Forshmak (Chopped Herring)
Khag kasher ve-sameakh – a happy and kosher Passover! I’m posting this from Israel, where I will be spending the holiday with my grandparents, who live in a seniors’ home for South Africans in the town of Herzliyya. Wherever you are, I wish you a happy holiday.
I want to end our Pesach series with a very simple and tasty Passover dish – the traditional Sephardic Balkan keftes de prasa, or leek fritters – whose black bits of crispy fried goodness are the final color. These treats are traditional Passover fare among the Sephardic communities of the Balkans – Serbia, Turkey, and Greece above all – but also have been served for other holidays as well. I first tried them at an event for Hanukkah – when, like latkes and doughnuts, a leek patty fried in oil would be most seasonal. Yet it is for Pesach that these crispy vegetable patties are now popular.
Leeks themselves have a lengthy Jewish history. The vegetable is mentioned in the Biblical Book of Numbers as one the Jews yearn for from their time of slavery in Egypt, for they “were wont to eat…the leeks, and the onions.” Regardless, the vegetable was probably prominent in ancient Israelite cooking, and was spread by the Romans throughout the Mediterranean region. German Ashkenazim indeed would later use the vegetable, and it saw limited use in Eastern Europe, but this infrequent use paled in comparison to the leek’s appearance on the tables of Sephardim. Gil Marks remarked that the leek was the “single most important vegetable” of Sephardic cooking in the Ottoman Empire, and ended up in everything – soups, stews, patties, and pastries. The keftes de prasa are attested from the Ottoman period – and indeed, their name reflect the Turkish köfte (patty) and Ladino and Greek prasa (leek). These treats, however, are enjoyed by all.
Keftes de Prasa
Makes 12-20 Fritters
A Passover adaptation from the Jewish Women’s Archive
Two large leeks, thoroughly washed and chopped
1 cup matzah meal
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Olive oil for frying
- A note: you really should make sure your leeks are thoroughly washed before you chop. Consult this guide to learn how to have clean leeks! Then chop.
- Boil the chopped leeks in water for five minutes, or until somewhat soft, but with some solidity. Drain the leeks and set aside. Let cool.
- Mix the boiled leeks and the ingredients other than the oil in a bowl until you have a thick, thoroughly mixed batter.
- Heat a pan, then add the oil. Then, spoon in large clumps of batter, one at a time, evenly in the oil.
- Fry for 2-4 minutes, or until brown on the done side, and flip to fry the other side. When both sides are brown, remove from the pan. Repeat until you are done with the batter.
- Serve hot – some folks serve straight from the pan – or warm. I’ve never tested these after reheating – they have been eaten quickly.
The author would like to thank Jeremy Swack for being part of the User Acceptance Testing for this recipe.
For this post, I have an easy recipe for a delicious dessert that will be “gold” in our Pesach of Colors series: matzah kugel with strawberries! This recipe is of my own invention, but matzah kugels originated in 19th-century Germany as a flavorful and easy dish to feed a family – in a festive or ordinary way – during Passover. These kugels also are reminiscent of the Sephardic mina, a matzah pie that is traditional in a meat form among the Jewish communities of the Balkans during Passover. Matzah kugels are popular here in the United States – and, it seems, especially on college campuses. I created my matzah kugel recipe with chocolate and hazelnuts, but this strawberry one – accented with cinnamon, which works! – is even better. There is a vague reminiscence of the very not-Passover-friendly bread pudding, but the crispness of the matzah gives the kugel an entirely different feeling.
This dish, for what it’s worth, also makes an incredible breakfast.
Matzah Kugel With Strawberries
Makes one kugel
6 pieces matzah
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup white sugar
¼ tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 cups chopped strawberries
- Break the matzah into little pieces and soak for 20 minutes in water, or until the matzah is soft and has absorbed the water. Squeeze out a bit of the moisture.
- Preheat your oven to 200C/400F. Grease a deep baking pan, about 8 inches/20cm, with butter. The shape does not matter, but I prefer a round pan.
- Mix the soft matzah, strawberries, eggs, milk, sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl until thoroughly combined. The matzah pieces should break with your mixing implement. (Ah, soft matzah!)
- Pour the mixture into your greased pan, then bake it for 35-40 minutes, or until the kugel has set and is a golden brown on top. It’s good warm or cold, but I prefer the former.
A variation: swap the strawberries for ¾ cup chocolate chips and ½ cup ground hazelnuts. It tastes like Nutella!
A note: those who keep the Ashkenazi tradition of gebrokhts, or avoiding “broken” or soaked matzah – a minority tradition here – will not be able to eat this recipe over Passover. You should know that this recipe really works all year round.
