A Recipe for Passover Tranquility

Cookbook author SUSIE FISHBEIN prescribes her own system to control holiday mayhem and offers some new takes on traditional recipes

by Susie Fishbein

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SusieFishbein

If you’re cooking for one or two you can get away with it. But if you are doing something like I do each year – cooking for 20 or more – you can’t afford the chaos and stress that are bound to result from preparing a Passover dinner. I was taught early on to “plan my work and then work my plan.” I had to do that when earning my Master of Science degree, and I apply it when I prepare for a truly festive experience like Pesach. Growing up, Passover was approached as one would orchestrate a symphony or choreograph a dance. Everyone knew what to do and when. And when my cousins  arrived a few hours before the seder to help, the last one in from the car had to rub out the maror! I wonder if one of the reasons so many people today go away for Passover is the stress on those who shoulder the bulk of the work.

The Secret Is in the Lists

There’s no secret to being prepared. I arrange my Passover preparation by a number of key lists. When I follow them, I have enough energy to participate in the seder without needing toothpicks to keep my eyes open somewhere in the middle of Maggid.

You’ll think it strange perhaps, but over the years I’ve found that the best time to prepare for next Passover is at the end of the last one. Obviously at some point, I started with the first lists. My list system has reduced my preparation time and provides peace of mind by knowing what has to be done when. I can handle last minute surprises much more easily by being ready well in advance.

So let’s first divide the areas where lists are needed. Besides the kashering of your kitchen (which I start early, despite some temporary inconvenience to the chametz lovers in my home), you have to know your major categories. For me, it’s menus, products and storage. Menus determine what food items and quantities I’ll need; products means everything from tableware to aluminum pans to napkins to cleaning products to flowers. Storage is critical because I organize what I need according to when it will be needed. I even plan what meals and snacks we’ll pack for mid-week trips.

I use a notebook with meal plans, lists for each meal from the cooking preparation to the table settings, and where those items are stored. Now that my kids are older I even note who gets assigned what tasks, what they’ll need, and when it needs to be done. It may sound like a lot of work but believe me, it saves time, nerves and money. Food is expensive these days and Passover food all the more so.

How Do I Start?

Passover is very calendar-driven, so timing is critical. But it’s also fairly straightforward. Start with your menus. The 80-20 rule really applies here: 20 percent of your meals (i.e. the first days) will take up 80 percent of your time. After the seder meals, I have a good idea of what will be left over to use over the next few meals or to save for the last days. Once you know your menus, plan your quantities based on the number of guests, and what you’ll need to prepare and store. I pay attention to what people enjoyed at previous meals and revise accordingly. The same applies to products. Not all Passover ketchups taste the same, for example. I also know that every Passover I’m going to need about 96 eggs and at least eight large bottles of grape juice. These are details that you won’t remember from year to year. Write them down  and save multiple trips to the grocery store.

It’s helpful to organize your freezer according to the sequence in which the meal will be prepared. I know someone who labels each item by day and meal. Then she stacks items in the freezer in the order they’ll be needed. Little things like that make a huge difference.

So the progression in developing lists is menus ? guests ? quantities ? supplies ?storage ?preparations. And note  what worked and what flopped. And, yes, I’ve had flops!

Setting the table a week early is psychologically important to me. And knowing how each subsequent meal will be set and who is helping is equally calming. I avoid the rush on purchasing non-food items. I generally have all that done two weeks beforehand.

How to Stay Tranquil on Seder Nights

A few years ago, I started using four-section bento boxes at each person’s place to make it more comfortable for washing  and managing karpas (greens), maror (bitter herbs) and charoset. I describe them in detail in Passover by Design. I also devised a fun way to have everyone share in the tasks. I place cards in a fish bowl – one for each person at the table – with simple jobs like “serve the soup,” “clear the first course,” or “wash the wine glasses.” Everyone picks their chore.

For us, Judaism is a home-based business. The teachings that are transmitted from parents to children are anchored in a  home context. Passover is an annual event in which our collective memory is reinforced between the generations. It’s our own homemade celebration of liberation. To see the contentment on my kids’ faces as I escort them to bed half-asleep is worth all the effort.

Matzah_Balls

Tri-color Gefilte Fish

This easy spin on traditional gefilte fish has three different colored layers for a sophisticated look. It takes only 5 minutes to prepare. The recipe uses a 9-inch springform pan with a removable bottom. If using a larger pan you may need to use 1-2 loaves per layer. Playing with the amounts won’t affect the cooking method but you may need to increase the cooking time by 10-15 minutes. nonstick cooking spray

Ingredients

  • 2 (22-ounce) loaves plain gefilte fish, defrosted in wrapper
  • 1 (22-ounce) loaf salmon gefilte fish, defrosted in wrapper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 lemon
  • 6 cucumbers for horseradish wells, plus a long cucumber for optional top garnish
  • prepared red horseradish
  • mayonnaise
  • yellow pepper, seeded, chopped into tiny dice, for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray. Give it a heavy, even coat. Open each gefilte fish wrapper.
  3. Place one plain loaf into a medium bowl. Add dill and juice from lemon. Mix thoroughly so the dill is dispersed evenly. Set aside.
  4. Using a thin spatula, spread the remaining plain gefilte fish loaf into an even layer in the bottom of the springform pan. Top with an even layer of the salmon. On top of the salmon, spread an even layer of the lemon-dill fish mixture.
  5. Cover the pan with foil. Bake for 1 hour. If the fish does not look set in the center, remove the foil and bake 5 minutes longer.
  6. Let cool and refrigerate overnight. Can be made a few days in advance. As an optional garnish, slice a long unpeeled cucumber into paper-thin slices. Lay the slices in concentric circles around the top of the fish.
  7. Release the sides of the pan. Cut into wedges, like a pie. Trim any brown edges.
  8. Cut the cucumbers into 2- to 3-inch pieces. Hollow out the centers. Mix a few tablespoons of prepared horseradish with a little mayonnaise to make a pretty pink sauce. Fill cucumber wells.
  9. Serve a slice of fish on a piece of leafy lettuce with a cucumber well. You can decorate each plate with tiny squares  of yellow pepper.

Matzah Balls

Here are some variations on traditional matzah balls. Each recipe makes 6 large balls. For each, bring a pot of water or chicken stock to a boil. Wet your hands with cold water. Manipulating as little as possible, scoop out a ping pong-ball size of the mixture, adding more matzah meal as needed. Form into a ball with your fingertips, using no real pressure. Bring the water to a simmer. Drop the balls into the water. Cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes.

Spinach Matzah Balls

Due to the high water content of fresh spinach, these balls may be a little hard to roll. If this occurs, add some extra matzah ball mix or matzah meal, one teaspoon at a time, until the batter can be rolled into balls. You want to use as little extra matzah meal as possible so that the balls remain light and fluffy.

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggs, plus 1 egg white
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
  • 1 cup matzah ball mix (usually both bags out of a box)

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl whisk the eggs and the oil.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process the spinach until puréed.
  3. Puree spinach on a towel over a colander and squeeze out all the water.
  4. Add the spinach purée into the egg mixture. Whisk to incorporate.
  5. Sprinkle in 1 cup (2 bags) of the matzah ball mix. Stir with a fork, mixing as little as possible. Don’t overwork it.  Chill in freezer for 20 minutes.

Tomato Matzah Balls

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggs, plus 1 egg white
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/1-3/4 cup matzah ball mix (usually 1-1 1/2 bags out of a box)

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl whisk the eggs and the oil. Add the tomato paste. Whisk to incorporate fully.
  2. Sprinkle in 1/2 cup (1 bag) of the matzah ball mix. Stir with a fork, mixing as little as possible. Don’t overwork it. Chill in refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Turmeric Matzo Balls

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggs, plus 1 egg white
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 -3/4 cup matzah ball mix (usually 1-11/2 bags out of a box)

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl whisk the eggs and the oil.
  2. Add the turmeric into the egg mixture. Whisk to incorporate to an even yellow color.
  3. Sprinkle in 1/2 cup (1 bag) of the matzah ball mix. Stir with a fork, mixing as little as possible. Don’t overwork it. Chill in refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Recipes are from Passover by Design by Susie Fishbein.

Susie Fishbein is the author of the Kosher by Design series of cookbooks. Her latest, Cooking Coach, was released in the fall of 2012.