Post-modern Gefilte fish (or Gefilte fish in 30 mins)

Yes, you can indeed make delicious gefilte fish in 30 mins.

Yes, there are some shortcuts.

No, this is not your classical gefilte fish, more like the traditional gefilte fish recipe deconstructed.


Gary is famous for his gefilte fish, so notable that my relatives presented his willingness to grind raw fish as exhibit A; proof that he would be an excellent husband. In fact it was not until I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Yoskowitz, the proprietor of the Gefilteria before I was aware of another man who was so passionate about gefilte fish.

But the making of authentic gefilte fish is a laborious process. First off, the designated fish, carp etc has to be special ordered (I remember when I realized that gefilte didn’t refer to a fish species!), the fish heads and bones have to be boiled to make the jellied stock, one has to be fastidious about picking out all the small bones, assembling the special contraption for grinding the fish and so forth.

With all the demands on our time, it is no surprise that making gefilte fish hasn’t happened too frequently. And yet, perish the thought that we would eat the type that comes in jars. So it was that one day I started thinking about how gefilte fish became such a classic and the rationale for using carp. My understanding is that the recipe is generally thought to be the result of enterprising Jewish women developing a Shabbat-friendly dish with a readily available local ingredient; aquaculture being in wide practice in Eastern Europe. I remember my grandpa telling me about how his mother complained at coming to the industrial Britain in the years before his birth in 1905 and how much she missed the farm life in Russia with her beautiful pond.

Today, the most widely available fish is farmed salmon. To stay true to the spirit of gefilte fish in the sense of a dish made with the cheapest available fish I decided to use salmon. I also incorporated a milder white fleshed fish which is traditional for gefilte fish. This was branzini, which happened to be available at Wegmans and they will fillet the fish for you (see my previous post regarding availability of kosher fish in Ithaca).

The features that make this recipe so quick are first the starting point of using fish fillets (no deboning), second using the food processor (makes quick work of chopping), and third eliminating the jellied stock (believe me, you won’t taste a difference). Let’s get to the recipe.

gefilte fish ingredients

Once the ingredients are assembled and the greens washed, the recipe goes super quick.

  1. Before starting prepare a large mixing bowl and a pan of salted boiling water.
  2. Process the dill, onion, green onions, parsley in the food processor until finely chopped. Keep an eye on this, just a few pulses should be sufficient, you don’t want the mixture to turn to paste. Remove from the food processor into the large mixing bowl and combine with the eggs.
  3. Process fish fillets in the food processor. Careful to not over process, you are looking for a minced texture, not mush. I did this in two batches.
  4. Mix the minced fish with the remaining ingredients. Make rounded balls with about one heaped tablespoon of the mixture and drop into the boiling water. Boil for 10-12 mins. The gefilte fish balls increase ~25% in volume during cooking, make sure your pan can accommodate this expansion.

Useful note: This recipe makes a large quantity and these gefilte fish freeze well.

fish dish

For the optimum gefilte fish experience, you cannot beat the authentic accompaniment and I highly recommend home-made chraine. I will go through this recipe in another post but there are no short-cuts to its production, home-made chraine takes longer to prepare than the gefilte fish. But it’s definitely worth it. In the meantime, בתיאבון!


Purim Rice

This wonderful recipe was contributed by our good friend Yael Saar, TBE member, mom, and creator of Mama’s Comfort Camp. Thanks, Yael!

The lovely poppyseed and coconut combination is very comforting and festive. I came up with this idea 4 years ago when I had left over poppyseeds after baking Hamantaschen. Since then I’ve been bringing this dish with us to the Israeli Purim Potluck party, where it is always a big hit.

1.5 cups rice
1/4 cup poppyseeds
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup raisins or other chopped dried fruits (optional)
1 Tbsp olive oil or butter
4 cups liquid: 1 or 2 cans of coconut milk, the rest water. Use 2 cans of coconut milk for a very rich flavor.

