I’m trying to decide which was worse, the close-up of your urine colored chicken soup fat or that shiny pre-gefilte staring right at me. I was so excited to see that you posted, and opening your letter to a glassy fish eye was just a little… startling. The memory of coming home last year to fish-perfumed everything crept through my hippocampus into my nose. And by nose I mean my heart. My passover memories are now coated with fish gut.
Thank god for whiffs of eggy almond and burnt sugar creeping into my bedroom on late nights leading up to Seder… quiet wake up calls of matzoh fried-ness from morning-after breakfasts… chocolatey espresso fish-cover-up…
It’s funny that I’m still grossed out by your gefilte process. I’m in India.
A few days ago, Hannah and I stopped for a street snack during our walk back to her apartment from a visit to the “beauty saloon.” I bought a sliced cucumber. The man who handed it to me took a pre-peeled cucumber from a pyramid stack of many on his large wooden cart, rinsed it in a bucket (presumably of water), sprinkled it with salt and masala and handed it to me in newspaper wrapping. He looked at the 10 rupee note I waved at him, submersed his arm right back into the rinsing bucket, and handed me 4 coins he had fished from its bottom.
I had a soggy-newspaper-cucumber in one hand and wet change in the other. I looked at Hannah, “Did that just happen?”
Hannah and I had a good laugh as I crunched on my snack without hesitation. Why this cuke-wala felt inclined to store his money at the bottom of a bucket of water, I’ll never know.
Money is so dirty. I’m laughing at him. Why.
Everyday I see people do things that don’t make any sense to me. Sometimes I ask questions: Sir, why are you throwing a whole package of crushed biscuits out of your window every morning?
“It’s part of my Puja (religious ritual) to feed animals. Small dogs enjoy Parle-G brand.”
Other times I just laugh, laugh, laugh.
I’m so grateful to have a friend here that I was able to celebrate Passover with… A friend I can laugh with and eat with sans judgment. Hannah and I made a beautiful Seder together in Hyderabad.
We made memories that smell like cardamom and fresh coconut and cucumber water.
I’m also grateful that you didn’t post pics of gefilte gravy. Gelatinous fish slime… Bubbe smothering her kugel in it… photos would have crossed the line.
Xo I promise I’m taking care of myself,
Now I’ll tell you about our beautiful Seders. The first night, a current AJWS fellow hosted an intimate Seder. She made an inspirational tzimmes with sweet potatoes, carrots and prunes and charozet that tasted so much like home it hurt. We laughed at Judaism as we tried to explain our rituals to her friends, recalled childhood memories, and bonded over cultural weirdnesses distinct to all families.
Hannah and I hosted the second Seder (17 people – 5 Jews). We cooked all day and made several trips to Hannah’s veg wala and her special hypermart! We made Hillel sandwiches for everyone with khakra (a crispy Gujarati cracker), pomegranate charozet and cilantro.
We read from a laptop Hagaddah and talked about “freedom” and ethics and living in India. Most importantly, our menu was inspired by Pesach classics and fixed with India inspiration:
Sweet Pomegranate Chutney aka Charozet
Vegetable Tzimmes with Pan Fried Paneer
Curry Egg Salad
Paradise Creamed Spinach
The Golden Purp (sans tofu and with cumin instead of caraway)
Pink Raita (yogurt dip with beets, carrot, onion, fresh fenugreek)
Curdy Babaganoush (charred eggplant stew with onions, garlic, tomatoes and curd)
Sweet Potato Halwa
Cinnamon bananas boiled in coconut milk and sugar
Fruits and salads and rotis contributed by our generous guests
It was all tasty, but the Veg Tzimmes was the star. I’ve shared some recipes below:
Vegetable Tzimmes with Pan Fried Paneer:
- 2 tbs vegetable oil
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 2 tsp whole cumin seed
- 1 tsp whole coriander seed
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 6 cardamom pods, peels and pulverized or 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 4 onions, chopped into 1/2 in chunks
- 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric powder
- 1 tbs freshly grated ginger
- 6 medium cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 1/2 lb finger zucchini, chopped into 1/2 inch chunks (these small snappy zucchini are only available at Indian specialty stores. Feel free to substitute regular zucchini or other veg of your choice.)
- 8 whole cloves
- 1 lb potatoes, chopped into 1/2 in chunks
- 4 medium carrots, chopped into medallions
- 3/4 cup raw peanuts
- 2 medium heads of cauliflower, chopped
- 1 cup of water
- 3 tsp salt (to taste)
- 1/3 c pitted dates, finely chopped
- 6 medium dried apricots, finely chopped
- 500 g Paneer (Substitute tofu for vegan option)
- 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
- 1/3 c fresh coconut, grated (or dried, unsweetened)
- 1 c pomegranate seeds
Heat vegetable oil in large pan. Temper mustard seeds, cumin, cardamom, turmeric, coriander, ginger and cinnamon. When mustard seeds begin to pop, stir in onions, garlic and salt. Stir in zucchini and cook until brown on the edges.
Put chopped and washed potatoes, carrots, peanuts and cauliflower into a deep, heavy soup pot (I used a pressure cooker). Add cloves, one cup of water, and onion/garlic/zucchini/ spice mixture. Stir, cover pot and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until veggies are tender. Add more salt if needed.
Meanwhile, cut paneer (or tofu) into 1/2 inch slices. Heat oil in a skillet and pan fry until golden brown. I don’t usually eat much paneer, but Hannah showed me her pan fried version – it tasted like a Bubbe blintz. Sweet, crunchy, milky salty friedness.
When vegetables are cooked through, stir in chopped dates, half of the pomegranate seeds and half of the shredded coconut. Garnish dish with paneer, remaining coconut and pomegranate. Eat alone or over rice/quinoa… or top with plain yogurt.
Sweet Pomegranate Chutney aka Charozet:
- 4 apples, chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
- 1 cup pomegranate seeds
- 1/3 cup golden raisin
- 1/3 cup pitted dates, finely chopped
- 4 cardamom pods, peeled and pulverized (or 1/2 tsp fresh ground cardamom)
- 3 tbs fresh tamarind paste
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- cinnamon to taste
- handful of fresh mint, chopped
- 1/2 c almonds, toasted and crushed
- 1/2 c cashews, toasted and crushed
- 1 tbs rice vinegar for tang
Reserve half of your mint, combine all ingredients and mix well. Garnish with remaining mint and serve chilled.
*Make sure to toast your nuts before crushing – best way to toast nuts is to place flat on oven sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes (throw onto hot skillet until fragrant if oven is unavailable).
*To make tamarind paste, soak dried tamarind pieces in water overnight, and strain in the morning over a fine grate to remove fibers.
- coconut milk
- 1 onion, chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- lots of black pepper (Freshly ground please)
- 10 oz of fresh spinach
- Fresh juice of 1 lemon
Bring coconut milk to simmer and add onions, garlic, salt and black pepper. Stir until onions are translucent. Add spinach and stir until barely wilted (do not overcook!), about half a minute. Remove from heat and squeeze juice from whole lemon into spinach. Stir lightly and serve immediately. Perfect for vegans or a Parve side dish!
- 12 eggs, boiled and chopped
- 2 cups plain yogurt
- 3 tbs yellow curry powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup chives, chopped
- 2/3 cup golden raisins
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- 1/4 c toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds
- Garnish with cilantro and toasted nuts of choice
Combine all ingredients and toss lightly. Serve chilled over crackers or in a sandwich. Yogurt adds an extra tang – so much healthier than mayo!