A Method to Check Rice for Passover, with Jay Stanton

This post was developed in collaboration with Jay Stanton. Thank you Jay!

Happy Passover! Some of you may choose to eat rice for Passover – and if you, like me, are Ashkenazi, it may be your very first time. One requirement for many people on Passover is that all kitniyot – roughly, wheat-like foods must be checked to ensure that they don’t contain chametz – one of the forbidden grains. Rice, with its small grains, is particularly hard to check.

My friend Jay Stanton was kind enough to teach me an efficient and fun way to check rice for chametz. Sharing is caring, so I will show you here. Many, many thanks to Jay Stanton for his assistance.

What you will need: a baking tray, parchment paper, an unopened package of rice, a place to store checked rice.

First, make sure that your space is well lit, and that you have a flat surface, and a comfortable place to sit. Your rice should be unopened for kashrut reasons. Make sure your hands are dry.

Choose a baking tray that has a lip. This will be helpful for making sure you do not lose rice.

Lay a layer of parchment paper over the baking tray.

Now, pour a handful of rice onto the parchment paper. Shake the tray so that the rice is in a layer that is one grain thick.

Scan the rice pile and start picking out anything that does not look like a grain of rice. In the United States, you are unlikely to find chametz, but you will find other things. For example, we found: some rice husks, some rice grains that had been damaged and discolored, and some tiny stones. If it does not look like rice, take it out and discard it. (Or feed it to a bird.) You

You may need to shake the tray a few times to spot everything.

Once you have taken everything you can see, use your finger to scan the edges to find any other impurities.

Once you are done with that, use the parchment paper and pour your rice into a sealable container or bag. Congrats! That is your first Passover rice.

Repeat the process until all rice is checked. This process also works for other small kitniyot.

A few notes:

  • Some people have the custom of checking a batch three separate times. You can decide whether or not to do this yourself.
  • If you keep a strictly kosher or kosher for Passover kitchen, you need to do this process before Passover.
  • Be mindful that where you live and the type of rice you buy will affect what ends up in your rice.

Potato Frittata for Passover

Potato frittata with cilantro and chilies in a cast-iron pan with a missing section cut out
Potato frittata with cilantro and chilies – the missing bit was eaten by yours truly. (Photo mine, March 2018)

And now for the second in our series of potato dishes for Passover – a dish most people associate with Spain, the potato omelet. In Spain, this dish is made with chunks of potato and known as a tortilla española. It is a common favorite at tapas bars around the world. However, a similar dish exists across Italian, North African, and Middle Eastern Jewish communities. It is called frittata de patate by Italian Jews, kuku sib zamini by Persian Jews. It is also named makroud fil-batates in North African Arabic or a variety of things in Ladino.

A slice of frittata on a blue plate
Enjoying a slice of frittata. (Photo mine, March 2018)

Some may ask if this dish originated in Spain. I would say no – the expulsion of the Jews in Spain happened before the introduction of the potato to Europe. Recipes for large omelets served like cakes,  however, were spread widely in the Mediterranean by travelers, traders, and soldiers during the Umayyad caliphate. In addition, the use of eggs to “wrap up” vegetables was found in Italy since at least the time of the Romans, when eggs tended to be used by the wealthy. So when the potato came along, it was incorporated into omelets just like eggplants, spinach, and onions.

One of the great things about many of the Jewish versions of the frittata is that it is made with mashed potato instead of potato chunks, which does wondrous things for the texture. Instead of admittedly delicious chunks of potato, you get a creamy, almost mousse-like texture. I based my recipe off of Claudia Roden’s, but with a few adjustments. I swapped the parsley with cilantro, and added a touch of another New World introduction – chili peppers – to give it a bit of a spicy kick. This dish makes for a great sharing food, or as breakfast for Pesach and the whole year. However, I skipped the onions in the North African version and made a riff off of the deceptively simple Italian version. I have been eating it for breakfast, piece by piece. Enjoy!

Potato Frittata for Passover

Based on several recipes by Claudia Roden

2lbs/1kg potatoes, peeled

5 cloves white garlic, minced

2 fresh hot chili peppers, finely diced

4 tablespoons olive oil or sunflower seed oil

1 fistful fresh cilantro, chopped

8 eggs, beaten

Salt and black pepper to taste (I used about 2 teaspoons of salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper)

  1. Boil the potatoes in water until soft. Then, drain the potatoes and rinse them under cold water to cool them. Mash the potatoes and set aside to cool further.
  2. In the meantime, heat a deep non-stick or cast-iron skillet and add 2 tablespoons of the oil. Then, add the garlic and chili and sauté for 1-2 minutes, or until the garlic is browned. Pour out the oil, garlic, and chili, and mix them into the mashed potatoes.
  3. Mix the cilantro, eggs, salt, and pepper into the mashed potatoes until you get a thick batter.
  4. Heat the skillet again, and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Then, pour the egg-potato mixture into the skillet. Cook for 15-20 minutes on a medium-to-high flame, or until the omelet is set and browned on the bottom. If you want it brown on top, you can bake the frittata afterwards for a few minutes. Alternatively, you can bake the frittata in the skillet or a pan for 35-45 minutes in an oven preheated to 425F/220C.
  5. Remove from heat. Serve the frittata in slices, hot, warm, or cold.

