Dreaming of a gorgeous, traditional seder
Uncertainty about what Pesach entertaining holds for us this year has detracted from my normal plan-400-weeks-in-advance personality type. Last year, it was pretty much “let’s all wear pyjamas to the seder, and sit in the kitchen”. However, this year, there is a longing within me for a gorgeous, traditional seder with a tablescape to match. Perhaps it’s this nostalgia which has resulted in me hauling out all my bobbas’ recipes.
It’s important to remember that there were no metric measurements in those days, so use your intuition. Taste for seasoning, and add extra matzo meal to the gremzlach if they feel too soft.
Gremzlach to eat with your chicken soup
I mince the meat from my soup to use in the gremzlach. Mincemeat is a good second choice. Ask your butcher to mince round bolo. It works particularly well. These freeze well, and are lovely to keep for an emergency Pesach meal.
Ingredients for the meat
½ onion chopped
1 carrot chopped
3 Tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
Ingredients for the potato crust
15 potatoes roughly quartered.
1 onion cut in quarters
1 packet of Rakusen’s matzo meal (about 375g)
½ tub schmaltz
1 Tbsp salt
½ tsp white pepper
6 jumbo eggs
Soften the chopped onion and carrot in the oil until it is translucent. Add the mincemeat and brown gently. Add the salt and pepper and taste for seasoning. Set aside to cool.
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Line three quarter baking sheets with baking paper, and grease lightly with sunflower oil. In a large bowl, place your lightly beaten eggs, matzo meal, schmaltz, salt, and pepper. Working quickly, whizz your potato and onion in the food processor until chopped. Do this in batches. Transfer the mixture to a strainer and over a basin, squeeze the water out of the potatoes. Tip the squished potatoes into the waiting mixture. Continue until all the potatoes have been added to the mixture. Mix well, and taste your potato batter for firmness and saltiness. Be brave, it’s just raw potato and egg! You will probably need to add extra matzo meal in small increments.
With wet hands, place about half a cup of the mixture in the palm of your hands and flatten to about 2cm thick. Place a heaped teaspoon of your meat in the centre, and wrap the potato around the meat. Place on the waiting baking sheet and continue.
Bake for 40 minutes until golden, flipping over when the bottoms are brown.
Potato and leek kugel
It’s important to read the entire recipe first as some of the ingredients get divided. You may want to do this before starting. Double it if you want it to fit your rectangular casserole dishes.
9 potatoes peeled (2 kg)
3 medium leeks (cut off dark green part) / ½ packet checked leeks from Freshfellas
7 Tbsp oil
2 jumbo eggs
1 Tbsp fresh thyme if you like it (we didn’t)
¼ tsp pepper
1 clove garlic crushed
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, and place the tablespoons of oil in your casserole dish.
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large pan. Add the leeks, and season with a pinch of salt and a quarter teaspoon of pepper. When the leeks are soft, add the crushed clove of garlic. Remove from the heat, and allow to cool.
Place the casserole dish in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile whizz seven of the potatoes and the one onion in the food processor. Squeeze the water out in a strainer. Stir in the leeks, garlic, eggs, one tablespoon oil, thyme, one teaspoon salt, and the pepper.
Thinly slice the remaining two potatoes and toss with the remaining one tablespoon oil, pinch of salt, and quarter teaspoon pepper.
Carefully remove the casserole from the oven and transfer the potato-onion mixture to the dish. Layer the potato slices on top overlapping. Bake for one hour, and then turn your oven to grill and grill the top for a minute or two, watching carefully.
Chocolate pecan tart with lemon curd topping
The combination of chocolate, lemon, and berries is amazing! And, you get to use up the left-over egg yolks. Don’t forget to add the berries for garnish to your ingredient list.
2¾ cups pecans
3 cups icing sugar
½ cup plus 3 Tbsp cocoa
½ tsp kosher salt (not normal salt)
4 large egg whites (at room temperature)
1 Tbsp vanilla
Heat oven to 180 degrees. Toast the pecans for nine minutes, and then roughly chop.
Lower the temperature to 175 degrees, and line a springform tin with baking paper.
Whisk the sugar, cocoa, and salt followed by the chopped nuts. Increase the speed of the mixer and add the egg whites and vanilla. Just beat long enough to moisten the dough. These are not meringues.
Spoon into the tin, and leave to stand for 30 minutes. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is glossy and lightly cracked. Cool and store. These also work magnificently as biscuits, just don’t bake as long.
Double the quantity as leftovers are wonderful to have in the fridge. It tastes wonderful with chocolate cake, meringues, or even on its own.
3 egg yolks
Juice and rind of 2 lemons
1 cup of sugar
Pinch of salt
2 Tbsp potato flour
1½ cups of boiling water
Mix the water, sugar, and potato flour. Beat the egg yolks with the lemon juice and lemon rind. Very slowly, add the water mixture to the yolks so as not to curdle them. Transfer the mixture to a pot and cook on the stove until it thickens. Cool in the fridge.
Place the biscuit base on a cake stand. Just before serving, top it with the lemon curd, mixed berries, and grated chocolate. You could do a double layer to add grandeur.
