Editor’s Note: We don’t love, or usually use, the Yiddish term shiksa, which, though used affectionately in many families, has a negative original meaning. We do love Tori Avey, though–a serious cook and a meticulous collector of Jewish culinary secrets and recipes. She has chosen to reclaim the word shiksa. Does that work for you? Tell us about it, and share your seder making tips.
I’ve been cooking our family Passover seder meal for almost a decade, but this year will be my first time cooking it as a Jewish woman. Not long after I met my Israeli-born fiancé, my nickname became “The Shiksa In The Kitchen.” Until a few days ago, I was a woman who passionately loved Jewish food. On Ta’anit Esther, I stepped into the mikveh and made the whole thing official. I became a Jew.
Having a background that wasn’t Jewish hasn’t stopped me from fully embracing the seder experience; I’ve been cooking enormous seders for years. In the spirit of Passover, we open our home to friends, family, and acquaintances that have nowhere else to go. Sometimes we end up with fifty guests or more. It’s exhausting, but we always make it work. Why? Because Passover is a time to connect with G_d, with tradition, with our sense of compassion. It’s a time for family, friends, and sharing a blessed meal with the people we care about.
Let’s be honest–it’s also a cooking marathon of heroic proportions! Preparing a delicious, unleavened meal for fifty is not an easy task. You might be wondering, how does one Shiksa feed all of those hungry Jewish guests? The simple answer is, by jumping right in and being unafraid to make mistakes. My first few seders were not exactly elegant. It took a lot of trial and error to figure out what works and what doesn’t at the seder table. Over the years, slowly and surely, I became more confident in my cooking skills. I’ve learned people’s likes, dislikes, and expectations. As time went on, I actually looked forward to cooking the seder. It’s a fun challenge, an opportunity to show off the new kosher dishes I’ve learned over the past year. It’s also a lot easier when you know what to expect.
For those of you who are looking for a little seder guidance, I’ve compiled a list of helpful tips that will help you plan your Passover feast.
Now that I’m officially a Jewish cook, I can’t help but wonder if my Passover meal will taste different–more spiritual, somehow. I believe that food carries energy with it; the most delicious meals are cooked from the heart. One thing is certain, this year’s seder will be much more meaningful. We’ll be celebrating my induction into the Jewish faith. Nothing could make me feel happier or more fulfilled.
1 or 2 whole chickens, 4-5 pounds total, including neck and liver
4 celery stalks with leaves, chopped into thirds
4 whole carrots, chopped into thirds; or 1 1/2 cups of baby carrots
1 large brown onion rinsed and halved, outer skin intact
5 sprigs of fresh curly-leafed parsley
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
½ tbsp whole cloves
2 bay leaves
10 sprigs of fresh dill
Kosher or sea salt to taste
Lemon juice (optional)
You will also need:
Matzah ball mix (I prefer Manischewitz)
Note: Check package to determine how many eggs and the amount of oil you will need for 10-12 matzah balls. If making a larger pot of soup, prepare two packages of matzah ball mix, for about 20 matzah balls.
Serves 8-12, depending on the size of your stock pot.Kosher Key: Kosher for Passover if kosher chicken meat is used– must be soaked, salted and prepared according to laws of kashrut.
Rinse the chicken, place in a tall stockpot along with the neck and liver. Cover the chicken with water, reserving about 3 inches of space at the top of the pot. Bring to a slow boil. As the chicken cooks, skim foam from the surface. Add celery, carrots, onion, parsley, peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves, and 5 sprigs of the dill to the pot. Add one tablespoon of salt, stir till all the vegetables are moistened. Cover pot, reduce heat to medium, and allow pot to simmer for two hours. Mince the remaining 5 sprigs of dill and set aside.
After two hours, allow the soup to cool for twenty minutes. While soup is cooling, prepare the matzah ball mix according to package directions and place in refrigerator.
Take larger chicken pieces out of the broth and set them on a plate. Discard the vegetables and chicken neck/liver. Strain the broth with a mesh strainer to remove all the small chicken bits, veggies and herbs. Pull meat from the chicken in bite-sized pieces and return to the broth. Add the minced dill to the stockpot and return the soup to a slow boil. Taste the broth. Add more salt, if desired–be sure to add slowly, don’t over-salt!
Remove prepared matzah ball mix from refrigerator. Form mixture into 1-inch balls and place gently into the boiling soup. Don’t make the balls too big, they’ll expand a lot in the broth. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until matzah balls have fully expanded.
When soup is finished, stir gently to separate any dill that might have gathered on the matzah balls. Serve garnished with a sprig of dill or a slice of lemon. If you don’t plan on serving the whole pot of soup at one sitting, make sure you remove the matzah balls from the broth and refrigerate them in a separate container; if you don’t, they’ll turn mushy.
Shiksa Hint: To make straining easier, tie up all the stock ingredients in cheesecloth before covering with water. When the stock is finished, just remove the cheesecloth and unwrap the chicken. You can also cook the stock in a steel multi-pot with a mesh strainer insert (fine-mesh strainers with large holes will let the spices seep through). After cooking the chicken and vegetables, remove the strainer slowly. Both of these methods will allow you to skip straining the broth into another pot!