Passover Potato Gratin

Passover is speedily upon us. I personally do not mind the culinary restrictions brought about by celebrating the Exodus: it is a fun time to be creative, eat colorful food, and ingest mammoth quantities of vegetables and unusual starches. For some, however, Passover is a time of woe, when all one’s favorite foods are forbidden. Doubly so for those who follow the Ashkenazi custom of not eating kitniyot – “wheat-like” items that include corn, rice, beans, and seeds. Which means … a lot of potato.

I personally could eat potatoes for three weeks straight without complaining, but that is just my Lithuanian ancestry saying hello. But I do realize that some people find potatoes “boring.” So the next three recipes, all for Passover, are easy and tasty ways to make potatoes.

Potato gratin on a plate
Potato gratin. (Photo mine, March 2018)

This first recipe answered a challenge issued to me by a friend: could I do a potato gratin, with a rich and creamy béchamel sauce, for Passover? Béchamel sauce normally requires flour, which for non-matzah purposes is basically forbidden during Passover. Luckily, potato flour serves as a nice substitute, and you still get the creamy béchamel that blends with cheese to make a very decadent dish.

This dish might seem very “white-bread American.” However, béchamel, which is one of the “mother sauces” of French cooking, made its way into Jewish cooking during the 19th century, when Ashkenazim and Sephardim alike used it to seem “classy.” German Jews put a “white sauce” on vegetables, and Jews across the Mediterranean under French influence used it for dairy-heavy egg- and vegetable-based casseroles. (If you want to learn more about the history of béchamel, I strongly urge you to read Anny Gaul’s post about béchamel in Egypt and Morocco!)

Most recipes have you melt the cheese into the béchamel, but I distribute it among the potatoes for “maximum coverage.” I use cheddar here, but any strong and sharp cheese should do. Enjoy!

Passover Potato Gratin

3lbs/1.3kg potatoes, peeled

8oz/225g cheddar cheese, shredded

4 tablespoons butter + extra to grease

4 tablespoons potato flour or potato starch

2 cups milk

Table salt and ground black pepper to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F/200C.
  2. Slice the potatoes very thinly.
  3. Grease a medium-to-large casserole pan with butter. Place half the potatoes in the pan, then half of the cheese on top. Then, place another layer of potatoes, and then another layer of cheese.
  4. Make the Passover béchamel:
    1. In a small pan on a medium flame, melt the butter.
    2. When the butter is melted, add the potato flour, salt, and pepper. Whisk quickly so that the potato flour is browned.
    3. Slowly pour in the milk and whisk it slowly.
    4. Keep stirring with the whisk until the mixture is thick and starts to bubble. Then, turn off the heat.
  5. Pour the Passover béchamel over the potatoes and cheese.
  6. Bake for 60 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Serve hot.

Thank you to Dana Kline, Dov Fields, and Robbie Berg for serving as the User Acceptance Testing committee for this recipe.

Rhubarb for Pesach

I was recently asked by a friend of a friend if there are any Jewish rhubarb recipes – he had found good rhubarb and wanted to make some for Pesach (Passover). Initially, I was stumped – rhubarb is not even mentioned in Gil Marks’ otherwise encyclopedic Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. So I went to the various corners of the academic food internet to do some research – expecting to find a Greek, Russian, or Iranian Jewish rhubarb sweet, given that those are rhubarb-laden areas that historically had many Jews. Instead, I found something savory: a series of rhubarb sauces used for fish and meat in Greek and Turkish Sephardic communities. Some sources noted that this dish is, in fact, traditional for Pesach. It sounded intriguing – and delicious.

In honor of this history and the season, I made a stewed rhubarb side dish that is kosher for Passover. It is based on the rhubarb sauces from the Mediterranean, but with the addition of rosemary, which complements the tart rhubarb nicely. Though you may still prefer sweet rhubarb in a very-much-khametz pie, I hope you enjoy this method of preparation as well.

