Artichoke Bottoms Filled With Carp 'Meatballs' In Ouzo & Fennel Sauce & A Gefilte Fish Rant

I am unapologetic for my distaste of Gefilte Fish. I shudder at the thought of the jello-y cellulite like jiggle of these Eastern European anemic carp 'meatballs'. One of my guests a few years past had the blasphemy to bring the canned version, it was his mom's tradition while he was a budding young boy. Sacrilegious to taint my holiday table. I was mortified!

In my defense, in our household, I am the one that acquired more of a taste for Eastern European delicacies, than my Ashkenazi husband, Jonathan. Though I still stand firm, unrepentant in my dislike of Gefilte Fish. To add insult to injury I've got no love lost for jelled calf's foot either.

Jonathan's maternal grandmother, the eldest of four, was born in Detroit, Michigan, a seamstress and a homemaker. Her parents emigrated to the United States before World War II from Pinsk, Poland and Lithuania. Pinsk is in today's Belarus. His maternal grandfather, youngest of four, American born, from Lithuanian descent as well, was a laborer. During World War II he worked at an arms factory and at a clock factory in the latter part of his life.

Jonathan's paternal grandmother, a homemaker, the youngest of seven, was born and raised in Worcester, MA to well to do Hungarian and German parents. His father's father, a hat cutter, was a recent immigrant from Kiev, in today's Ukraine. A ladies man of sorts. Married multiple times, twice to the same woman, Jonathan's grandmother. A match not made in heaven in Jonathan's maternal great great parents' dissatisfied eyes.

Jonathan is as Ashkenazi as they come and as sweet as American Pie. He grew up on steak and potatoes that his father regularly prepared, while he and his older sister were growing up in Worcester, MA. Fish was not part of his repertoire, much less gefilte fish. Coming within sight of chopped liver and white fish salad makes him queasy. We all however do like fluffy matzo ball soup, not the sinkers, challah, chocolate rugulach and chocolate babka.

I acquired the taste for chopped liver and white fish salad in the US. I  buy a dabble of each at the kosher deli, as I love both, but can't bring myself to add all that schmaltz to the chopped liver, so I never make it at home. Preparing a leaner version just wouldn't be the same.

I might have numbed the memory, but I don't have any recollection of my Ashkenazi friends and their families while growing up in Israel ever making these dishes, especially the ones I vehemently detest. Ashkenazi food is what we of Sepharadi and Indian descent population in Israel used to refer to as 'laundered food', as in laundry. Boiled to death, soapy and tasteless.While some of my prejudices dissipated into thin air after coming to America, some are still deep rooted in the fibers of my body and ethers of my soul, but never say never!

Cook's note on the recipe: Once in a long while I come across a recipe that reinvents the holiday table and this one falls under that category. The dish's liquorice like sweetness with a tinge of spiciness and strokes of turmeric yellow is absolutely divine. A sensational marriage of flavors, I could have never imagined, using the Greek ouzo. An anise based liquor, similar to sambuca from Italy, pastis from France, absinthe from Switzerland, aquardiente from Colombia and arak from the Levant. 

Artichoke Bottoms Filled With Carp 'Meatballs' In Ouzo and Fennel Sauce
Serves 4-8*

8 frozen or canned artichoke bottoms

For the carp 'meatballs':
2 tablespoons olive oil for frying
1 medium onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, diced
400 gr carp fillet, ground twice (or firm white fish. I used cod)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 jalapeno or green chile, diced
1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
Fresh black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

For the sauce:
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced or rough chop in food processor
1/2 green chile or jalapeno, sliced
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1/4-1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cumin
3 cups fish or chicken stock or water
1/2 cup ouzo (depending on taste)
1 celery rib, diced
1 fennel, sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup celery leaves, the small light green ones (large ones are bitter)
Salt to taste
Fresh black pepper to taste

The carp 'meatballs': On medium heat saute the onions in the oil for few minutes until onions are translucent.  Let cool and add all 'meatball' ingredients and mix well. Make 8 balls and place in artichoke bottoms.

The sauce:  On medium heat saute the onions until onions are lightly caramelized. Add the garlic, chile, celery and fennel to the onions and continue to saute for a couple of minutes longer. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients, bring to a boil and immediately turn down to a low/medium heat and keep cooking, uncovered, for five minutes. Add the filled artichoke bottoms to the sauce and cook covered with a lid on low heat for 20-30 minutes, until done. Once in awhile spoon some sauce over the 'meatballs' to moisten the tops while cooking.

Can be served as a starter for 8 or over rice with two artichoke bottoms per each serving.

Cook's notes: Fish is a symbolic traditional food served on Rosh HaShana, The Jewish New Year. Usually served whole. Wishing all to be the head (leaders in this world) and not the tail (followers). Happy 5773 to you all!

This recipe was adapted from a recipe published in Al HaShulchan magazine, courtesy of Chef Eyal Meron, Tchernichovsky 6 restaurant.

The original recipe called for a lot more turmeric. Growing up in an Indian household I knew better than to use the 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon called for in the recipe.