I would like to thank my cousins Dana, Adrian, Lara, and Jonathan for being part of the User Acceptance Testing for this recipe.
Two bonus recipes for you all today, before Parts 5 and 6 of “Pesach of Colors” are unleashed on the internet.
Huppit Bartov Miller at the wonderful Sephardic Israeli blog Afooda tweeted me her lovely Iraqi charoset recipe after finding my recipes on Twitter. It’s a delicious combination of peanuts, walnuts, silan, and grape juice, and yours truly was very impressed with the test batch he made this week. Make the charoset – linked below – and also check out the rest of the blog!
If Passover cleaning also makes you want to drink – to forget your misery or make it more fun – my friend the “Kiddush Club President” at Tippling Through The Torah mad the delicious “Gifts of Gold” cocktail for Parashat Vayakhel a few weeks back. It’s fruity, sweet, and tastes like divinity. Check it out:
Ah, gefilte fish, the much-maligned dish of Ashkenazi tradition. When I’ve told people that I absolutely adore the dish – minced fish patties, often served cold in a gelled fish broth with carrots, sometimes with khrayn (horseradish and beets) – I have seen far more reactions of disgust than delight. “How could you like it?” I am asked. “It’s so gross?” I usually respond with one or another narrative about my love for fish, or that I just grew up with it, or that, well, I’ve had the not “jar” stuff. Yet in the Jewish America of today it seems that gefilte fish is sometimes forgotten as a “gross” dish. I want to tell you that it is actually amazing – and is the pink addition to our Pesach of Colors – the color coming from both the raw ground fish used to make it and the khrayn we add on top. Gefilte fish may seem “gross” – but I promise, it’s really not.
(Let us not forget though, that in the Jewish world a “gross” Ashkenazi dish will still be more respected than a “gross” Sephardi or Mizrahi dish. Please don’t use this erasure to say otherwise.)
The homemade patties are far better than the industrialized jars, whose contents I find leave a rather metallic aftertaste. Yet industry has also led us to sometimes forget gefilte fish’s pre-industrial origins as a dish to dress up the nearly-rotten fish many Jews bought for the Sabbath, lacking access to or money for fresher or more fish. The dish also allowed the fish to be consumed without picking apart the bones, an activity technically forbidden on Shabbat. The cooked, gelled, and sometimes-stuffed-into-skins fish mince dressed up the fact that, maybe, you shouldn’t eat this fish. The traditional fish has been, for centuries, freshwater fish like the carp or pike. Yet wealthier Jews or Jews who had access to fresher freshwater fish continued to eat the dish – alongside the nearly ubiquitous pickled fishes like herring that were on Ashkenazi tables, rich and poor, from at least the Late Middle Ages. (Nota bene: a herring series might be in the works.) This dish migrated with Ashkenazim wherever they went: to North America, to South Africa, even to Manchuria.
Gefilte fish is also the cause of one of the great culinary rivalries of Ashkenazim. “Traditionally,” Polish and Galitzianer Jews from today’s Poland, Ukraine, and Slovakia eat a sweeter gefilte fish, whereas the Litvaks of today’s Lithuania and Belarus eat a more savory, peppery version. This idea has been mapped both to dialects of Yiddish and to ideas of the “cold” Litvak and “warm-hearted” Galitzianer. The truth – though the myths are compelling – is simpler – and was wonderfully outlined by NPR’s The Salt last year. Sugar beets became a major industry in the 19th century in Poland, in which Jews were rather involved. In that part of Europe, sugar soon became cheap – and ended up in all sorts of dishes, gefilte fish among them. That sugar beet industry never made it to Lithuania.
I make a Lithuanian version here. But the Polish/Galitzianer version is not that hard, and is also pretty good. I’ve actually never made a sweet gefilte fish myself – only partook. See after the recipe, however, for a link to a good-looking Polish version from Gefilteria – perhaps the only artisanal hipster gefilte fish maker in the world! Of course, it’s based in Brooklyn.
Gefilte Fish – Lithuanian-Style
Makes 20-30 patties
1 ½ pounds filleted white fish (carp or pike are traditional, but trout really works), skinned and boned – keep the skin and bones
½ carrot, peeled
1/3 of a leek
1/3 of a medium onion
2 tsp salt
1 ½ tsp black pepper
1 cup matzah meal
Skin and bones from your white fish
1 ½ medium-sized carrots, peeled and cut into thin slices
2/3 of a leek, finely chopped
2/3 of a medium onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tsp thyme
1 cup vegetable stock (or more water)
Grated horseradish (khrayn), preferably with beets, for serving*
- Set a medium stockpot filled half-way with water and the cup of stock on a high flame. Bring to a boil. Add the other stock ingredients, then simmer.
