Passed down Passover recipes
Janet Sameh of Wilmette made a variation of her Aunt Ruth's Gefilte fish Passover recipe. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 ½ teaspoons white pepper (not black)
2 large sweet onions, sliced
2 teaspoons sugar
1 lemon, sliced
2 teaspoons of salt
3 big carrots or about 16 small carrots
2-3 medium-sized fish loaves
Fill stock pot 1/2 to 3/4 full of water and add all ingredients except fish loaves. Bring to boil. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove plastic from loaves, but leave paper on. Drop fish loaves in broth. Bring broth to boil again. Reduce to medium as soon as it reaches boiling. Leave at medium for a few minutes, then at low for one hour. Let it cool, and roll while still in paper. Unwrap fish roll on plate and let cool. Slice and serve with carrots from broth. Serve with horseradish.
— Janet Sameh
Updated: March 26, 2013 7:48AM
“My aunt always said the secret to her gefilte fish was the lemon in the broth,” Janet Sameh remembers.
“Maybe, or maybe it was just the comfort of tradition. Either way, my family looks forward to it every year.”
Passed down recipes are favorites at Passover.
Sameh remembers how her aunt, Ruth Lifshitz, would grind three types of fish to make the fish cakes. Then she simmered the fish cakes in vegetable broth.
“By the time she was done, the house smelled of fish,” Sameh recalls.
Her aunt’s original recipe even included a note to ask the fishmonger for the heads and bones to put in the broth.
“Her recipe was really a hand-me-down,” Sameh says. “She was thrilled when I asked her for it.”
Now, in her own kitchen in Wilmette, Sameh keeps her aunt’s memory alive by making the gefilte fish. But not quite on the same scale. She buys prepared, frozen fish cakes.
“Unless you are a glutton for punishment or you want your kitchen smelling for three days, I would suggest getting fish loaves,” she says. “While gefilte fish purists make their own patties, I save time by using frozen loaves. If you make gefilte fish from scratch, it can be such a production. If you make it using the prepared loaves, it can be so much easier.”
Traditionally, the cakes include three different types of fish. For those who make the patties from scratch, most fish will work, as long as 50 percent of the cake is whitefish. Using the least expensive types of fish — like pike, walleye or trout — will keep the recipe closest to tradition. The recipe originated, after all, by the hands of those who knew much about making something out of nothing. The inexpensive fish is stretched by incorporating matzoh meal into the loaves.
The bland-tasting cakes get a flavor lift from vegetable broth.
“Gefilte fish tastes mild, but flavorful,” Sameh says. “Some people put horseradish on it to kind of give it a zing.”
Red horseradish, which is made crimson-colored by beet juice, is her favorite.
Sometimes a favorite recipe is passed along from a friend. That’s the case with a brisket that Wilmette resident Melinda Sharkan makes every year for Passover for the family of Rabbi Allan Kensky. Her holiday gesture has become tradition.
“He is a vegetarian, but his family loves it,” Sharkan says.
Sharkan is the originator of another Passover ritual: the advance order bake sale that is held annually by the Beth Hillel Bnai Emunah Sisterhood in Wilmette. The sale wouldn’t be complete without Mini Goldsmith’s mandel bread. The recipe was her grandmother’s. It was passed along to Goldsmith through her mother, Bernice. She was the only member of her family who survived the Holocaust in Poland.
Goldsmith remembers growing up in Skokie, helping her mother make the biscotti-like treats.
“She always had a cookie jar — special only for Passover,” she recalls.
And just as the mandel bread recipe was passed down to her, Goldsmith has passed it on to her daughter, Caryn Engle, and she will pass it to her daughter-in-law Ari Goldsmith, both of Highland Park.
Sometimes a recipe just tastes better with a dash of tradition.