Bitter Herbs Brighten Passover

by Lorraine and Phil Shapiro March 29, 2011


Taking inspiration from foods on the Seder plate, just as we did last year with desserts based on charoset, we’re using symbolic herbs of karpas and morar in sauces for fish.

Karpas, usually celery or parsley, which is dipped in salt water to symbolize the tears shed in bondage, also represents renewal and springtime. Morar, typically horseradish or chicory, reminds us of the difficult times of slavery. Although horseradish is not mentioned in the Bible, morar is cited in the book of Exodus. In the second century, horseradish — along with cilantro, horehound and romaine — was listed as a bitter herb.

What we consider traditional has been influenced by new flavors and methods, and it continues to evolve. It’s likely that in Alsace, France, or southern Germany, horseradish root replaced the bitter greens of warmer regions at Passover dinner. Ground or shredded, alone or with beets, (chrain) horseradish still is essential with gefilte fish.

While gefilte fish is customary at the Seder, poached salmon with sorrel sauce can add variety to Passover meals. Created by three-star chef Pierre Troisgros in Roanne, France, this preparation shows French finesse. Sorrel (sour grass), commonly used for the cold soup shav, is favored by Eastern European Jews.

From the Far East we discovered that pungent wasabi, a Japanese horseradish, is a bracing accent for seared sesame-crusted ahi tuna. Sushi chefs generally prefer the expensive freshly grated wasabi root to moss-green canned wasabi powder or the paste sold in a tube. Since the blast of fresh wasabi is lost in heating, the piquant sauce for seared ahi uses convenient wasabi powder. Sold in Japanese markets and well-stocked supermarkets, wasabi expands the boundaries for creative cooking.

Salmon with Sorrel Sauce

1 cup dry white wine

1/3 cup dry vermouth

1/4 cup finely minced shallots or white part of green onions

1 cup heavy cream

4 cups sorrel, washed, stemmed, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

Pinch sugar

1 teaspoon potato starch

1 tablespoon cold water

Poached salmon

In a small saucepan, combine wine, vermouth and shallots. Cook until reduced by half. Add cream, cook, stirring often until slightly reduced. Stir sorrel into sauce, a little at a time, reserving some for garnish. Add lemon juice, salt, pepper, sugar and potato starch blended with cold water. Cook and stir until thickened. Puree in food processor. Spoon sauce onto platter, top with poached salmon. Sprinkle salmon with remaining sorrel. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Seared Tuna with Wasabi Sauce

1 tablespoon wasabi powder

1 teaspoon water

1/2 cup fish or vegetable broth

1 teaspoon potato starch

2 tablespoons black sesame seeds

2 tablespoons white sesame seeds

Salt, pepper to taste

1 1/4-pound sashimi-grade ahi tuna, preferably tenderloin

1 tablespoon oil

Shredded carrot, daikon (white radish), cucumber

Cilantro sprigs

Mix wasabi powder with water to make a paste. Combine broth and potato starch in small saucepan. Cook and stir until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in wasabi. Set aside. Combine sesame seeds evenly on a pie plate. Coat tuna on edges by rolling in seeds. Heat oil in large skillet over high heat. When oil begins to smoke, sear tuna along edges. Let rest a few minutes. Cut tuna on bias into 1/2-inch slices. Arrange carrot, daikon and cucumber on dinner plates. Place two ahi slices on top. Garnish with cilantro. Spoon on wasabi sauce and pass the rest. Makes 4 servings.


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