By Tina Wasserman
I used to have big Seders. Let all who are hungry come and eat was my mantra. However, as families grew and friends started going to their children’s homes to be near grandchildren, the numbers dwindled. This year the coronavirus will make the seder an intimate gathering; we want to share traditions but not germs!
Intimate also lends itself to adding smaller quantities of each dish and a more casual feel without leaving Rabbi Tarfon and Akiba out in the cold with Elijah.
So I have decided to break up the meal into different components each week so you can plan, cook (possibly in advance since you have so much time at home!) and not stress over this year’s Seder.
Although there is always a big meal to look forward to during the Seder, people get hungry with the wonderful aromas wafting from the kitchen. Once the parsley is dunked into salt water, representative of an ancient appetizer, you can have your own nibbles at the table.
The following are recipes that can all be made in advance and refrigerated or frozen until needed.
Gussie’s Potato Knishes — Romanian
In my family, knishes weren’t the large, square, hard cushions of dough with potato on the inside. They were the soft patties of potato dough with fried onions encased in the center. No family function at my grandmother’s house was without this treat and you had to act fast or you didn’t get to grab more than one. When she was recovering in the hospital from a heart attack everyone centered their conversation on Grandma’s knishes. Subliminally everyone knew that the precious recipe had not been written down. No one was able to comprehend “a bissel (little) of this” and a “shiterein” (handful) of that until one day I came across a recipe that reminded me of grandma’s knishes and with a little tweaking, I now pass the recipe on to the next generation.
4 ½ cups dry mashed potatoes (no liquid or fat added)
3 eggs, lightly beaten with a fork to combine
½ cup or more matzo meal
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons salt, divided use
3 large onions, finely diced
¼ cup olive oil or chicken fat
Matzo or matzo crackers
- Mix the potatoes, eggs, matzo meal, pepper and 2 teaspoons of salt together to form a smooth, but slightly sticky dough. Set aside for 20 minutes while you fry the onions.
- Heat a 10-inch skillet over high heat for 20 seconds. Add the oil or chicken fat and heat for another 10 seconds turning down the heat if the oil begins to smoke. Add the onions and sauté until the onions are dark golden brown but not burnt. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining teaspoon of salt.
- Heavily “flour” a board and your hands with matzo meal. Take about 1 tablespoon of dough and flatten it in your palm or on the board until it is about a 2 or 3 inch circle.
- Place a teaspoon of onion mixture in the center of the circle and fold the dough edges over the filling to meet in the center to create a smaller, filled circle of dough.
- Place on a plate “floured” with matzo meal until ready to fry or fry immediately. NOTE: These should not stand too long or they will get soggy. Roll in a little more matzo meal if dough is too sticky.
- Heat a clean frying pan for 20 seconds and then add the additional oil to a depth of ¼ inch. Heat oil for 15 more seconds.
- Place the knish seam side (side where dough came together) down in the hot oil and fry over moderate heat until golden brown. Flip knish over and fry until the other side is golden, about 2 minutes, and then remove with a slotted spatula to paper towels to drain. Let cool for a minute or so.
- Serve as soon as they are not too hot to handle. Enjoy!
Yield: about 2-3 dozen depending on how small you make the knishes.
• Cooked, mashed potatoes tend to hydrate when they sit out for a long time. To prevent excess moisture, use within an hour of mashing or leave potatoes whole until ready to proceed with a recipe.
• Matzo meal acts like a sponge absorbing excess moisture in dough. In order to do this, the mixture must be allowed to rest for 15-20 before using.
• Tossing the dough very lightly on a board dusted with cake meal will make the dough even smoother, less sticky and the process of shaping will be easier.
This is a recipe adapted from my friend June Penkar. June is a Bene Israel from India. The Bene Israel trace their lineage back to the Kohanim who escaped Judaea in the second century BCE and were shipwrecked on the Konkan coast of India. It was India that cultivated and introduced eggplant to the Middle East and ultimately throughout the world.