- Meanwhile, grind the carrot, leek, and onion in a food processor until they are finely grated – almost a purée. Empty out into a large mixing bowl.
- Now, chop the fish into chunks and place into the food processor. Mix until the fish is finely ground, even sort of puréed. Then, mix with the carrot mixture in the mixing bowl.
- Add the eggs and matzah meal and mix into the fish mixture with a spoon or your hands. You should have a thick, solid, and moist mixture.
- Pick up a chestnut-sized piece of the fish mixture and roll into a ball or patty with your hands. Set aside, and repeat for the rest of the mixture.
- Drop the patties into the simmering stock, and cook for 15-20 minutes. Occasionally push the floating patties back into the broth to prevent them from drying out.
- Remove the gefilte fish from the broth and set aside to cool.
- Meanwhile, strain the broth into a bowl, and cool until thickened or gelled. Keep the carrots to decorate the gefilte fish. You can decide what you do with the broth “leftovers.”
*I generally use a high-quality store-bought version – I eat enough khrayn on sandwiches where grating my own is too much effort – but this recipe for a traditional khrayn is both easy and delicious.
Gefilteria, which is run by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern, provided a recipe to the Forward in 2012: http://forward.com/articles/162573/tale-of-two-gefiltes/
I like to mix up some parts of the traditional Ashkenazi culinary calendar. The reason for this is simple: for fifty-one weeks of the year, a.k.a. not Pesach, I see no reason not to eat poppy-seed hamantaschen, and am of the opinion that these herald the new year far better than the pastry-who-shall-not-be-named. That said, I’ve been known to serve latkes on Shavuot and cheesecake on Hanukkah – the latter of which happens to be actually somewhat traditional. And this green recipe is simply a colorful Passover rendition of another holiday’s treat.
Stuffed cabbage, also known as holishkes, is traditional to Simchat Torah. (Continue) Holishkes are one of Ashkenazi Jewry’s oldest borrowings from neighbors in Eastern Europe – it appeared in Jewish cooking from the 14th century, when a similar dish emerged in Eastern Europe. Since then, it has been a frequent feature of the Jewish Sabbath table – not just in the Ashkenazi-dominated regions of Carpathia and Galicia (now Eastern Poland and Western Ukraine), but also throughout the Sephardi communities of the Balkans, where the dish became popular later. (Nota bene: the dish is Ashkenazi in origin.) Cooking and serving methods vary. Whereas in Hungary and Romania the holishkes are slow-cooked in a fantastically flavored tomato sauce, and Bulgaria’s are stuffed to the brim, the Greek lahmanadolmathes are cooked on top of a bed of vegetables. I blended the two methods – I made the stuffed cabbage in the Greek style, but added the tomato sauce from further north.
Creating Passover-friendly stuffed cabbage proved to be an interesting challenge. The traditional carbohydrate of the filling is rice, which is eaten by some Jews, but not by most Ashkenazim. Meanwhile, flour cannot be used to thicken the filling if it is too thin, but matzah meal would make the filling too dry. I settled instead for walnuts, which add body to the filling and a characteristic nutty, but not too savory, undertone.
Stuffed Cabbage for Passover (Holishkes)
1 medium head cabbage
1 lb ground beef
1/2 cup ground walnuts
1 tbsp white salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground smoked paprika
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 large apple, cored and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
Water or stock
1. Cut the end off the cabbage. Then, place it in a pot of boiling water, and leave in until the outer leaves begin to fall off. Carefully remove about 20-30 leaves, without tearing them. Then, take the core of the cabbage out. Set the leaves and core aside, separately.
- In a large bowl, mix the beef, walnuts, eggs, and spices together until you have a consistent and solid mixture.
- Dice the core of the cabbage, and place the pieces at the bottom of a medium-sized stockpot with the apples and onions.
- Now it is time to make the holishkes.
- Take a leaf and lay it out flat on a flat surface.
- Cut off the nib of the leaf (the hard bit) at the bottom. (Throw the nib into the pot on top of the rest of the apple-onion-cabbage bed)
- Place about a teaspoon of the beef mixture into the lower-center part of the cabbage leaf.
- Fold the bottom bit of the leaf over the filling, and then the two bottom-side bits.
- Now, roll the leaf up to completely conceal the filling. Congrats, you have made a holishke!
