Traditional Passover and Easter food is sacred to some. But for observers looking for something different than the same-old lamb or gefilte fish, chef Pati Jinich has some ideas to spice up your holiday table.
She's the author of a new cookbook, Pati's Mexican Table, and has a PBS show by the same name.
Jinich grew up in a Mexican-Jewish family, and says she was surrounded by a "beautiful" blend of Mexican food with European roots. "Most of the Eastern European Ashkenazi foods are pretty bland," she says. "As they grew roots in Mexican soil, they became more exotic. More layered with flavors and colors. It was the warming up of those foods."
One of her Passover favorites is matzo ball soup, which she makes with cooked onion, chilies and mushrooms. She also spices up the traditional gefilte fish, poached fish patties, by cooking red snapper in a spiced tomato broth flavored with olives, capers and pickled chilies.
Though she was raised Jewish, Jinich's cooking was influenced by Mexico's heavily Catholic population. During Easter, she says, "you step outside of a church, and it is a party. It's full of aguas frescas of all different colors, and tamales, and atoles, and music." Joining the gefilte fish and matzo ball soup on her table this year will be croquettes, a Mexican Easter tradition, made with shrimp and cauliflower.
Croquettes and broth can be made up to 2 hours ahead
Crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and studded with pieces of tender shrimp, these patties are irresistible — especially when you serve them in a slightly spicy tomato broth. Every time I make them, I wonder how something that sounds so fancy, looks so beautiful, and tastes so good can be so easy.
Cumin, judiciously combined with oregano, takes me on a trip to Campeche, a state in the Yucatán Peninsula where I've tasted similar dishes. If you find Mexican oregano, use it. It is stronger, more fragrant, and less sweet than the Mediterranean kind. If you can't find it, Mediterranean works too.
The croquettes can be served as appetizers in a small bowl with broth on top or on their own. If you are having them as a main course, serve them over rice with sauce on top.
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup chopped white onion
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 pound ripe tomatoes, chopped
4 cups water
1 serrano or jalapeño chile, left whole
2 bay leaves
1½ teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Stir in the garlic and cook until just fragrant, less than a minute. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes break down and thicken, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the water, chile, bay leaves, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and ¼ teaspoon of the pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, until the broth has thickened slightly but is still soupy. Set aside.
3. Place the shrimp in a medium bowl and add the lime juice, cumin, oregano, the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon pepper; toss to combine.
4. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer at medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until they hold firm peaks. Reduce the speed to low and add the egg yolks, one at a time. Add in the flour ¼ cup at a time, mixing until combined. With a spatula, gently fold in the shrimp and any liquid in the bowl, being careful not to deflate the egg whites.
5. Heat ¾ inch of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Test by dropping a bit of batter into the oil—if it bubbles happily around the batter, the oil is ready. Gently drop in heaping tablespoons of the shrimp batter (they can be as large as you want, just make sure not to crowd them in the pan) and fry for about 2 minutes per side, until cooked through and nicely browned and crusty. Drain on paper towels and continue with the rest of the batter.
6. Bring the tomato broth to a simmer in a 12-inch skillet. Fish out the chile and bay leaves. Drop in the shrimp croquettes, turn the heat to low, and simmer until the croquettes are heated through and have absorbed some of the broth, about 2 minutes. Serve.