By Tina Wasserman
The holiday of Passover evokes many memories. These memories help make or break the continuity of the tradition. I remember the smells of the chicken soup wafting out of the kitchen, the beautiful table that my mother set with all her best china and linen, and the wooden bowl and old-world chopper that were my first culinary tools for making charoset.
When I was a child, I sat with my cousin Joel at the card table at the very end of the long progression of tables, staring down past all our relatives to watch our grandfather conduct the Seder. We couldn’t wait until we were old enough to be closer to the head table. Little did we realize then that there was only one cousin younger than us to accelerate our position and the only way to progress was through life-altering vacancies. As we got older, the place of the Seder and format of its order would change as the venue moved from our grandparents’ home to my parents’ home, from long tables to one big table.
This year, again, those memories sustain us as we celebrate in pandemic mode. Last year it was all on Zoom or with the immediate family. This year perhaps a few people can celebrate together at distanced tables if the senior members of the group have had their vaccinations. What does remain is the semblance of rituals and culinary traditions to help us feel connected to our past while looking forward to a time when the house is crowded and the noise level has increased substantially.
So, do you have to forgo your brisket and chicken soup if you are only cooking for yourself or two to four people? The answer is absolutely not. Instead of buying a whole brisket, buy a 3- to 5-pound cut, cook it the same way you always do and then, after it has been sliced, freeze 8-ounce portions of meat in individual packets to eat later in the holiday or in the future. Do the same with your chicken soup and matzo balls. One effort yields many portions for now and later. And don’t forgo your desserts. There is almost nothing that can’t be made in advance and frozen, if necessary. What I am trying to say is that leaving out the recipes you associate with Passover will only make you sadder about the isolation of our times.
In the coming issues, I will include recipes that fit the aforementioned requirements. And all can be made in advance. To get you started, here are some of my tidbits to help you prepare and two recipes that will use the rest of that big piece of horseradish you bought!
Some of Tina’s Tidbits for Passover
• An easy way to “doctor” gefilte fish is to remove the jelly from the jar and reheat it with some fresh vegetables of your choice. Strain the liquid into a large bowl and place the prepared gefilte fish in this liquid. Refrigerate covered until ready to serve. Can be done days in advance and individual pieces or slices from a homemade loaf can be frozen for months and still taste delicious.
• If you do freeze the remainder of your fish, you might want to remove it from its container and pat it dry. This removes the excess water that accumulated around the loaf but the fish is still moist and delicious.
• Matzo balls may be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator in water or bouillon. They may also be frozen quickly on a baking sheet and then placed in a freezer bag. Make sure you remove air from the bag to prevent ice crystals from forming.
• When freezing in freezer bags, whether it is matzo balls or mandelbread, the best way to remove the air is to close the bag almost all the way, insert a straw into the small opening and suck the air out of the bag. Remove the straw as you inhale the last of the air in the bag. Your frozen food will not taste “off” or have freezer burn if you follow this technique.
• Don’t have a lot of room in your freezer? Try placing your soups and gravies in a freezer bag and slowly lay the bag down as you seal it — no straw needed as liquid will displace the air. Doing this will allow you to freeze many more items in a small space without using bulky containers.
• Make sure you make chicken soup with cut-up chicken. Using a whole chicken will require too much water if you add “water to cover.” The first pot of chicken soup I made when I was married tasted like the chicken ran through the water rapidly because I used a whole chicken instead of one that was cut up!
• I also recommend using a kosher chicken even if you do not keep a kosher home. The chicken soup made with kosher chicken is richer and you won’t have to add bouillon or store-bought stock to enhance its flavor. Trust me, I made soup for a sick friend in her home using nonkosher chickens and they disappeared in the water. Why you ask? Because many commercial chickens are loaded with water to make them look plump and then, when you boil them, they shrink considerably.
• The best way to get pot roast ready for your dinner is to make it at least a day, if not a week, in advance. Refrigerate or freeze the meat whole. Store the gravy separately in a jar and then refrigerate or freeze. If meat is frozen whole, defrost before slicing. Slice meat when it is cold and then place in a large glass 13×9 dish. Cover with some of the gravy. When ready to serve, microwave until very hot. Serve directly from dish or place on a serving plate with gravy.
• The best way of reheating food in liquids or most foods, besides bread-based dishes, is to use a microwave oven. The microwaves agitate the water molecules in the food to reheat but do not dry out the food. Plus, placing in a warm conventional oven when you are doing many tasks in the kitchen and have guests can often lead to overcooked and dry foods.
• Green vegetables can be cooked in boiling salted water for a few minutes until their color is bright green and they are partially cooked (3-4 minutes for asparagus or green beans, 2-3 for broccoli). Place immediately in a bowl of ice water and then drain. Store in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator covered with layers of paper towel, which will be slightly moistened by the drained, but damp, vegetables. When ready to serve, either microwave until hot and done or toss with a little oil and seasonings and roast at 400 degrees until done. Time will depend on the vegetable.
• Fruit salad will last much longer if dressing or sugar is added just before serving. The sugar macerates the fruit and causes it to give up much of its liquid, making your salad soggy instead of sweet.
The most important Passover tidbit is to allow matzo meal time to absorb some of the moisture in a recipe. A big mistake is to judge the mixture without waiting. More matzo meal gets added and then the finished product is heavy and dry.
Orange Scented Horseradish
I originally created this recipe to go with my Spanish Gefilte Fish loaf but it tastes great on many different dishes.
2 ounces fresh horseradish root
4 to 5 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoon grated orange rind (grated rind of ½ a 4-inch orange)
1 tablespoon wildflower honey or to taste
1 tablespoon orange juice
Matzo meal (optional)
1. Peel and cut the horseradish root into 5 or 6 pieces.
2. Grate the horseradish root using the fine grating disk on your food processor.
3. Remove the grating disk and add the metal blade to your work bowl. No need to remove the grated horseradish as long as the blade can fit properly in the bowl.
4. Add the remaining ingredients and process, pulsing on and off until you get the consistency you desire.
5. Carefully remove the lid from the bowl (fumes are very strong) and check seasonings.
6. If the mixture tastes good but is too watery, a teaspoon or so of matzo meal may be added but this is not traditional. Allow the matzo meal time to absorb the liquid so that the mixture does not get thick.
Serve with gefilte fish or any cooked meats.
Yield: About 1¹/₃ cups
• When grating any citrus fruit for its zest, be careful not to grate into the white part of the peel. This is bitter and has no flavor. Flavor is in the oils of the colored part of the peel.
I created this recipe after a trip to Poland. A restaurant in Warsaw specializes in pairing flavored vodkas with different dishes. When I tasted the horseradish vodka, I knew I had to recreate it at home. And it is great served with the gefilte fish or as a base for a bloody mary. I keep it in the freezer and it lasts for as long as it takes for you to drink it…even years!
750 ml of vodka
¼ cup shredded peeled horseradish root
1. Peel part of the long end of the horseradish root (save the bulbous top for a Seder plate). Rinse and pat dry.
2. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the horseradish into 2-inch lengths. Place in a measuring cup until you have ¼ cup.
3. Place the shredded horseradish in the bottle, reseal and place in the refrigerator until needed. Or place in the freezer after a week.
• If following the Ashkenazi minhag, custom, for Passover, make sure the vodka is potato-based to conform to the rules about kitniot.
• ¼ cup gives the vodka a good kick but if you like your foods hotter, then more shredded horseradish can be added.