- Place the roll on top of the bed, open side down. (This prevents the stuffed cabbage leaf from opening during the cooking process.
- Repeat until you are out of cabbage leaves! Nota bene: if you have leftover filling, you can fry them into little keftes.
- Cover the contents of the pot with water and/or stock.
- Place on the heat, and bring to a boil. Then, simmer for one to one and a half hours, basting – pouring liquid over – the holishkes regularly.
- Serve with carbs and the vegetables from the “bed,” with the additional option of tomato sauce.
Tomato Sauce (optional)
2 cups cooked, crushed tomatoes with their juices (or 1 can)
1 medium onion, chopped
Five cloves garlic, chopped
1.5 tsp salt
1.5 tsp black pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
Olive or sunflower seed oil
1. In a medium saucepan, sauté the onions and garlic in oil until soft. Add the spices and vinegar and mix in thoroughly.
2. Add the tomatoes and mix in thoroughly. Bring to a boil, then simmer for five minutes.
The author would like to thank Jeremy Swack for being an excellent sous-chef during the testing of this recipe.
Today, in our series for Passover, the color is orange – from the sharp brightness of apricots in a rich and hearty stew. And though many American Jews (well, American Ashkenazim) want the sweet and dark taste of gedempte fleysh – roasted-braised brisket – this Passover, I am sure that this recipe can satisfy even the most brisket-addled tongue – and is certainly easier to make! (Worry not – I’ll make brisket at some point.)
Dried fruit and the combination of fruit and meat have a long history in various Jewish culinary traditions, especially for Passover. Ashkenazi readers may be most familiar with tzimmes – a stew, traditional to Rosh HaShanah and Passover, that is made with carrots or sweet potatoes, dried fruit such as prunes or raisins, and oftentimes beef flank or the aforementioned brisket. Moroccan Jews, meanwhile, make a series of tagines that combine dried fruits – especially prunes, apricots, lemons, and dates – with meat. A lamb tagine with prunes is, in fact, a traditional dish (link in French) for the first night of Passover in some communities. Meanwhile, the Bukharan Jews, originally from Bukhara in Uzbekistan, add raisins to the meat-and-rice plovs that are frequent on Shabbat tables in that community. The sweetness of the fruit, like the sweetness of liberation, provides a nice balance to the savory, fatty depths of good stew meat – and sometimes, depending on the fruit, provides an amazing color to plates.
This recipe is a merger of two recipes from different parts of the Jewish world. A tagine with lamb, apricots, and eggplants is traditional in parts of Morocco, and Shabbat fare for many of the Jewish communities there. The addition of dates, however, comes from Vered Guttman’s recipe for an eggplant, apricot, and date pilaf that was published for Purim in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. This recipe is not exactly “authentic” and I won’t try to market it as such, but is rather a festive idea based on Jewish traditions from a variety of places.
Beef with Eggplant, Apricots, and Dates
Based on a pilaf recipe by Vered Guttman and a tagine recipe by Laurense Regale (in French)
1 large or 2 small-medium Mediterranean eggplants
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1-2 pounds chuck beef, chopped into small pieces (depends on your taste)
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 cup dried dates, pitted and chopped
2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1.5 tsp ground turmeric
1.5 tsp ground nutmeg
1.5 tsp dried thyme
1.5 tsp ground cumin
4 dried cloves
1/2 tsp dried nutmeg
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock* (you can also just use water)
~6-8 cups water
2 tbsp honey
Olive oil or sunflower seed oil
Salt for preparing eggplant
- Wash the eggplant, and chop the ends off. Cut the eggplants into four wedges, and slice these wedges into triangle-pieces about an inch at the base/peel and an inch thick. Place the eggplants into a colander and salt heavily. Set aside for 30 minutes, during which time the eggplant will “sweat.” (This is oxalic acid escaping the eggplant, which means the pieces will be less bitter in the final product.)
- Afterwards, rinse the pieces of eggplant and set aside.
- Heat a stock or stew pot, and add oil when the pot is hot. Then, add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions soften.
- Add the meat and sauté, stirring constantly, until the meat is browned on all sides.
- Add the apricots, dates, and spices and stir into the meat-onion mixture. Sauté for one minute.
6. Add the eggplant pieces and mix into the fruit-meat-onion mixture thoroughly.
7. Add the stock to the pot, and then add water until the meat and eggplant are covered with water by at least 1/3 of an inch/1 cm. Bring to a boil.
8. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce the heat to low, and stir in the honey.
9. Simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours, or until the liquid has reduced significantly and the eggplant is very soft. Serve with your carbohydrate of choice.