2 large or 3 medium eggplants (about 2 ½ pounds)
2 red bell peppers
4 Roma tomatoes
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely diced (about 1 ½ cups)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and finely chopped
1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more if desired
¼ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon Garam Masala
Fresh chopped cilantro for garnish
- Roast the eggplants on a low rimmed baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or until the eggplant is soft and deflated. Cool and then scoop out the pulp including seeds. Set aside until needed.
- Wash and cut the peppers in half lengthwise and remove the stem, all seeds and membrane. Wash the tomatoes and cut them in half lengthwise.
- Toss the peppers and tomatoes with 1 Tablespoon of the vegetable oil, ½ teaspoon salt and a few grindings of black pepper. Roast, cut side down, on a rimmed cookie sheet (to catch any juices released) in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes.
- When cool enough to handle, peel the peppers and tomatoes and set aside with any accumulated juices.
- Heat a 10 inch skillet over high heat for 20 seconds. Add the remaining 3 Tablespoons of oil and heat for 10 seconds. Add the finely diced onion and sauté for 5 minutes until lightly golden. If necessary reduce the heat to medium high.
- While onions are cooking, add the eggplant pulp to a food processor workbowl and pulse the machine on and off 5 times. Cut the roasted pepper into 4-6 pieces and add to the eggplant. Pulse processor on and off another 5 times. Add roasted tomatoes and then pulse for the last 5 times. Pieces should be small but not totally blended into the eggplant.
- Add the eggplant mixture to the onions and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the salt, garlic, jalapeno, cayenne, turmeric and garam masala to the pan and cook over low heat for 3 minutes or until nice and hot.
- When ready to serve, garnish with chopped cilantro and accompany with soft pita bread, Indian naan or crackers.
• The liquid that forms in the cooked eggplant should be drained and discarded, as this will impart a bitter taste to your dish.
• Although this mixture is often served hot, the flavors are enhanced when made in advance of being served. Warm in a microwave for a minute or less or serve cold with pieces of matzo or matzo crackers.
• Much of the heat from a jalapeno comes from the seeds and interior membranes. Removal of these parts will reduce their “kick.”
Persian Kuku with Spinach, Pine Nuts and Raisins
This recipe for Kuku combines all the foods that Jewish people brought to Italy in 1492 from Spain when they were no longer allowed to live in Spain.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
10 ounce frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
¼ c. toasted pine nuts
½ cup finely chopped chives or green part of scallions
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
10 grindings of black pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon Persian Advieh, Baharat or Cinnamon
1 pinch of nutmeg
2 tablespoons matzo meal
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan with olive oil to coat all sides. Set aside.
- Place defrosted chopped spinach in a strainer. Take small handfuls of spinach and squeeze very hard until almost all of the moisture has drained. Place spinach in a medium bowl.
- Add the rest of the ingredients to the spinach and mix with a fork until the mixture is well combined.
- Pour into prepared pan and place on the middle shelf of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until top of kuku begins to brown.
- Remove from oven, cool and cut into 1 inch squares.
Serves 8 or more for appetizers, 6-8 as a side dish.
• To see if this or any other egg custard is done, place a thin, sharp knife into the center of the dish. If knife comes out clean than custard is done. A toothpick can be used as well.
• Remove a dish from the oven to test it to see if it is done. ADULT SUPERVISION must always be used when going to the oven.
• Never leave the oven door open while you are testing a baked product. This lets heat escape and triggers the oven to re-cycle and be hot, and it is VERY DANGEROUS with young children and pets walking around the kitchen.
• Kuku can be cut in larger pieces accompanied by a little yogurt or sour cream and served as a light lunch. Or, since it is pareve, it can be a side dish for chicken or meat.
• For a higher, thicker Kuku, try separating the eggs, adding the yolks to the mixture and then beating the egg whites into a firm peak and folding the whites into the spinach before placing in the pan and baking.