The first night of Passover (or Pesach in Hebrew) is Friday, April 6th. It’s a home-centered celebration that has it all as far as I’m concerned: family and friends gather to re-tell an inspiring story, enjoy each other’s company, and spend an evening enjoying a multi-course dinner of wonderful food.
The meal, called a seder, includes several rituals and specific foods. My general philosophy of life and food guide my Passover preparations. I’ll make more food than we need, try to enjoy the process as well as the celebration itself, and be glad when there are leftovers.
My Passover seder menu for 2012/5772:
Seder plate – shankbone, parsley, charoset, roasted egg, horseradish (root or prepared from jar), lettuce or celery. I love charoset so I make at least 2 kinds – Ashkenazic (apples and nuts) and Sephardic (dried fruit/seeds.)
Wine – Sweet kosher wine for rituals, lots of good red and white wine for enjoying with the meal
Juice – White and red grape
Appetizer plate – gefilte fish (store bought) with lettuce, tomato and cucumber
Soup – Vegetable broth with matzo balls
Matzo pudding or kugel – 1 sweet & 1 savory (here’s the sweet pudding/kugel recipe)
Room temperature vegetable, probably asparagus
Passover rolls (yes, they are Kosher for Passover)
Flourless chocolate cake
Pistachio cardamom cake (also flourless)
If you’ve never made a seder and will host one this year, here are my suggestions for how to start the planning. The word seder means order, so my suggestions are in order too – starting with the most important one for your mental health.
If you’re not doing a seder, either because you are not Jewish or are invited to someone else’s seder, these hints – minus the traditional Passover foods tips – still work for party planning. And take a look at my meal preparation “rules” too, while you’re at it.
Passover Seder Planning Tips
- Stay sane. Do whatever it takes to make the experience (including preparation) enjoyable, so you’ll want to do it again next year. My sanity ritual includes things that drive other family members insane – too bad. If you’re not helping me at the moment, get out of my way and definitely don’t judge me as I spend several days in sweatpants, playing my favorite Charles Aznavour album repeatedly and loudly, twirling my wooden spoon, as I cook and bake.
- Simplify where possible. Figure out what you can make ahead of time, perhaps freezing desserts or soup. Graciously accept offers of help or food contributions if they will really ease your preparations, and don’t be afraid to be specific about what you need. If you have guests who don’t cook but are anxious to help, have them bring wine, flowers, or matzo. At our recent seders, the meat eaters have outnumbered the vegetarians and we’ve served both chicken and vegetable broth with matzo balls. This year vegetarians will predominate. So as not to fuss with 2 types of soup, I’ll make a huge pot of easy, homemade vegetable stock and forgo the chicken soup.
- Consider alternatives to Passover ritual and traditional foods. If you don’t want a lamb shankbone on the seder plate or can’t find one, use a chicken neck bone or a roasted beet. Gluten issues? Don’t despair. There is gluten free matzo (of course.) Nut allergies? Make charoset with dried fruit, juice, and seeds. Improvise even if your grandmother would have rolled her eyes, and don’t let anyone tell you “it’s not a seder if you don’t ….” Remember that if someone uses the words like “always” “never” or “have to” when it comes to Passover food, they forgot that when the Jews left Egypt, for 40 years they only had manna. That wasn’t exactly an appetizing meal for 1 day, let alone more than 14,560 days in the dessert. Whatever you’re serving will be just fine.
- Organize clean-up /storage of leftovers ahead of time. After the 4 cups of wine, several courses of delicious food, and hours around the table, you probably won’t feel much like cleaning up or fussing with leftovers. If you have put out containers and storage wrap, lined up extra trash bags and cleared the sink before the seder begins, you’ll be much happier when it ends.