Every Passover, I add a little extra discussion to the seder table by serving a few dishes based on international Jewish foodways. This year I’m spicing up my gefilte fish (and stuffing it in peppers) and serving a matzah casserole with bitter greens and a lemon-egg sauce.
Many Ashkenazi Jews who settled in Mexico (and in Central and South America) add some spice to traditional Eastern European foods, which inspired me to add salsa to gefilte fish. Since the word gefilte actually means stuffed or filled, I decided to stuff the fish into small, sweet peppers. Serve this dish as you would regular gefilte fish, or use as an appetizer as “gefilte fish poppers.”
Mina is the name for a dish traditional to Sephardic seders: a layered matzah casserole. My recipe below is vegetarian, stuffed with bitter greens tamed by Swiss chard and chopped fennel. I used dandelion greens (believed by some to be the original bitter herbs). Leeks are a Sephardic Passover food and fennel is an Italian-Jewish seder choice. Shumar (fennel in Hebrew) is said to sound similar to the phrase in Exodus for Pesach night, leil shimurim (the night of watching, or watchfulness). The sauce is adapted from traditional Passover recipes used by Greek Jews.
Each recipe also has a variation. For the mina, add sliced hard boiled eggs and chopped olives to make it a vegetarian entree rather than a side dish. For the gefilte fish, try stuffing in poblano peppers for an even spicer dish.
Passover begins on the night of April 8 this year.
Mina with Bitter Greens and Lemon-Egg Sauce
Serves 10 to 12 (see note below) or 4 to 6 as a side dish
- ¼ cup olive oil, divided, plus extra for pan
- 2 cups chopped onions
- 2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts
- 3 Tbs. finely chopped garlic, divided
- 3 tsp. paprika, divided
- ½ tsp. salt, divided
- ¼ tsp. ground black pepper, divided
- 1 Tbs. plus 2 Tbs. minced fresh fennel fronds (leaves) or parsley
- 1 tsp. plus 2 Tbs. minced grated lemon zest
- 2 cups chopped fennel bulb
- 8 cups chopped Swiss chard
- 4 cups chopped dandelion or other bitter greens (see note)
- ¼ tsp. sugar, or as needed
- lemon-egg sauce (see recipe below)
- ½ cup warm vegetable stock or water
- 3 sheets plain matzah
Heat half the oil in a 12-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté onions and leeks until softened. Add 1 Tbs. garlic, sauté until golden. Stir in 1 tsp. paprika, half the salt and pepper, 1 Tbs. minced fennel fronds (or parsley) and 1 tsp. lemon zest. Add chopped fennel bulb; sauté until fennel is tender. Remove to large bowl. Do not wash the pan.
Add 2 Tbs. oil to pan, sauté 1 tsp. garlic until golden. Stir in 1 tsp. paprika and remaining salt and pepper. Add chard and dandelion greens. Sauté until wilted. Taste. If bitter, stir in sugar, adding more as needed. Combine greens with fennel. Taste. Adjust seasonings.
Make lemon-egg sauce (see below).
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Oil 8-by-8-inch baking dish. Place heated stock in rimmed dish large enough to fit matzah. Quickly dip both sides of one matzah so the sheet begins to soften. Place flat in baking dish. Top with half of the vegetables. Spoon a quarter of the lemon sauce over vegetables. Dip a second sheet of matzah in stock, place on top. Spread remaining vegetables on top, spoon another fourth of sauce on top. Dip remaining matzah. Place on top. Cover with another fourth of sauce, sprinkle with remaining paprika. Lightly cover with foil. Bake 25 minutes, remove foil and bake about 20 minutes until sauce is bubbly and top matzah is crisped. Serve hot, warm or room temperature. Just before serving, drizzle with remaining sauce (reheated if necessary) and sprinkle with remaining garlic, fennel fronds and lemon zest.
