Mexican

The Spicy Kick Your Matzo Ball Soup's Been Missing

March 30, 2017

Forget family obligations—the second night of Passover belongs to James Beard. Since 2011, the James Beard Foundation in New York City has curated a seder-inspired meal, turning the kitchen over to some of the country’s most talented chefs. This year is, delightfully, no exception.

On April 11, the Beard House and Jewish Food Society will co-host a second night Passover dinner that celebrates Mexican-Jewish cuisine. The meal will be collaborative, bringing together three Mexican-Jewish chefs: cookbook author and television personality Pati Jinich; sweets maven Fany Gerson; and Rafa Zaga, a sous chef at Marea. Together, they will bring their families’ rich food traditions to the table, showcasing a cuisine that is at once comfortingly nostalgic, excitingly innovative, and deeply tied to Mexico’s agricultural and culinary heritage. 

Mexico’s Jewish history dates back to the early 1500s, though the majority of the Jewish community immigrated there much later—in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, Mexico is home to around 50,000 Jews (both Ashkenazi and Sephardi in origin), the majority of whom live in Mexico City. The communities are fairly insular, attending synagogue and going to school in close proximity to one another. But in the kitchen, Mexican influences and ingredients have found a home.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Neither are banana paletas made with dairy ... Was this a "throw all our Mexican-Jewish recipes out there" kind of article? Even though it was about dishes for Passover? A little culturally clumsy, folks.”
— garlic&lemon
Comment

“The first thing you will see on my grandmother’s table is three different sauces: one with avocado, some kind of Arabic sauce, and a Mexican salsa,” said Zaga, whose family immigrated from Syria to Mexico in the early 1900s. The Syrian-Jewish dishes he grew up eating on the Sabbath and holidays often incorporated indigenous Mexican ingredients, like adding lime and chiles to rice-stuffed grape leaves—a technique he will replicate for the Beard dinner. Zaga will also prepare the meal’s main dish, his grandmother’s stuffed lamb saddle, which is simmered in a complex sauce flavored with tamarind (a beloved ingredient in both Syrian and Mexican cooking).

Jinich, meanwhile, will turn to her family’s Eastern European background for the meal. “Since arriving and beginning to cook in Mexico, Jews have kept the soul of the dishes they are preserving, but enriched them with Mexican sauces and seasonings,” she said.

The brisket hors d'oeuvre she will make for the seder, for example, is slow cooked with bitter Pasilla chiles, fresh tomatillos, and dark Mexican sugar. And her gefilte fish a la Veracruzana (Veracruz-style), gets simmered with tomatoes, olives, capers, and pickled chiles. “I didn’t make it up,” she said. “If you go to any Ashkenazi home in Mexico, this dish will be there.”

Gerson, who also comes from Ashkenazi roots, is most widely known for Mexican-inspired desserts. Her flourless chipotle-chocolate cake with roasted tomatillo sauce and hibiscus meringue with passion fruit crema will close out the Beard dinner on a sweet note. But for the dinner, she will also go savory, tackling perhaps the most iconic of Passover dishes: matzo ball soup. 

The resulting hint of chocolatey smoke amidst the schmaltzy broth is truly revelatory.

Like many Mexican-Jewish chefs, she garnishes the soup with avocado, fresh cilantro, and finely chopped white onion, and serves lots of fresh lime alongside for squeezing. But the real secret (chiles) is in the broth. For the dinner, Gerson will flavor her soup with jalapeño for a subtly spicy kick. But for something even more dramatic, she suggests tossing in a dried chipotle along with the typical carrot and celery aromatics. 

My take on Gerson’s Mexican-inspired matzo ball soup follows that advice, splitting and deseeding the chipotle before adding it to the soup pot. It’s a 5 second alteration that makes all the difference—the resulting hint of chocolatey smoke amidst the schmaltzy broth is truly revelatory. A Passover miracle, served piping hot. 

11 Comments

Deborah P. April 3, 2017
I'm no expert on Jewish dietary law but isn't it rather harsh to say that to offer these recipes is "culturally clumsy" since they came from Jewish cooks
 
garlic&lemon April 2, 2017
Umm, Corn is not in season right now - even in Mexico. And corn with queso fresco is not kosher if you are serving meat. Neither are banana paletas made with dairy ... Was this a "throw all our Mexican-Jewish recipes out there" kind of article? Even though it was about dishes for Passover? A little culturally clumsy, folks.
 
Author Comment
Leah K. April 3, 2017
Hey garlic&lemon - sorry for the confusion. The recipes highlighted in the boxes are just "related recipes," not part of the article itself. They are just things pulled and featured because they'll likely also be of interest to people reading this article. The only recipe meant to go with the article itself is the matzo ball soup. :)
 
garlic&lemon April 3, 2017
Thanks for your response. All of these chefs have delicious recipes for the general public and general occasions. They also have many delicious recipes that can easily be integrated into Passover meals - either meat based, dairy based or vegetarian. One of the things that Food 52 does well is to educate people about food. It was disappointing and confusing to see that the pictures (aside from the soup) did not illustrate the article. Pictures of the gefiltefish a la Veracruzana or or paletas made from fruit and no dairy would have been awesome.
 
Renee L. April 1, 2017
Leah, this is brilliant! What a great mashup.
 
paulsara March 31, 2017
google for gefilte fish Veracruz style http://jewishfoodexperience.com/recipes/gefilte-fish-a-la-veracruzana/
 
Deborah P. March 31, 2017
I'd like the recipe for the saddle of lamb. It sounds wonderful.
 
Sharebeauty March 31, 2017
Would like the recipe for gefilte fish Veracruz style !
 
Sharebeauty March 31, 2017
Would like the recipe for gefilte fish Veracruz style !
 
Sharebeauty March 31, 2017
Would like the recipe for gefilte fish Veracruz style !
 
Sharebeauty March 31, 2017
Would like the recipe for gefilte fish Veracruz style !