By Carol Goodman Kaufman / Special to the BJV
From January until just this week, we’ve been reading the Torah’s story of the Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt, and now we’re coming up to our annual commemoration of that event – Passover.
This festival brings with it so many memories. Among mine is the model Seder we students put on every year in the Pittsfield Community Hebrew School. In the Jewish Community Center gym on East Street, we dipped celery into saltwater, made Hillel sandwiches, and recited the Four Questions. We sang ‘Had Gadya’ and ‘Ehad Mi Yodea,’ among other songs, and looked forward to performing them at our family Seders.
But the Seder at my Bubbie’s house wasn’t like one of today’s more entertaining, er, educational ones with puppet shows, quiz games, and toy frogs atop the children’s plates. No, ours consisted of the men — my dad, Uncle Ralph, and Zayde Meyer — whipping through the Haggadah and droning the narrative, stopping only for our well-rehearsed recitations. Regardless, cousin Myla and I had a grand old time mumbling along, guzzling the Mogen David, and giggling.
Of course, many of our memories of Passover have to do with the menu (this is a food column, after all). The flavors and aromas of chicken soup with kneidlach, potent horseradish, cinnamon-tinged haroset, and tzimmes can all conjure up thoughts of loved ones long gone and the beautiful tables they set.
So, given that the holiday spread tends to be vast, isn’t there room for a twist on the Passover menu? A small addition? Sure, tradition is important, but how about expanding our repertoire a little to encompass the culinary customs of our extended global Jewish family?
Now, a little detour. One of the guests at the wedding of my son Avi and his wonderful Shira was Rabbi David Golinkin, a close friend of the bride’s family. I simply had to meet the man who had written the responsa ruling that certain foods known as kitniyot (including corn, rice, and legumes) were permissible on Passover because they were never outlawed in the Torah. (In fact, corn didn’t even exist in ancient Israel)
I must have looked like a rock band groupie when I sat myself down next to him to say “thank-you” for the reasoned argument he gave on the subject of kitniyot. With a wry smile he replied, “Of all the responsa I’ve written in my career, that’s the one I’ll be remembered for.”
Rabbi Golinkin may have been droll in his self-assessment, but I for one shout “hurrah” that we Ashkenazi Conservative Jews are finally at one with our Sephardi family. Am Yisrael Chai and all that.
And now, with so many Jews practicing vegetarianism, getting all-important protein into the diet practically requires the use of kitniyot.
Which brings us back to the food question. What shall we serve for Passover that will add something to the traditional family fare? (I won’t say same-old, same-old.) We need something exciting to stimulate our palates while it fosters a connection to our cousins on the other side of the world. So, I give you gundi, Persian chicken and chickpea balls. Serve these in your soup this year and see the smiles (happy, not wry) all around the table.
Gundi: Persian Chicken and Chickpea Balls
About 18 meatballs
This recipe is adapted from one in The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks (z”l)
½ pound ground chicken or turkey
½ pound ground beef
2 cups chickpea flour
2 medium yellow onions, grated
3 tablespoons vegetable oil or 1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons water
3 quarts chicken soup
5 red or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
Salt to taste
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
In a medium bowl, combine all the meatball ingredients, adding enough water to form a mixture that is smooth but not sticky. Refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours. Using moistened hands, shape into smooth 1-inch balls.
In a large pot, bring the chicken soup to a boil. Add the potatoes, lemon juice, turmeric, and salt and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add the gundi and chickpeas, cover, and simmer until the gundi are tender, about 40 minutes.
- You can prepare this dish one or two days ahead of the Seder because the flavors meld and mellow over time. Ideal for the holiday rush!
- This recipe is easily doubled or tripled for a really big crowd (or because you just can’t get enough of it).