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Welcome to WFAEats — a fun adventure where we explore all things tasty and interesting in the Charlotte food scene. We want to share stories, recipes and culinary escapades and hear about yours!

Don't Panic: The Perfect Passover

Amy Rogers
Chocolate matzo

After 5,000 years, you’d think we’d know how to deal. But here it comes again, and some of us are still unprepared for Passover, the feast that commemorates the biblical story of Exodus.

Fortunately, help is at hand – and as close as your bookstore.

The New Passover Menu by Paula Shoyer is a gorgeous new book that promises “Freedom from Passover Food Oppression.” That’s an audacious statement, as anyone who follows the no-leavened-bread rule for the entire Passover week will attest. But Shoyer delivers with a book that’s beautiful and easy to use. We can’t decide whether to begin with Peruvian Roasted Chicken with Salsa Verde or Moroccan Spiced Short Ribs. Do we want Triple Chocolate Biscotti or Pear Frangipani Tart for dessert? We’re just going to start with Banana Charoset (recipe below) on page 2 and work our way through the entire book.

Modern Jewish Cooking by Leah Koenig is a new collection of recipes, and a treasure trove of pleasures. Helpful menus will ease meal planning angst for everyday and holiday cooking. If you’ve ever wanted to give up bland, store-bought gefilte fish and make your own, here’s your recipe: Gefilte Fish in White Wine Herb Broth (recipe below). We’re kvelling already.

Despite a cook’s best efforts, things don’t always go according to plan – just ask anyone whose matzo balls refuse to rise. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. When this happens, we like to simplify by grabbing our copy of Jewish Cooking Boot Camp by Andrea Marks Carneiro and Roz Marks. It’s not a brand new book – nor is it 100% kosher – but at our house it’s a family favorite with its user-friendly layout, conversational style, and tidbits of lore.

Passover is a perfect time to look back and reminisce. So every year, we pull down our much-loved copy of The Passover Table by Susan R. Friedland. Here’s a confession: We always refer to the book’s Seder plate illustration for our cheat-sheet when setting the table.

Now, don’t forget: In the Exodus story, the Jews are hurriedly trying to escape their oppressors. With no time to spare, they flee into the desert before their bread dough can rise. Hence the flat, unleavened matzos we eat at Passover.

Oddly, we don’t specifically celebrate haste at this holiday – even though it’s pretty common to run out of time in pursuit of the perfect meal. Example: My go-to “recipe” is to take broken matzos, dip them in melted chocolate and a handful of almonds, and fling them onto a plate.

So, if all else fails, stop by your local grocery store. Many larger stores have packaged matzos, gefilte fish, and matzo ball soup. You can buy potato chips and coconut-almond macaroons for snacking. Kosher wines have gotten really good, too.

Raise your glass, and promise that next year you’ll start planning earlier. It works for me, every time.

Credit Sterling Publishers
Banana charoset


From The New Passover Menu by Paula Shoyer

{ gluten-free }

Charoset is the element on the Seder plate that represents the mortar used by the Israelite slaves to build bricks. Growing up, I had Seders almost exclusively at my parents’ house or a handful of other relatives’ homes, and everyone made the same charoset: walnuts, apples, and sweet wine all smooshed together. It was only when I began hosting my own Seders that I discovered a wide variety of charoset recipes from every corner of the world where Jews have ever resided. This recipe comes from my friend Melissa Arking, who is a fabulous cook. I added chopped walnuts at the end for some texture.

3 large ripe bananas

2 cups (240g) ground walnuts

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons sweet kosher wine

2 apples, shredded on the large holes of a box grater

1 cup (120g) walnut halves, chopped into 1/3-inch (8-mm) pieces

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, place the bananas, ground walnuts, sugar, cinnamon, and wine. Process until the mixture comes together. Transfer to a small bowl, add the apples and chopped walnuts, and stir to combine.

Ground Nuts

You can buy nuts already ground, with the skin or without. I have a coffee grinder dedicated to grinding nuts. You can also use a food processor, as long as it can reduce the nuts to a fine grind, almost like a powder, when you need almond flour for baking. If you grind nuts for too long, you will end up with nut butter.

Makes 3 cups (serves 25 for Seder)

Credit : Chronicle Books
Gefilte fish


From Modern Jewish Cooking by Leah Koenig

My take on gefilte fish strays from tradition, but with delicious results. I like to use mild-flavored whitefish fillets and lighten things up by swapping the typical fish broth used as a poaching liquid for a white wine- and herb-infused French broth called a court bouillon. I also infuse my gefilte fish with lemon zest, thyme, and oregano, giving it a lovely herbal flavor. Topped with grated horseradish or Creamy Horseradish Herb Sauce, it tastes just like tradition, but better.

For the poaching broth:

9 cups/2.1 liter water

1 tbsp kosher salt

2/3 cup/165 ml dry white wine

1 large onion, roughly chopped

1/2 small leek, white and light green parts, roughly chopped

1 stalk celery, roughly chopped

1 medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped

2 bay leaves

2 sprigs fresh thyme

2 garlic cloves, gently smashed

1/2 cup/20 g packed, fresh flat-leaf parsley, with stems and leaves

1 tsp black peppercorns, coarsely cracked

1 lemon, thinly sliced

For the Gefilte Fish:

1-1/2 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried oregano

1 small yellow onion, roughly chopped

1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into chunks

2-1/2 lbs/1.2 kg skinned whitefish fillets, such as a mix of halibut and cod; rinsed, patted dry and cut into 1-in/2.5-cm chunks

1/4 cup/25 g matzo meal

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp lemon zest

1 tbsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Creamy horseradish sauce or prepared horseradish sauce for serving

1. Make the poaching broth: Combine all the ingredients in a wide, deep pot set over high heat. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, then return the broth to the pot. Cover and set aside, off the heat. Discard the solids.

2. Make the gefilte fish: Use a mortar and pestle to crush the thyme and oregano.

3. Combine the onion and carrot in a food processor and process until the vegetables are finely chopped, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl. Working in two batches, add the fish to the food processor and process until it is finely chopped and begins to form a ball. Add the fish to the vegetables along with the matzo meal, eggs, lemon zest, thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper, and mix well to combine.

4. Return the poaching broth to a simmer over medium-low heat. Meanwhile, moisten your hands with water. Scoop out a scant 1/4 cup/70 g of the mixture and form into an oval 3 in/7.5 cm long. Set aside on a plate and repeat with the remaining fish mixture.

5. Use a slotted spoon to place the fish balls in the gently simmering broth. Cover and simmer until firm and cooked through, 18 to 20 minutes. (If you cut one in half, it should be opaque at the center.) Remove the gefilte fish from the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer to a serving plate. Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with horseradish herb sauce. (To make ahead, let cool and transfer to a large container. Pour over enough cooled poaching broth to submerge the gefilte fish. Cover the container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to overnight.

Makes about 20 Gefilte Fish Balls

Amy Rogers is the author of Hungry for Home: Stories of Food from Across the Carolinas and Red Pepper Fudge and Blue Ribbon Biscuits. Her writing has also been featured in Cornbread Nation 1: The Best of Southern Food Writing, the Oxford American, and the Charlotte Observer. She is founding publisher of the award-winning Novello Festival Press. She received a Creative Artist Fellowship from the Arts and Science Council, and was the first person to receive the award for non-fiction writing. Her reporting has also won multiple awards from the N.C. Working Press Association. She has been Writer in Residence at the Wildacres Center, and a program presenter at dozens of events, festivals, arts centers, schools, and other venues. Amy Rogers considers herself “Southern by choice,” and is a food and culture commentator for NPR station WFAE.