Pesach is Almost Here, Bring on the Memories

(Warning: I will be using Yiddish as this is what Pesach/Passover is all about to me)

My childhood memories of Pesach (in our house called peisach) are almost all connected to food, as I am sure most of yours are. My home was always the eye of a cleaning frenzy in the days before the festival, as sets of dishes and pots were hauled out of cupboards that had been locked for many months; pots of grape jam and peisichdikke teiglach were being prepared ahead of the chag; pcha was being contemplated, and in general, there was always an feeling of bustling activity, a smell of schmaltz, and excitement in the air.

My family’s Seders were always extravagant affairs, with the fine China that was only ever used once a year being removed from its original paper coverings and placed on very long tables that would seat dozens of relatives and friends.

Seder Table - Tel Mond 2011

My late mother would be on her feet from early morning till late night in the days before the Seder, preparing her usual gerichten (delicacies) that everyone would anticipate from year to year. They included her wonderful gefilte fish, various types of herring, chicken soup and kneidlach, tzimmes, fluamen tzimmes, brisket, pletzlach, imberlach, and more. My mother never made the controversial pcha (jellied calf’s foot, or known in Hebrew as regel krushah). My late great aunt Hessie was the pchaqueen, but I’m afraid that gray, jellied substance, afloat with slices of boiled egg, had me fleeing the table during hors d’oeuvres with a big “oy vey”!

At a Seder in possibly 1974 at Aunty Hessie's, with my cousins Anita (left), Renee (second right) and Karen (right), about to wash hands.

The joys of those family Seders – me and my cousin Renee singing the Four Questions till we were in our twenties because we were always the youngest and taking around a basin of water to all the men so they wash their hands without getting up; the bedlam that surrounded finding the afikoman and the ensuing negotiations for its safe and lucrative return – are as vivid to me today as they were then.

The result: For me, Pesach is the festival I most love. I love the atmosphere; I love the deep and meaningful symbolism that still resonates; and most of all, I love preparing the food.

Last year, I had 30+ for our Seder, and it was a delight. My approach to cooking for the Seder is to keep it as simple as possible. Cooking on Pesach is clearly a challenge. In my family, we do eat kitniot, so it makes things a little easier. Still, there are staples that just aren’t kosher for Pesach, so this is a time to be resourceful and stick to the recipes that work.

This year, I have been invited out, so I am not cooking. So while I’d love to post recipes with pictures of all I make, I’ll have to skip the pics so that I can ensure you get my Pesach favorites in time for your pre-Pesach preparation.

I’d like to share some of my typical Seder dishes with you, and I will post as many of these recipes as I can before Pesach under the new “Passover” tab on my Home Page. Some of them are recipes I’ve posted before, which are good for Pesach with minor changes. Where I have recipes that include kitniot, I will note this in the recipe.

The first recipe is for my chicken soup and kneidlach/matza balls. For me, this is how every Seder meal starts. This recipe is works well, and importantly, the soup can be cooked and frozen ahead of time. You can also make the kneidlach earlier and keep them refrigerated.

(For my US readers, here’s the OU Guide to Passover 2012/5772.)

CHICKEN SOUP (serves about 8 – depending on how hungry they are)

Ingredients 

Chicken Soup and Matza Balls

1.5-2 kg of turkey necks (or wings)

4 large carrots peeled and cut into large sections (about 4 per carrot)

One large leek cut into chunks (only the while parts)

2 parsley roots (You can also use parsnip or celery root – make sure they are peeled and cleaned very well)

1 large red pepper cut into large chunks

1 very small sweet potato peeled and cut into chunks

2 medium zucchini cut into chunks (optional)

3-5 bay leaves

Half a bunch of fresh parsley

Dill (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

How to do it 

Turkey and vegetables cooked and ready for straining

1. Place the turkey in a very large pot and add boiling water till covered. When the water comes to the boil, pour it off (this cleans all the icky bits off the turkey that you don’t want in your soup)

2. Chop up all your veggies (you can do this while the turkey is getting its first boil) and add to the pot after you’ve drained the first lot of water.

3. Add about 3 liters (pints) of boiling water to the pot. Bring to the boil and turn it down to a simmer. Cook for about 1.5 hours.

4. Drain the cooked soup through a strainer into a clean pot, setting aside the turkey, carrots and zucchini and any other vegetables you’d like to cut up to serve in the soup. Using the back of a large spoon, squeeze as many of the remaining vegetables through the sieve as you can – the red pepper and the sweet potato will give the soup great color and flavor, as will the roots, leeks and carrot (I usually take a few pieces of carrot to kvetch through into the soup for the flavor). Add about 1 cup of the turkey meat.

You can freeze this soup in air tight containers for several weeks – perfect for entertaining and planning ahead.

After the vegetables are strained into the soup, the soup takes on a rich, orange color

MATZA BALLS (KNEIDLACH) 

This recipe makes about 5 matza balls, so multiply as needed. For 8 people, I use 4 eggs.

Ingredients 

Cooking the matza balls in the soup

1 egg

1 tablespoon margarine

3 tablespoons boiling water

A pinch of ground cinnamon

A pinch of ground ginger

½ teaspoon kosher for Pesach baking powder (if you can’t get any, you can leave it out)

Salt and pepper

Matza meal (no set quantity – this is the tricky bit…)

How to do it

1. In a bowl, beat the egg well with a whisk. Add the margarine and beat it in as well as you can (it will stay lumpy but try to separate it as much as possible at this stage). Add the boiling water and whisk till the margarine has melted.Add the seasoning.

2. Slowly add the matza meal, stirring the mixture with a spoon. You need to do this slowly and in stages, as the matza meal hardens the egg mixture quite quickly and you don’t want your mixture to get hard. Once the mixture starts to be less liquidy (I know it’s not a word…) start testing the consistency by dropping spoonfuls into the bowl. As soon as it stops being runny and starts for fall from the spoon in a blob, then you are done. You will always use a slightly different quantity of matza meal because the size of the eggs varies.

3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour (not too much longer because you want the mixture to set but not too much.)

Cooking the matza balls

You can cook your matza balls in your soup – this gives them great flavor. If your soup pot is too full and you are making a very large quantity, you can also cook them in water. I recommend adding a few ladles of the chicken soup to the water or a tablespoon of chicken soup powder so that the matza balls don’t come out too watery.

How to do it

1. Bring the soup (or water) to the boil.

2. With wet hands (keep a bowl of water next to you) make balls about the size of gold of ping pong balls. The mixture should be quite soft and not extremely easy to work with, which is why you need to have wet hands. If the mixture is too hard, your matza balls will be hard too. Drop them into the boiling liquid one by one.

3. When they are all in the pot, continue cooking them for about 10-15 minutes.

Related articles

A Seder Table that could Split the Sea (The Jewish Hostess)

Six Charoset Recipes from all Over the World (The Jewish Hostess)

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