The eight-day festival of Passover begins on April 14 with the first Seder taking place at sundown.
It is an eight-day holiday of freedom that rejoices in the liberation of the Jews from bondage in Egypt. The first part of the meal is symbolic and includes the reading of the Haggadah.
The story of Exodus marks the end of 210 years of slavery in Egypt of the Hebrew people and their journey through the wilderness. Liberation came upon them so quickly that the dough they used to bake their daily bread did not have enough time to rise. This is commemorated throughout the holiday by eating only matzo or unleavened bread.
Menus are planned weeks ahead of time and special “Kosher for Passover” foods are stocked. The second part of the meal usually includes traditional family recipes, often combined with a few new dishes.
“I remember getting all dressed up in my plastic high heels to go to Passover dinner,” said Sue Ellen Clarfeld, owner of Truffies in Palm Beach. “Holidays were instruments of tradition with the added fun factor. My grandmother’s made fresh gefilte fish, which had a matzo ball texture to it.”
“Initially it tasted odd but then there was this thing called horseradish. Parents just said it was hot and they did not explain it has side effects. There was a great need for a glass of water, which never came quick enough. The side effects did not always stop you as it was a game sometimes.”
The Symbol of Fish
In Jewish lore, fish is the symbol of fertility and most families include a fish course as part of the meal. Gefilte fish is the most well-known among Eastern European Jews. It was made from freshwater fish such as carp, pike, perch, starlet and trout. Most commercial Gefilte fish, found in jars and cans, is made from a combination of freshwater fish.
Gefilte means “stuffed” in Yiddish. The original recipes came out of Middle-European cuisine. The flesh and bones were carefully removed from fish, leaving the head, skin and tail in one piece. Bones were removed from the meat and it was chopped, combined with other ingredients into forcemeat and carefully stuffed back into the skin. The whole fish was gently poached. The finished fish was presented on a platter, sliced into pieces and served with freshly made horseradish.
In the Ashkenazi kitchen, Jews of Polish origin usually like to add a bit of sugar to the forcemeat and garnish the finished fish with slivered almonds. Jews from Lithuania and the Ukraine like their gefilte peppery. They omit the sugar and almonds.
Sephardi communities throughout the world have many Passover fish dishes, including spicy fish fritters, fish balls in a tomato sauce and little pies, often perfumed with cumin. Libyan Jews are known for hrimeah, a dish made with fresh tuna in a peppery-hot, garlicky sauce with olive oil, lemon juice, ground cumin and caraway.
Even if you plan to use gefilte fish from a jar or can, you can pour off the jelly or liquid, and put it in a saucepan. Add some freshly slice carrots, onions and bring it to a gentle boil. Place the liquid back in the jar of fish and chill.
Serve with horseradish, either white or red. The red color comes from an addition of grated beets.
If you want to make it yourself, you will find pieces of fresh horseradish root at local supermarkets and greengrocers throughout our area.