3 modern Passover recipes: flavor-packed gefilte fish, lamb and garlicky sauce

Southern Kitchen

The following recipes were reprinted with permission from "52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen," by Faith Kramer, The Collective Book Studio, Dec. 2021. 

Passover, the Jewish holiday commemorating the Israelites' liberation from slavery in Egypt, begins April 15. During the eight-day holiday, food traditions include the avoidance of leavened grain, including bread and grain-based alcohol. 

Faith Kramer, who developed these recipes, is a food writer concentrating on the foodways, history, and customs of the Jewish diaspora.

Gefilte fish with tomato topping.

Gefilte fish with smashed tomatoes

I grew up with bland gefilte fish out of jars, which I mostly appreciated as a vehicle for horseradish.

This baked version is packed with flavors I associate with North African and Sephardic food and comes with a colorful garnish of cooked tomatoes and peppers, but you can just top it with horseradish (or do as I do and use both).

I usually serve it as a starter or first course, but you can double the portion size for a main dish.

For the best taste, use the freshest fish you can find. For a more Eastern European version, leave out the jalapeño, cumin, and turmeric. If you don’t have a food processor, finely grate the onions and carrots and mince the vegetables and fish.

This makes a great starter for Passover and other Jewish holidays. For some Jews, certain foods, including cumin, are considered kitniyot, foods that not prohibited by the Torah but are not allowed at Passover. If that's the case for you, simply omit the cumin in this recipe during the holiday.

Makes 12 appetizer portions

Ingredients

For the topping

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups thinly sliced onions, cut in half

2 to 3 tablespoons thinly sliced garlic

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 to 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper or paprika

2 cups (1/2-by 1-inch) yellow and/or red bell pepper pieces

2 cups small cherry or grape tomatoes

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon sugar, optional

For the gefilte fish

Vegetable oil for the baking pan

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

3 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 large carrot, roughly chopped

1 medium red bell pepper, quartered

1 small jalapeño or serrano chile, optional

1 large celery stalk, roughly chopped

1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley

Zest and juice of 1 medium lemon

2 pounds boneless skinless mild white fish fillets

1 teaspoon salt

1 to 2 teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 large eggs, beaten

For serving

2 to 3 cups arugula, watercress, or other greens

12 olives, for garnish

12 lemon wedges

Instructions

To make the topping: In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the salt, black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne (use up to 1 teaspoon if you like it spicier), and the bell peppers and sauté until softened, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and sauté for a few minutes. Using a spatula, crush the tomatoes until they break apart. Continue to sauté until they are very soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and sauté until the liquid has mostly evaporated. Taste and add more salt, cayenne, lemon juice, and sugar, if desired. Set aside.

To make the gefilte fish: Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9-by-12-inch baking pan with vegetable oil. Combine the onion, garlic, carrot, bell pepper, jalapeño (if using), celery, parsley, lemon zest, and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until finely chopped. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Pat dry the fish and cut it into chunks. Place it in the food processor and process until it forms a coarse paste. You may need to work in batches. Transfer the fish to the bowl with the vegetables.

Add the salt, 1 teaspoon of sugar (use 2 teaspoons of sugar if you prefer it sweeter), cumin, paprika, oregano, turmeric, and black pepper and stir until well mixed. Add the eggs and stir until completely combined. Add the fish mixture to the prepared baking pan, spreading it out and smoothing the top. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until the fish is firm to the touch and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Let cool to slightly warm or room temperature (liquid on top will be reabsorbed), 30 to 45 minutes. Cut with a knife into 12 ovals or squares, or use a 2- to 3-inch cookie cutter to cut into rounds.

To serve: Place the greens on a large serving platter. Arrange the gefilte fish over the greens and garnish each piece with a spoonful of the tomato topping and an olive with lemon wedges on the side.

Make it in advance: The gefilte fish and sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead and stored separately. Let the fish cool in the baking pan, cover with aluminum foil, and refrigerate.

Traditions:6 Seder plates for your next Passover meal

Lamb with bitter herb salad.

Grilled lamb chops with bitter herb salad

This recipe is inspired by the Passover customs of the Karaite Jews, a branch of Judaism founded in the eighth century that traditionally follows the Torah and not the rabbinic interpretations. Many of the Karaites lived in Egypt for centuries but were forced to leave after the wars with Israel and most now live in the United States.

The Karaites regard Shabbat as a day of joy and start Friday night prayers earlier to extend the day. In Egypt, they would enjoy a glass of anise-flavored liquor with their Shabbat lunch. As the day ended, they would say blessings over wine and branches of myrtle or rue and greet each other in Arabic (“May your week be green”) or in Hebrew (“May you have a good week”). Another Karaite Seder custom is to eat a “salad” of bitter herbs, which refers to the different greens used in the Seder service to symbolically represent the harshness of slavery under the Egyptians.

Serves 6

Ingredients

For the lamb

3 pounds bone-in lamb rib or shoulder chops

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

¼ cup olive oil

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ cup minced fresh mint

2 teaspoons minced garlic

For the bitter herbs salad

¾ cup (1-inch pieces) chopped fennel

2 tablespoons minced fennel fronds

1 cup (1-inch pieces) endive

2 cups (1-inch pieces) romaine lettuce

2 cups (1-inch pieces) chopped red leaf lettuce

1 cup (1-inch pieces) frisée or arugula

½ cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

½ cup minced fresh dill

About 1/2 cup Whole Lemon Dressing, plus more if desired

3 sheets matzo broken into 1-inch pieces

For serving

¼ cup garlic sauce or pomegranate molasses, optional

¼ cup chopped fresh mint or flat-leaf parsley

Instructions

To make the lamb: Trim any excess fat from the lamb chops. In a small bowl, mix together the lemon juice, olive oil, cinnamon, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, mint and garlic. Rub the mixture all over the lamb, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 1 day. Bring the lamb to room temperature before grilling.

Prepare a grill for medium-high to high heat. Grill the lamb chops, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes per side, or until cooked to the desired doneness. Lamb will keep cooking for several minutes after being pulled from the grill, so it’s best

to slightly undercook. Transfer the lamb to a plate and cover with aluminum foil.

To make the bitter herb salad: In a large bowl, mix together the fennel, fennel fronds, endive, romaine lettuce, red leaf lettuce, frisée, parsley, and dill.

Just before serving, shake up the dressing, pour it over the salad, and toss until evenly coated. Add more dressing if desired. Add the matzo pieces and toss again.

To serve: Transfer the lamb to individual plates and drizzle with Garlic Sauce (if using). Garnish with fresh mint. Serve with the bitter herbs salad on the side.

Garlic Sauce

This lemony garlic sauce is inspired by toum, a creamy Lebanese staple. It’s definitely for garlic lovers. It makes a nice non-dairy alternative for a creamy garnish or even an aioli-style dip for crudites.

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients

1/4 cup peeled garlic cloves

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions

In a blender, combine the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and purée on high speed until smooth. The sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Bring to room temperature before using.