By Young, Broke & Kosher
People often ask me what I don’t like to eat, as I like almost everything. Typically, I only say bananas, as my sensitive palette doesn’t like the aftertaste of them and how they can overwhelm everything. I also dislike tomatoes, but it’s only a texture issue – I can eat ketchup and tomato sauce with no problems.
But there is another food that fills me with dread. It sends shivers up my spine just dwelling on the concept. I met it at a temple Passover seder at 11, when they put it on my plate. I asked what it was, and when I was told, I said, “I’m not touching that.”
It’s gefilte fish.
Mind you, I don’t get freaked out by all gefilte fish. My mother-in-law makes Susie Fishbein’s “Kosher By Design” three-layer gefilte fish pie for Shabbat sometimes, and that is delicious. Those are frozen loaves, and they aren’t too bad. The real fear comes in with the jar.
Ari’s cousin, Sabrina (who I adopted as my own because she’s so awesome) and I were going over it the other night. “I love that stuff!” she said. “I grew up on it. Your husband grew up on it. It’s good!”
But she could never convince me. As someone who knows and loves food, I know for certain that fish should a) never come in a jar, and b) never come with jelly. Doesn’t matter the flavor. Fish does not work with it, in my opinion.
Gefilte fish did not always inspire such “Psycho”-level shrieks of horror. There was a time where the Bubbes of Eastern Europe grinded their own whitefish, made it just so and without any icky stuff. There are still recipes of it, courtesy of that other Jewish-cooking wonder Joan Nathan. But it is gefilte that could possibly have been the downfall of the Jewish culinary tradition.
Think about what Jews have contributed to the world of food. In the Ashkenazi tradition, Jews gave the world the bagel and delicatessens filled with tasty meats like pastrami. In the Sephardic tradition, we taught the world that the Mediterranean diet was the healthiest way to live (one filled with fresh fish, fruits and vegetables and olive oil). And Israelis? Well, living in the Middle East allows them to perfect the art that is hummus. And not to mention that, for some odd reason, non-Jews seem drawn inexplicably to our creation known as matzah.
But just try showing someone gefilte fish without them freaking out, and wondering what the hell is up with the Jews that they would allow chewed-up-looking fish to be served out of a jar. It’s no wonder why people like Claudia Roden are shying away from it, favoring instead the Sephardic and Mizrahi communities for recipes, along with Indian and Chinese Jewish wonders.
I sometimes wonder if people relate kosher eating to the gefilte, as it’s probably the most traditional of Jewish dishes. It could be the reason why people are turned off by the concept of it. I mean, let’s face it – if faced with the chewed-up ickiness versus a piece of bacon, which one would you take? I’m kosher, but I know where I’d go first.
Which is why I am asking the nice Jewish people of the world to seek alternatives to the jar for your fish needs. I watched as my friend Merav stewed her fish on Friday nights in a spicy tomato mixture to serve as her fish course. It’s scrumptious, healthy and delightfully full of flavor. She stews it with beans along with delicious spices – what could be more delicious?
As for those who love gefilte, please introduce yourself to the loaf. It’s available in the frozen section of not only kosher markets, but also quite a few regular markets. It’s a lot nicer looking, and you can boil it and infuse it with flavor. And there isn’t a lick of jelly in sight.
So, in spite of the jar, I am going to give you a simple version of a fish that you can prepare at home. It’s pareve, so perfect for serving on Friday night, and it’s super-simple to bake up if you’re rushed for a meal. It’s also a special tribute to Merav and her courage to not grab the jar. P’tayavon!
CURRIED COCONUT FISH
1-2 lbs. mild white fish such as tilapia
1 can light coconut milk
3 tablespoons curry powder
Additional spices (see quick tip)
Salt and Pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a large baking dish. Place fish in an even layer in the dish and season with salt and pepper.
In another bowl, mix coconut milk, curry powder and additional spices. Pour over the fish. Place in the over and cook for 20 minutes. Serve hot. If main course, serve over vegetables or barley (I think spinach would go really well with the curry flavors). If serving on Friday night, feel free to take a page our of Merav’s book and mix in a can of rinsed garbanzo beans with the coconut to pour over the fish and serve alongside it.
QUICK TIP: As each curry powder is unique and different, feel free to experiment with what spices you want to add to the curry. I recommend ground clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and my favorite, garlic.