The real heart of the Pesach seder


The story of Passover is at the heart of every seder meal. It overflows with the rituals and tradition that make this holiday so different from any other.

Passover reminds me of my late mother who stood on line to buy whitefish, pike and rockfish — the only mixture she would use — as she tipped the fish monger for removing the eyes, head and tails and grinding the fish. I was the one who was the taster of the raw mixture to make sure the amount of pepper was just right. Little did I know that was my first sushi tasting.

Recently, on the Food Network, I saw a top chef boiling the eyeballs in broth and eating them as a favorite delicacy.

It was only a few decades ago that the only gefilte fish choices we had were to purchase from a caterer, doctor the jarred fish, or tediously make it from scratch like everyone’s bubbe did — a real labor of love. Today, selections of already ground, seasoned frozen fish are awaiting your own personal touch to cook terrines, loaves, fish kabobs or traditional oval servings. It may not be exactly your bubbe’s fish, but a multi-colored gefilte fish terrine or kabob might become a family favorite. And to your kids and grandkids, it will then become their bubbe’s fish.

In produce, try a big hunk of celeriac. Peel, dice and cook in your homemade soup. It gives a sweet, mild celery flavor. Don’t resist cauliflower, the new healthy “rice.” Use the recipe below for a delicious, good-for-you side dish to any meal.

Remember the round egg yolk balls your bubbe used to serve in the chicken soup? Deemed unhealthy and legally not allowed for sale, try my recipe below to make tiny ones that resemble the old-fashioned ones. One tiny one in a soup serving couldn’t hurt right?

As you set your table, remember to squeeze in a person or couple who would otherwise be alone for Passover. It will be your biggest mitzvah and will make your matzo balls fluffy and your brisket sweet.

Easy, healthy cauliflower rice

1 head of cauliflower
1 red or sweet onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, grated
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of black pepper
Olive or coconut oil

Gently sauté the onion and garlic in a little oil. In the meantime, grate the cauliflower using the largest setting holes on a hand grater.
Add grated cauliflower to the softened onion mixture and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring. Add the cumin, salt and pepper to taste.
Continue to cook for another 3 minutes, stirring often. Serve immediately or reheat.
Makes 6 servings

Sweet and crunchy quinoa

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/3 cup pine nuts
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup dried cranberries
4 scallions, sliced

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Place quinoa into a small saucepan and add 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes, or until the water has evaporated. Turn off the heat and let quinoa sit covered for at least one hour, but preferably three hours.

Place sweet potato cubes into a roasting pan. Toss with 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil. Bake for 25 minutes, or until you can just pierce the cubes with a fork. Set aside.

Place pine nuts into a small pan over medium heat until lightly toasted, stirring often. Set aside.

In a small bowl, place the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, honey, salt, pepper, cumin and cinnamon. Whisk well.
When quinoa is dry, use a whisk to break apart the seeds. Place into a large bowl. Add half the vinaigrette and mix with the whisk. Add more to taste, depending on how wet you like your quinoa; I add it all. Add the sweet potatoes, pine nuts, cranberries and scallions and mix gently.

Serve at room temperature. I serve with an “oiled” ice cream scoop to mound on each plate.

Makes 6-8 servings

Old-fashioned egg balls for chicken soup

3 hard-boiled egg yolks
1/8 teaspoon regular or onion salt
1 teaspoon matzah cake flour
1 raw egg yolk

Mash the hard-boiled yolks with the salt. Add the flour and then the raw yolk and mix well.
Using your hands, roll into chickpea-sized or bigger balls. They will not expand.
Add to simmering water and cook for about 10 minutes. Cool and refrigerate in a plastic bag or container.
Bring to room temperature to serve. When ready to ladle your chicken soup, add them to each bowl.
Makes about 12, depending on size.

Manischewitz has a new kosher for Passover product, 100 Percent Grape Juice, produced in partnership with Welch’s. I used to make this sauce. The yummy sauce makes a good hostess gift.

A delicious sauce

1 cup grape juice
1-1/2 teaspoons of sugar
½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar

In a very small pot, mix grape juice sugar and balsamic vinegar. Bring to a full simmer, uncovered, for about 15-18 minutes. It will reduce and become somewhat thicker.

Cool. Store in refrigerator after cooling.

Serve warm or cold “puddled” around a slice of sponge cake with fresh sliced strawberries.

Makes 1/4 cup, but recipe can be doubled 


MAKE YOUR OWN creative horseradish dip, according to your taste: Mix mayonnaise and a squirt of lemon juice in some jarred red or white horseradish for a mild gefilte fish dip.

MAKE PLACE CARDS by breaking matzah into pieces and writing names in pareve chocolate, leaning them on a serving glass.

REVIVE AN OLD TRADITION by mixing individual small bowls of the jelled gefilte fish sauce with matzah farfel. Serve each with a small appetizer spoon.

Ilene Spector is a Maryland-based consumer, food and travel writer.

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