Rhubarb with Rosemary and Garlic (for Pesach)

1 pound/500 grams fresh rhubarb stalks (about 5)

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

 

1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

1 cup water

  1. Wash the rhubarb, and discard the ends. Then chop into 1 cm/1/2 inch chunks.
  2. In a shallow pan, melt the butter (or heat the pan and add the oil). Add the rosemary and garlic and sauté for thirty seconds.
  3. Add the rhubarb and mix thoroughly with the garlic and rosemary. Distribute evenly flat across the pan.
  4. Add the salt, sugar, and water, and bring the mixture to a boil.
  5. Simmer for ten minutes, or until the water has cooked down and the rhubarb has just started to disintegrate. Serve hot or cold.

Coconut Macaroons (Pesach is Coming)

Pesach (Passover), like winter, is coming. So it is time to prepare: we clean our homes to the cracks in the floorboards, stock up on enough wine for our sedarim, and prepare our digestive systems for an onslaught of tough matzah.

A macaroon sitting under the title on the cover of a haggadah for Passover
It’s time – haggadot and macaroons. (Photo mine, March 2017)

Despite these struggles, Pesach is a delicious holiday. And for many Jews, no food is so associated with the holiday as much as the macaroon – the delicious, nowadays usually almond- or coconut-based, mysteriously flour-free cookie. Some people, including myself, are fans of macaroons, especially when they are freshly baked. A few Jews have been known to eat ten in one sitting – a category that, of course, does not include the author. Others will gladly eat fluffy French macarons but avoid the heavier Jewish macaroons. And many, having only had the underrated-but-still-somewhat-dry packaged macaroons, consider the cookie a bit dull or not tasty at all. Though one can find them all year round on many tables, macaroons are now only encountered by most Jews around Pesach in their packaged form. As a result, many think this treat with a long history is a modern invention.

Fresh macaroons on parchment paper
Macaroons, freshly baked, cooling. (Photo mine, March 2017)

 

Some historians argue that macaroons can be traced to monasteries and palaces in medieval Italy, where it was introduced to Italian Jews. However, given that cooks in the Arab world were already using whipped eggs and sugar to make treats, and that medieval (and modern!) Italian cooking is heavily indebted to influence from the Islamic world, it is more likely that Italian Jews first encountered macaroons in an Arab context. In any case, macaroons became a popular Pesach delicacy among wealthier Jews – since they already contain no chametz, or leavened food. The macaroon then spread through trade networks to the rest of Europe. The name in English itself comes from the Italian maccarone, or paste, which refers to the almond paste that was originally used to make the macaroon. The French macaron, of recent chic status in world financial capitals, is also based on this word and a cookie that first reached France through the same trade networks (link in French). Though now the cookie is seen as especially Jewish, macaroons were the typical small pastry found at wealthy tables throughout Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Turkish almond macaroons
Turkish almond macaroons. (Photo MCozturk via Wikimedia Commons/CC)

Sephardim, and then Ashkenazim, adopted the macaroon from Italian Jews and Spanish Jews fleeing the inquisition, who had made the similar amarguillos from bitter almonds (link in Spanish). Macaroons appeared in the earliest Jewish cookbooks in the United States, and have remained popular since. Today, coconut macaroons predominate – especially given both the ready availability of coconut and the industrialization of coconut grating since the 19th century. One can, of course, still find delicious almond macaroons. The coconut version, however, connects Jewish macaroons to another family of macaroons spread through colonial empires. Coconut macaroons based on the European-Arab original are now popular in the Dominican Republic, Southern India, the Philippines, and Mauritius. (This Mauritian recipe by Shelina Permaloo is particularly lovely.)

These coconut macaroons are simple, tasty, and a good dessert for any time of the year. (And they are gluten free!) I have the recipe here with raisins, but you can also make them with chocolate chips.

A macaroon on a plate with flowers painted on the plate
A macaroon, waiting to be eaten by me. (Photo mine, March 2017)

Coconut Macaroons with Raisins

Makes 20-24 macaroons

2 eggs

½ cup white sugar

½ cup vegetable oil or 4 tbsp melted butter

3 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

½ tsp vanilla extract

1/8 tsp salt

½ cup raisins, soaked for ten minutes in hot water

  1. Preheat your oven to 325F/160C. Line a flat sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Mix the eggs, sugar, and oil/butter together until well combined.
  3. Add the coconut, vanilla, salt, and raisins. Mix again until the egg mixture, coconut, and raisins are thoroughly mixed together.
  4. Drop tablespoons of the mixture onto the baking sheet, leaving about 1 ½ inches/3 centimeters between the macaroons.
  5. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly brown on top and browned on the bottom. Let the cookies cool before removing them from the parchment paper.

