Passover a la Mexicana at The James Beard House
Holidays are a unique opportunity to see how Jews celebrate all over the world, and the diverse foods that they eat. This year, The Jewish Food Society’s Passover seder, which takes place Tuesday, April 11 at the James Beard House in New York City, is all about Mexico. Chefs Fany Gerson (La New Yorkina), Rafa Zaga (Marea) and Pati Jinich (Pati’s Mexican Table) dug into their family archives for the recipes they will be cooking, which are all sourced from their grandmothers.
At first glance, the menu looks like Passover’s greatest hits—gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, brisket. But each dish is a singular product of the Jewish diaspora. Gerson’s matzo ball soup, brightened with jalapeño peppers, is a reflection of her Eastern European meets Mexico City heritage. (A handful of lucky students got a preview at Fany Gerson’s Mexican Seder cooking class earlier this week, hosted by the JFS and Haven’s Kitchen.) Pati Jinich’s gefilte fish, a poached fish cake in a spicy tomato sauce, aka a la Veracruzana, is edible evidence of her family’s journey from Poland to the port city of Veracruz. And Rafa Zaga’s rice-stuffed lamb with tamarind is influenced by his Syrian grandmother, whose cooking changed forever when she began making Middle Eastern dishes using Mexican ingredients.
Though Tuesday’s seder is sold out, we’re happy to share several of the chefs’ family recipes and the stories of the women who inspired them below, including Mexican gefilte fish and matzo ball soup, and Rafa’s grandmother’s unique sweet-tart-savory haroset. It’s not too late to add one of them to your seder table, if not this year, then next.
Gefilte Fish a la Veracruzana
For the fish patties:
1 pound red snapper fillets, skinned and deboned
1 pound flounder fillets, skinned and deboned
½ white onion, quartered
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
½ cup matzo meal
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
For the sauce:
3 tablespoons safflower or corn oil
½ cup white onion, chopped
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
3 cups fish broth or water
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
1 cup manzanilla olives stuffed with pimientos, sliced
8 pepperoncini peppers in vinegar brine
2 tablespoons capers
Prepare the fish patty mixture: Rinse the red snapper and flounder fillets under cool water. Slice into one inch pieces and place in food processor. Pulse for 5-10 seconds until fish is finely chopped but hasn’t turned into a paste.
Turn fish mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add onion, carrots, eggs, matzo meal, salt and white pepper into the same bowl of the food processor. Process until smooth. Add to fish mixture and combine thoroughly.
Prepare the sauce: Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and let cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring often, until soft and translucent.
Add the crushed tomatoes, stir, and let thicken for about 6 minutes. Then, add 3 cups broth or water, 2 tablespoons ketchup, salt and white pepper. Give it a good stir and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and bring sauce to a gentle simmer. Continue to let sauce simmer while you roll the gefilte fish patties.
Make the patties: Place a small bowl of lukewarm water to the side of the simmering tomato broth. Wet your hands as necessary, so the fish mixture does not stick to your hands. Shape each patty into an oval that is 3” long, 2” wide and 1” high. Gently slide each completed patty into the simmering broth. Raise the heat to medium if necessary to keep a steady simmer.
Once you finish making the patties, cover the pot and lower heat. Let simmer, covered for 25 minutes.
Add the manzanilla olives, pepperoncini peppers and capers. Give it a gentle stir and simmer uncovered for 20 more minutes, until the gefilte fish is cooked through and the broth has thickened. Serve hot.
Matzoh Ball Soup a la Mexicana
For the stock:
1 whole chicken, approximately 5 to 6 pounds
1 ½ medium white onions, peeled and quartered
2 large cloves garlic, peeled
2 large carrots, peeled and cut in half
1 serrano chile, sliced from tip to stem end with seeds
2 bay leaves
6 stems cilantro
1 leek, split lengthwise and sliced
3 celery stalks, cut into large chunks
1 teaspoon dried thyme
5 to 6 white peppercorns
4 quarts water
sea salt to taste
For the matzoh balls:
1 ¼ cups matzoh meal
2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
5 large eggs, 3 separated
¼ cup schmaltz, bone marrow or vegetable oil
¼ cup minced onion
1 tablespoon vegetable
1 small one onion, finely chopped
2 serrano or 1 jalapeño chile, finely chopped
1 cup cilantro, chopped
1 to 2 avocados, diced
3 to 4 limes, cut in wedges
For the stock:
Place all of the ingredients, except salt, into a large stock pot with enough water to cover chicken, and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to medium-low, skim off any foam, add salt, and simmer, partially covered, for about 45 to 50 minutes until the chicken is fully cooked (tender and falling off the bone).
Carefully remove the chicken from the broth and transfer to a bowl. Continue cooking the broth at a soft boil for 20 minutes or up to 2 hours to extract as much flavor as possible. Turn off the heat and let cool.
Remove the skin and bones from the chicken. Shred the chicken and reserve for later.
Strain broth through a fine sieve into a separate container, discarding solids.
For the matzoh balls:
In a large bowl, combine the matzoh meal, salt, pepper, baking powder and baking soda.
In a medium bowl, whisk the 2 whole eggs with the 3 yolks, schmaltz and onion.
In a separate bowl, beat the 3 egg whites by hand or with an electric hand mixer until stiff peaks form.
Stir the schmaltz mixture into the dry ingredients, then stir in one-third of the beaten egg whites until incorporated. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites until no streaks remain.
Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the batter and refrigerate for about 20 minutes or overnight, until firm.
To assemble & serve:
Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap. In a small bowl, combine the vegetable oil with 1 tablespoon of water. Scoop 1-tablespoon-size mound of the matzoh batter onto the baking sheet. Using the oil-and-water mixture to keep your hands moist, roll each scoop of batter into a ball, handling them as gently as possible.
Return the chicken stock to a clean pot and heat to a simmer. Lower the matzoh balls as gently as possible into the broth and cook over medium heat, turning the matzoh balls a few times, until they are plump and cooked through, about 25 minutes.
Stir the shredded chicken into the soup and cook just until the meat is warmed through, about 2 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, with garnishes on the side for people to add as preferred.
1 cup honey
1 shallot, minced
3 celery stalks, minced
2 honeycrisp apples, peeled and diced
1 asian pear, diced
2 teaspoons fresh oregano, chopped (about 2 sprigs)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice, separated (about 3 medium oranges)
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon
fresh horseradish, grated
In a medium saucepan over low heat, gently warm the honey until it begins to bubble, about 5 minutes.
Add shallots and celery, stirring for one minute until well incorporated. Add vinegar and stir to combine.
Add apples and pears and reduce heat to very low stirring constantly and making sure the mixture does not get too hot. During this time, the fruit will release water. Continue to stir until the water is completely reduced/evaporated about 45-60 minutes. It is important to watch closely and stir often to keep the sugar from burning.
When the water has completely disappeared and the mixture is dark and caramelized, add ¾ cup of orange juice and reduce again, mixing and smashing the fruit, about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in remaining ¼ cup orange juice, chopped oregano and 1 tablespoon of fresh horseradish.
Transfer to small serving bowl. Garnish with 1 teaspoon fresh horseradish. Serve immediately.