Springtime Gefilte Fish for the Seder
When I speak with people about healthy Jewish cooking, it's easy to emphasize Sephardi specialties. After all, they are kosher dishes from the healthy Mediterranean diet. But there are plenty of Ashkenazi dishes that are wholesome too, including many of the old-fashioned standbys.
Gefilte fish is a prime example. Made simply of ground fish and eggs or egg whites, it has plenty of valuable nutrients and is low in fat. Besides, since it's served cold and made ahead, it's very convenient for the Seder menu.
Gefilte fish might seem boring to some, but it's easy to liven it up. Make it with salmon, and you get not only a tasty, colorful appetizer but you insert some heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids into your menu.
Author Jayne Cohen finds gefilte fish so inspiring that she wrote The Gefilte Variations cookbook. She flavors one version of gefilte fish with saffron, and poaches another in fennel-wine broth. Based on a Chinese technique for steaming dumplings, she also makes gefilte fish steamed between cabbage leaves, and serves it with dill-horseradish mayonnaise.
To turn gefilte fish into a springtime starter, perfect for the Seder, I use mini salmon gefilte fish balls to embellish a lively salad. The pale orange fish balls are beautiful and delicious when set on bed of tender baby greens and, to further set the springtime tone, I garnish the salad with lightly cooked fresh asparagus.
SPRINGTIME GREEN SALAD WITH GEFILTE FISH BALLS, ASPARAGUS AND CHINESE PEAS
This recipe is inspired by Hawaiian salads made with Japanese fish cakes called kamaboko; in my home we call these delicately flavored steamed fish cakes "Japanese gefilte fish." In Hawaii this specialty is popular in pasta salads. We've also had it in Japanese soups and as a garnish for Filipino rice noodles. I like to use gefilte fish this way too.
For the following salad I use homemade gefilte fish matched with baby greens and spring vegetables. Shaping the gefilte fish in small balls as in the recipe below makes them cook faster. When the weather is warm and I want a quick lunch, I sometimes use slices of prepared gefilte fish (from a jar or frozen) to garnish a bowl of green salad. Use any gefilte fish you like.
Generally I like to dress this salad with an Asian-style vinaigrette flavored with rice vinegar, sesame oil and a bit of soy sauce but for Pessah, depending on your family's traditions, you may prefer to use wine vinegar and olive oil instead. Serve horseradish on the side for anyone who wants a dab of this traditional accompaniment on the gefilte fish. If your family doesn't eat peas on Pessah, double the asparagus.
SALMON GEFILTE FISH BALLS
450 gr. salmon fillets, free of skin and
any small bones, cut in pieces
1 large egg
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3⁄4 tsp. salt
1⁄4 tsp. ground pepper
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
11⁄2 Tbsp matza meal
3 cups Quick Fish Stock (see recipe
below) or vegetable broth
GREENS, COOKED VEGETABLES AND DRESSING
180 gr. to 225 gr. thin asparagus, ends
trimmed, spears cut in two pieces
110 gr. to 180 gr. snow peas (Chinese
peas), ends removed (optional)
1 Tbsp. wine vinegar (or rice vinegar),
or more to taste
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil, or more to taste (or
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil and 1 Tbsp.
toasted sesame oil)
4 to 6 cups mixed baby greens, rinsed
1 green onion, chopped
For salmon gefilte fish balls: Grind salmon in a food processor until very fine. Add egg, chopped onion and measured salt and pepper and process to blend. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in dill and matza meal.
Combine stock and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Taste broth and add salt if needed. With moistened hands, shape fish mixture in balls, using about 2 tablespoons mixture for each. Carefully drop fish balls into simmering stock. If necessary add enough hot water to barely cover them, pouring it carefully near edge of pan, not over fish balls. Return to a simmer, cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Let fish balls cool in their broth.
To make salad: Add asparagus to a saucepan of boiling salted water and cook uncovered over high heat for 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Remove with a slotted spoon, rinse and drain. Return liquid to a boil. Add peas and boil uncovered for 1 minute or until crisp tender. Remove with a slotted spoon, rinse and drain. Pat peas and asparagus dry.
For the dressing, whisk vinegar with salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk in oil.
To serve, cut each gefilte fish ball in half. Put greens in a shallow serving bowl. Add green onion, half the asparagus and half the Chinese peas. Add dressing and toss lightly. Taste, adjust seasoning, and add more oil or vinegar if needed. Top with remaining asparagus, peas and gefilte fish.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
QUICK FISH STOCK
450 gr. to 500 gr. fish heads, tails and
1 liter water
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of fresh thyme or 1⁄2 tsp. dried
6 parsley stems (optional)
1 onion, sliced (optional)
Rinse fish heads and bones thoroughly and put them in a medium saucepan. Add water, bay leaf, thyme and parsley. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Strain stock. Cool promptly, and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.
Makes about 31⁄2 cups.
Faye Levy's new book, just published in March, is Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home: 200 Recipes for Eating Well on Holidays and Every Day