By JUDY ZEIDLER, Special to The Times
Saturday night, the first night of Passover this year, will mark our 100th family Seder. When we were married just one year, my husband Marvin and I decided to observe the first two Seder nights of Passover in our own home, and we have done so ever since.
The house we lived in 50 years ago was very small, but we borrowed chairs and bought new dishes to accommodate our family and friends, and to create a meaningful Passover.
Although Passover requires a lot of preparation, it is my favorite of all the Jewish celebrations, and the one I look forward to the most each year. It brings our family together in a special way, and gives us a chance to share thoughts and memories as we participate in the Seder.
The menu always includes several recipes that were given to me by my mother, Molly Tannes, and my mother-in-law, Gene Zeidler. I think they were handed down to them in the same manner, never written, but carefully explained. That is probably why there is always a slightly different taste to each dish; sometimes measurements got changed with the new interpretation.
When our children were growing up they always helped prepare Passover food. It was the task of the oldest to help Grandma Gene prepare the cold egg soup, making sure it had the correct amount of salt … usually too much.
Our son Marc directed Dad as he grated the raw horseradish by hand, and Zeke helped prepare the different types of charoset that we served. Susan and Kathy loved to help bake the Passover cakes and cookies, and Paul was always there to fill in when anyone needed an extra hand.
Over the years many new recipes became part of our Passover menu. We borrowed the idea of serving green onions, a symbolic food that Sephardic Jews use during their Seder service. And we now include steamed new potatoes dipped in salt as the first vegetable of the season.
This year I decided to ask our children which Seder dishes they enjoyed the most, and what memories the food brought to mind. I wanted to include everyone’s favorite tastes. Last year I omitted lamb shanks and there were some very disappointed people.
The first call was to our oldest daughter, Susan. She lives in Portland, Ore., with her family, but they never miss Passover in Los Angeles. Her answer was that she loves all the Passover desserts, as long as they are covered with chocolate. Her husband Leo said, “The matzo balls are what I like best. It is OK to skip the chicken soup, but be sure and serve plenty of matzo balls.”
Marc, the family gourmet, said he likes everything we serve for Passover, but his favorite dish is the salty hard-boiled egg soup because it is eaten at the conclusion of the Seder service, which means that dinner will soon be served. He also remembered that when he was in charge of this dish, he enjoyed adding extra salt to the egg soup, which prompted complaints of it always being “too salty.”
Kathy, a gifted artist, always brings a colorful hand-crafted centerpiece for the Passover table. And when asked what her favorite Passover food is, her answer was, “Of course, all of the charosets, and especially the Greek one,” which is a blend of dates, raisins, nuts and sweet wine. One of Kathy’s tasks is to design labels with the name of each charoset and its country of origin.
Paul had several favorite dishes but if he had to choose one, he said it would be Grandma Molly’s vegetable stuffing, either baked in the turkey or served as a casserole. The combination of vegetables, matzo meal and sweet raisins is so delicious, I always double the recipe and bake half of it in a casserole, because no matter how large the turkey, there is never enough stuffing.
Zeke was quick to respond, “Oh, that’s easy: Grandma Gene’s gefilte fish, but I’m sure everyone’s answer will be the same.” When he was little he recalls watching Grandma Gene grind and chop the fish by hand. He also remembers the smell of the gefilte fish simmering in the broth, and usually Grandma would give him a taste right from the pot.
So this year, everyone’s favorite dish will be served as part of our Passover menu, and no one will be disappointed. When the evening is over, they will take home leftovers to enjoy the next day.
Molly’s Passover Vegetable Stuffing
Active Work Time: 20 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 35 minutes
I adapted my mother’s vegetable stuffing for Passover by substituting matzo meal, cake meal and Passover cereal. It has become a family heirloom that is treasured for its delicious self, besides the happy memories it evokes of family celebrations. While my mother’s recipe dates back to a time before food processors, I chop the onions, garlic and celery in the food processor fitted with the knife blade. Then I change to the grater blade and grate the carrots, parsnip and zucchini, and what took her hours to make takes me about 10 minutes.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 stalks celery, finely diced
6 carrots, peeled and grated
1 parsnip, grated
2 zucchini, unpeeled and grated
1/2 cup raisins, plumped in 1 cup Concord grape wine
1/2 cup minced parsley
2 to 3 tablespoons matzo meal
2 to 3 tablespoons matzo cake meal
2 to 3 tablespoons Passover cereal, uncooked, optional
1/4 cup dry red wine
Freshly ground pepper to taste
In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and cook the onions and garlic until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, parsnip and zucchini, and toss well. Cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften. Drain the raisins and add them to the vegetables with the parsley. Stir in 1 tablespoon each of the matzo meal, matzo cake meal and Passover cereal (if using). Add the red wine and mix well. Stir in the remaining dry ingredients, a little at a time, until the stuffing is moist and soft but firm in texture. Season with salt and pepper. Cool.
