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Eight days of Pesach

india Updated: Apr 18, 2008 23:34 IST
Renuka Narayanan

Passover, called Pesach in Hebrew, is the ancient festival that marks the liberation of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. It is described in the Old Testament (Exodus) and carries its own traditions, chief of which is the ‘Passover Seder Plate’, that every Jewish family across the world ceremonially assembles, arranging six symbolic foods on it like a shank bone, salt water and roasted eggs, plus the seventh, three pieces of matzoh (unleavened bread) on its own plate (Pesach is also called ‘the festival of unleavened bread’).

The Seder dinner is a big event and since several HT readers said that they clipped and kept the Neivedya recipes from Ram Navami last week, we thought you might enjoy checking out some Jewish recipes this time, since food is an important element of this festival.

As you know, there are three distinct Jewish communities in India, the Bene-Israelis (who came 2,000 years ago to Maharashtra), the Cochinis and the Baghdadis. At present there are about 5,000 Jews in India. Indian Jews are of the eastern ‘Sephardic’ tradition while European Jews are ‘Ashkenazy’, with variations in their lifestyle and religious practice.

Rabbi Ezekiel Isaac Malekar of Delhi’s Judah Hyam synagogue, is a strong proponent of inter-faith understanding and a religious liberal. Thanks to the convincing arguments of his young daughter, Shulamith, the rabbi now counts women among the “ten righteous people” needed for a Jewish minyan or quorum, for a proper prayer meeting. Besides this radical change in Jewish practice, the rabbi has also conducted five interfaith marriages between Jews and non-Jews.

Rabbi Malekar welcomes people of other faiths at the synagogue during prayer. “All are welcome in this House of God,” he says, having told Israeli leaders like Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres, “My heart may be Israeli but my blood is Indian. This wonderful country has never persecuted Jews.”

An Ashkenazy Jew’s Seder Recipes

These traditional recipes are from Ellen Wiesenfeld, raised in Montreal, Canada, an occupational therapist whose husband is an Indian of Tibetan origin, born in India. This is the sixth country they have been posted to in the last 25 years.
Delighted to share Passover recipes with HT readers, Wiesenfeld says, “Please write about our food with a sense of humour, it’ll sound so boring to Indians.” Wiesenfeld says a festival spread could include matzoh ball soup, gefilte (minced) fish, potatoes of some kind, salads, fruit and sweets like macaroons/meringues. Happy feasting!

Jewish Antibiotic (Chicken Soup)
Matzoh balls swim in this soup, which tastes better the more chicken you put in it, says Ellen Wiesenfeld.

For 6 people

1 whole chicken
2 or 3 onions (Indian-style andaaz there)
3 or 4 carrots
2 or 3 stalks of celery
A good pinch of dill (sooy) if available fresh, or dried will do
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil up the chicken with all the ingredients peeled and chopped. Fish out the bones. Serve with boiled chicken pieces on the side. Some people take out the vegetables too and drink the soup clear like a consomme.

Gefilte Fish

For 12 people

2 lbs bekti, minced
4 tspns salt
4 onions
1 tspn pepper
1 quart of water
3 eggs
¾ quart ice water
3 carrots
Enough breadcrumbs to bind (instead of matzoh)

Boil water with 3 onions, the carrots, salt and pepper. Add the fish head and tail for extra-flavour, if you have them. Chop the fourth onion fine and mix with minced fish, eggs, salt and pepper to taste, eggs and ice water. Form balls out of this mixture and drop them gently in the boiling, flavoured water. Cover and let sit on a low flame for an hour and a half or until cooked.

Macaroons:

3 egg whites
¼ tspn salt
½ cup sugar
½ tspn lemon juice
2 cups shredded dessicated coconut

Beat the egg whites into stiff peaks. Gradually add sugar, lemon juice and coconut. Drop the mixture by the teaspoon on a greased baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes at 350oF until light brown.