Place all ingredients except the liquid in a saucepan and mix together over medium heat, coating the grains and seeds in the oil.
After about 3 minutes add the liquid and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
Remove from heat source and let stand for 5-10 more minutes.
Fluff with a fork, and serve.

On Challah

I started making challah when my daughter was 2. I hadn’t baked much since I was a teenager, but she and I had a long winter, mostly inside, together. Her afternoon nap was going the way of the dodo, and the two of us needed some activities. So–challah it was!


It’s not perfect, but it’s mine

At four, my daughter is a bit young for the history-of-challah lesson, but I have a few years on her, and was interested. Why a sweet bread? Why braided? Do Jews everywhere make challah? I could totally see it on a dinner table in Poland, but in Yemen? Iraq? Nah, didn’t seem likely. So I looked it up. We do that, a lot, in this family.

I began with that handy reference, The Jewish Book of Why. The word challah is first used in Leviticus to describe the twelve showbreads that were laid on the altar of the Tabernacle.

There was an obligation in the Temple period to set aside a portion of all baked bread for the priestly class–and so when you baked bread, you would “take challah” to sustain the priests at the Temple.

After the destruction of the Second Temple, that obligation was translated into “taking challah” and burning up the piece taken. Because the family table is now the “altar,” salt is sprinkled on the challah, as it would have been on sacrifices during the Temple period.

So that’s the deep history. But the braid? Now I turn to Cecil Adams (or rather his science advisory board, in this case), long time author of the column “The Straight Dope” in the Chicago Reader. (I miss my days in Chicago a bit and I’m glad Cecil is online now.) Dex, of the science advisory board, obligingly tells me that Sephardic tradition uses more pita-like loaves rather than the braided ones.

The braided loaves, not surprisingly, originated in Eastern Europe, where they have plenty of local counterparts: “Around the 15th Century, Ashkenazic Jews (in eastern Europe) developed the challah that we have today. It is thought that the braiding or twisting was a pun on twisting off the little piece of first dough as a reminder of the Temple sacrifices. The braided shape is believed not to be of purely Jewish origin, but modelled after twisted white breads that were found through central Europe and the Slavic countries.”

I’m sure there are more scholarly accounts out there, but The Straight Dope satisfied my curiosity for the time being. If anyone reading this has interesting family traditions around challah, I’d love to hear it.

Back to baking:

I tried a number of recipes: some were too heavy and dense, others required a frightening 10 or 12 cups of flour (I was sure I would mess that one up and waste it!). I knew that I wanted to use honey in the recipe: I keep bees, and always have plenty on hand. Besides that, though, honey keeps baked goods moist, and I wanted a moist, sweet challah.

And while using whole grains might be really good for you (and it’s how we roll most of the time), I wanted this to be traditional, light, moist, and sweet, not an exercise in health-conscious eating.

It took some experimenting, but this is what I came up with. My daughter is now 4 and a half, and we bake and cook together a lot: challah, carrot bread, waffles, lasagne, even vegetables. Yes, green ones. She’s much more likely to eat what she helps to make.

For two loaves (or two loaves plus a 4-year-old’s “baby loaf”)

1/2 C warm water
1 T yeast
pinch of sugar or a teaspoon of honey

Stir the yeast and sugar or honey into warm water. Wait for the yeast to bubble, about 5 minutes.

Mix in:

1/2 C bread flour
3 eggs
1/3 C honey (local honey, the good stuff, from a beekeeper you know!)
3 T canola oil
1 t salt

Mix until thoroughly combined.

Slowly add flour, half a cup at a time, up to about 3 cups. The dough should be firm. Knead the dough on a floured board, using more flour as needed, until the dough is smooth and not sticky.

Place in a greased bowl, and either put in a warm place to double, or refrigerate overnight.

After the dough has risen, punch it down, knead it for a few minutes, and divide it into six pieces. Braid into two loaves. Place on a silicone baking mat, or a greased sheet. Cover and let rise for about an hour. Brush with beaten egg, and bake in a preheated over at 350 for about 20 minutes.

You can also incorporate raisins while kneading it, or sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds.