Guestblogging on “Making a Seder”

I’m making a debut appearance as a guestblogger over on the wonderful Bakerina‘s blog with this entry:

I’m not, nor have been, Jewish, but I find the Pesach holiday very meaningful. Pesach is the commemoration of the Exodus story and the creation of the Jewish people, but it can also be a universal story of enslavement and freedom. It has had particular resonance for me as a gay man.

For many years, when I was living in Philadelphia, I was privileged to be a part of the seders made by my friend Barbara and her housemates. After moving to Boston, I eventually decided I needed to create my own tradition if I was going to be able to depend upon having a seder. So last year I made a seder all on my own for the first time. This year I did it again, with a bit more aplomb.

Last night’s menu:

  • Seder standards included two kinds of haroset, one Ashkenazic, one Sephardic, and horseradish cream in addition to prepared horseradish.
  • Gefilte fish
  • Matzoh ball soup
  • Lamb, mushroom, and spinach mina
  • Vegetarian tzimmes
  • Broccoli
  • Macaroons, chocolate, and fruit slices

I don’t follow recipes so much as use them as guideposts. I also don’t measure much, so what follows is really just notes on food.

Haroset:

The Ashkenazic haroset is the familiar (to most Americans who are familiar with it at all) chopped apples, chopped walnuts, honey, cinnamon, and sweet red wine mixture.

The Sephardic haroset I made this year included almonds, dates, dried tart Montmorency cherries, dried apricots, candied ginger, cinnamon, and a dash of sweet red wine all put into the food processor and made into a paste. I served it rolled into little balls.

Gefilte Fish:

No, I didn’t have a carp swimming in my bathtub for a week. I didn’t even buy the standard jars of gefilte fish. I happened across a store that carried little gefilte fish appetizers: small balls about the size of an olive. Perfect for dilettantes!

(I suggest they’re best smothered in horseradish.)

Matzoh Balls:

I just use the Manischewitz mix, but I substitute schmaltz for the vegetable oil called for on the box. I love pulling skin and fat off the chicken pieces, putting them in a little skillet over medium heat, and then watching the savory, clear golden fluid collect. Yum!

I used packaged chicken stock for other preparation, but I wanted to make stock for the soup. Going to the nearest crunchy-granola kind of store, a Whole Oats, I decided it would be smarter to buy a whole fryer than to pick from the limited selection of parts. Not having the world’s sharpest knives, I asked the helpful guy behind the counter to cut it up. After he walked off I thought perhaps I should tell his associate to make sure he didn’t trim anything off and throw it away. When the guy came back he made a comment about having worked at Boston market.

When I got home his comment made more sense. Never was I so glad I was just putting it all into a stockpot! One of the wings was still attached to about a third of a breast; there were no real thigh pieces; there was one bit of boneless, skinless breast meat. Well, live and learn!

Mina:

A mina is a Sephardic layered casserole made with matzoh for Passover. (Think of lasagne or spanakopita.)

I sauted an onion, a bunch of garlic, and some minced parsely in a dollop of olive oil, then added two pounds of ground lamb. When the lamb still had a few pink spots, I put it all in a big mixing bowl. Then I added a touch more olive oil to the frying pan and dumped in a bag of Trader Joe’s frozen “exotic mushroom mix.” I’d never seen this marvel before. They released a lot of liquid, but it eventually cooked off, leaving tender mushrooms and a bit of wonderful-looking gravy. This, too, went into the mixing bowl, with a bag of frozen spinach that had been thawed and squeezed vigorously. After the lamb/mushroom/spinach mixture had cooled, I mixed in five beaten eggs.

The matzoh gets soaked in chicken broth for a few minutes (I used packaged broth), then layered with the filling in a greased and oiled pan. I brushed olive oil onto the top layer of matzoh, and popped it into a 375 oven to heat through.

Tzimmes:

My tzimmes was a big sweet potato, a medium white yam, four large carrots, and a couple of handsful of dried apricots, cut into about 3/4 inch dice. Then I added some minced candied ginger, a dash or two of cinnamon, a bit of cayenne pepper, the juice of one orange, a bit of wine, and a bit of water, and into the 375 oven. (It actually went in before I started assembling the mina.)

Dessert:

The macaroons came from cans (coconut, almond, and “chocolate-flavored”) but were delicious; the chocolate was brought as a gift (similarly delicious but not as surprisingly); and the fruit slices weren’t actually fruit–they were those little jellied candies.

The Haggadah:

Not part of the menu, but the texts and instructions read before and after the meal. I adapted a version I found last week at the Velveteen Rabbi. It’s great, especially the Ballad of the Four Sons, sung to the tune of Clementine–perfect for a bunch of goyim.