About 12 cups. Each 1/2 cup: 128 calories; 2 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 19 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 2.94 grams fiber.
Variation: The Vegetable Stuffing may be baked in a well-oiled (10-inch) casserole, baked at 350 degrees until lightly browned, about 45 minutes, and served as a side dish.
Salty Egg Soup
Active Work Time: 10 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 2 hours
This cold egg soup is a part of our family Passover ritual, combining two symbolic ingredients-eggs and salt. The eggs are a symbol of new life in the spring season and the salt represents the tears of the Jewish people when they were slaves in Egypt. Many families serve each guest a whole hard-boiled egg dipped in salt.
12 eggs, hard-boiled and peeled
4 to 6 cups cold water
2 to 4 tablespoons coarse salt
In a large bowl, mash the eggs roughly with a potato masher. Add 4 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of the salt. Add additional water and salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate until serving time. Ladle into soup bowls
12 servings. Each serving: 70 calories; 646 mg sodium; 192 mg cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 1 gram carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 0 fiber.
Grandma Gene’s Gefilte Fish
Active Work Time: 1 hour * Total Preparation Time: 2 hours plus 2 hours chilling
This updated version of Grandma Gene’s Gefilte Fish gets better and easier to make every year. Use the fish bones, heads and skin of the whitefish for the broth.
1 1/2 onions, coarsely diced (reserve peels)
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1/2 cup sliced celery tops
1 pound fish bones, heads and skin from fileted whitefish (see note)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
In a large pot, place the onions, onion peels, carrot, celery tops, fish bones, heads and skin, and salt and pepper. Add water to cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 1 hour, adding additional water if needed. When the broth is flavorful, strain out the fish bones and vegetables and discard. Keep the broth warm.
3 1/2 pounds whitefish and pike, fileted (about the size of 1 whitefish)
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1/2 cup matzo meal
1/4 cup cold water
Freshly ground pepper
Fish roe, optional
Lettuce, sliced cucumbers and horseradish sauce, for garnish
In a meat grinder, grind the fish with the onion, carrot and celery. Put through the grinder again. Place the ground mixture in a large wooden chopping bowl and blend with the eggs and matzo meal. Using a hand chopper, chop the fish mixture, adding the water gradually with 1 tablespoon salt and 2 teaspoons pepper as you chop. (Mixture should be soft and light to the touch.)
Wet your hands with cold water and shape the fish mixture into oval balls. Bring the broth to a boil over high heat, and place the fish balls in the broth. Cover, reduce the heat to medium high, and cook until the fish is tender, about 1 hour; do not overcook. Cool, transfer to a shallow glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap and foil, and refrigerate about 2 hours.
To serve, arrange a lettuce leaf on each plate; top with fish and garnish with cucumbers and horseradish sauce. Makes about 50 fish balls.
Note: If possible, buy whole whitefish. Have it boned and wrap the bones, heads and skin separately, for the fish broth. If you’re lucky, you may find roe inside the fish, or you can purchase the roe, poach it with the fish balls, and serve separately.
8 servings. Each serving: 234 calories; 130 mg sodium; 128 mg cholesterol; 9 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 10 grams carbohydrates; 27 grams protein; 1.08 grams fiber.
Turkey in a Bag With Molly’s Passover Vegetable Stuffing
Active Work Time: 15 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 4 hours
1 (15-to 20-pound) turkey
Molly’s Passover Vegetable Stuffing, cooled
1/4 cup oil
1 cup apricot preserves
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Clean the turkey and pat it dry with paper towels. Spoon the cooled stuffing into the cavity and close with a needle and thread or skewers. Rub the outside of the turkey with the oil and preserves and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Grease the inside (seamless unprinted side) of a large brown paper bag, or use a large plastic baking bag. Grease the paper bag very carefully; if any part is not greased, it might catch fire. Place the turkey inside the bag, neck first and breast down. If you’re using a paper bag, fold the open ends and seal it with paper clips or staples; if using a plastic baking bag, tie it with the plasticties supplied. Place the turkey on a large rack over a roasting pan lined with heavy foil. Bake for 3 hours or more, depending on the size of the turkey (15 minutes to the pound is a perfect guide).
About 30 minutes before the turkey is done, slit the bag under the bird and let the liquid drain into a saucepan. When all the juices are poured off, use a scissors to cut the bag open and remove the turkey. Turn it so the breast is on top. Return the turkey to the oven to brown for the remaining cooking time, or until a meat thermometer inserted in the thigh reaches 165 degrees. Skim the fat from the juices, discard it and heat the juices. Remove the stuffing and transfer to a heated bowl.
Carve the turkey and arrange the slices, legs, and wings on a large platter. Serve the juices in a gravy boat.
16 servings. Each serving: 533 calories; 215 mg sodium; 163 mg cholesterol; 24 grams fat; 6 grams saturated fat; 20 grams carbohydrates; 57 grams protein; 1.65 grams fiber.