Thank you to those of you who had these for participating in User Acceptance Testing. Thank you to Christine Schupbach from Writing the Kitchen for helping with research for this piece.

Chopped Herring (Forshmak)

Here’s a recipe for a classic Ashkenazi forshpeizer – chopped herring. More of a herring mash, hash, or puree than simply chopped, this salad-shmear is both a fishy delight and a potent tradition at the tables of Eastern European Jewry around the world. Originally invented in medieval Germany as a hot dish with fried herring, the delicacy migrated east and became cooler by the 18th century, where it became common among Ashkenazi Jews – and so common that its name comes from the word for “appetizer” in German (Vorschmack). Today, regional variants are served around the world – from the tart one of Lithuania to the biscuit-laden one of South Africa. The dish has also become popular among non-Jews in Russia and Finland, where it is traditional to add ground meat. (This combination would be forbidden under most interpretations of Jewish law.)
Growing up, chopped herring was consistently one of my mother’s favorite things – and like many, she would usually buy a store-made version for any reason you could think of. We would eat the forshmak on sourdough bread or rye with gusto. Admittedly, there are many good ones out there, and they do save you the trouble of having your entire apartment smell like fish (and a good deal of money, too). However, chopped herring is quite easy to make, and it’s a lot of fun as well. Traditionally, bread is used, but I added matzah instead to make a Passover-friendly forshmak. The flavoring is a sweet-tart one, blending both the sweeter Polish and tarter Lithuanian versions; this combination is popular in parts of the former Soviet Union. Enjoy!
Forshmak and scallion
There’s no way to make chopped herring truly aesthetic – but here is some chopped herring, served on rye bread with a bit of scallion for each piece. (Photo mine, July 2016.)
 

Forshmak (Chopped Herring)

based partly on the recipe by Sonia Rozensztroch, in Herring: A Love Story

4 pickled or brined herring fillets
2 small Jonathan apples (or another tart apple), peeled and cored
1 piece matzah, soaked in water
3 hard boiled eggs, peeled
1 tbsp white or rice wine vinegar
1 tsp white sugar
Scallions and/or fresh dill, for garnish (optional)
1. Before mixing your ingredients: if you are using brined herring fillets, you should chop them and then rinse them for 30 seconds under running water. This removes unnecessary saltiness. If you are using pickled herring fillets, just remove them from the vinegar. Squeeze the water from the matzah until you only have the softened matzah.
2. In a food processor, blend the herring, apples, eggs, and matzah. You may have chunks of apple in the final product.
3. Add the vinegar and sugar and blend again.
4. Garnish with scallions or fresh dill. Keep refrigerated for up to a week.
Read the first part of the herring series here

Pesach of Colors: Matzah Kugel with Strawberries (Gold)

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
Matzah kugel with strawberries, fresh from the oven. Photo mine, April 2016.

Matzah Kugel With Strawberries

Makes one kugel

6 pieces matzah

4 eggs

1 cup whole milk

2/3 cup white sugar

¼ tsp cinnamon

  • 1/2 cups chopped strawberries

Water

Butter

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!)
  4. 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.

Pesach of Colors 4: Gefilte Fish (Pink)

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

Fish

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

3 eggs

1 cup matzah meal

 

Broth

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)

Water

 

Grated horseradish (khrayn), preferably with beets, for serving*

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Remove the gefilte fish from the broth and set aside to cool.
  8. 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/

 

Pesach of Colors 3: Stuffed Cabbage (Green)

Stuffed cabbage on a plate
Stuffed cabbage, with keftes de prasa (leek fritters, upcoming), the “bed” of apples and onions, and rice. Photo mine, April 2016.

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)
Serves 8-10

Stuffed Cabbage
1 medium head cabbage
1 lb ground beef
1/2 cup ground walnuts
2 eggs
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.

  1. In a large bowl, mix the beef, walnuts, eggs, and spices together until you have a consistent and solid mixture.
  2. Dice the core of the cabbage, and place the pieces at the bottom of a medium-sized stockpot with the apples and onions.
  3. 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.
  1. Cover the contents of the pot with water and/or stock.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Pesach of Colors: Beyond Brisket – Beef with Eggplant, Apricots, and Dates (Orange)

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.

Beef stew with eggplant, apricots, and dates
The final product. Photo mine, March 2016.

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

Serves 8

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

 

  1. 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.)
  2. Afterwards, rinse the pieces of eggplant and set aside.
  3. 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.
  4. Add the meat and sauté, stirring constantly, until the meat is browned on all sides.
  5. Add the apricots, dates, and spices and stir into the meat-onion mixture. Sauté for one minute.
Cooking the stew
Mid-process – I’ve just added the dates and apricots to the meat. Photo mine, March 2016.

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.