Mother nature’s gifts
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said, “The name of our parsha seems to embody a paradox. It’s called ‘Chayei Sarah’ [The Life of Sarah], but it begins with the death of Sarah. What’s more, it records the death of Abraham. Why is a parsha about death called life? The answer, it seems, is that death and how we face it is a commentary on life and how we live it.”
Abraham knew that everything that happened to him, even the bad things, were part of the journey which G-d had sent him and Sarah on, and he had the faith to walk through the valley of the shadow of death fearing no evil, knowing that G-d was with him.
I see and feel profound meaning in this paradox. Sarah’s social status – and its impact on the future of her family and people – was so great, it only increased after her passing.
Sarah, our mother, our matriarch, the mother of Klal Yisrael (the Jewish people), was quite the “modern” woman. She led her life with clear vision and purpose. She had the courage to follow her convictions, no matter how progressive they were at the time. She was a role model for women of her era, as well as becoming a role model for the modern woman of the 21st century.
We can’t forget that we live in a world of duality, of light and dark, hot and cold, male and female. Sarah knew that according to well-established laws, neither side of that duality was more important than the other. In fact, they were really different degrees of the same thing – and in truth, light couldn’t exist without darkness, neither could men exist without women – and vice versa.
We often get so caught up in our own lives that we seldom pay attention to the power of mother nature. Let’s take a simple example of one mistakenly cutting oneself while preparing dinner for the family. The wound bleeds. Perhaps we run some water over it, or apply some pressure, and shortly thereafter, we leave it alone. What does mother nature do? She moves according to well-established laws, laws that are firmly in the direction of healing, and the wound begins to heal on its own. It’s only when we interfere with mother nature that things tend to go wrong. Left to her own devices, we are generally in good hands.
We should do all that we can to uplift those around us to see the same light we see, and then allow mother nature (through the womb of time) to do what she does best. Let’s not be consumed by trying to sweep the darkness out of the dark room. Let’s be like Sarah, and turn our attention to the light, reach out, and switch it on. We must know that we have received a gift from our ancestors, and pass those gifts down, l’dor vador (from generation to generation) through the generations of mothers following Sarah.
Our sages teach of the obligation of every Jew to ask, “When will my actions reach those of our illustrious patriarchs and matriarchs?” We see the prototype of kindness at the beginning of this week’s Torah reading, when Abraham and Sarah display remarkable hospitality towards three strangers travelling through the desert. Abraham bows down to each of them, and presents a more elaborate banquet than Bill Gates served this week at his daughter’s wedding – each guest received his own tongue. Why was this necessary? One tongue would have been sufficient. Why does Abraham go to such lengths to make each of the guests feel like a king? What motivated Abraham’s behaviour?
The Midrash describes Abraham’s meeting with Sheim, the son of Noach. Abraham asks Sheim, “What did you and your family do for the year you were in the Ark?” Sheim answers, “We were all involved with the kindness of feeding the animals 24/7”. Abraham realised that the foundation of the new world G-d was starting was kindness – olam chesed yibaneh (the world is built on kindness). Hashem’s training for the people who would build this new world was constant acts of kindness.
Abraham reasoned that if Hashem valued the kindness done to animals in the Ark, how much more so would he value it when the kindness was done to human beings who are created betzelem elokim (with a spark of the divine). Avraham clearly saw the fingerprints of the creator in the world. He saw the spark of Hashem in himself, and he was then able to see the spark of Hashem in others. Only those who recognise their own G-dly soul will recognise it in the human beings around them. Avraham and Sarah’s kindness wasn’t simply to help those less fortunate than themselves, they saw the divine spark in every human being, and they treated their guests like royalty, impressing upon them their own self-worth and uniqueness. Their kindness was designed to uplift people, to raise them up to recognise their inner greatness.
This is different to how most of us see others. We usually have zero tolerance for those who are slightly different to us in any way. We need to follow the example of our patriarchs and matriarchs in doing true acts of kindness by seeing G-d’s presence in the world, identifying the divine spark in ourselves, and recognising it in others.
In the brave steps of Abraham
In this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, we read about the first Jew, Avraham, who resisted the tide of paganism, idolatry, and immorality. Society had moved away from monotheism and Avraham’s beliefs were ridiculed. However, Avraham stayed the course and in spite of great personal risk and at the cost of ostracism from his family, he spread the belief in one G-d.
The portion opens with G-d giving Avraham a direct command to travel out of his homeland and away from his family in order to spread his newfound message. G-d’s command to Avraham in this verse can additionally be seen as a command to us to leave the comfort of our insular lives and venture out to the world at large to transform it into a G-dly place.
While we may be satisfied by staying within the safe confines of the Judaism that we have grown up with, it’s no recipe for growth. G-d therefore tells us that if we enter the real world, our full inner potential will be realised, and our true, best selves will come to the fore.
Fighting the prevailing attitudes of the day has never been easy, but as Jews, we can be reassured that our forefathers have travelled this path before us. The Midrash teaches that “the actions of the fathers are a signpost for the children”. Another translation of the word siman or “signpost” is “empowerment”, and the Midrash teaches us that by risking their lives to spread the belief in one G-d, our forefathers made it easier for us to follow their example.
At this time of year, when we have hopefully been inspired by a month of festivals and are thinking about moving forward in our Judaism, we can be confident that we are following the advice of tried and tested authorities all the way back to Avraham.
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