enough water to meet, but not cover the bottom of the rack. Line the rack with a layer of cabbage leaves. Cover the fish with another layer of leaves. Bring the water in the pot to a boil. Cover the pot and steam the fish over medium heat until cooked through at the center and firm to the touch, about 25 minutes. Transfer the top layer of the cabbage to a platter. Top with cooked fish ovals. Cover them with bottom cabbage leaves. Steam the remaining fish ovals in two more batches, adding more water if needed.
Keeping the fish covered with the cooked cabbage leaves will keep it moist. Wrap the platter with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least 6 hours.
For the Sauce: Put the garlic through a press or mince it fine and place in a small bowl. Stir in the horseradish and lemon juice. Whisk in the mayonnaise, season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve with endive or radicchio leaves.
Makes 10 to 12 servings