Lemon-egg sauce: Stir together until well combined (or process until smooth in blender) 4 large, beaten eggs; 1 tsp. lemon zest; 1½ cups fresh lemon juice; 2 Tbs. matzah cake meal; and ¼ tsp. salt. Place in pot and whisk in 2 cups room-temperature vegetable stock or water. Simmer over low to medium-low heat (do not boil), whisking almost constantly until reduced by half. Taste. Add salt if needed. Strain to remove any bits of cooked egg.
As a main course: Hard boil 6 large eggs. Once cool, thinly slice into rounds. Chop ½ cup pitted, drained olives (green, Kalamata or pimento-stuffed) into ¼-inch pieces. After the first batch of greens is spread on top of the matzah, arrange half the egg slices on top in a single layer. Top with egg lemon sauce as directed. Scatter half of the chopped olives on top of the sauce, then cover with a second matzah. Repeat. Continue as directed in recipe.
Notes: If desired, replace bitter greens with additional chard. To serve 10 to 12 people, use 9-by-14-inch pan. Double filling and sauce (make in batches). Use 8 to 10 matzahs. For each layer, place two side by side and use pieces of others to fill gaps.
Spicy Gefilte Fish Baked in Mini Peppers
- ¼ and ½ cup Passover salsa (see recipe below)
- 2 1-lb. bags mini sweet peppers (see note)
- vegetable oil
- 1 lb. rockfish or similar white fish
- 1½ tsp. fresh lemon juice
- 2 large eggs
- 1 medium carrot
- 1 small onion
- 1 large celery stalk
- ¼ cup matzah meal
- 1 tsp. salt, or to taste
- 1 tsp. sugar, or to taste
- ½ tsp. ground black pepper
- ¼ tsp. crumbled, dried oregano leaves
- ¼ tsp. cayenne, optional
- Chopped cilantro or parsley
- Jarred, ground white horseradish, optional
Prepare salsa. Oil a rimmed baking sheet. Choose peppers that are about 2½ to 3½ inches long and lay flat. Leave stems on. Slit peppers horizontally, leaving connected at tip and stem ends. Pull out seeds.
Place fish, lemon juice and eggs in food processor. Process until puréed. Scrape into large bowl. Process carrot, onion and celery in food processor (no need to clean the work bowl) until minced but not puréed. Combine in bowl with fish and ¼ cup salsa. Sprinkle with matzah meal, salt, sugar, black pepper, oregano cayenne. Mix thoroughly. Taste a spoonful of batter. Add salt, cayenne and sugar, as needed.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Firmly pack fish into peppers, mounding an inch above top. Place on prepared sheet, bake 25 to 30 minutes until the peppers are tender and filling is firm and lightly browned. Serve hot, warm or room temperature, topped with cilantro and remaining salsa. Pass horseradish if desired.
Passover salsa: Combine ¾ cup fresh diced tomatoes, ½ Tbs. minced garlic, 2 Tbs. finely chopped garlic, 1 Tbs. minced jalapeño (or to taste; remove seeds for milder flavor) and 2 Tbs. finely chopped cilantro or parsley. Mix. Add ⅛ tsp. salt and 1½ Tbs. fresh lemon juice. Stir well. Use ¾ cup for recipe. Refrigerate remainder and reserve for another use.
Notes: This recipe doubles very easily. Bags of mini sweet peppers are available in the produce section at your supermarket. You can substitute small red, yellow and/or orange bell peppers, if desired. Cut in half top to bottom, lay flat and stuff.
Variation: Choose about 1½ to 2 lbs. of poblano peppers that will lay relatively flat on the baking sheet. (For individual servings, choose the smallest possible or use larger peppers and serve in slices.) Prep peppers as above. Make the gefilte fish stuffing and fill peppers as directed above. Bake about 30 to 40 minutes (timing will vary depending on size, see cooking directions as above). Serve whole hot, warm or room temperature. If slicing, allow larger stuffed peppers to cool slightly then cut into rounds or sections before serving. Poblano peppers have a stronger chili taste and will be spicier than the sweet mini or bell peppers. Garnish as above and/or top with small chunks of fresh avocado.