Position yourself for Passover’s traditions

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.


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.


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.


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.


2 whole chickens (3 pounds each), tied with string
3 medium onions, peeled and diced
3 to 4 quarts water (water to cover)
16 small carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
5 celery stalks with tops, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
8 parsley sprigs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Mini Matzah Balls (recipe follows)

Place the chickens, onions and enough water to cover in a large, heavy Dutch oven or pot. Bring to a boil over high heat and, using a large spoon, skim off the scum that rises to the top. Add the carrots, celery, parsnips and parsley. Cover, leaving the lid ajar, and simmer for 1 hour. Add salt and pepper to taste. Uncover and simmer 30 minutes more.

With a slotted spoon, remove chickens, and let the soup cool to room temperature; then refrigerate.

When ready to serve, remove the fat that has hardened on the top, bring the soup to a boil, add Mini Matzah Balls and simmer. Ladle into heated soup bowls.

Makes about 12 servings.


These tiny matzah balls were inspired by an Italian technique for making the small flour-and-potato dumplings known as gnocchi: The dumpling mixture is spooned into a pastry bag and piped directly into the hot soup.

3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup water
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
1 to 1 1/2 cups matzah meal
2 quarts chicken soup

Put the egg yolks, water, salt and pepper in a small bowl and beat with a fork. Set aside.

Beat the egg whites in a large mixing bowl until they form stiff peaks; do not overbeat. Gently fold the yolk mixture alternately with the matzah meal into the egg whites until well blended, using only enough matzah meal to make a light, firm dough.

For each matzah ball, drop a tablespoon of mixture into rapidly boiling soup. (Or spoon this mixture into a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch round tube opening. Hold the bag over the simmering soup and squeeze out the dough in 1-inch lengths, cutting them off at the tip of the tube with a sharp knife.) Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Do not uncover during this cooking time.

Makes 16 mini or 12 large matzah balls.


4 meaty lamb shanks, about 1 pound each
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
2 onions
2 carrots, peeled and cut into pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into pieces
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves, unpeeled
1 can (14.5 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes, chopped, with liquid
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
1 cup red wine
8 sprigs fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Trim any excess fat from lamb shanks. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat olive oil in a large roasting pan, add lamb shanks and brown on all sides. Remove from pan and add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, undrained tomatoes and tomato paste. Bring to a simmer and add lamb shanks. Add wine and simmer for 10 minutes. Top with sprigs of rosemary, baste with sauce, cover and bake for 2 to 3 hours, until meat is falling away from the bone.

Arrange on a large serving plate and let guests help themselves.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.


Passover Chocolate Marble Cake With Chocolate Glaze. Photo by Dan Kacvinski

1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup oil
6 eggs, separated
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup matzah cake meal
1/2 cup apple juice, wine or water
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup strong hot coffee or water
Chocolate Glaze (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 325 F.

Blend 3/4 cup sugar with the salt and oil. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Sift together the potato starch and matzah cake meal; add to the egg yolk mixture alternately with the apple juice.

Beat the egg whites in a large bowl until stiff enough to hold a peak. Fold the beaten egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Pour half of the batter into another bowl and reserve.

In a small bowl, mix together the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, cocoa and coffee and fold mixture into the reserved batter.

Pour the 2 batters alternately (about 1 cup at a time) into a 10-inch tube pan. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the cake springs back to the touch and a toothpick inserted in it comes out dry. Remove the cake from the oven, immediately invert the pan and let it cool. Loosen the sides and center of the cake with a sharp knife and unmold it onto a cake plate. Drizzle the Chocolate Glaze over the cake.

Makes about 12 servings.


8 ounces Passover semisweet chocolate, cut into pieces
1/4 cup orange marmalade or apricot preserves
1/2 cup brewed espresso coffee, cooled

Place chocolate, marmalade and espresso in the top of a double boiler over simmering water (or melt in a microwave). Using a wire whisk, beat until smooth.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.


8 ounces Passover semisweet chocolate, melted
2 cups seedless grapes (white or red), rinsed and completely dried
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Line a large glass dish or baking sheet with wax paper and set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water or in a microwave until almost melted with small lumps. Using a wire whisk, beat until smooth and beginning to thicken.

Using a small spoon, dip each grape in the melted chocolate and place on wax paper-lined dish. Chill in the refrigerator. When chocolate has hardened, remove grapes from refrigerator, toss or roll in cocoa powder, and return to wax paper-lined dish. To serve, arrange on a doily-covered platter.

Makes about 3 dozen.


3 egg whites
2/3 cup sugar
5 tablespoons matzah cake meal
1 1/4 cups unpeeled ground almonds
Pinch salt
Grated peel of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 325 F.

Line a baking sheet with foil or a silicone baking mat; brush with oil and set aside.

Beat whites until stiff, not dry. Combine sugar, matzah cake meal, ground almonds, salt and lemon peel in a large mixing bowl and fold into beaten egg whites. Drop batter by teaspoonfuls or from pastry bag onto prepared baking sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes about 24 cookies.

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