For some, it's grandma's gefilte fish made with whitefish, onions and parsley only (no carrots or garlic!). For others, it's Mom's brisket simmered with onions, sweet wine and apples. Jewish families in every country and continent have been preserving these treasured family recipes for, well, centuries, and sometimes even for millennia. This Passover, I'd like to mix it up a little and offer some traditional/ancient foods that might go along with your own heritage delicacies at the seder table or during the week of Pesach.
This wonderfully delicious charoset comes from a traditional Viennese family recipe, re-created every year and handed down since at least the 16th century. The chestnut paste can be found either canned or frozen.
1-1/2 c. chestnut paste
10 oz. pitted dates (about 20), chopped fine
12 oz. dried figs (about 24), chopped fine
2 Tbs. poppy seeds
3/4 c. toasted walnuts, chopped
1/2 c. toasted almonds, chopped
1/2 c. pine nuts
1/2 c. golden raisins
1/4 c. dried apricots, chopped
1/2 c. brandy
1/2 c. honey (more or less to bind)
Combine all ingredients, gradually adding just enough brandy and honey to make the mixture bind together. Let sit for at least 1 hour to blend the flavors.
Other traditional additions to Italian charoset are hard-boiled eggs, apples, pears, lemon and matzoh.
Yield: 8 cups
In Egypt, it has long been held that charoset should be the color of the silt of the Nile, which makes sense, since this very Nile silt was used by the enslaved Jews to make the mortar represented by charoset on our Passover tables. Only dates and raisins, cooked to a paste with red wine and sprinkled with walnuts, have been thought to provide the true authentic ancient mortar color.
Egyptian 'Nile' Charoset
1/2 lb. pitted dates, chopped
1/2 lb. large sultana or golden raisins
1/2 c. sweet Passover wine
1/2 c. walnuts, coarsely chopped
Place the dates, raisins, wine and water to cover in a medium pan. Cook over very low heat, stirring often until the dates are cooked to a mush. Pour into a bowl and sprinkle with walnuts.
Yield: 3 to 4 cups
The idea of stuffing matzoh balls seems to have been first associated with Lithuanian seders of the 1700s. The stuffings varied from meat to nuts to vegetables, but always included the pungent scent of cinnamon in order, according to one scholar's theory, to try to make the sweetness of the seder meal last as long as possible.
The lightness of the matzoh balls themselves was not really a question with this preparation, since besides being stuffed, the dumplings were first simmered in salted water then baked in chicken fat before being served in bowls with chicken soup ladled over.
If desired, you may substitute olive or vegetable oil or Passover margarine for the 'schmaltz' that's originally called for.
Lithuanian Stuffed Matzoh Balls
1/4 lb. ground beef
1 Tbs. Passover vegetable oil
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbs. soft rendered chicken fat (schmaltz), oil or margarine
2 Tbs. matzoh meal
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/2 c. unblanched almonds, toasted and chopped fine
1 c. plain mashed potatoes
1 large egg
2 Tbs. matzoh meal
2 Tbs. schmaltz, oil or margarine
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Matzo balls for stuffing:
2 large eggs
2 c. lukewarm water
3-1/2 Tbs. schmaltz, oil or margarine, plus more for greasing the baking pan
1-1/4 to 1-1/2 c. matzoh meal
1 tsp. salt, or to taste
3 quarts rapidly boiling salted water
2 tsp. cinnamon
Since both the filling and the matzoh ball batter have to rest for at least one hour, you can start with either one. For the meat filling, cook the beef in a medium pan, stirring until uniformly brown. Drain well, cool and mix in the egg yolks, oil or fat, matzoh meal, salt and cinnamon. Refrigerate at least one hour.
For the almond-potato filling, sauté the onions in the oil or fat until golden brown and fragrant. Stir in the potatoes, matzoh meal, egg, almonds, cinnamon and salt. Refrigerate one hour.
To make the matzoh balls, beat the eggs till very light and frothy, then add the water and 2 Tbs. oil or fat (melt the margarine if using) and mix well. Add the salt and enough matzoh meal to make a thick batter that holds a tablespoon upright for 2 or 3 seconds when stuck into the middle of the mass. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour to let the matzoh meal hydrate. It may be left to rest as long as overnight in the fridge.
To fill and cook the matzoh balls, divide the matzoh mixture into 10 equal-sized balls. Flatten them and place 2 tsp. of either filling in the center of each one. Pinch the matzoh mixture up around the filling to seal it inside, then form into balls.
Place the filled matzoh balls into 3 quarts of rapidly boiling water, cover, lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain the matzoh balls, place in a greased ovenproof pan, spoon over 1-1/2 more Tbs. of melted schmaltz, margarine or oil, and sprinkle with the 2 tsp. of cinnamon. Bake in a preheated 400∫ oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve with chicken soup as a beginning course at the seder meal or as a main dish during Passover week. Makes 10 matzoh balls.
From ancient times, for Persian, Algerian and many Middle Eastern Jewish communities, Passover and the celebration of spring have been intertwined. For some, the final Passover meal has always been fish served with flowers and herbs. For others, the seder table is garlanded with spring greenery and flowers strewn on the table. In this Persian stew, green herbs bring spring to the main part of the Passover meal.
Green Herb Lamb Stew
2-1/2 to 3 lbs. lean lamb, leg or shoulder, cut in 1 to 1-1/2-inch cubes
1/2 to 3/4 c. vegetable oil
2 large onions, sliced thin
1 Tbs. kosher salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
1 medium leek
3 c. cleaned, chopped spinach leaves
2 c. finely chopped parsley leaves
1/2 c. finely chopped cilantro leaves (optional)
3/4 c. chopped fresh dill leaves
Juice of half a lemon
Put a heavy 2-1/2 to 3-quart pot over very low heat. Add 4 Tbs. of the oil and let heat till just hot. Add the onions and sauté until just slightly brown (about 10 min. or so), then add the lamb, half the salt and the pepper and stir. Cover and let steam and simmer gently but steadily over low heat for two hours or more (until the meat is tender). Stir often to prevent scorching and check to be sure there is enough liquid, adding a little water only if necessary.
Prepare the greens (clean, stem and chop) while the lamb is cooking. Split the leek in half lengthwise and wash thoroughly under running water. Chop the white and green parts of the leek separately.
When the lamb has about 20 minutes left to cook, heat 4 more tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the whites of the leek and let sauté until they begin to soften, about 5 min. Add the greens of the leek and sauté until they begin to soften, about 5 min. The leeks should not take on any color. Add the chopped spinach and sauté for 5 min. Stir in the remaining salt. Add the chopped parsley and sauté for 5 min. If the mixture sticks at any time, add a bit more oil. Add the dill and cilantro and sauté 5 min. By this time the mixture should be reduced nearly to a sauce, but should still be bright green. Remove from the heat.
When the meat is thoroughly cooked, stir in the green sauce and reheat together for about 5 min. before serving. Adjust the seasonings, adding salt, white pepper and lemon juice to taste.