The Passover seder is not the time for innovation. This ancient celebration, a commemoration of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, calls for a meal steeped in tradition. Even the most adventurous cooks return, year after year, to a menu of gefilte fish, chicken soup with matzo balls, brisket and vegetable accompaniments.
Passover begins at sunset on Friday, April 22, and ends at nightfall, Saturday, April 30.
CLASSIC CHICKEN SOUP
Serve this soup from Leah Koenig’s “Modern Jewish Cooking” (Chronicle, $35) with homemade matzo balls (recipe follows), or buy a package of Streit’s and follow the directions.
3 to 3 1⁄2 pound whole chicken
3 large carrots, peeled and halved crosswise
3 stalks celery, with leaves, halved crosswise
2 yellow onions, halved through the root
1 medium fennel bulb, quartered and cored
1 bay leaf
6 garlic cloves, smashed
1⁄4 cup loosely packed fresh parsley, with stems, plus roughly chopped parsley for serving
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lemon wedges for serving (optional)
1. Place the chicken, carrots, celery, onions, fennel, bay leaf, garlic and parsley stems in a large soup pot and cover with cold water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat to low. Gently simmer, partially covered, skimming off any foam that accumulates, until the chicken is very tender and falling off the bone, 1 to 1 1⁄2 hours. You want the soup to roll along at the gentlest simmer. If it starts to bubble too vigorously, nudge the heat down a little.
2. Remove the chicken and vegetables from the pot and transfer to a cutting board. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl. Return the strained broth to the pot; discard the parsley stems and bay leaf. Using your fingers, remove the meat from the bones and roughly chop. Slice the vegetables into bite-size pieces and return them to the pot along with the chicken meat. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Divide into bowls and top with chopped parsley. Serve hot with lemon wedges for squeezing, if desired. Serves 6 to 8.
PARSLEY MATZO BALLS
If you don’t have any matzo meal on hand, writes Leah Koenig in her “Modern Jewish Cooking” (Chronicle, $35), “break up a few matzo sheets and pulse them in the food processor until they take on a bread crumb-like consistency.
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1⁄4 cup vegetable oil or schmaltz
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup matzo meal
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons seltzer
1. Stir together the eggs, vegetable oil, salt, matzo meal, parsley and seltzer in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Turn the heat to medium-low and keep at a simmer while you form the matzo balls.
3. Moisten your hands with water. Scoop out rounded tablespoons of matzo ball batter and roll them into 1-inch balls. You should have about 15. Drop into the simmering water, cover the pot and simmer until the matzo balls are tender and puffed, 30 to 35 minutes. (If you cut one in half, it should be pale in color throughout.)
4. Remove the matzo balls from the pot with a slotted spoon, divide between bowls and ladle soup over the top. (Matzo balls can be cooled to room temperature, then stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 day. Rewarm them in the soup before serving.) Makes 6 to 8 servings.
RED WINE AND HONEY BRISKET
This pot roast, from Leah Koenig’s “Modern Jewish Cooking” (Chronicle, $35), “slow-cooks the meat in a sweet and tangy mixture of honey and red wine until it sighs and falls apart at the touch of a fork.”
Brisket’s flavor and texture improve with age, so while you can certainly serve it right away, it will taste best if you make it a day in advance. Once the brisket has chilled in the refrigerator overnight, spoon off and discard any excess fat congealed at the top and transfer the meat to a cutting board. Thinly slice the brisket against the grain (meat is easier to slice when it’s cold), then place the slices back into the Dutch oven or roasting pan, spooning some of the saucy onion mixture over the top. Warm in a 300-degree oven until hot and bubbling, 20 to 30 minutes.
4 to 5-pound brisket, preferably second cut (see note)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 large yellow onions, halved through the root and thinly sliced
8 sprigs fresh thyme
8 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
1 1⁄2 cups dry red wine
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or 2 tablespoons wine vinegar)
1⁄4 cup honey
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup chicken broth
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Generously sprinkle both sides of the brisket with salt and pepper.
2. Heat the vegetable oil in a Dutch oven or large pot set over medium-high heat. Add the brisket and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes total. (If the brisket does not fit all at once, cut it in half and sear it in batches.)
3. Remove the brisket from the pot and set aside on a cutting board. Add the onions, thyme, garlic and bay leaves to the pot, followed by 1⁄2 cup of the wine and vinegar. Cook, stirring often, until the onions soften slightly and the mixture is fragrant, about 5 minutes.
4. Whisk together the remaining 1 cup wine, honey, onion powder, garlic powder, broth and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl until fully combined. If you used a Dutch oven, lay the brisket on top of the onions and pour the wine mixture over the top. Cover and transfer to the oven. If you used a pot, transfer the onion mixture to a roasting pan and top with the brisket. Pour the wine mixture over the top. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and transfer to the oven.
5. Cook the brisket for 2 hours. Remove from the oven, uncover, and carefully turn the meat to the other side. Re-cover and continue cooking until the meat is fork-tender, 2 to 2 1⁄2 hours more.
6. Remove from the oven and transfer the brisket to a cutting board. Cover loosely with foil and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing. Locate the thin lines running in one direction along the brisket and use a sharp knife to cut thin slices perpendicular to those lines. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaves from the cooking liquid. Use a slotted spoon to remove the onions and arrange around the brisket. Spoon the desired amount of pan juices over the brisket. Serve hot. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Note: This recipe calls for second-cut brisket, which is sometimes referred to as deckle. It can be difficult to find second-cut brisket packaged in the grocery store, so ask your butcher about it. While you’re asking for things, see if the butcher will trim off any excess fat, too. If you have first-cut brisket on hand, go ahead and use it — the dish will still be delicious.